Does God Have a Say in It?

The Ark of the Covenant is a story in the Bible that has managed to grasp the attention of diverse sects of society, both secular and religious. I myself have always enjoyed the biblical stories about the ark. These stories can at times be unnerving due their disturbing brutality, and at other times evoke a sense of wonderment at the intensity of God’s love combined with His wrath. The ark was shrouded in fear, veneration, disease, death, uncertainty, God’s forgiveness, and God’s vehemence. In The Bible, the sixth chapter of the book of 2 Samuel, there is a three-part story of The Ark of the Covenant. I stumbled across the story while I was trying to find some support for my satirical sermon that would be titled, “Why to Not Get Exited About God”. As I began to research and attempt to glean from various perspectives posted all over the internet. I found only two biblical sources that were consistently used to support Christian’s etiolated (sickly or weakened) worship of God. The first is not even worth responding to; it is the belief that within the church, believers should anesthetize the worship of The Lord so that they do not cause their brothers to stumble. In other words, your dancing could distract those around you from their worship, so keep it down. The second biblical source was the story found in the sixth chapter of the book of 2 Samuel. David had just defeated the Philistines who had taken the ark in a previous story. So, David made haste to arrange for the safe transport of the ark back to the City of David. As the story unfolds three distinct segments emerge. The first is David’s first attempt at transporting the ark. The second begins after he gathers the ark from Obed-Edom’s house and makes his final and successful attempt to transport the ark. The third segment in the story is Michal’s response to David’s rejoicing before The Lord. All of the commentators that I’ve read have agreed that this is a story that demonstrates the importance of worshipping God according to his ordinances explicitly stated in The Bible.

Beginning is verse two, The Bible says that David went with the people who were with him to bring back the ark. Great care was taken to provide an ostensive reverence for the ark during it’s passage back to The City of David. In order to provide for the ark’s safe transport, a new cart was built. Of course, any old cart could have been used to transport the ark, but this was a symbol of reverence to use only items that had not been defiled with other uses. Now remember, God had set an explicit standard for, and set of ordinances regarding the handling of the ark. One of these ordinances explained how the ark should be transported, which was with poles placed upon the shoulders of the priests. It might have seemed to David that he was going above and beyond the standard that God had set. Rather than carry it with those old poles, he decided why not really go all out and build a new cart for it. After all, if God demands a little respect, then a whole lot of respect ought to get me a grin, wink and a pat on the back, right? God was not amused. The Bible goes on to say that, as the ark was being carted along, David and the others were worshiping God and playing all kinds of instruments to Him. There is even mention of a tambourine, which always makes for a good time and some serious worship. All the while God was watching, growing angry. Now when the wheel of the cart carrying the ark hit a threshold in the floor, the ark began to topple. Fortunately Uzzah was there to steady the ark with his hand. God had said that only a priest should touch the ark of God, and Uzzah, a Levite, reached out with his hand to support the ark. The Bible says that the anger of The Lord burned against Uzzah (can you imagine?), and God struck him down for his irreverence. Now this event cast a bit of a shadow on the festivities of the day. Everything suddenly went silent, the last noise from the worship group was the idiot on the tambourine, who was quickly bumped and given a stern glare.

After Uzzah’s death from mistreating the ark, David grew to fear it, even for a time wanted nothing to do with it. That is why David said, “how should the ark come to me?” He wasn’t asking how the ark should be brought into the city, he already knew the answer to that question. What David was saying was, let it go elsewhere for fear that it should bite. So, David rid himself of the ark and left it at the house of Obed-Edom, who lived just outside of the City of David. Obed-Edom knew that the ark was only a savor of death to those who mistreated it, and therefore welcomed the ark into his house. Three months later David caught word that Obed-Edom’s house was being blessed, so he went to retrieve the ark and bring it into his city.

Let’s now examine the second segment in the story. This is where confusion sets in for people who use this story as an example of why we should not get excited about our Lord. Most people are clearly able to see that David was outside of the will of God up to this point in the story, but are unable to make the distinction between David’s first attempt to transport the ark and his second attempt at the same. When David set out again to carry the ark of the lord into the city, He determined himself to do it right this time. He had men carry the ark with poles on their shoulders. This is implied in v. 13 when The Bible makes mention of the “bearers of the ark” and their taking six paces. So David has realized that he mishandled the ark, and this was the reason for God’s wrath being poured out on them. God used the ark to teach David to rejoice with trembling and always treat holy things with reverence and holy fear. Uzzah died in his precipitancy, because of his and everybody else’s irreverence towards the Ark of the Covenant, as stated by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown. He also died, “To inspire awe of His majesty, submission to His law, and a profound veneration for the symbols and ordinances of His worship.”(quote from Matthew Henry). So it does not behoove us to attempt to worship The Lord in any manner other than what He would consider pleasing. We certainly should never think that we are free to worship God however we see fit. God expects to be approached with fear and an overwhelming sense of veneration. He expects us to always remember that it is God’s audience that we are requesting through our approach to worship Him. And so it was with a new understanding and adherence to God’s standard of worship that David brought the ark into his city, and danced in his infamous linen ephod.

David set out first to worship God in his own manner, while forgetting biblical doctrine; he then yielded to the will of God by acknowledging his sin and adhering to God’s ordinances for worship. Now verse twenty brings us to the third part of the story. Which is Michal’s response to David’s forgetting himself while worshiping The Lord. The Bible says that David arrived at his house with a good disposition. In fact, The Bible says in verse twenty that he was literally returning to his house in order to bestow his blessing on the place. Then in the later part of the verse we read, “But when he returned to bless his household…” That “but” kind of gives it away. Then the next word is “Michal”. This is like if I’m talking to some friends and I say, “I had a great time with you guys last night, but… when I got home, Stephanie…” I need not continue; they would already know the end of that story! However the Bible continues on to tell of how Michal was upset at David’s display. And in front of the maids no less! She scolded him harshly because she felt that his worship of the Lord had been too enthusiastic. She felt that David should anesthetize his worship of the Lord so as not to cause the young maids and the servants to stumble. Sound familiar? This chapter in the Bible ends by stating that Michal had no children until the day she died. This is another example of the consequences one must face when one attempts to overlook the biblical standard for worship, and instead rely only on human rational.

I overhear talk from church members about the worship leader who isn’t leading the worship in “their style”. Some people are convinced that if the service could just loosen up a bit, perhaps take on a more contemporary style, then The Lord would arrive and there would be true worship. Others within the church feel more comfortable with the quaint traditional worship style that they were raised on and have remained accustomed to for many decades. These two perspectives seem harmless enough, yet so did the carting of the ark. So did Michal’s embarrassment over her husband exposing himself during his worship. The problem remains that both of these perspectives are saturated in human logic. Both sides argue endlessly and bitterly. Will members of both sides of this malevolent argument ever make a bipartisan effort to pray together and seek God’s will for their worship service? It is, after all, God whom they are worshiping.

Nathan Gray

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