The account in 2 Samuel chapter 6 of David’s attempt to bring the Ark of the Lord back to Jerusalem is one filled with many lessons for believers today. For twenty years the Ark had lain idle in the house of Abinadab, 1 Sam. 7. 2. The Philistines had captured it from the Israelites who had trusted more in the Ark than they did in the Lord. As a result of their misplaced trust, Israel was routed by the enemy who now had the Ark in their possession. It was not long however before they realized the danger of trying to contain the God of Israel. Placing the Ark in the house of their pagan deity, Dagon, they awoke the next morning only to find that it had fallen flat on his face. Setting it back in its place, they again found Dagon the following morning on the ground, this time with its head and hands broken off. Soon tumors broke out among the people as the hand of God came down upon the Philistines. Bewildered, the rulers asked their priests what could be done to alleviate their affliction and suffering. Their answer; put the Ark of the Covenant on a cart and return it to Israel with a Philistine trespass offering, 1 Sam. 6. 7-9. The Ark was then returned to Israel via the men of Kirjath Jearim who brought it to Abinadab’s house where it stayed ‘for a long time’.
Years later, upon the demise of Saul, a concerted effort was made by David to bring the Ark of God back to Jerusalem. His plan was to establish the kingdom in glory. Selecting thirty thousand choice men for the task, the Ark was set upon a new cart and the joyful procession ensued. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were chosen to drive the cart. A great celebration followed with hopes to revitalize the power and prestige of Israel which had languished for years. But things did not go as smoothly as planned. When they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, the oxen stumbled and the Ark began to slide off the cart. Instinctively, Uzzah put out his hand to stop the Ark but was immediately struck dead by God ‘for his error’, 2 Sam. 6. 6-7. Understandably, David was confused and afraid. Why had God acted so harshly against Uzzah? And why did it seem that the Lord was opposed to David’s noble efforts? Had not David good intentions in bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem to restore it to its proper place and prominence? So why did things go so terribly wrong?
Right motives, wrong methods
The answer to this question seems to involve David’s methodology. When God first gave instructions to Moses concerning the building of the Ark he was told to fashion four gold rings and attach them to its corners, Exod. 25. 12. By means of poles run through these rings, the Ark of the Testimony could be carried securely as it accompanied them on their wilderness journeys. Borne on the shoulders of dedicated and properly appointed Levites, it was never intended to be touched with their hands – a reminder of the separation between a holy God and sinful man, Num. 3. 30-31. Now, years later, when the Philistines decided to return the Ark, they placed it upon a cart in order to roll it back to the Israelites. It all made sense – it was quick and easy and it served the Philistines’ purposes, though they were ignorant of the laws of God. Now at least twenty years later when David wanted to move the Ark, he adopted the Philistine prototype rather than seeking God’s direction. Some important biblical truths had been forgotten from God’s word. The result was an unstable cart, a sliding Ark, and the death of Uzzah.
‘Progress’ through worldly principles
Such are the consequences of mixing the ways of the world with the things of God. Despite the initial festivities and quick ‘progress’ this noble plan met with disaster because it was never sanctioned by God. In a world of mass media the churches need to be on guard against adopting similar principles in carrying on the work of God. What may seem to work for the world should never be applied to the church of God, if it cannot be substantiated by the word of God. The result, at best, can only be an unstable ‘cart’ and widespread confusion. There is no place for Philistine technology and methodology in the activities of the local church.
The need for personal consecration
How then is the work of God to be carried on? In David’s day the Ark of the Covenant was to be personally carried on the shoulders of consecrated Levites. Similarly, in our day the testimony of God’s work needs to be personally carried on shoulders of those who are living consecrated and separated lives. Uzzah and Ahio, it seems, had lost their sacred regard for the Ark, either through neglect or over familiarity with it. Because the Ark had been in their home all those years, they grew accustomed to it and their reverence for it dissipated. Perhaps they assumed they had a vital faith on the basis of their father’s position. Their actions in driving the cart certainly revealed their lack of understanding in identifying spiritual error. Similarly, there will always be the Uzzahs and Ahios in the church who will be quickly chosen to positions of leadership based upon popularity or parentage. But unless leaders are personally consecrated, they too will be proven to be unfit for the work. God’s work must be done in God’s way by those who understand the sacredness of their responsibility. God has warned, ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’, Hos. 4. 6.
God’s pattern for true success
It is quite interesting to observe how David remedied the situation. He temporarily abandoned his own strategy to move the Ark until he could more accurately assess the cause of the problem – always a wise move in the service of the Lord. He took the ark to the household of Obed-Edom whereupon that household was blessed while it remained there. Then we read in verse 13 that when it was transported to Jerusalem that ‘those bearing the ark of the Lord … sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep’ as they slowly advanced. What do we glean from this passage? First, that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Ark. The same Ark that was responsible for the death of Uzzah was likewise responsible for the blessing of Obed-Edom’s household. If our plans for God’s work fail, it is not because His word is inadequate, but because our attitudes and actions are.
Second, we see that God’s work will succeed when we bring our actions into conformity with God’s word. No longer was there anyone driving the cart, but rather we see a contingent of Levites bearing it. The idea of the cart which had been adopted from the Philistines had now been put aside and the journey resumed in a Godordained manner. 1 Chronicles chapter 15 gives us further insight into this event. There, David acknowledged his error before the people, ‘For because you did not do it the first time the Lord, our God broke out against us, because we did not consult him about the proper order’, v. 13 NKJV. Appointing the right people for the task, they headed for Jerusalem ‘with joy’, v. 25. And then these astonishing words, ‘God helped the Levites’, v. 26. This is a wonderful statement, ‘God helped the Levites’? God had frustrated David’s attempt to do a good work initially because it was not done in the ‘proper order’. But when it was, God was quick to help His people succeed in the work undertaken. The fact that David sacrificed ‘every six paces’ as they began their journey indicates that they had recaptured the essence of the sacredness of the Ark, the holiness of God, and the necessity of an attitude of worship that should precede every effort for the Lord. The joy experienced now was true because it issued from hearts confident of God’s presence and favour. The progress made by David and the people was certainly slower than before, but it was sure and steady, and unhindered by difficulties.
If there is ever a time that believers must be on guard against suggestions to use Philistine carts, it surely is today. As the days get darker and ‘the love of many grows cold’ in this materialistic and media-saturated society, there will always be the red herrings of compromise to allure us from the biblical pathway. Incorporating the world’s ways to further God’s testimony may appear to provide quick and easy ‘results’, but if the methods used are not in accordance with His word, they will ultimately prove to be disastrous, no matter how honourable the intention. The Ark of God’s testimony was never intended to go forward through an impersonal systematized program. Rather, it proceeds as it is personally carried on the shoulders of those who love Christ – who advance step by step in the fear of the Lord, and move according to God’s timetable. It is not a matter of newer, slimmer versions of Philistine carts with bigger and better wheels, but a matter of getting rid of the use of Philistine carts all together. As this is done, God’s work will proceed in God’s way.
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