2 Samuel 6

Jimmy Jo1 & 2 Samuel, SermonsLeave a Comment

Read the passage here.

Last week in our study of the book of Samuel, we looked at several chapters leading up to the coronation of David as king over Israel.  As we remember, after Saul’s death, David is initially crowned as king over Judah (one of the twelve tribes of Israel).  And then after a war with Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth, David is crowned king over all of Israel. 

We pick up the story after that, but it’s worth noting the rest of chapter 5 (where we left off).  After David’s coronation as king over all Israel, we read that David takes Jerusalem from the Jebusites (5:6-16).  This is significant as Jerusalem is the center of David’s kingdom (indeed, it is called the “city of David”).  And as we know, Jerusalem becomes the center of worship for all Israel (it is where the temple will be built).  And then we read that David goes to war with the Philistines and defeats them (5:17-25).  This is significant because, again, the Philistines are the key enemy of Israel in the book of Samuel.  And the text makes it clear that David’s victory over the Philistines and their gods is because of the power and sovereignty of the Lord God.  So we might keep in mind that, throughout Samuel, it is always God who gives Israel the victory. 

This is where we pick up the story today. 

If we’ve been following the story since the beginning of 1 Samuel, we will note that this is not the first time we’ve heard about the ark of the Lord.  However, it is the first time we’ve heard about the ark of the Lord since the beginning of the Samuel story.  That the ark is being reintroduced to (or reappearing in) the story should make us pay attention – and this especially because it was central to such a dramatic part of early Samuel

Back when we began Samuel, one of our speakers team gave an in-depth discussion of the ark, its significance, and its role in the biblical narrative.  With apologies to the amount of work Chris did, I’m going to (over) simplify and say that the ark represents the presence of God with the Israelites.  When we read the various accounts of the ark in the Pentateuch, we note that the ark both represents and demonstrates presence, power, holiness, and protection (especially, under the covenant).  And when I say “represents and demonstrates,” what I mean is that the ark is not God (obviously) – that is, the ark is not an idol – but it points to God.  But yet the ark is not merely symbolic.  For lack of better terminology, the ark is efficacious – Israel’s possession of the ark and procession with the ark matters.  For example, when the Israelites carried the ark into battle against their enemies, they were victorious. 

So when we arrive at Samuel, one of the first accounts we read (1 Samuel 4) is that Israel went to war with the Philistines.  And they decided to take the ark into battle with them to ensure their victory.  However, it is precisely the Israelites’ decision to make use of the ark that brings them defeat.  The ark (God) is not something to be used.  The Israelites fall to the Philistines and the Philistines captured the ark of God. 

Then we read in 1 Samuel 5 that the Philistines take the ark to their homeland and (in short) try to subdue the ark – that is, they essentially try to subjugate the ark of God before their own gods.  In short, calamity falls upon the Philistines and they then return the ark to the Israelites (in chap. 6). 

So we might say that in the early part of Samuel, we learn two things from these stories.  Firstly, we learn that God is not something to be used (by the Israelites).  He is not a tool or an instrument – He is not to be put at the beck and call of human beings.  Secondly, we learn that God is able to defeat His enemies without the Israelites.  To put it another way, whereas the Israelites are not able to overcome their enemies without the help and presence of God, God does not need the Israelites in order to gain victory for Himself. 

As all of this takes place at the beginning of Samuel, it should set the stage for us to read Samuel as, once again, not Israel’s story (and not David’s story) but God’s story. 

There’s slightly more to the story of the ark in 1 Samuel, but we’ll leave it there for now.  But suffice it to say that this early part of Samuel should inform us – it should be in the forefront of our minds as the ark shows up once again in the story.  Again, the ark has been absent from the story since the early part of 1 Samuel.  After the Philistines returned the ark to Israel, it has not been mentioned.  That is to say that the ark has been absent in the story of Israel for the entire duration of the reign of Saul.  But here, David has become king and the ark reappears.  That alone should catch our attention.  We might say, with a great deal of caution, that the presence of God has been absent from the story of Israel for the entire duration of Saul’s reign because God has been absent from Saul’s reign.  But now David has taken the throne and the presence of God reappears – the ark reappears.  But how does it reappear?  What happens when the ark re-enters the life of Israel? 

To review our passage briefly, we might say that the story progresses as follows: 

  • 1-5: David delivers the ark (presumably to Jerusalem?)
  • 6-7: Sacrilege and death of Uzzah
  • 9-11: Ark brought to Obed-Edom (instead of Jerusalem?)
    • God (the presence of the ark) blesses Obed-Edom
  • 12-16: David brings the ark to Jerusalem
  • 17-19: David worships before the ark (before God)
  • 20-23: David returns home to Michal
    • God “curses(?)” Michal

Commentator Dale Ralph Davis argues that chapter 6 proceeds in two mirror halves (though “mirror” is perhaps the wrong word).  I’m not entirely convinced by his analysis, but there does seem to be two distinct halves to the chapter.  Following this, we might see the passage laid out as such: 

  • 1-5: David delivers the ark (to Jerusalem?)
    • 6-7: Uzzah dishonours the ark
      • 9-11: Ark brought to the home of Obed-Edom
        • God  blesses Obed-Edom
  • 12-16: David brings the ark to Jerusalem           
    • 17-19: David worships before the ark (before God)
      • 20-23: David returns home to Michal
        • God “curses(?)” Michal

Now I say that I’m not entirely convinced by Davis’ analysis and, without getting into detail, Davis argues for a more compare and contrast interpretation of the two halves (although it’s more nuanced than that, and I don’t want to be unfair to Davis). 

However, Davis does (in the end) conclude that the two halves or pictures must be held together (almost, but not entirely) in tension.  And I agree with that.  Here’s what we mean.

In both halves (beginning at v. 1 and v 12, respectively), David delivers the ark – in chapter 1, presumably Jerusalem (or towards Jerusalem); in chapter 12, definitely into Jersualem.  Now there’s a detail in these passages that is easily missed.  In v. 6:3, we read that David and his men set the ark on a cart and brought it from the house of Abinidab. 

He and all his men went to Baalahin Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill…

2 Samuel 6: 2-3
[Now it could be argued that it was actually Uzzah who set and transported the ark on a cart (this is the “they” in v. 3), but the more natural reading seems to me that David and his men did this.]

This doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, and an entirely reasonable course of action, until we read Numbers 4:15, which says: 

 “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

Additionally, in 1 Samuel 6, after the Philistines were “defeated” by the ark and wanted to return it to Israel, this is how they sought to do so: 

“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us….

1 Samuel 6: 7-9

In other words, the initial moving of the ark followed the Philistine model, the Philistine practice, as opposed to the instructions given by the Lord. 

Now that may not seem like such a big deal.  Even if we keep in mind the holiness of God, and thus the significance of the ark, moving it by a cart seems like a reasonable thing to do.  However, immediately after this report, and as a direct result of trying to use a cart, we get this report of Uzzah: 

They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.

When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled.  The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.

2 Samuel 6: 3-7

Now again, Uzzah’s actions seem reasonable, but the text tells us that this as an “irreverent act” (and the Numbers passage speaks directly to this).  Over-simplifying, we might interpret Uzzah’s actions as an attempt to control God.  We might also say (perhaps more charitably) that this is an attempt to protect or to guide God.  But does the God who defeated the Philistines, merely through the presence of the ark, without any assistance from faithless Israelites, need assistance?  From such a perspective, we can understand how Uzzah’s actions can be seen as irreverent in the context of the narrative. 

Now at this point, it’s worth comparing the two halves again.  Because from verse 12, we read firstly that David brought the ark to Jerusalem by a different means: 

12 Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf.

2 Samuel 6: 12-13

And the first thing we notice is that the ark was now carried, as commanded in Numbers, and not pulled on a cart – it seems David has learned his lesson.  The second thing we read is that the posture before the ark is not “irreverent.”  There is no assistance, protection, or guidance.  Rather, the response to the ark is sacrifice.  Verse 13 says:  “13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf.”  And a few verses later, we read: 

17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord.

2 Samuel 6: 17

At this point, I want to say a few words – share a few thoughts – that I draw from this narrative.  And I don’t want to offer them as commands or directives, or even as “proper interpretation.”  These are merely reflections.  And firstly, what I would say is that the presence of the Lord (demonstrated by the ark in our narrative) is cause for rejoicing.  Both the first episode (vv. 1-11) and the second episode (vv. 12-23) describe celebration and rejoicing.  But what are the people celebrating?  I wonder (with no proof) whether in the first episode, the celebration was largely around David and the Israelites’ victory over the Philistines (recounted in the immediately preceding passage).  The ark, then, was a symbol of their triumph, their superiority over their enemies (again, this is pure guesswork).  But the death of Uzzah, because of his irreverent act, undoubtedly reminded them that God is not a god to be trifled with.  God is not to be used, God is not to be trivialized, not to be reduced to a symbol or a trophy.  God is a merciful, loving, and just God, yes.  But God is a holy God.  It’s for this reason that fear of the Lord is so frequently emphasized in scripture.

In the second episode – the ark’s second entry – this truth that God is a holy God is underlined by sacrifices at both the beginning and end of the ark’s journey.  The entire “ceremony” is surrounded by sacrifice. 

So with that said, I might (hesitantly, and with a good deal of humility) suggest that the two halves, so far, might be understood, or might be placed in a framework as such: 

  • 1-5: David delivers the ark:  Celebration
    • 6-7: Uzzah dishonours the ark:  Irreverence
  • 12-16: David delivers the ark:  Rejoicing
    • 17-19: David worships before the ark:  Sacrifice

Now with all of that said, the closing parts of both episodes feature, firstly, Obed-Edom being blessed by the presence of the ark (vv. 9-11), and secondly, Michal (David’s wife) being cursed because of her attitude towards David (who was worshipping in the presence of the ark:  vv. 16, 20-23).  Now we don’t know why Obed-Edom was blessed.  That is, we know that he is blessed by the presence of the ark, but we don’t know what his attitude was:  Was he thankful?  Referent?  Humbled?  Did he merely accept the ark because he had to?  Did he even understand the significance? 

However, we do know the attitude of Michal.  Michal, we read, was disgusted at David’s display of “leaping and dancing.”  And she says to David: 

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

2 Samuel 6: 20

We have to make some assumptions or guesses here, because the narrator doesn’t tell us outright. But it seems that Michal’s concern was that David’s behaviour was not befitting a king.  Dancing and “going around half-naked” before the crowd was not something a king should do. 

And perhaps Michal would know this well.  She is, after all, the daughter of Saul.  And we can assume that Saul’s attitude, his behaviour before the people, was quite different.  In some ancient cultures, the king is essentially a god on earth.  And so to behave as David did was quite un-kingly in her eyes. 

But David’s response is: 

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

2 Samuel 6: 21-22

Essentially, David says that it is not the people that matter, it is the Lord.  It is not before people that he is dancing and rejoicing, it is the Lord.  The procession of the ark signifies the presence of the Lord, and in the presence of the Lord, David would be “even more undignified than this.”  He is willing to be “humiliated in [his] own eyes,” so long as God is worshipped. 

That Michal doesn’t understand this, that Michal would rather David display kingly decorum, that it is more important to Michal how David is perceived (and so by extension, she herself) in the eyes of the people, rather than in the eyes of God, reveals why the presence of the ark, the presence of the Lord leads to her being cursed (the text tells us that Michal had no children to the day of her death) rather than being blessed.  The presence and worship of the Lord God was despised in her eyes, and so how could she receive any blessings? 

Now we’ve covered a fair amount of text and a lot of different ideas.  How do we bring all of this together?  And what do we do with it?  In very broad strokes, I think this passage can tell us something about the presence of the Lord.  It can remind us of the importance, seriousness, and wonder of the presence of God.  We know already that without God’s presence, Israel, God’s chosen people, His treasured possession, cannot know or experience what it means to be chosen, what it means to be treasured or blessed.  Moses knew this when he said, “if you do not go before us, I will not go.” 

Where this might be worked out most obviously for us is in worship, that is, corporate worship.  In worship, when we gather together on Sunday for example, how do we gather?  What is our attitude, what is our posture, what are our expectations when we come into the presence of the living God?  Do we come as a form of payment for things past or future?  Or do we come, merely excited to be in His presence?  Do we go through the motions, getting it out of the way, getting God out of the way, so we can get on with the rest of our week?  Or do we come with holy and reverent fear?  In fear of the Lord?  Do we expect to be bored? Entertained?  Coddled or comforted?  Or do we expect an encounter that shakes the foundations of our view of the world?  Do we expect to deal with God?  Or do we expect God to deal with us? 

But worship, corporate worship, isn’t the only place?  When we pray, how do we come before God in prayer?  When we gather with brothers or sisters – because where two or three are gathered in His name, He is in our midst – how do we welcome the presence of Jesus?  In our work, in our play, in our day to day busyness, how do we welcome the presence of our God? 

I don’t have any do’s or don’ts for you.  Perhaps I should.  I think the passage points out some important things, some crucial things.  But it’s not a “do this, don’t do that” passage. 

What I hope it does do is cause us to reflect on the truth that – and then act and live as if – the presence of God matters.  And I know I use the phrase “matters” a lot without explaining what I really mean.  But I suppose what I mean is that we, all human beings, live so often as if it does not.  Christians so often live as if it does not.  But for the people of God, who seek to live out and in the kingdom of God, is not living in God’s presence the only thing that truly does? 

God is present here.  God is with us always.  Let us choose to walk always in the light of the Lord. 

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