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When the Ark Got Parked
July 13, 2003
2 Samuel 6:1-11
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to IISM6 and follow along as I read v 1-11. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
2 David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.
3 They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart
4 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark.
5 David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it.
7 The anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 David was angry because the LORD had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah; so that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day.
9 David was afraid of the LORD that day; he said, "How can the ark of the LORD come into my care?"
10 So David was unwilling to take the ark of the LORD into his care in the city of David; instead David took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.
11 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.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks Be to God.
The decision to relocate a church came one Sunday morning, in the middle of a sermon. For a number of years the membership had been vigorously debating the cons and pros and costs of lifting the entire structure on steel girders, sliding it to the far back of the parking lot, setting it on crib work, blasting the granite from the ground, pouring a new foundation, then setting the entire edifice down thirty-five feet back from the intersection at the edge of the road where it had sat on gray granite blocks since 1849.
Back in the day of horses, ox carts, and gravel roads, back when this church was built, no driver or rider ever came around that corner out-of-control. But then came black tarmac and multitudes of motorcars, and a whole new set of rules.
One fateful Sunday morning, the conclusion to relocate the church came nearly unanimously, and quite suddenly, when a careening car, having failed to negotiate the corner, smashed into the sanctuary. Evelyn Tibbetts, who was a witness to this church-moving event, said that fortunately, no one was injured. She did not say, but I bet no one remembers much what the minister had to say that morning. In any case, the congregation realized that their choice was simple: Move the church—or become a drive-in church.
In most cases, church-moving is controversial. Change always is. The question we usually ask is: “Should we do this?” That is the wrong question. Whenever we are faced with change, in our individual lives, or in the church, the real question is, “Is this what God wants?”
Whose idea was it when King David took 30,000 men to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem? Was it David’s or was it God’s? The Bible does not actually say. There is no record that God requested a change of venue. Most scholars suspect that this move had more to do with David’s ambition than with God’s will. Having consolidated political and military power in Jerusalem, David needed also to consolidate religious power in the same city.
Prior to the construction of the temple, the ark was the most important religious artifact in Israel, symbolizing the Lord’s presence on earth among his people. The Ark of the Covenant was a rectangular object, approximately 45 x 27 x 27 inches, was made of acacia wood, overlaid (Exodus 25:10-16) with gold leaf inside and out, and gold molding. Poles inserted through rings attached to its sides allowed the ark to be transported, and it was carried in Israel’s most solemn processions by priests and Levites.
The ark was an object of great veneration, surrounded by an aura of sanctity that precluded all but the specially authorized from coming into contact with it. Perhaps you have seen the 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is a great action/adventure movie in which the archeologist and university professor, Indiana Jones, races to retrieve the Lost Ark of the Covenant before it falls into the hands of Adolf Hitler. Now the movie is just good fun. But it does make a point. Near the end of the movie, when the Nazis capture the ark, and seek to use it to conquer the world, the ark itself prevents this and kills everyone who tries to misuse it. So, we see some similarity between that part of the movie and our scripture today.
The ark is described in v2, as belonging to “the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.” It appears that the chest of the ark was flanked by cherubim (fearsome sphinxlike creatures, whose outstretched wings met above the top of the ark. The resulting thronelike structure was understood to be the throne (or, possibly, footstool) of the invisible “LORD of hosts.”.
So perhaps David thought it would be a great idea to have this wonderful object in his capital. That is what David wanted, and wanting it, he convinced himself that it was what God wanted.
On the way to Jerusalem, God clearly says to David, “I’m in charge here.” What happened was this: At one point, an ox shook the Ark of God. Uzzah, trying to be the good guy, reached out his hand to steady it. But Uzzah was not a Levite, and only Levites got to touch the ark, so Uzzah perished on the spot — a turn of events that so infuriated David, that he washed his hands of the whole affair, left the Ark with Obed-edom, a local fellow and went back to Jerusalem.
David got angry when it looked as if David was not in control. Then he got scared. Then he remembered who God was. Perhaps that is the lesson we need to get from this text. We need to remember who God is.
Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, we act like God is a person just like us, whom with a little persuasion, we can convince to do what we just know he ought to do. Many of our prayers fall into this category. We know, or we think we know, what God ought to do and in our prayers we are persuading God. To be blunt, we are trying to manipulate God into doing what we want him to do. We need to remember who God is.
Another mistaken view of God that comes in here is to believe that God cannot do it without us. That is only another way of saying that I am in control. If God cannot do without us, then we are in control. Uzzah represents that kind of thinking. Uzzah attempted to minister where he clearly was out of his league. In doing so, he reaches out with his hands and pushes against, constrains, attempts to keep level, attempts to keep God in his box. Uzzah has such a limited and narrow view of God, that he believes that God can not take care of himself. God can. God can take care of himself. We need to remember who God is.
Sometimes, we ask the question: what is God? The question sounds innocent enough, but it is the wrong question. The question implies that it is possible for us to observe God and describe God much as we might describe someone that we met at Wal-Mart. The question implies that I can describe God in such a way that you can have an adequate mental picture of God, that you can then understand God—which is totally false. This is what the second commandment forbids us to do. We are forbidden to make images of God. Now you might ask: Why does God forbid that? Why are we not to make images of God? Because we always get it wrong. God cannot be understood; God cannot be imagined; God cannot be represented in any image. God cannot be observed like any created object, because God is not a created object. We cannot put God under a microscope. We cannot find God in a telescope. We cannot prove God. Now this bothers some people a lot. Even some Christians spend a lot of time trying to prove that God exists, and by proof, they mean scientific, rational proof. I have read books that claim to prove God. They do not. They do not convince anyone of the existence of God, who is not already convinced. The way this works is that God reveals himself to our soul, and we read a book on the proofs of God and we say, ”Yes that is true,” but we were already convinced before we read the book. We do not discover God. God discovers himself to us. In fact, when we ask the question, what is God? By that very question, we are attempting to exercise control over God. If I could answer that question, I would be telling you how great I am, not how great God is. Wrong attitude. Wrong question.
To put it another way, we are creatures and our imaginations and our thoughts are creaturely. God is not a creature. God is not a being. On our own, therefore, we cannot know God. We cannot discover God. But God reveals himself to us, not in ways of our devising, but in his own way, in his own image.
Hebrews 1:2-3 says that God “has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being.” In other words, God has chosen to reveal himself in Christ, that through Christ, we might be saved. If we seek some other means of coming to God, then we are trying to discover God, and it is never going to work, because as I have said several times already, God is undiscoverable.
Today we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. This is not an invention of people. People did not sit down and say, Oh, it would bring us closer to God if we had this little rite in which we all ate bread and wine together. This is not something people do to discover God. It is something God has given us to reveal himself to us.
This sacrament helps us to remember who God is. It helps us to remember that God is in charge, not me, not us. Remembering God is accepting God’s will, not my will, God’s way, not my way. That is the lesson David had to learn. It is also a lesson for us. I am not in control. God is so far above us that we cannot even understand what it means to be in control. But we do not need to understand God. All that we need to do is to live by the revelation God has given us of himself—to live by God’s will, not ours. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 7/23/03