Mixing the Ways of the World with the Things of God


The account in 2 Samuel 6 of David's attempt to bring the ark of the Lord back to Jerusalem is one filled with many lessons for the Church today. For twenty years the ark had lain idle in the house of Abinadab, having been brought there by the men of Kirjath Jearim. (1 Sam. 7). Previously, the Philistines had captured it from the Israelites who had trusted more in the ark than they did in the Lord as they went into battle. As a result of their misplaced trust,

Israel was routed by the enemy who now had in its possession the tangible representation of the power and suffering of Jehovah. It was not long however before they realized the danger of trying to contain the God of Israel. Placing the ark in the house of their pagan deity Dagon, they awoke the next morning only to find that he had fallen flat on his face before the ark of the Lord. Setting him back in his place, they again found Dagon on the ground the next morning, this time with his head and hands broken off. Soon tumors broke out among the people as the hand of God came down upon the Philistines. Bewildered, the rulers asked the pagan priests what could be done to alleviate their affliction and suffering The answer — put the ark of the covenant on a cart and return it to Israel with a Philistine trespass offering. (1 Sam. 5-6) The ark was then returned to Israel via the men of Kirjath Jearim who brought it to Abinadab's house where it stayed "for a long time." Years afterward upon the demise of Saul and the installation of David as the King of Israel, a concerted effort was made to bring the ark of God up to Jerusalem. David's plan was to establish his kingdom in glory. Selecting thirty thousand choice men for the task, the ark was set upon a new cart and the joyful procession to Jerusalem began. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab were chosen to drive the cart. A great musical celebration ensued as "progress" was begun to revitalize the power and prestige of Israel which had languished for years. But it did not go as smoothly as planned. When they came to Nachon's threshing floor, something in the pathway caused the oxen to stumble and the ark to begin sliding off the cart. Reacting instinctively, Uzzah put out his hand to stop the ark, and was immediately struck dead by God "for his error" (2 Sam. 6:6-7). Understandably, David was confused and "afraid of the Lord that day." Why did God act so harshly against Uzzah? Why did it seem that the Lord was opposed to David's efforts? Hadn't David good intentions in bringing the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem to restore it to its proper place and prominence? So why then, did things go so terribly wrong?

The answer to this question seems to lie in the method by which David had handled the ark. When God first gave instructions to Moses concerning the building of the ark (Exodus 25) He was told to fashion four gold rings and attach them to its corners. By means of poles run through these rings, the ark of the testimony could be carried securely as it accompanied them on their wilderness journeys. Born on the shoulders of dedicated and properly appointed Levites (Numbers 3:30-31), it was never intended to be touched with their hands - a further reminder to them of the separation between a holy God and sinful man. Now years later, when the Philistines decided to return the ark, they placed it upon a cart in order to roll it back to the Israelites. Understandably, they were ignorant of the laws of God. Certainly their plan made sense from a human perspective. After all, it was quick and easy and it served the purpose. Now at least twenty years later when David had designs to move the ark, rather than searching out God's way to transport it, he adopted the Philistine prototype. Apparently, some important biblical truths had been lost during the intervening years while the ark resided in Abinadab's home. The result was an unstable cart, a sliding ark, and the death of Uzzah.

Such are the consequences of mixing the ways of the world with the things of God. Despite the initial festivities and quick "progress," this noble plan met with disaster because it was never sanctioned by God. And it applies in our day as well. In a day of mass media and Madison Avenue, the Church needs to be on guard against adopting worldly principles to carry on the work of God. What may seem to work for the world should not be applied to the Church, if it cannot be substantiated by the Word of God. The result at best, can only be an unstable cart and widespread confusion at the lack of sustained "success" despite an apparent good start. There is no place for Philistine technology and methodology in the Church.

How then is the work of God to be carried on? In David's day the ark of the covenant was meant to be personally carried on the shoulders of consecrated Levites. Similarly, in our day the testimony of God's work needs to be personally carried on dedicated shoulders of those who are living consecrated, and separated lives. Uzzah and Ahio it seems had lost their sacred regard for the ark, either through neglect or over familiarity with it. Perhaps because the ark was in their home all those years, they grew accustomed to it and their reverence for it dissipated. Or perhaps it was assumed they had a vital faith on the basis of their father's position. Their actions in driving the cart certainly revealed their lack of understanding in identifying spiritual error. Similarly, there will always be the Uzzahs and Ahios in the Church who will be quickly chosen to positions of leadership based upon their popularity or parentage. But unless they are consecrated to the work of God and ready to personally bear it upon their shoulders, they will be proven to be unfit for the task. Whether it comes from the platform, or from the classroom, God's work must be done in God's way by those who understand the sacredness of their responsibility. When we take up the work of God, we must remember that He is the One "whose name is called by the "Name, the LORD of Hosts." God has warned, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." (Hosea 4:6) It is quite interesting to observe the events that transpired immediately after this incident and to see how David rectified the matter. At first, he was angry with God, (v.8) then afraid. He temporarily abandoned his strategy to move the ark of the covenant to the City of David until he could more accurately assess the cause of the problem — a wise move in the service of God. He took the ark to the household of Obed-Edom whereupon the household was blessed for the three months that it remained there. Then we read in verse 13 that as the ark was brought from the house of Obed-Edom to Jerusalem that "those bearing the ark of the Lord ... sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep" as they advanced every six paces. What do we glean from this passage? First, that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the ark. The same ark that was responsible for the death of Uzzah was likewise responsible for the blessing of Obed-Edom's household. If our plans for God's work fail, it is not because His Word is inadequate, but rather it is because our attitudes and actions are. "Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven." (Psalm 119:89)

Secondly, this section reminds us that God's work will succeed when we bring our actions into conformity with God's Word. No longer was there anyone driving the cart, but rather we see a contingent of Levites bearing the ark. The idea of the cart which had been adopted from the Philistines had now been put aside and the journey to Jerusalem resumed in the appropriate way. The parallel account in 1 Chronicles 15 gives us further insight into this event. We are told that David acknowledged before the people the error that was made: "For because you did not do it the first time the Lord, our God broke out against us, because we did not consult him about the proper order." (v.13) Appointing the right people for the task, they brought the ark out of the house of Obed-Edom and headed for Jerusalem "with joy" (v.25) Then we read these astonishing words. "And so it was, "when God helped the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, they offered seven bulls and seven rams." (v.26) Isn't that a wonderful statement, "God helped the Levites...!" God had frustrated David's attempt to do a good work previously because it was not done in the proper order," but when it was He was quick to help His people succeed in the work undertaken. The fact that David sacrificed "every six paces" as they began their journey, indicates that they had recaptured the essence of the sacredness of the ark, the holiness of God, and necessity of an attitude of worship that should precede every effort for God. The joy experienced now was a true joy because it issued from hearts that were confident of God's presence and favor. The progress made by David and the people must have seemed slower than before, but it was sure and steady and unhindered by difficulties. If there is ever a time that the Church must be on its guard against suggestions to use Philistine carts, it is now. As the days get darker and "the love of many grows cold" in this materialistic and media-drenched society, there will always be red herrings of compromise to allure the Church from the biblical pathway. Incorporating the world's ways to further God's testimony may provide quick and easy "results" at first, but if the methods used are not in accordance with His Word, they will ultimately prove to be disastrous in the end, no matter how honorable the intention. The ark of God's testimony was never intended to go forward through an impersonal systematized program. Rather, it proceeds as it is personally carried on the shoulders of those who love Christ more than anything in this world — who advance step by step in the fear of the Lord and who move according to God's time. It is not a matter of newer, slimmer versions of Philistine carts with bigger and better wheels, but a matter of getting rid of the Philistine cart all together. As this is done, God's work will proceed in God's way.