By J.R. Miller
2 Samuel 6; 1 Chronicles 13
The continuance of Ish-Bosheth's reign was brief. It had no moral strength from the beginning, and was kept in existence only by the ambition of Abner. The story of the short years is one of battles, quarrels and assassinations. At length Ish-Bosheth was murdered, and then the tribes over which he had reigned came to David and desired him to be their king. So the kingdom was again consolidated. David had reigned over Judah only seven and a half years; now he became king of all Israel. Jerusalem then was made David's capital. Until now this stronghold had remained in the hands of the Jebusites, although it had been attacked and partly captured before. At length David gained full possession of the noted citadel and made his home in it.
David prospered greatly. Hiram, King of Tyre, was friendly with him, and the two kings exchanged courtesies and favors. David won a great victory over the ancient enemies of his people, the Philistines. Thus he was established in his kingdom. His fame went out into all the lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations.
When David came to the throne, he found the religious life of the kingdom in a discouraging condition. For a long time the sacred ark, the symbol of the Divine Presence, had been lying in obscurity in a private house. Those were dark and calamitous days for the nation. Disaster followed disaster. The neglect of true religion always brings trouble. We may see it in a smaller way in a home where there was once a family altar--but where the altar is broken down, where the family gathers no more to worship God, where the voice of prayer is no longer heard. The members of the household scatter away in the morning without kneeling to commit themselves to God's keeping for the day, and in the evening they gather home to rest again, seeking not the Divine blessing for the night. There is many a home of which this is a picture. The world has come in--and Christ has been driven out!
After David had become king of the whole nation and had fixed his capital in Jerusalem, he called the chief men of the tribes and went to bring up the ark. He had already done many things to elevate the character and the standing of the nation. He had built a capital city and a palace of cedar for himself, and had instituted many reforms. Prosperity was coming, and all was hopeful. But something was yet lacking. Something is always lacking when God is left out.
An artist had invited a few friends to his studio for the first look at a new painting. The picture was beautiful--but all who saw it felt that something was lacking. There seemed to be a vagueness, an indefiniteness, a mistiness, something lacking. The artist himself saw the defect, and taking his brush, he put a touch of red upon the canvas. This changed everything.
So it is when God is left out of anything in life. With the largest prosperity and the best material comforts, there is still a lack. What is needed is a line of red in the picture, the bringing of Christ with His Cross into the life of the individual, of the home, of the church, of the nation. The best blessing anyone can give to a land or to a community, is to set up God's altar in its midst. Nothing else that David wrought for Israel in those days did so much for his people--as his re-establishing of God's worship among them.
There is nothing else we can do for a place which is suffering from the waste and ruin of sin, which will mean so much for it--as to set up there the worship of the true God. Here is a community sunk in degradation. The people are idle and thriftless, without lofty ideals, without interest in each other, steeped in sensuality. One way of trying to lift them up would be to build them better houses and to put into their lives the refinements of civilization. Something may thus be done for their improvement in temporal things. But the best way to help them, would be to bring the gospel of Christ into their midst, to start a Sunday-school, a preaching service, to send the Christian missionary into their homes.
The ark had been at Kiriath-jearim for a long time, ever since its return from the land of the Philistines. David desired now to establish true religion in his kingdom, and planned to bring the ark to his capital. He prepared for this event with great enthusiasm. All the chosen men of Israel were gathered together. He consulted with his leading men. "Let us send abroad everywhere unto our brethren, . . . and let us bring again the ark of our God to us--for we sought not unto it in the days of Saul."
The king had prepared for a very joyful time in bringing up the ark. He meant it to be a great occasion. He led the procession in person. Thirty thousand men of rank were present to take part in the ceremony. There were great choirs of singers, with musical instruments accompanying them. It was a grand day. It opened in splendor--but it closed in sorrow and bitter disappointment. The reason was, that God can be honored only by obedience, and this was lacking in the moving of the ark. The Lord cared nothing for David's brilliant pageant--so long as the Divine commandments were not regarded.
The whole business that day seems to have been done in a negligent way. The law required that the ark should be carried by Levites--but instead of this it was put upon a cart that was drawn by animals. The religious ceremonials prescribed had so fallen into disuse, that the Divine instructions seem to have been entirely overlooked. The carrying of the ark on a cart may have been regarded as a very small deviation from the prescribed way--but it was a deviation, nevertheless, and in God's sight marred all the great ceremony. We must worship and serve God--only in the way He has marked out for us, otherwise our costliest services and our most imposing ceremonies will be only an idle show in His eyes. We may do our right things in such a wrong way--as to mar all the beauty of our acts by not doing them as God commands us to do them.
Uzzah was probably a Levite, and ought to have known the instructions concerning the care of the sacred ark and the manner of carrying it. The Levites were to bear it on their shoulders--but they might not come near it until it had been covered by the priests, nor touch it--except with the staves provided for carrying it. The ark had been under Uzzah's care--perhaps he had come to treat it familiarly. "But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark of God. Then the LORD's anger blazed out against Uzzah for doing this, and God struck him dead beside the Ark of God!"
It was a natural thing for Uzzah to do. The road was rough, and it seemed as if the ark would fall off the cart. Uzzah instinctively and impulsively put out his hand to steady it. If the Levites had been carrying the ark--the only proper way--Uzzah could not have committed this sin. One irreverence prepares the way for another--almost makes another necessary. The breaking of one commandment, leads to the breaking of others. The first sin is like the little leak in the dam, which grows until it becomes a flood. If we would be safe from the final ruin, we must guard, against the smallest beginning of evil.
David was greatly affected by the occurrence. At first he was angry because of the interruption of the ceremonies. The record says that "David was angry because the LORD's anger had blazed out against Uzzah." His second thought seems to have been one of awe and fear--that if the ark was such a holy thing, it was too terrible to have it near him. He does not appear to have thought of the sin which had been committed. Instead of penitence and sorrow, he showed wounded pride. He abandoned at once the taking of the ark to Jerusalem. He left it where it was and hurried away home.
We never should blame God--when we have been punished for our sins. We should not question His justice or love--in any of His dealings with us. We should accept punishment at His hand with humility and contrition, seeking to learn wherein we have sinned--that we may no more displease Him. Then, we need never be afraid of God's holiness, nor reject any ordinance He has appointed, because of the evil it may bring upon us to use it irreverently. Sometimes good people stay away from the communion, dreading that it may bring condemnation and not blessing upon them. But no ordinance of God will ever bring hurt to those who receive it in humility and reverence. Instead of declining to take the Holy Supper lest we may not receive it worthily, we should come to it with penitence, repentance, faith and love--for then we will find in it only blessing and joy.
"The Ark of the LORD remained there with the family of Obed-edom for three months, and the LORD blessed him and his entire household." David would not take the ark to Jerusalem, as he had set out to do, and it was left in the house of Obed-edom. For the three months it remained there, special Divine favor came upon the man who sheltered it. It was the same ark which had wrought such disaster when irreverently touched--that now brought blessing to a home in which it was received in meekness and love. Obed-edom was not afraid to have the ark taken inside his door, and the result was good and not evil upon his household.
This incident suggests to us, the blessings of true religion in a home. Some people think religion is a hindrance to happiness. It stops some pleasures. It drives out some amusements. It interferes with some ambitions. But those who open their doors to Christ, the rejected and despised One, will always be rewarded. True religion in a home, blesses it. It sweetens the home life, enriches the home affections, deepens the home joys, lightens and comforts the home sorrows. It brings true prosperity, for the blessing of the Lord makes rich. It brings protection, for the angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear Him. It brings comfort when sorrow has entered the home.
Heathen religions have no hope, no solace, no consolation, in time of bereavement--but Christianity lights the lamps of heaven in the gloom. When the home is broken up, true religion gives assurance of a meeting beyond the grave, and reunion where there will be no separation forever. We should have the ark of God in our homes, whatever else we may not have in them.
Word came to David in due time, that no calamity had come to the home in which the ark had been left--but that, instead, the Divine favor had been visited upon it. The king was surprised to hear this. He probably expected to hear of trouble brought to the family, like that which had stricken down Uzzah on the way. But, on the other hand, it soon became evident that Obed-edom was being greatly blessed.
Then David began to see that the trouble that day had not been with the ark--but with himself and the people. So his heart turned again to his former purpose. He would bring the ark to the capital. Then the procession which began one day and ended in calamity--was finished another day, not many months later, in the midst of great rejoicing. So blessing came to the whole people--as the ark of God was brought into the Holy City.