Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Carrying The Ark

As David celebrates his arrival upon the kingship, reveling in the fulfillment of the much-anticipated promise of God, he makes a decision to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  “They loaded the Ark of God on a new cart and carried it” (2 Samuel 6:3a) in that way.  Unfortunately for David, this was contrary to the way in which the Ark was to be carried, according to the prescriptions provided in the writings of Moses.  The Ark was not to be transported on a cart, but rather, carried by Levites on poles.  What David and his men were doing was contrary to God’s commandments, so regardless of the fact that “David and all Israel were energetically celebrating before the Lord, singing and playing various stringed instruments, tambourines, rattles, and cymbals (6:5), God was not pleased. 

One is lead to think of the words of the prophet---words that would come later in Israel’s history, through which God would say, “I absolutely despise your festivals!  I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies!  Even if you offer Me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied; I will not look with favor on your peace offerings of fattened calves.  Take away from Me your noisy songs; I don’t want to hear the music of your stringed instruments” (Amos 5:21-23).  Even though Israel was singing and dancing and praising God, because the Ark was not being transported according to God’s commandments, it was all pointless, and surely, something of a stench to God, as man was, once again, doing things his own way. 

What resulted from this improper carrying?  “When they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and grabbed hold of the Ark of God, because the oxen stumbled” (6:6).  On the surface, this was a good thing, as he wanted to protect the Ark from damage.  However, it was only necessary because the Ark was not being properly transported, and therefore, was only necessary because of the violation of God’s commands.  What happened to Uzzah?  “The Lord was so furious with Uzzah, He killed him on the spot for his negligence” (6:7a).  What we would initially think of as his efforts at being a responsible steward, is viewed by God as negligence because of his participation in the violation of clear commands.  “He died right there beside the Ark of God” (7:7b).  What was it that Uzzah experienced?  More than just simply going down into death, which is quite obvious, he experienced exile.  Not only that, but “David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, ‘How will the Ark of the Lord ever come to me?’  So David was no longer willing to bring the Ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David.  David left it in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months” (6:9-10).  Here, the Ark, in a sense, is sent into exile, even though while it resided in that house, “The Lord blessed Obed-Edom and all his family” (6:11b).  This man experienced exodus, while Uzzah and David (to an extent, as he misses out on God’s blessings for a period of time) experienced exile in connection with the Ark. 

Are we right in assigning the theme of exile and exodus to this situation?  It would seem so, especially as the covenant curses of Deuteronomy, which end in shame and exile and death, are said to be brought “if you ignore the Lord your God and are not careful to keep all His commandments and statutes” (28:15a).  Clearly, the issue of the Ark’s mode of movement stood in violation of those commandments, and therefore the curse of death came because of the lack of careful keeping. 

After David was told that “The Lord has blessed Obed-Edom and everything he owns because of the Ark of God” (6:12a), he “went and joyfully brought the ark of God…to the City of David” (6:12b).  This time, however, it was going to be carried properly, with even extra care (as demonstrated by the sacrifices being made every six steps), and therefore the singing, dancing, praising, and sacrifices were going to be pleasing to the Lord.  Then, “As the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Saul’s daughter Michal (David’s wife) looked out the window.  When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him” (6:16).  Michal looked upon David with contempt, and with her despising of him and saying “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself this day!  He has exposed himself today before his servants’ slave girls the way a vulgar fool might do” (6:20b), she is cursing him with words related to exile. 

However, because David knows that he is in the midst of God’s blessing (exodus) in spite of these words from his wife, he revels in what she sees as exile, seizing upon her statement and utilizing words of exile and saying “I am willing to shame and humiliate myself even more than this!” (6:22a)  Michal wants David to suffer humiliation and shame (figurative of death), but ultimately David experiences the vindication of God, experiencing a figurative resurrection when he says “with the slave girls whom you mentioned let me be distinguished!” (6:22b)  Ultimately, we find that the one that referenced the shame of exile is the one that experiences that very thing, as “Michal, Saul’s daughter, had no children to the day of her death” (6:23), which in that day was thought of as a curse, with both childlessness and shame being equivalent to death.                

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