Respect God’s Holiness

| 2 Samuel 6:1-17

Lesson Focus:  This lesson will help you respond to God’s holiness with reverence and obedience.

Honor God in God’s Way: 2 Samuel 6:1-5.

[1]  David again gathered all the chosen 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, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim.

[3]  And 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,

[4]  with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. [5]  And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.  [ESV]

[1-2]  Chapter 5 describes from an organizational and military point of view how David began to act as king. He was commissioned to free the land from the Philistines and that commission began to be fulfilled. In chapter 6 he turns his attention to what could be called the religious side of his responsibilities and, for the first time since it was left for safe-keeping at Baale-judah, the ark of God comes back into the picture. It is noteworthy that when considering what action should be taken in response to the large scale Philistine advance [5:17-19], David’s first thought was to inquire of the Lord. No such inquiry is mentioned when he made the decision to bring the ark into Jerusalem. Given the way events work out, this omission may be significant. 1 Chronicles 13 gives more details of the circumstances in which the decision was made and makes it clear that there was widespread consultation, although most of that appears to have been with military commanders about how the action should proceed, rather than with religious leaders about whether it should proceed. When religious or spiritual matters are involved, it is easy to assume that God’s preferences or requirements are obvious and to take it for granted that what we have decided to do must be the right thing. It appears that David made this kind of assumption. God had been with him in the setting up of Israel’s new capital city. It must surely be right that the great symbol of God’s presence with Israel, the ark of God, should be housed in Jerusalem. This would set the final seal on David’s reign as God’s chosen king for Israel. How could God not want such a thing? It was decided that the ark would be brought up to Jerusalem. David is obviously very involved in the proceedings and the unstated implication is that he himself had taken the initiative and organized this celebratory procession. David takes it for granted that the best, the right place for the ark was in the newly instituted capital city. This assumption is not without basis. It would certainly make sense for the most significant religious object within Israel to be sited in what was at least beginning to be seen as the most significant site. The ark was the symbol of God’s own presence with Israel. It is also assumed, therefore, that the moving of the ark should take place with as much splendor and ceremony as they could muster. Both these assumptions may be right, but what is missing is any record of consultation or seeking out of God’s opinion in the matter. In fact, it could be inferred that David was behaving in the same way as his predecessors and subconsciously or otherwise seeking to use the ark for his own political ends. It the ark was situated in David’s capital, it would be far easier to convince the people that God was behind David’s kingship and that decisions made by David should be viewed automatically as God-inspired.

[3-5]  The writer’s underlying interest in power, in who was actually in charge, again comes to the fore. David was God’s man, but this did not mean that David could presume that he understood and could control God’s purposes. God could not and can never be manipulated in that kind of way. Saul, and many others throughout Scripture, discovered that truth at a cost. So did David. The emerging events could be seen as providing evidence that the writer’s omission of any reference to God’s instructions really was deliberate and the reader is being called upon to evaluate actions as well as to note them. This remains a possibility, whether or not David’s own motivation was primarily or even partially to glorify God in the best way that he could envisage. David gathered a large number of his army to bring the ark to Jerusalem. Baale-judah was very close to Philistine territory and David could be indulging in a show of strength, making sure both that the Philistines are aware of his growing supremacy and that there is no chance of an invading group preventing the success of his enterprise. In this case, a real desire to honor God and provide the ark with the best possible journey could also justify the use of a large section of the army. Certainly the ceremony was magnificent. The ark remained for the moment in the custody of the same family who had been guarding it for several years [1 Sam. 7:1]. Two of Abinadad’s sons, Uzzah and Ahio, guided the brand new cart that had been provided specially for the trip. The whole people, including David, were making the most of the fantastic music and the whole great occasion. They were celebrating with all their might before the Lord. Nobody, including David, had any doubts that this was a religious celebration, a wonderful way to worship and serve God.

Respect the Holiness of God: 2 Samuel 6:6-11.

[6]  And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. [7]  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. [8]  And David was angry because the LORD had burst forth against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day. [9]  And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" [10]  So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. [11]  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.  [ESV]

[6-7]  Therefore, the shock at what happened at Nacon was profound. Uzzah, with the clear intention of preventing a disastrous accident, touched the ark. Dramatically and immediately he died. How they knew that this was as a result of God’s anger is not explained, but nobody, including David, had any doubts that it was. Our conviction that God is ‘nice’ and would never do anything that we might not like makes passages like this one very difficult for us. We perhaps need to grasp much more clearly what it means to say that God is holy. It is certainly important to realize that religious service and theological understanding must work in tandem. Knowledge of God and of His revealed purposes must form the background to action supposedly taken on God’s behalf and to all worship of God. God in His great mercy often did not strike down the Israelites and does not strike us down, but passages like this force us to take seriously how strongly God feels about placing our preferences before His revealed will. Many of us have a tendency to judge the validity of a particular worship service by how much we have enjoyed it. This indicates that sometimes our understanding of the awesome nature of God does not go too far beyond the songs we sing. It is likely that part of the problem here was that the wrong procedures had been followed. Samuel does not emphasize this point and problems only arose when Uzzah took action, not when the procession started, but there is a strong hint that setting aside tradition in favor of the most up-to-date method, can sometimes have unforeseen side-effects! The last time we heard of the ark, in 1 Samuel 6, it was carried back from the Philistines on a new cart [1 Sam. 6:7]. Here again a new cart [6:3] is used and it seems very likely that our attention is being drawn to the use of Philistine methods rather than the procedures laid down in the law. On the second attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem [recorded in 1 Chron. 15], the instructions in the law were strictly adhered to and the ark was carried on the shoulders of appointed Levites [see Deut. 10:8]. The text in 2 Samuel 6 is less explicit, but verse 13 also records that this time the ark was carried. God’s instructions were not to be so lightly dismissed.

[8-11]  We see in these verses a remarkably astute observation of human nature, in particular of David’s nature. We are told that David was first angry [8] and then afraid [9]. It would probably be true that at first he was absolutely furious and then completely terrified, but the understatement makes the point. The reader is left to interpret the anger – was it because David had been totally convinced that everything he was doing was for God’s benefit? He was trying to put God’s ark in the best possible place. What right then did God have to step in and spoil their celebrations in this way? David, once he stopped acting impetuously and began to reflect on what was happening, did have tremendous insight – even into himself and his own motivations. Perhaps it was at this point that he began to be afraid. He knew in his heart that God could not be manipulated. He was perhaps honest enough to admit that his motives had been mixed, that he may have been enjoying his own precedence and the trappings of kingship more than seeking to serve God. He knew that his motives were always likely to be mixed and therefore, with a typical move from one extreme to the other, he gave up the whole enterprise. The ark was placed with a Gittite family, but we are not told whether these were resident aliens or some who had been with David in Gath. Neither are we told if Obed-Edom and his family had any choice in the matter, but what is very clear is that having the ark in their house brought them great blessing. David had learned one set of lessons. He was sure now that the ark was not to be touched inappropriately, but more importantly that God’s holiness was not to be compromised even with good motives. He was even more convinced than before that God was not to be manipulated or taken for granted and that what really counted was God’s power and not David’s, God’s kingship and not David’s. However, there were still more lessons to learn. Maybe there had been a superstitious attitude that suggested that it was the ark itself as an object that was dangerous or a sense that the ark would really never have been moved from where it was. The blessing of Obed-Edom’s household convinced David that neither of these factors applied. He had not really understood what was going on, but became convinced that now really was the appropriate time to bring the ark to Jerusalem.

Worship with Enthusiastic Reverence: 2 Samuel 6:12-15,17

[12]  And 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. [13]  And when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. [14]  And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. [15]  So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn. [17]  And they brought in the ark of the LORD and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.  [ESV]

When David learned that a proper Levitical household might experience blessings because of the ark of God, he concluded that Jerusalem, too, could benefit from the presence of the ark. So David completed his plans to bring the ark to the City of David. As in the first attempt three months prior, the ark’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem was carried out with rejoicing. But there was one significant difference between the two attempts to transport the sacred throne; this time Levites carried it by hand [see Num. 4:15], not transporting it on a cart. Costly fellowship offerings consisting of a bull and a fattened calf were offered to the Lord after the Levites had taken six steps. This ritual pause after six steps suggests a symbolic significance, perhaps a sort of Sabbath rest, suggesting a consecration of the entire journey. For the occasion of this almost ten mile journey, David had prepared both his capital city and himself. First, he had erected a special tent in Jerusalem that would house the ark. According to 1 Chron. 16:39-40, this was done without removing the tent in Gibeon, which was still used to house the remainder of the sacred tabernacle furnishings. Second, he prepared and wore special ritual garments: a linen ephod, a piece of clothing otherwise reserved in Israelite society for priests and Levites, and, according to 1 Chron. 15:27, a robe of fine linen. David’s use of the ephod suggests that he possessed the credentials of a priest. How David attained sacerdotal status is not described in the Bible, but the acquisition of priestly status in the order of Melchizedek by the Davidic family line is hinted at in Psalm 110:4. If indeed this title applied to David as well as one of his descendants, he most likely acquired it by right of conquest: having conquered Jerusalem, he became possessor of all the titles and honors traditionally accorded to the king of the city. Melchizedek having been Salem’s/Jerusalem’s priest-king of God Most High, David as king of Jerusalem would have become a priest of Yahweh. David danced before the Lord with all his might. His actions were accompanied by shouts and the sound of trumpets which had also been sounded during a movement of the ark in the days of Joshua. The celebrative group set the ark in its place of honor. Then David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowships before the Lord. It is unclear from the text whether David actually officiated at these sacrifices or merely directed Levites to perform these tasks. If he did perform the sacrifices himself, he may have been acting in accordance with a precedent set by Melchizedek. Priestly parallels certainly exist between David and Melchizedek in two other matters: pronouncing a blessing upon the Lord’s people and providing a food gift for those who had received the blessing. As David blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty, Melchizedek blessed Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth [Gen. 14:19]. Also Melchizedek brought Abram and his men bread and wine [Gen. 14:18]; David gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What mistake did David make the first time he sought to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem? What can we learn from David’s mistake?

2.         Uzzah had good intentions when he touched the ark to keep it from falling off the cart. But God still struck him dead. Why did God do this? What can we learn about the way we relate to God in worship, prayer, study, witnessing, etc., from this story?

3.         What lesson did David learn from the failure of the first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem [see 1 Chron. 15]? Note the only difference between the two attempts to move the ark to Jerusalem is David’s strict obedience to God’s Word in the second attempt. What does this tell us about who God is, what He desires of His people, and how we can please and honor Him?


1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Intervarsity Press.