The ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. (2 Samuel 6:2)
We come today to the amazing story of the ark. We are not talking about Noah’s Ark. We are talking about The Raiders of the Lost Ark ark!
I want to speak especially to the person who is disappointed with God, the person who is missing out on the blessing of God, the person who has lost the joy they once had in God, the person who grieves over a loved one who does not share your love for God.
Background to the story
The ark was a wooden chest about four feet long, two feet wide, and two feet high. The box was overlaid with gold, and it had a lid with two angelic figures, cherubim, engraved in gold on the top. So, this box weighed a ton.
The significance of the ark was that God had promised to meet with his people there. “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you” (Exodus 25:22).
The ark was never to be seen. In fact, God had said that anyone who touched the ark, or even looked at it directly, would die (Numbers 4:15, 20). The ark was kept hidden behind a curtain. Only the High Priest was allowed to go behind this curtain, God had given very precise instructions about how the ark was to be moved. That work was given to the Koathites. They had to move the ark without seeing it and without touching it!
How could they move the ark without seeing it? They approached the ark with the curtain held up in front of them so that they did look at the ark directly. They covered the ark with the curtain (Numbers 4:5).
How could they move the ark without touching it? On each side of the ark were two golden rings with long wooden poles through the rings. When the ark was wrapped in the curtain, the Koathites would put their shoulders under the poles and lift the ark without touching it.
The work of the Koathites must have felt like the work of bomb disposal experts today – it was dangerous work! All of this communicated very powerfully that the presence of God is a dangerous place for sinners like us to be.
There were many remarkable stories about the ark—stories of God’s power breaking out and extraordinary things happening. On one occasion, after a battle in which they had been defeated by their enemies, God’s people decided that it might help if next time they went into battle, they took the ark with them. That was pure superstition. Here were people who didn’t
want God in their lives trying to invoke his help in times of trouble. It didn’t work. God’s people were defeated again. The Philistines captured their ark, and put it in the temple at Ashdod where they had built an idol of their god Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1).
The Philistines were delighted. Not only had they defeated God’s people, they had ‘captured’ their God. But God is never captured. The following morning when the attendants opened the doors of Dagon’s temple, their idol had fallen and lay smashed on the floor. The people of Ashdod decided they had better get rid of the ark, so they sent it to the people in the next town – Gath (1 Samuel 5:8). When the ark arrived there, the people got sick, and so they sent it onto the next town – Ekron, where the same thing happened.
“What shall we do with the ark of God?” (1 Samuel 6:1). This God is powerful, and he is clearly against us! The counselors they consulted said, “Don’t harden your hearts as Pharaoh did” (1 Samuel 6:6). If you try to fight this God, you can never win.
So, they put the ark on a cart, tied it to two cows, and sent them off in the direction of the border with Israel (1 Samuel 6:10-12). It ended up in the house of a man called Abinadab, and there it remained, neglected for a generation.
Now we take up the story in 2 Samuel 6
David knew that the kingdom he had been given belonged God, not to him, and he wanted God to be at the center of the kingdom. He knew how much he needed the Lord and so he decided to bring the ark from the house of Abinadab to Jerusalem.
“David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand” (2 Samuel 6:1). 30,000 men hit the road and they walked the 10 miles or so from Jerusalem to the house of Abinadab. Abinadab had two sons, Uzzah and Ahio. Picture the scene at the breakfast table.
“Boys, this is a great day. The King is coming and he is going to take the ark to Jerusalem. 30,000 men are coming with him and you two, my boys, are going to lead the procession!”
“You mean we have to carry the ark?” says Uzzah. “That thing weighs a ton!”
“Yes, and we would have to carry it for 10 miles,” says Ahio, “and Jerusalem is uphill! Wouldn’t it be easier if we put it on a cart?”
“Listen boys, God has given very precise instructions about how the ark is to be moved,” Abinadab says.
“Dad, it’s an old piece of furniture, surrounded by a bunch of supernatural traditions.
It’s been sitting here, neglected, for years. If we have to move it, we are putting it on a cart.”
And that is what they did. “They carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio—the sons of Abinadab—were driving the new cart” (2 Samuel 6:3).
I want to draw out four themes from this story that speak powerfully to us today.
1. Taking offense at the judgment of God
David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. (2 Samuel 6:5)
This was quite a party! 30,000 people, and all of them were rocking! The procession started out well, but then something happened that entirely changed the mood of the party. The oxen pulling the cart stumbled—causing the ark to lurch over—so Uzzah reached out to steady it. He touched the ark, and he died on the spot (2 Samuel 6:6-7).
Picture yourself at the back of the procession, banging your tambourine. Ahead of you are thousands of people. Suddenly the procession grinds to a halt. From the front to the back the music stops. “What in the world happened?” The news spreads through the crowd: “Someone died! It’s Uzzah—he touched the ark.”
Nobody likes this. Even David was offended by it. “David was angry because the LORD had burst forth against Uzzah” (2 Samuel 6:8). There are only a few places in the Bible where God breaks out in instant judgment like this.
It happened with Nadab and Abihu in the Old Testament (Leviticus 10:1-2), and with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) in the New Testament. But normally we see God forbearing, passing over the flouting of his law, showing patience, and giving time. Why? Because he wants to give space so that people have the opportunity to repent.
Judgment for flouting God’s law is what will happen when we are in his presence. But that is the whole point of this story. God said, “I will meet you” at the ark. Being next to the ark was like being in the presence of God!
How could I ever survive in the presence of a God like this? That’s a question that few people are asking today. Millions simply assume that if there is a god, he must be a god who accepts and affirms everyone. But such a god is not the God of the Bible; such a god is simply the figment of the human imagination.
Have you seriously considered the God of the Bible who brings every flouting of his law to judgment? Have you considered what it will mean for you, one day, to stand before him?
You may be saying, “I don’t want anything to do with a God who judges people who flout his law.” At this point in the story, that’s where David was. He was angry, because he did not like what God had done.
Are you offended by God?
Has there been something in your life that left you saying, “Why did that happen?” You have struggled to come to terms with it. And it has caused you, like David, to be angry with God.
2. Missing out on the blessing of God
And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. (2 Samuel 6:9-10)
“If this is what God is like, I don’t think I can ever be near him, and I’m not sure, I even want to be near him.” This is David, the man after God’s own heart! At one point in his life, he was angry with God. He felt that he would rather be far from God than near him. “I can’t live with a God who does things like this.”
David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD home with him. So, “David took it aside to the house of Obed Edom, the Gittite” (2 Samuel 6:10). Now a Gittite was an inhabitant of the Philistine city of Gath. Goliath was a Gittite, and so the great irony here was that Obed-Edom was a Gentile. We have to assume from the fact that he was living among God’s people that he had come to know and worship the Lord. He was an example of a Gentile who said, as Ruth had done, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
David says, “I don’t want the ark, let’s give it to the Gittite!” Then we read: “And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household” (2 Samuel 6:11)
The God who has power to judge also has power to bless. David didn’t want a God who judges near him. What he finds is that the God who blesses is far from him! The blessing that would have been his goes to someone else.
Are you missing out on the blessing of God?
Here’s what happens: You take offense at something God has done. Instead of walking closely with God, you keep at what you think is a ‘safe’ distance from him. But now you are missing out on the blessing that could be yours! You come to church and others are blessed, but not you. God is at work around you, but you no longer experience his blessing.
Now if that is your position, you face a choice, and the choice you make will determine the future course of your life. Either you will remain offended at God or you will seek the blessing of God.
I want to say to every person who is offended by God today, there is blessing that you could enjoy right now, a blessing that you could be bringing to others. When you cling to what has offended you, you forfeit the blessing that could be yours.
3. Finding joy in the presence of God
It was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. (2 Samuel 6:12)
David has joy because the same God who is terrible in judgment is also wonderful in blessing. He is powerful to judge those who defy him, and he is powerful to bless those who seek him. The two go together and this is why David says, in the Psalms, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11).
Fearing God and rejoicing in him belong together because the same power that would make you tremble if God was against you brings joy when you know that he is for you. David’s joy comes from knowing that God did not come among his people to destroy them. He came to bless them!
But you can only know the blessing of God if you come to him in the way that he has prescribed! 1 Chronicles 15 tells us how David gathered the Koathites and said, in effect, “We are going to bring the ark to Jerusalem, and this time we are going to do it God’s way.”
All of this is pointing us to Jesus Christ. Just as the ark was the place where God’s judgment and blessing were made known to David then, Jesus Christ is the place where God’s judgment and blessing are made known to us today.
The cross shows that God judges sin, and that God blesses sinners. The cross is where God meets with us so that with judgment removed, we may enter into his blessing. When God comes to meet us in Jesus Christ, he comes not to judge, but to bless.
Are you finding joy in the presence of God?
When David got right with God, this blessing came to many people. “When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts” (2 Samuel 6:18).
When God comes to meet us in Jesus Christ, he comes not to judge, but to bless. The blessing that came to these people with the ark comes to us in Jesus Christ. He “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). Great blessing will be yours if you will have him.
Some scholars think that Psalm 24 was written in the light of this great day. It begins with a question: “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:1). That question comes right out of what happened to Uzzah.
But the psalm ends with an overflow of joy: “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!” (Psalm 24:7, 9). Fling wide the gates. Let the Lord who comes to bless his people in!
To the person who has been offended by God, to the person who has been missing out on the blessing of God, I say today: You could make no better response to the Word of God today than to fling wide open the gates of your heart and life and let the Lord who will bless you in!
4. Staying faithful in the service of God
David returned to bless his household. (2 Samuel 6:20)
Some people will open their lives to the presence and blessing of God; others will not. Some will hold on to their anger—to their own destruction—and miss the blessing they could have enjoyed.
One person who did that was Michal, David’s wife. “As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, and she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16).
To David’s credit, when he was done with his public duties for the day, he wanted to share the blessing he had enjoyed with his own family. “David returned to bless his household” (2 Samuel 6:20). David is full of joy in God. The people have been blessed and now he wants to bring that joy and blessing to his own family. But when he gets home, the person he loves is as cold as ice.
Many of you know what this is like, and some of you will experience it again today. You have been blessed, touched, helped, encouraged in the presence of God. You long that the people you love could share in this blessing. But when you go home, there is a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a father, or a mother waiting for you. They are offended by God, and that makes them angry with you.
Will you stay faithful to God?
There is a great sadness about Michal here. Verse 20 reminds us that she was the daughter of Saul, as if to tell us that her contempt is the voice of a kingdom that is passing away.
Michal loved “David the champion” who defeated Goliath and routed enemies. But she despised “David the believer” who danced for joy in the presence of God. Some of you know what this is like. Someone you love despises your joy in the God with whom they are offended.
What is David going to do about that? He stays faithful in the service of God: “I will make merry before the Lord” (2 Samuel 6:21). You may despise me for this, and it may be that in the future you despise me even more, but however contemptible I become in your eyes, I will worship the Lord. I will seek his presence. I will live to serve him, and in him I will find great joy. Nothing good can ever come to the people you love by loving Jesus less.
The living God of the Bible is the God who judges every flouting of his law. He is despised by the world, and beyond this life there is an awful eternity for those who will be angry with him forever. There’s no future there.
But the God who will judge comes near to us—not in the ark, but in Jesus Christ—in order to bless. Those who receive him will be blessed with great joy!
© Colin S. Smith
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