In the previous chapter we learned that armies often carried their gods into battle in the hope that they would bring them victory. David’s men win the victory, capture the idols, and then burn them. The presence of the idols failed to bring victory to the Philistines. For some unexplained reason David determines to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem to be with him. David gathers the army and prepares a huge celebration to witness this amazing event. David even gathers together a large band to accompany this parade. Most of the instruments in the band are listed, but the sistrum was unfamiliar to me. Check out his video if you want a quick look at what a sistrum is:
All the preparations seem to make sense, but when the ark begins to move the oxen stumble and Uzzah, one of the sons of the man who had kept the ark from several months, reaches out to keep it from sliding off the cart. As soon as Uzzah touches the ark he dies. The grand celebration immediately stops as God expresses His disapproval for what is happening. My practical mind wonders why the ark was not tied down, or why there was no railing on the edges of the cart. My human mind responds as David’s did and wonders why God killed Uzzah when he was trying to do something he thought was good.
David’s anger at God for Uzzah’s death quickly turns to fear. David wonders how he is ever going to get the ark to Jerusalem. The ark is left in the home of a different family, and they are blessed by God while caring for the ark. David determines to try again and this time he searches out the instructions for moving the ark. The parallel account of these events can be found in 1 Chronicles 13:7-14 and 1 Chronicles 15, where great emphasis is placed on seeking God’s instruction.
God’s instructions are clear, and the people had been warned. Uzzah’s death was not unjustified.
“After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, only then are the Kohathites to come and do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the tent of meeting.Numbers 4:15 NIV
Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.Joshua 3:1-3 NIV
The second procession celebrates with some differences. All the instruments are replaced by trumpets. The ark is carried by the priests. Every six steps along the route a sacrifice is made. David dances before God and shares gifts of food with everyone in the crowd. An amazing time is had by everyone except one.
The story ends on a very sad note. David’s wife Michal is embarrassed by his manner of dress and his dancing. She disapproves loudly when David returns home. I am convinced that she felt that David has dishonored the position of king not understanding that David’s goal was to honor God. Her punishment for the disrespect she showed to David was that she would never have children.
What about us?
When David went to retrieve the ark the first time he acted on impulse. He wanted the ark and had the power to assemble the celebration, so he went and got it. His impulsive desire to be blessed by the presence of the ark left no room for searching out God’s will in the matter.
We often act impulsively. It might be as simple as buying something at the grocery store that was not on the list. It might be as significant as giving in to a temptation that destroys relationships, including our relationship with God. Impulses are driven by our desires and impulsive actions make no room for interacting with God to allow Him to put a check on impulses that would harm us.
When David went to retrieve the ark the second time he acted with intention. He took the time to consult God’s word and quickly discovered the instructions he missed when acting on impulse. When he made room for God the result was an intentional celebration that honored God and blessed the people.
Almost always when I have done something in response to an impulse it has not worked out well. When I live with an intentional desire to honor God life may not always meet my expectations. God’s ways are not my ways, but I am confident that God’s way is always the better way.