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Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 6 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/24/2016 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 6
“The Ark of the LORD Came into the City of David”
A blessing or a curse? Is God’s presence with someone a good thing, or a bad thing? Well, it depends. The heart of the matter is that the very same presence of God can come to some people and it can be a good thing; a blessed thing. Other times, it can be a bad thing; a thing of curse and judgment and wrath.
Well, in today’s passage we are reminded a little of the awesomeness of God’s presence. It has the ability to bless, but also to curse. I want us to think about this as we analyze this passage. And to start us thinking about application, let me say this: We should want God’s presence in our lives. It is ultimately a good thing for Christians. Though we should have a healthy reverence for the holiness and the power of God, if there is a way to know his blessed presence in our lives, that is a great thing. And so how can we know that blessed presence, and not his presence that comes in wrath and judgment? We’ll explore that topic today.
Let us begin then with our first point to consider God’s presence in conjunction with his anger. That’s what this passage gets to in the first part. You see, we pick up the story of King David’s positive rise with a major setback or hurdle. We’ve been talking about the glorious way in which David’s kingdom has been established. He finally had been anointed king over all Israel. He had conquered Jerusalem as a wonderful capital and seat of government for his new united kingdom. Last passage, by the power of God, we saw him deal two major blows against those archenemies the Philistines. And so now in great triumph he has a very good desire. He wants to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the city.
Remember, this has been a theme as we’ve studied the book of 1 and 2 Samuel. The book of 1 Samuel started with the people having bad leadership, leadership that tried to take the Ark into battle, even though they weren’t in a right relationship with God. They had needed to repent of their many sins and get right with God. And yet in great presumption they brought the Ark into battle, and lost it. The Philistines captured it. Well, if you recall, the Ark took care of itself, causing great curse among the Philistines, who finally had to send it away. And so they sent it on a cart out of their land. It ultimately ended up in the town of Baale of Judah, and now David wants to bring it to the new capital. And this made sense. It made sense for the presence of God as represented in the Ark to be in the city of the great king. Even the Torah had talked about how once the people moved into the Promised Land that God would place his name in a specific place, and that’s where the people would go to worship him. David seems to rightly recognize God’s hand in centering things here in Jerusalem.
And so David has a great desire. Unfortunately, he does not properly execute his desire. He seems to make some great efforts. He brings 30,000 Israelites together for this. He uses a new cart, surely new to reflect its holy purpose. And he attends the moving with all this praise and celebration. But as we read, along the way, the Ark stumbles, and one of the two people who were moving the cart reaches out to steady it, and he is struck dead by God. God is a holy God and Numbers 4 said that people weren’t to touch it. But the problem started even before that. You see, Numbers 4 said that when you move the Ark, you are supposed to use poles and carry it. Ironically, it was the Philistine pagan priests who when they sent it back thought a new cart would be a fitting way to move it. And so David’s choice here to use a new cart actually reflects the common wisdom of the day. But the problem was that they didn’t inquire as to how God had already told them to move it. In fact, 1 Chronicles 15:13, which is a parallel account of this event, records David admitting this. He says there that they hadn’t inquired as to the right way to do it, and that’s why God’s anger had fell upon them. There’s an application here. Read your Bible for God’s will! It’s not like David would have needed some special new revelation from God. They just had to read what was already written down there in Numbers 4. You see, the opposite is to either ignorantly presume what God’s will is, or even to just use the pagan wisdom in terms of spirituality. But that’s not the way to do it. Read the Bible and seek God’s will in it, especially in matters like this, when it comes to a right worship of God! (This passage then becomes another proof text for the Regulative Principle of Worship.)
And since they didn’t do that here, God’s presence became a terrible thing for them, specifically Uzzah. When Uzzah touched the cart, it says in verse 7 that God’s anger burned against him. You know, this was up to this point, an amazing and exciting day for Israel. It really marked a big turning point for the people. The Davidic kingdom is being established in Jerusalem, and the Ark is coming. And yet, I’m reminded of how it seems God thinks it best to remind people of this lesson at times like this. I’m talking about the lesson of God’s holiness. Think of how when the tabernacle was first established and worship established there. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu decided to deviate from God’s commands for worship, and he struck them dead. Or in the new covenant, in the book of Acts, right at the start of the New Testament church, Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead in their perversion of worship. And so it seems God in his wisdom uses these times where some amazing fresh work of his grace is happening, to also remind people that he is a holy God and that we must still have a right reverence for God, even with his great grace coming to us.
And so we see David’s initial reaction to God’s act here. At first he is angry, verse 8. Then he is afraid of the Lord, verse 9. Then he, at least, momentarily, abandons his plan to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. I don’t think this is a high point for David. As much as he is a man after God’s own heart, this story shows he is still a man; still flawed and one who struggles with sin. Here he really has no one to blame but himself, but he is angry and afraid and calls off his otherwise good plan. What he should have done was to humble himself and repent.
And so this brings us then to our second point, to see that indeed that’s what David ultimately does. Let’s consider now God’s presence and his blessing. You see, after David leaves the Ark behind at the home of Obed-Edom, something wonderful happens. That household gets greatly blessed. We are not told how, just that it happened, and apparently people recognized it. David recognized it. And so David realizes in this time his error and knows that this blessed presence of God should indeed be in Jerusalem. So, he renews his plan to bring the Ark. And it’s more clear in the 1 Chronicles account, but we see it here too; this time he does the right thing. In verse 13, it talks of them bearing the Ark, in other words, they are now rightly carrying it. Again, in 1 Chronicles it’s clear that this time they consulted the Bible and were moving it now according to the book.
And not only that, but we see all the sacrifices done, along with more praises and dancing and great joy. David, particularly, plays a big role here. He begins to look a little like a priest here, wearing a linen ephod like a priest would wear. He blesses the people like a priest would do, and gives them a fellowship meal of sorts, like a priest would do. And he dances in great joy but also in great humility before the Lord in this procession with the Ark.
Of course, we know that his dancing, which apparently involved very little clothing, was an act of him humbling himself, because of David’s dialogue with his wife Michel. She sees David’s dancing and when he comes home to also bless his house, she has some words to say to him. She is disgusted at his conduct. She’s concerned that he did this before all the maidservants, and acting like what she thinks is some vulgar person prancing around almost naked. But David’s response explains what he was doing. Look at verse 21. “So David said to Michal, ‘It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore, I will play music before the LORD. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.’” David’s response, then, reveals what he was trying to do. It was an act of great humility before God for him to strip down to just these small priestly garments, and go dancing and playing music, before the Lord. In other words, though Michal though it shameful for David to act like this, David says that he was intentionally trying to humble himself before the Lord like this.
Of course, this attitude of humility especially makes sense, given the context. David had presumptuously started to move the Ark the first time. Actually, that failure to do it God’s way seemed a lot like how King Saul would have operated. And David’s initial anger and fear and giving up the plans didn’t seem like a better response. But now he has come to a point of repentance. And so David changes course by now moving the Ark in the right way, and has so many sacrifices offered, and expressed great humility in his dancing and singing. And David says rightly, that this undignified behavior will serve to actually raise people’s esteem of him, because they will recognize that it was an act of humility before God. We could also note that it was simultaneously an act of gratitude toward God who, as David points out, brought him to the throne.
And so Michal’s response to David here got it wrong. We see God bringing chastisement to her in verse 23. God closes her womb. David and her never have any children. Interestingly, God is able to chastise Michal here while simultaneously carrying out his will toward Saul. If Michal and David had a son together, he might have been a candidate for the throne. That would have been a way in which Saul’s dynasty would have lived on, in some capacity. But as God had decreed before, that was not to be the case.
But the point here is that David bringing the Ark to Jerusalem was God’s presence coming to the city in a special way. David wanted to act in the right way in light of it. And he did. And God blessed the people in this, and gave them great joy. Michal’s negative attitude in this, only heightens the point. When David came home to share the blessing with his house, including Michal, she doesn’t share in it. She has this wrong anger, and instead of being honored and blessed, she experiences this shame, not only of her husband’s rebuke, but of God’s discipline.
And so in our first point, we’ve recognized how God’s presence at first brought his anger and wrath, given those circumstances. But then in our second point, we noted the blessing of God’s presence as his people rightly followed his instructions for how to commune with him. Those are two very different outcomes of God’s presence. And so today we are reminded of something of the nature of God’s presence. It is a terror to those who under his judgment. But it is a blessing and source of great joy to those in a good relationship with him.
And so what I’d like to do in our final point then, is to spend some time connecting these truths to us. Hopefully the general application is already pretty clear. We should indeed want God’s presence in our lives. But we have to have it in the right way. And this is where we are brought back to the gospel. You see, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We all we deserve judgment from God. We all should experience his anger and be struck dead if we come into his presence. That’s what we’ve earned, according to the Bible. Romans 6:23 calls it our wage. That’s how we should experience his presence then: it should mean for us death and destruction and curse and literally hell.
And yet the gospel declares to us that we can instead know the blessing and joy of his presence. And we can know that through Jesus Christ. Next week we’ll talk more about how Jesus makes that possible as our Great High Priest. We’ll do that by studying this passage a second time and thinking more here about the parts that show David acting as a sort of priest. But for today, let us simply say this. Jesus experienced God’s terror and judgment and wrath for us. In our place; on the cross. Uzzah experienced a taste of it there in verse 7. They ended up naming the place where that happened Perez Uzzah, literally, “Outburst against Uzzah.” That’s but a small picture of what Jesus suffered for us. That place was named Golgotha, or Calvary. There Jesus received an ever greater outburst from God. He bore all the punishment for the sins of all God’s elect.
He did this, so that we could be back in a right relationship with God. So that his presence would mean blessing and joy for us, and not anger and wrath. And the Bible says that we can receive this as a gift when we repent of our sins, and turn and put our faith in Jesus Christ. We are then called to become Jesus’ disciples and follow him.
And so this is the blessing we now have. This is the joy we now have. We experience the presence of God, and it is a great thing! How do we experience the presence of God? Well that is what is especially amazing. We don’t go to Jerusalem to experience. Every born again believer experiences it right inside us. God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our hearts. The Bible says that believers are now the temple for God. That’s where his presence is. And it has not killed us. Actually, it has put to death the old man in us. And now already by the God’s presence within us, we’ve come to know every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. We have joy in our hearts that is inexpressible. Praise be to God.
So then, I’d like to leave us with two final applications today. The first is about how to respond to God’s chastisement. I think of how David responded to what happened with Uzzah. He responded at first with anger and fear. Realize that is a very real temptation. This can be so typical of us. When God brings chastisement, we can have these flood of emotions, when really what God is calling us to do is to repent. We can blame God when things don’t go our way, when really we were the ones at fault. And so, instead, humility and repentance is what is in order. We should humble ourselves before God and learn the lesson we are to learn. Then we should repent. We should turn from that specific form of disobedience and look to do things God’s way. This is so we would not miss out on any enjoying of God.
Let me explain that last statement. As Christians we’ve already known the blessing and joy of God’s presence. And if we’ve truly known Christ’s salvation, we won’t ultimately lose it. And yet, sometimes God may choose to bring chastisement in our lives when we sin. He does this to teach us and train us. That might include some ways in which we experience sorrows in this life of different sorts. That’s when we need to humble ourselves and repent of that sin. Now, this doesn’t mean that should you do that, that you won’t experience troubles or hardship in this life. There are many hardships humans face that aren’t related to a particular sin in our lives, and there are hardships we sometimes face specifically because we are Christians looking to live for the Lord. But the point is that God’s way is still the best way. There is joy and blessing in repentance and new obedience.
A second, and related application is this: Biblical humiliation is not the same as hopeless despair and wallowing in self-pity. Let me explain by pointing to this passage. We saw how David humbled himself here. But notice that his humility recognizes how God has already exalted him. Verse 21. When he explains his act of humility to his wife, he explains how he did this, in light of how God had so exalted him as king. And so though David is very clear that he will humble himself before God, it’s not like he’s just full of sorrow and despair. That’s the temptation for some of us when we start talking about our sin, and how we need to humble ourselves and repent. One temptation is just to think how utterly horrible you are, and how you are so unworthy of God’s love, and have so offended God, and you miss the fact that as a Christian he’s already forgiven you. He’s already exalted you as one of his own adopted children. And so we should humble ourselves before God. Not just in light of our sins, but every time we worship him. But we should do it with a recognition of the high way in which he has already exalted us. These things are not mutually exclusive. David knew how God had exalted him, and yet he sought to greatly humble himself before God. May that be a pattern for us as well.
In closing, I point us back to the first catechism question. What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. This passage reminds us of the glory of God’s presence. But it also reminds us of the joy that we can know in that glorious presence. Praise the LORD for his grace in Jesus Christ by which we’ve come to know his blessed presence! Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.