Israel has agreed to David’s plan to bring the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. EVERYONE gathers for this momentous occasion, but disaster strikes.
David wanted everyone on board with his decision to bring the Ark back to the people. He was greeted with enthusiasm. This may have been something the people longed for too. Imagine knowing that the presence of God was just beyond your reach. Then think about how exciting it would be for your leaders to tell you they were bringing it right into your back yard! I would have been shouting for joy!
In fact the people of Israel did just that. They came together as a whole people and went en masse to escort the Ark of the Lord to its new home. There was singing, dancing, music and much fanfare. “And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets” (verse 8).
With all the preparation and planning that went into this, something was overlooked; something critical. That ‘something’ was God’s directions for the process. God told Israel exactly how to move HIS Ark about. He told them how to care for all the pieces He had made. It was all spelled out in the writings of Moses. They had only but to look to see His instructions.
Was David in a hurry to make this happen and didn’t want to take the time for the Levites to purify themselves? Had no one considered that God might want to weigh in on this journey? Were they too impressed with how easily the Philistines had sent the Ark back that they decided this was a better way? Was no one willing to carry it for seven miles?
Whatever the reason, instead of searching the scriptures for the proper way to carry the Ark, a new cart was brought to transport the Ark. An old broken down cart would NOT do for carrying the presence of God. It had to be the BEST. A new cart with choice oxen. These would serve the people’s requirements.
All Israel turned out for this momentous journey. They came from the very edges of Israel to escort God back into their midst. It was a wild party, tempered only by the process of moving down the road. We are not told of any order to this crowd, only to their exuberance. Their voices carried for miles and rang off the hills nearby. What a glorious sound! A bit overwhelming too.
As the cart carrying the Ark was nearing its destination the oxen stumbled. Uzzah could see disaster about to happen. “It’s going to fall!” He reacted out of instinct and love. He reached out to steady the Ark on the cart.
No sooner had his hand made contact with the Ark than he fell dead. Apparently someone was paying attention because the procession came to an immediate halt. Screams ripped through the crowd at the sight of Uzzah’s body.
Questions of, “What happened” circulate through the crowd. Those closest to the action quickly give their answer. “He was only trying to help steady the Ark.”
All joy has left the procession as everyone stands around waiting to see what will happen next. Will David continue on this journey? Will they abandon the Ark where it stands? Will God strike all of them dead? Was this truly God’s will to bring the Ark up to Jerusalem? The road ahead is not easy. If they continue, how many more may be struck dead?
These questions and more ring through David’s heart and mind too. But his biggest emotions are fear and anger. He is certain he has displeased God somehow. He fears for the people and himself at what God may do next. “What was so wrong with trying to help? Would God have rather the Ark hit the ground? How am I supposed to make this right? I can’t endanger the people any further.”
To protect the people, and to ‘lick his wounds’, David decided to abandon the idea of bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. David found the closest available suitable place for the Ark to be taken. The Ark couldn’t be left with just anyone or abandoned by the roadside. It had to be placed in the home of a Levite. They were the ones charged with caring for the Ark.
The people were dismissed as the Ark was diverted to its new location. With heavy hearts they each make their way back to their homes. Confusion and sorrow fill their hearts and makes their steps heavy. “Has the Lord rejected us?” “Will we ever experience His presence?” “What will become of us without Him?”
These same thoughts plagued David as he turned his steps towards home. Sorrow, anger, fear and confusion all wrestled for his attention. They would plague him for some time to come, including in his sleep. “What did I do wrong? Was it a sin of the people? Did I cause God’s fierce anger? If so, why didn’t He strike me down instead?!”
While David and the rest of Israel lament their fate, the house of Obed-edom rejoices. They rejoice because of the blessings the Ark of the Lord has brought to their doorstep. They mourn the passing of Uzzah of course but don’t regret for one moment that the Ark found its way to their home.
The cart is long abandoned and the oxen turned into the field. The minds of Israel turn back to their daily tasks. And God waits for His children to learn the lessons of that day.
“Sooner or later they will figure it out. I am patient.”
When thinking about what to take from our reading today I was reminded of a quote from Thomas Edison. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The people could have taken Edison’s perspective and tried a different way to bring the Ark in. But in their case there was ALREADY a specified way of success. They were not trying to invent something. They were trying to replicate a process that was already proven. They needed to ‘read the directions’ instead of making it up on their own.
My dad is famous for saying, “When all else fails, let mom read the directions.” He didn’t read directions because he could usually figure it out on his own. But in the odd times he couldn’t, my mom would get the directions out and identify where things went wrong.
God doesn’t want us to wait until things go wrong to ‘read the directions’. There will be times when all we can do is ‘wing it’, but even in those times there are basic directions we should be following. Those directions come straight from His word. No, they are not as detailed as “insert slot A into slit B” but they are just as important. They are even more important. God’s word contains the directions for your heart, your mind and your soul. It teaches us how to interact with one another. It instructs us on how to use out time and the value of ‘work’. It speaks of the value of words too. His directions started in the Garden of Eden and conclude with Jesus’ return to earth. Each one is important. Spend time reading them!
Father God, thank You that You didn’t leave me clueless as to Your requirements. I know I ‘forget’ some of them at times. Thank You that You remind me of them and ‘patiently wait’ for me to realize it and to address what I’ve messed up. THANK YOU that I haven’t been struck dead for my errors! Help me learn the lessons You have for me each day so I can walk closer to You with each step.