Bible Study Series: Life of David
2 Samuel 6: David, Uzzah and the Ark
by F Gordon
The Death of Saul
During the events of Ziklag, Saul and his son Jonathon are killed while fighting the Philistines on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). With Saul the persecutor of David gone you might assume the kingdom would immediately be handed to David but 2 Samuel 3 tells us that “…there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. But David grew stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.” As a result David went to Hebron, which means communion, and here eventually he is anointed king over the house of Israel. Later, David took Mount Zion from the Jebusites which had been held by them for 400 years and called it the City of David.
Where is the Ark of the Covenant?
Now that David was king and had Jerusalem, he wanted to return the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. But where had it been? The ark of the covenant was Israel's sacred possession. Once a year the high priest would sprinkle the blood sacrifice on the mercy seat. It was there on the mercy seat that God met with the nation and forgave their sins. The ark had journeyed with Israel through the wilderness and into the Jordan River, where the waters were held back. Then later in 1 Samuel 4 we see the ark with Eli’s corrupt sons. The elders of Israel thought if they took it into battle against the Philistines they would be safe but God allowed Israel to be defeated and the ark fell into the hands of their enemies.
In 1 Samuel 5 the Philistines took the ark of the covenant and put it in the temple of their god Dagon only to find in the morning that Dagon had fallen on its face before the ark. The next morning Dagon had fallen over again before the ark, but this time had also lost his hands and his head. God plagued the Philistines with tumours so much that they decided the ark couldn’t remain in any of their cities; it had to be taken back to Israel. The Philistines then decided to use faith in taking the ark back. They took two milk cows who had never been yoked before, removed their calves from them, and yoked them together. They set the ark on a new cart and let the cows walk freely. If the ark went toward the Israelite land then God was removing the wrath from them.
The ark initially came to Beth Shemesh as the people were reaping their wheat harvest. They rejoiced and offered burnt offerings to the Lord but they looked into the ark and God judged them for it. They were afraid of God’s presence so in 1 Samuel 7 the ark finally comes to rest in the house of Abinadab where it remained for twenty years.
God rained on David’s parade
2 Samuel 6.1-5 Again David gathered all the choice men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the Name, the Lord of Hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. 3 So they set 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, drove the new cart. 4 And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill, accompanying the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark. 5 Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the Lord on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals.
David’s first desire after becoming king was to return the ark to the City of David and unite the people under God with his presence among them. So they set off from the house of Abinadab with the ark on a new cart with Abinadab's sons Ahio (friendship) and Uzzah (strength) driving the cart. David had much praise, music, and instruments playing until God rained on his parade.
2 Samuel 6.6-7 And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.
It is on Nachon’s threshing floor that the journey back to Jerusalem was stopped by God. The threshing floor was a place that was flat, and the wheat was gathered there to be beaten and then separated to get rid of the chaff. This was the sifting process, to get rid of the rubbish so that only the wheat remains. It was here that God was going to sift His people so that only the holy remained.
A new cart
What was so wrong that God judged Uzzah with his life? God had given clear instructions of how to care for and carry the Ark of the Covenant. Numbers 4 states that it was to be carried by the sons of Kohath of the tribe of Levi and in Exodus 25.12-15 the ark was to be carried using poles through rings. In Numbers 4.15 they were instructed not to touch any holy thing lest they die.
Uzzah did the most natural thing as the oxen stumbled to put out his hand to steady the ark. However he should have known that the law states not to touch any holy thing. Maybe he had become too familiar with the ark being in his fathers house for 20 years. But God can take care of Himself as he did when the Philistines captured the ark.
They had all forgotten how the ark was to be transported according to the law. What was it doing on a cart? The ark was supposed to be carried by the priests, God’s presence was to be carried on their shoulders, directly connected to his people not on a cart. This was the Philistine way of moving the ark. God did not judge the Philistines for placing the ark on a cart for they had no revelation about such things. But judgement begins at the house of God. Where there is more revelation there is more judgement, and they all had neglected God’s instructions. Back in 1 Samuel 6.3 we are told twice that the ark was a new cart. This was the Philistine way and it speaks to us of worldly methods in the things of God. It was a new cart; no expense had been spared, it looked nice, maybe God will be impressed because it is so new.
How much is done in God’s name with a new cart? What Israel did was adopt a worldly method - or the Philistine way - of carrying the presence of God. We carry the presence of God to a dying world, but do we use worldly ways? We need to be careful that we don’t adopt worldly methods and lose the simple but powerful message of the gospel. God wanted to directly connect with his people by being carried on their shoulders. In like manner in the new testament John 15 states that we are a branch connected to the vine, directly connected to God. We abide in Him so we can bear much fruit, for without Him we can do nothing.
David does his homework
2 Samuel 6.8-9 And David became angry because of the Lord's outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah to this day. 9 David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, "How can the ark of the Lord come to me?"
David was angry with God because of this judgement. Then he was afraid of God. He has gone from praise to anger to fear all because of neglect of God’s word. How can the ark come to me? In this judgement by God it showed that He is holy and righteous. This made David fearful of His holiness. We have the same result in Acts with the judgement upon Annaia and Saphira when they lied to the Holy Spirit and were struck dead. Great fear of God came upon the early church for this God we serve is holy and righteous.
2 Samuel 6.10 So David would not move the ark of the Lord with him into the City of David; but David took it aside into the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite.
David was afraid of God so he placed the ark into Obed-Edom’s house for 3 months. God blessed Obed-Edom’s house. David must have been scratching his head. Why was I judged and this man blessed? So he went away and did his homework.
1 Chronicles 15.1-2 1 David built houses for himself in the City of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it. 2 Then David said, "No one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before Him forever."
David had gone away and obviously found out how to bring the ark back to the City of David. He had prepared a place for it and now understood that only the Levites could carry the ark of God. No more carts, no more worldly ways it was to be God’s way and His only.
Sanctified and useful
I Chronicles 15.12 He said to them, "You are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites; sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel to the place I have prepared for it.
David called the leaders of the Levites and instructed them to sanctify themselves before they took up the presence of God. God is holy and His holiness requires clean servants. The Levites were required to refrain from anything that caused uncleanness. In John 13.8 Jesus said to Peter that unless I wash you, you have no part with me. We all get dirty feet by walking in this world and we need the continual work of Jesus' blood to cleanse us from all sin. The picture here is that to carry the Lord’s presence, we need to be clean and sanctified. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2.21.
1 Chronicles 15.13 13 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.
David blamed God at first until he realised that he was in the wrong, he says God broke out against us because; 1, we did not consult Him, and 2, there is a proper order in the things of God. Can we seek God and He not be found? Yes, under the law there was a proper order to approach God and serve Him. Just as there is only one way under grace. Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life, no man can come to the father except through me. There is one name under heaven by which man can be saved, that is Jesus. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2.9-11
Empowered to serve
1 Chronicles 15.26 And so it was, when God helped the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that they offered seven bulls and seven rams.
When David understood God’s proper order in bearing the ark, instead of judgement, like the first attempt, God helped the Levites bring it up. In some way they were empowered to serve Him in His purpose. The same is true for us His saints in our christian ministry. He is the vine, we are the branches. We are connected to Him and just as a branch receives from the vine, we are called to abide, rest, and trust in Christ to live His life through us. For he says without me you can do nothing.
David learned that God’s word cannot be neglected and we need to be watchful of new carts - the worldliness that creeps in. He also learned that God is holy and righteous and when we do things His way, He will help us.