Thursday, March 11, 2010

2 Samuel 6: The Ark

Somehow in writing this blog I got stuck on chapter 6, so I'm going to stick with it.  I know I'm behind (I'm reading 1 Kings now), but this passage stuck out to me.

Remember the ark of the covenant?  It's been sitting in a guy's house up on a hill for a while.  Well, now David is going to bring it into Jerusalem to stay permanently.  What they do is they put the ark on a cart, hitch the ark up to some oxen, and move it down the hill that way.  If you've ever ridden in a wooden cart over a dirt road, you know that this can get bumpy.  Well, it did, and so the ark started rocking pretty precariously, so this guy named Uzzah, who lived in the house where the ark was staying, reached out and touched it.  God struck him and he died.

At this point you might be thinking, what the heck?  Well, let's back up.  I remember reading in the Law about the ark of the covenant and how it was supposed to be made.  It had these four rings on the bottom with poles that ran through them so the ark could be carried.  And God specifically said that the rings were to remain in the ark and never be taken out.  The Levites would carry the ark, like they did when they crossed the Jordan; they were the only people who were supposed to handle it, as far as I remember.  And this is how it always was carried, up until it was stolen by the Philistines.  Remember that?  When the Philistines returned the ark, they put it on a cart and shipped it off to Israel.

So when the ark is being carried into Jerusalem, I see a few problems already.  First is that the Israelites know the proper mode of carrying the ark, and they have the proper means - the poles are, presumably, still in the ark.  Second is that not only are they breaking the rule, they're copying the Philistines.  Since when is that a good idea?  Third, for the past 20 years it's been in a guy's house.  If I'm not mistaken, it's supposed to be in the tabernacle.  And if I'm also not mistaken, the ark of the covenant played a very significant role in the sacrificial system - what with the sprinkling blood on the mercy seat and all that.  I wonder how that's been working out for the past 20 years?  I don't know who Abinadab is; it doesn't say whether he's a Levite or not.

Anyway, so what happened here?  I think that Uzzah and family, having the ark in their house for 20 years, kind of lost their sense of reverence for it.  Remember, the ark of the covenant was the earth's one physical dwelling-place of the presence of the Most High God.  The golden carved cherubim on the top of it had their faces covered because the angels who stand in God's presence cannot even see His face.  The ark is not a mascot, which is how they're treated it in the past; and it's not a pet, to be taken care of.  So when the ark is being toted down the hill on a cart and it starts to tip over, Uzzah feels like he has to take care of it.  He reaches out and touches, as it were, God, the God that cherubim in heaven don't even have the guts to look  at.  So that's why Uzzah died.  It's not that God has a thing for arbitrary rules of transportation; it's about reverence.

I think this is what happens to us sometimes.  We know what God expects of us, we have the means of obeying, but we think somebody else's stupid method is better than what we know we're supposed to do.  And sometimes, our idea of God gets really mutated.  We think that God is a lucky charm, a lamp to rub when we need something.  Or we think that God is a fragile little trinket that we have to protect, like if we don't, He won't be able to take care of Himself.  God is none of that, and we shouldn't treat him that way.

After Uzzah dies, the ark stays at another guy's house for three months (presumably he lived close to where Uzzah was killed).  Then David tries to bring the ark into Jerusalem again.  This time they have people carry it, and more than that, every six steps they stop and David sacrifices two animals.  They do this all the way to Jerusalem.  And nobody dies this time.  David is so psyched that the ark is coming to Jerusalem and nobody's dying that he has a party in the street as they go.  He and some girls start dancing, and David for some reason isn't wearing tons of clothing, and well, you can imagine how that would go.  His beloved wife Michal sees him from her window and gets really put off seeing her husband dancing the way he is.  I think she would rather the King of Israel be a little more dignified (maybe like her own father, although we all know how his reign turned out).  They have a fight, and David tells her that worshiping God is not about being dignified, and he would be even more of a disgrace if that's what worshiping God meant.  And guess what, we find out that David has kids with every woman in Israel, except Michal.  Either God made Michal barren, or Michal gets to sleep on the couch for the rest of her life.

Sometimes we get really caught up in what we look like, especially around other people, and sometimes we let that matter more than our love for God.  Actually, I'm going to back that up.  I think that if we look down on people who are so free in their worship in adoration of God, maybe it's because we are not free in our worship of God.  Have you ever noticed that the things that bother us the most about other people, are often things that we ourselves are guilty of?  I've noticed that about myself.  How lame is it to criticize other people for the way they worship God?  And if I do, maybe it's not their problem, but mine.  So maybe the next time somebody does something that really bothers me, instead of deriding them for it, I should check my own heart.

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