Today we will begin a series of sermons about King David. For the next five or six weeks, we will be talking about several key incidences in his life. He is one of the most significant characters in all the Bible.
Today’s lectionary text is an incredible passage with an amazing story, so let me get right to it without a formal introduction. First, I want to tell the story and then take a look at the three people mentioned in this passage and draw a few lessons from each one.
The story begins this way: (1) David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. (2)… to bring up from there the ark of God
Many years before this time, the Ark of the Covenant had been captured from Israel by the Philistines. The Ark was essentially a box which contained items like the Ten Commandments and some of the manna from the wilderness. It contained items from their history with God. The box went with them wherever they traveled. This Ark was a symbol of the presence of God. No matter where they wandered, God was with them. And God would provide for them again in the future. It was a highly symbolic box.
For about thirty years under King Saul, the nation had been without the Ark as part of their national worship. The Ark resided at the house of Abinadab for safe-keeping.
Now David is king. He has successfully conducted various military campaigns so that many of Israel’s enemies have been defeated.
David decided to move the capital city from Shiloh to Jerusalem. He wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital city, which was to be not only the political center, but also the religious center of the nation. It had been a long time since the Israelites had a specific location that would serve as a center for worship.
Some people would accuse David of being a shrewd politician when he did this. By bringing the religious symbol to his political capital, he identifies himself God and the kingship of God. A shrewd politician today might also use the trappings of religion gather support for his political activities. Just because someone throws around the name of God and talks about our pet issues does not mean they are legitimately a person of God.
But I think David does this out of the most sincere motives. David is portrayed as a man after God’s own heart. David consistently shows that he legitimately worshipped God and could not imagine being king without having God’s blessing.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Thanks for the service. It’s been very helpful, not only for sermon work but in leading Bible studies using the analysis of the text.”
A user-friendly resource for busy pastors!
Verse three says, They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart
This verse does not seem to be significant unless we look at the other verses in the Bible that talk about the Ark of the Covenant. On the Ark were rings which had poles through them. Men were to carry the Ark by using those poles. That was the prescribed method for carrying the Ark.
But when Abindab and his two sons were given the privilege of moving the Ark to Jerusalem, they hit upon a new idea and a new technology. The Philistines had invented the ox cart. So they put the Ark on the cart so that the people would not be so burdened. This sounds reasonable, but it was not what God had instructed.
Verse five says, David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
The procession of the Ark was accompanied with plenty of music, singing and even dancing. And no one danced more vigorously than David. This was a grand celebration.
Next comes a few verses that were left out of the reading today, but I want to tell you what they say. Verses 6-11 tell of the death of Uzzah, one of the sons of Abinadab. As the procession begins, the oxen stumble and the ark teeters. Uzzah naturally reaches out his hand to steady the ark. Verse 7 says, “The anger of Yahweh was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.” This is a shocking part of the story, and we will come back to this in just a minute.
We can imagine the effect of this death on the parade. I read about a baseball game where the umpire died. They called off the game and sent everybody home. That’s what happened with David’s parade. When Uzzah died, they stopped the procession and waited for three months. David was disturbed and even angry with God over Uzzah’s death.
After three months, the procession is resumed. We presume that this time David does the procession right using the poles and humans to carry the Ark. Every six steps, David stopped to make an offering to the Lord. David was intent on making this procession right.
The Ark is brought into Jerusalem successfully. In verse 16, we get another character, “It was so, as the ark of Yahweh came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before Yahweh; and she despised him in her heart.” That verse carries a lot of meaning.
David has been celebrating by dancing and is almost naked by this point. Michal sees her husband, David, and is upset that he is behaving this way. Michal is the daughter of Saul. David and Michal had a little argument about this incident.
In the final paragraph, the Ark is brought in, there are offerings, and David gives to everyone a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
That’s the story. Now let’s try to draw a lesson from each of the three main characters. First is David. His story holds center place in this story. The big question for him is, “Why did David dance?” He danced before the Ark, reckless and joyful. And the Bible indicates he was naked or almost so.
Why did he dance? I think it is because David was the kind of person who responded with his heart. He was not the kind to be calculating and overly concerned with being politically correct or even proper protocol for a king. He trusted his reactions. He went with his instincts.
Imagine him as a boy who grew up tending sheep in the fields. We know that he killed lions and bears on many occasions to protect the sheep. When a lion comes to attack the sheep, he did not think rationally about his plan of attack. He just responded! If he saw a bear, he immediately went into attack. When Goliath threatened Israel, David immediately responded with his slingshot. If he had stopped to think, he might have been afraid. But he trusted his instincts and his reflexes.
On this occasion, he trusted his instincts to worship God. I think David is the kind of person who knows God protected him from the lion and the bear. He has often needed God’s help, and God has always been there for him. God brought him his success. David is genuine in his faith in God because God had always been faithful to him.
When the Ark comes to Jerusalem, he is filled with genuine emotion. He celebrates with great thanksgiving and dances as an open and honest response to God. He was not concerned with propriety and protocol, walking in somber fashion bringing the Ark solemnly into Jerusalem. No, he came with honest celebration and joy. He was not ashamed of his emotions.
The second important character in this text is Uzzah, the man who was struck dead because he touched the Ark of the Covenant. The crucial question is why did God strike Uzzah dead? Thinking about this makes us uncomfortable. Isn’t God someone who is consistently revealed as the giver of life, patiently calling us to repentance, constantly seeking the lost, always showing his steadfast love for us. It makes us uncomfortable when we come across an event in which God kills.
When we read this story, we are shocked. What has Uzzah done to deserve this? The Bible doesn’t really say. I think we have to speculate a bit to come to an acceptable understanding of this passage.
The narrative itself does not tell us much about Uzzah. But we do know the Ark has been in the house of his father for years. So we assume that Uzzah and his brother had been taking care of the Ark. Christian tradition says that Uzzah was in charge of the Ark. We can imagine him being fussy about the Ark. He had come to a sense of ownership of the Ark. He had to protect the Ark, and in a sense protect God. His lifelong obsession was with managing the Ark. Perhaps he also thought he could manage God.
The lesson is that he put a hand on the Ark, but the Bible instructs that no one could touch the Ark. Perhaps Uzzah made the mistake of thinking he was in charge of God.
Some of us try to put God in a box; we try to contain God; we try to manage God. We don’t want God to disturb out lives so we put God where we want God to be. But God is not so easily controlled.
This passage should represent a sign for us that says, “Beware of God!” That’s not what we like to hear, but it is what the Bible says. Sometimes we get a little too buddy-buddy with God. We sometimes forget that this is an awesome and powerful God, and we should approach God with reverence and awe. We cannot manage God. We don’t protect God. But God is to manage our lives. There is a great danger when we handle holy things and try to put our hand on God.
The third prominent character in the story is introduced to us near the end. It is David’s wife Michal, who was also Saul’s daughter. This poor woman has been given in marriage three times for political reasons. The first time Saul gave her to David. The Bible does say that Michal loved David at that point. Saul offered his daughter to marry David if he would kill 100 Philistines, but David killed 200. So Saul reluctantly gave Michal to David.
Later King Saul becomes a little unbalanced and tries to kill David. David runs. So Saul gave Michal to a man named Palti to be his wife. I suspect that Michal may have fallen in love with Palti. But it is very clear that he fell in love with her.
When David regains power, he insists that Michal be given back to him as his wife. As she is brought back, Palti follows her weeping all the way.
By the time of our story today, Michal looks out to see David dancing, and the Bible says, “She despised him.” There is no love in this marriage now.
Perhaps Michal had a sense of proper protocol because she was raised in the house of King Saul. She was royalty and knew the things that kings and king’s daughters were supposed to do and not do. They were supposed to be dignified. When David was shouting and dancing and half naked, she does not approve.
David and Michal have a confrontation at the end of this chapter. David is obviously angry with her. The last verse of the chapter says that Michal will remain childless until her death.
Perhaps there are lessons we can learn from her. She was a bitter woman, given as a pawn in marriage by political forces beyond her control. She does not love her husband.
When the parade is coming, what is she doing in the window? Why is she a spectator and not a participant? She has chosen for whatever reason not to be a part of the parade. She looks on as a bystander. She sees the people with too much enthusiasm for God.
Which character do we identify with? Perhaps we are like Michal, carrying over old bitterness and not able to bring ourselves to participate the celebration of God. Are we spectators, bystanders, looking on critically at those who worship God in ways we do not approve? If we are this way, our lives will also be barren if we do not become participants in the parade of God.
Are we like Uzzah thinking God is in our box? Do we think we control God? Are we the kind of people who try to put a hand on God? If so, the Bible’s message for us is, “Beware of God.”
Or are we like David, a person who was a genuine person who trusted God and his reflexes? He was not one to manipulate God or control God. He was not a spectator. He was a part of the celebration, worshipping God with all his heart and might. He let his emotions go. God loved David because he was a man after God’s own heart.
I hope that we will chose to be like David, and learn from him to be a better persons of God.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2003, Dr. Mickey Anders. Used by permission.