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Care of the Ark
2 Samuel 6:0
IN the second verse we read "David arose." A new passion seized him; a sudden enthusiasm stirred him like a great wind from heaven. We cannot account for these inspirations, excitements, new consecrations and purposes in life: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" to new life, new force, new duty. Sometimes we say, Why did not men rise before? The answer is, They could not: the rising of men is not in themselves. Herein perhaps we have been harsh and unjust to one another, thinking that it lay within our own power to be enthusiastic when we pleased, to burn with holy zeal just according to the changeableness of our own will, as if today we could be almost seraphs, and to-morrow could be earthly and cold, wholly without the Spirit, and bent on finding eternity in time. But life is not so fickle a thing as that. There is a centre, there is a Throne, there is a living King, and in connection with these great central sovereignties and dominions there is a mysterious ever-operating Spirit that will not fall under our calculations and laws and predictions as to his operations in the human mind and on the human heart. Revolutions come into nations, and nobody can tell how; those who would explain them will point a fact here and there, which may or may not have much relation to the vital circumstance. And so a man who never prayed before will suddenly cry mightily to God for help, or shout in fear and agony as if he had seen some new and terrible vision which had affrighted his soul. The times and the seasons in every sense are with God. One thing we can do, blessed be his name, we can wait, we can pray, we can be ready, we can tarry for the King. Blessed is that servant who shall be found waiting when his Lord cometh; he will have nothing to do but to spring at once to his work, and turn the little day into a large opportunity.
David arose to bring the ark to the metropolis. A much minuter account will be found in chapters xii.-xvi. of the first book of Chronicles. In connection with this transport of the ark to Jerusalem we should read the sixty-eighth and the one hundred and first Psalms, and thus realise the historical colour of these great songs. The twenty-fourth Psalm must not be omitted in connection with this account; to that we shall subsequently refer. David would have the metropolis the centre of national worship. Being now enthroned there, he would have the ark near the throne. This idea is not without sublimity, and not without practical bearing upon our own nationality and own own religious civilisation. Be strong in the high places; see that the throne is within the operation of the mysterious influence of the altar; let there be no great distance between royalty of an earthly kind and service of a spiritual sort. Let every metropolis be the best city in the whole land. It ought to be. For some reason, historical or immediate, it is a city of renown, why should not its fame be ennobled by the richest spiritual associations and the. richest spiritual activities? An irony not to be tolerated, that every other part of the land should be better than the metropolis! Is that the right sequence of things? Is that honest logic? Ought it not to be otherwise? To think that a man should be better everywhere else than in his understanding and in his moral nature should be wealthy, influential, socially great, physically well-cared for, and yet that his intellect should be neglected and his heart should be left desolate! Nay, this is an iniquitous irony. It should stand to reason that a man should have a large well-furnished understanding, a quick and responsive heart, an obedient will in relation to all heavenly commands, and the rest shall be added unto him. We must discover the immediate bearing of this upon our particular circumstances. The doctrine need not be limited to nations; it may be brought within the area of families. Is it to be thought of that every one in the house is good except the master, the head? Is he alone wanting in the upper nature, the heavenly outlook, the vital communication with God? Applying the doctrine in this direction, we feel at once how intensely practical it becomes, and how beautiful would be the living sequence if we could see the father, the mother, the firstborn, and the others as it were in the order of time and nature moving upward and onward to larger life and to larger service. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
How is the ark to be moved? For forty years the ark has been in one man's house. Perhaps the law may have been forgotten in that time. We read, in the third verse, that "they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah." There is a touch of veneration about this arrangement. The cart was "new." In the olden time and in eastern cities great store was set by new things: the colt upon which Jesus rode was to be one whereon never man sat; the tomb in which he was laid was a tomb in which never man was laid before. There used to be a kind of pagan veneration for new things. Samson said, If you bind me with new ropes they must be new then I shall be weak as other men. That experiment having failed he added, If you bind me with new ropes they must be new "never occupied" is the old English word never occupied before, then my strength will be as the strength of other men. So we find here that the cart on which the ark was to be carried is a new cart. Where was the law? A dead letter. We can outlive our laws. We can forget the Bible. We can so accustom ourselves to policies and moralities of our own invention and construction as to forget the law of Sinai, the commandments of the living God. When Moses distributed the waggons and the oxen in ancient time the commandment ran in this direction, "But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none: because the service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they should bear upon their shoulders." Oxen and waggons they were to have none. When the ark was to be carried it was to be carried by living men, and they were to be proud of the crowning honour of having part or lot in bearing the ark of the Lord. Let us not look at such details as little things, and suppose that it matters nothing whether the ark is carried in one way or another, provided that it is brought to its proper destination. There is nothing trifling in the kingdom of heaven; there is nothing trifling in human life, when we really understand it. If God has thought it worth his while, in the mysterious exercise of his love, to number the hairs of our heads, he has rebuked the frivolity which separates things into important and non-important, into religious and secular, as if a man might pray regarding some things and omit to pray regarding others. The whole earth is a sanctuary. All life is a priesthood or a sacrifice. We lose valuable elements out of our character when we treat things trivially and do our work with a loose hand. All our life is written down for us; blessed be God for that assurance; the next thing to be done is to find out where, and to read the record with eyes made watchful by love, made penetrating by loyalty to God. "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord;" there is not only a general supervision of his way of movement, and a fixture of the end in which that movement will culminate, but all the steps each of them is ordered by the Lord now uphill, now down in the valley, now in the place of graves, now in the wilderness of desolation; enough if the steps are where God meant them to be and if our hands are locked in his.
"And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it" ( 2Sa 6:6 ). Did the oxen turn aside naturally because of the threshingfloor? Had not they, too, come home? Did they not betray natural impatience when they approached the place where food was kept? The ark shaking under the movement of the oxen, Uzzah, who was undoubtedly a Levite, put forth his hand and took hold of the ark in well-meant purpose. But he was killed ( 2Sa 6:7 ). The ark is never in danger. Could we work this conviction into our minds, it would save us from a thousand inventions and schemes by which to support the throne of the living God. That throne needs no buttress of our building. What share have we in keeping the stars in their places? How much of the security of the constellations is owing to our pre-arrangement, forethought, and devotion? God will take care of his own ark, and his own kingdom and truth in the world. If men did less, more would be accomplished, so far as the protection of these inner spiritual mysteries is concerned. We have work enough to do, but we must not trespass, violate the limits within which we have been enclosed, and take upon us supposed duties which we can never discharge. We cannot guard the truth. That is in God's keeping. If we touch it we may do injury to ourselves, if our touch be done in any spirit of undue anxiety. God was most particular regarding the ark. It must not be moved until the priests had covered it; and whilst they were in the act of doing so the Levites were not so much as permitted to look upon the mysterious box. Then the ark was to be carried upon staves appointed for that purpose. This was God's method, why should not God have his own way with his own work? This incident rebukes anxiety, limits human service, testifies to the divine presence. Why this anxiety about the kingdom of heaven? Let the anxiety be fixed upon ourselves upon our spirit, conduct, action; let us be severe in cross-examination of our own motive and intention: then our service will be large and beneficent.
David got a new view of divine providence upon the day on which a breach was made upon Uzzah. He "was afraid of the Lord that day" ( 2Sa 6:9 ). David began in gladness. He began to praise "the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals;" and the enthusiasm was enthusiasm of music, a passion of delight; and suddenly David was paralysed, filled with fear. He did not know that God was so careful, so critically particular. Such fear has a great place in spiritual education. The culture of the soul is not to be perfected by instruments made of fir wood only, even on harps, psalteries, timbrels, cornets, and cymbals; that is but one aspect and department of our spiritual education needful, right, useful; but a holy fear, a sense of solemnity, a terror that owns the divine nearness may have much to do in chastening, ennobling, and sanctifying our character. Frivolous men never come to any good. For a time, they seem to carry the day with them, but because there is no deepness of earth they soon wither away. The truly religious life is a life or awe, solemnity, holy self-restraint, and almost apprehension that at any moment God may break forth in flame and consume the imperfect worshipper. These terms of course have their adaptation to particular experiences, and must not be forced upon men as if they were of general and uniform application. Each man knows what is his own particular case; let him turn his anxiety into a daily prayer.
Being afraid of the Lord that day, David could not complete his purpose:
"So David would not remove the ark of the Lord unto him into the city of David: but David carried it aside into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the Lord continued in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months: and the Lord blessed Obed-edom, and all his household" ( 2Sa 6:10-11 ).
David having heard that the time of fear had passed and the time of blessing returned, came to complete his original intention:
"And it was told king David, saying, The Lord hath blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all that pertaineth unto him, because of the ark of God. So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness" ( 2Sa 6:12 ).
Now we read in the thirteenth verse a singular expression: "And it was so, that when they that bare the ark...." Experience had not been lost upon these people; there were no oxen and waggons employed on this second occasion. Nothing is said to account for the change; but the change is sufficiently accounted for by previous events. Beautifully do these words read "Bare the ark of the Lord," living men serving the living God; men serving him immediately and directly, and not by proxy or through the intervention of inferior animals, but the living men engaged in the living service of the Living King. It is beautiful as a piece of finished music.
"David danced before the Lord with all his might" ( 2Sa 6:14 ). Here was religious enthusiasm. Without enthusiasm, what is religion? Until we feel the passion of love we do not enter really into the spirit of Christ. We cannot hold down our emotions, and keep back our heart like a prisoner, in some high seasons of spiritual delight. Why should not congregations exclaim when they are moved by the spirit with great emotions of gratitude and delight? Is there anything undignified in the grand Amen of a thousand hearts uttered in one solemn exclamation? We must not kill enthusiasm, nor discourage enthusiasm, but cultivate it, direct it, and turn it into a great motive power, by which we shall do more work, and do it with increasing and ever-multiplying gladness.
But one saw David's enthusiasm:
"Michal, Saul's daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart" ( 2Sa 6:16 ).
There are unsympathetic observers. We must take our life from one of two sources as to its key and purpose: either from those who are cold, selfish, worldly, and incapable of enthusiasm; or from those who are spiritual, loving, ardent of nature, and who keep back nothing which it lies within their power to bestow, that God may be honoured. Now by which of these powers shall we be governed by the enthusiastic David, or by the contemptuous Michal? Why this despising of glad king David? The explanation is given in the same verse: "Michal, Saul's daughter." In very deed a daughter of Saul! Some people are damned by their parentage! How far they are to be blamed, who can say? Michal brought this curse with her into the world. To be part of the progeny known for coldness, selfishness, vanity; to be the children of men who never prayed; to be burdened with the name of men who never knew the cross; surely God will be pitiful to such! He will remember them in their generation as well as in their individuality. The omniscient is judge: let us therefore be glad. God knows through what processes we have passed how we have been limited, and overweighted, and held back, and perverted; how evil influences have risen up within us of which we could give no rational account: but he who keeps record of the generations, and follows a man down through the ages, knows what black lines gather themselves up in him; and God will be pitiful to the burden-bearer, sweetly merciful to those who, longing to cast off the burden, seem to be unable to do more than reveal their weakness.
The ark having been brought in, the twenty-fourth Psalm was sung. It is something to have the very ode before us which was sung at the time of the entrance of the ark into the metropolis. How nobly that Psalm ends! "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in." Then the inquiry: "Who is this King of glory?" Then the great thunder answer: "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle." Then: "Who is this king of glory?" And the great triumphant shout: "The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory." There is no ark now to bring in, but there is a topstone to be brought on. Jesus Christ is building his tabernacle, or his temple, his church, watching the building rise stone by stone, and the topstone shall be brought on with shoutings of "grace, grace unto it." In that glad hour, the coldest man will become hot; and he who has never known the passion of enthusiasm will be caught in the very agony of religious thankfulness.
" Michal... saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord " ( 2Sa 6:16 ). The Hebrews, in common with other nations, had their sacred dances, which were performed on their solemn anniversaries, and other occasions of commemorating some special token of the divine goodness and favour, as means of drawing forth, in the liveliest manner, their expressions of joy and thanksgiving. The performers were usually a band of females, who, in cases of public rejoicing, volunteered their services (Exodus 15:20 ; 1Sa 18:6 ), and who, in the case of religious observances, composed the regular chorus of the temple (Psalms 149:3 ; Psa 150:4 ), although there are not wanting instances of men also joining in the dance on these seasons of religious festivity. Thus David deemed it no way derogatory to his royal dignity to dance on the auspicious occasion of the ark being brought into Jerusalem. The word used to describe his attitude is כרכר , in the reduplicate form, intimating violent efforts of leaping; and from the apparent impropriety and indecency of a man advanced in life, above all a king, exhibiting such freaks, with no other covering than a linen ephod, many learned men have declared themselves at a loss to account for so strange a spectacle. It was, unquestionably, done as an act of religious homage; and when it is remembered that the ancient Asiatics were accustomed, in many of their religious festivals, to throw off their garments even to perfect nudity, as a symbol sometimes of penitence, sometimes of joy, and that this, together with many other observances that bear the stamp of a remote antiquity, was adopted by Mahomet, who has enjoined the pilgrims of Mecca to encompass the Kaaba, clothed only with the ihram, we may perhaps consider the linen ephod, which David put on when he threw off his garments and danced before the ark, to be symbolic of the same object as the ihram of the Mahommedans. The conduct of David was imitated by the later Jews, and the dance incorporated among their favourite usages as an appropriate close of the joyous occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Jewish dance was performed by the sexes separately. There is no evidence from sacred history that the diversion was promiscuously enjoyed, except it might be at the erection of the deified calf, when, in imitation of the Egyptian festival of Apis, all classes of the Hebrews intermingled in the frantic revelry. In the sacred dances, although both sexes seem to have frequently borne a part in the procession or chorus, they remained in distinct and separate companies (Psalms 68:25 ; Jer 31:13 ).
Almighty God, it is not in man that liveth to direct his way. There is no way in the darkness. Thou hast made the darkness a prison: we know not its size, we cannot tell how long it will endure; it is a burden, and we sink under it; it is a mystery, and we have to answer to it. We would acknowledge God, that in all our paths we may be directed. We would not go out alone; we would never move but under God's inspiration. We do not want to consult ourselves now, for we have seen our own folly in countless cases; we want no counsellor but God. Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? Make the light, show the work, give me the strength, and work in me a spirit of loving obedience, that is all we want; it seems so little, yet it is so much yea, it is all grace, the very perfectness of Christian culture. Help us, then, to say, if not always clearly and firmly, yet with great meaning, Not my will, but thine be done. That is the last sentence thou dost teach in thy school. We cannot say it as we would like to say it; our heart keeps something back; we will not yet deny ourselves: we will have a self-loving existence; we insist upon it that consciousness alone makes heaven: we will not leave all things absolutely in God's hands. Yet we pray that we may be able to do this some day day of miracle, day of heaven! Then death shall have no pain for us, the cross will have no agony we cannot bear, and heaven will be round about us. We pray thee to direct us in every step. As thou hast numbered the hairs of our head, and as thou hast known our thought afar off, so let our uprising be a religious act, and our downsitting an expression of religious trust. Take away from us all things temporal, material, so far as their debasing influence is concerned, and lift us and them up to high heavenly levels, that we may be lost in God. Surely we have learned all this in the school of Jesus Christ thy Son. He is our Teacher, as well as our Propitiator; we hold our doctrine from him: we know nothing of Christianity that we have not learned from Christ, and if we have put anything of our own into it, behold we have spoiled the revelation of thy love. Jesus is our refuge, our trust, our plea; a strong tower, a sanctuary that cannot be violated; an answer to law, a security in judgment. May his Spirit live in us, mould us, sanctify us, inspire us, and may we be so like Christ as to be almost mistaken for him. Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"And David and all (he house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments." 2 Samuel 6:5 .
Variety of worship is an idea suggested by this circumstance. All the instruments differed one from the other, but the subject of the holy song was the same: all the music spoke the same eloquence and adored the same Lord. The instruments were made of fir wood; they were harps, psalteries, timbrels, cornets and cymbals; and all these various instruments concurred in one lofty and thrilling tribute of praise. What applies to instruments applies to faculties and to attributes of every kind offered upon the altar of religion to the glory and honour of God. One man has a harp, another has a timbrel, another a cornet, and another clashes the cymbals to express his religious emotion and aspiration: one man is eloquent, another liberal, another sympathetic, another wise in counsel, another tender in prayer, another powerful in argument; all these are required to make up the great ministry of the cross. The ministry is not fully represented in any one man; it is only represented in the sum total of its members. The harp must not be silent because the psaltery is not played, or the cornet, or the cymbals. If the harp cannot have company, it must offer its own tribute; even if the cymbals have to be heard alone they must not be ashamed of their offering. Better indeed that all the instruments should concur in one sacred offering of praise, but if any instrument persist in keeping silence, the silent instrument must not deter others from doing what they can to extend the kingdom and multiply the praise of God. The greatest mistake which the Church can make is to turn monotony into an idol. This is a practical danger. How much like one another are ministers of the Gospel! Who can tell one clergyman from another? What a disposition there is to formulate all worship, to give it iron shape and inflexible direction. Where is individuality? where is spontaneity? Where is enthusiasm? Because the harp is not a cymbal, is it therefore not an instrument of music? Because the timbrel differs from the cornet, is it therefore unworthy to express the praise of Almighty God? Some men are learned, dry, tedious, and to popular criticism they present the aspect of nuisances; but they are really doing a very necessary and effective work in the Church, in guarding many approaches to the citadel against the attacks of men who are cultivated, subtle, and desperate in their hostility. Other men are popular because they are eloquent, effective, almost ostentatious in service, and they are apt to be sneered at by those who are labouring in secret, toiling over difficult passages of history, and searching into the meaning of recondite terms and usages. All this is worse than useless; it is most mischievous, it is divisive, it is enfeebling, it is disheartening. The complete idea of praise is that which brings within its range all manner of men, all manner of instruments, and all manner of methods. As the Church grows in wisdom and in love it will grow in inclusiveness of recognition and sympathy.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"David returned to bless his household." 2 Samuel 6:20 .
David had been bringing up the ark from Kirjath-jearim; the ark had rested in the house of Obed-edom; David brought the ark into Zion with sacrifices, and he danced before it, and he placed it in the tabernacle with great joy and feasting, "As soon as David had made an end of offering burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts." The history says, "All the people departed every one to his own house;" and then it adds, "David returned to bless his household." Public worship does not obviate the necessity of private worship. There should be a church in every house. Every hearthstone should have its sacred altar; the clear way from every window in the house should be a path ending only in heaven. What avail is it that a man has served the public if he has neglected his own family? Of what advantage is it that a man has been most eloquent to others, and most silent to those of his own household? Pitiful indeed is the life of the man who is most popular with those who know him least, and who is but scantily welcomed by those who live with him in common family relations. There is indeed an exception to this household enthusiasm in the instance given in this chapter; for Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and reproached him, being out of sympathy with his religious enthusiasm. Michal was to blame, not David. David said, "It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel; therefore will I play before the Lord." Where a man has unfortunately married a wife who is not in sympathy with him, he must not cast all the responsibility upon other people; he fashioned the sword with which he is pierced; he kindled the fire which leaps upon him like an avenging flame. The lesson is that men ought not to enter into relationships that axe not deeply sympathetic; if there is any disparity as to religious conviction and religious enthusiasm, it will tell in the long run upon family peace. At first when passion burns and love has taken leave of reason there may be an apparent smoothness in all the outlying way; but when reason begins to assume its function, and life settles down into its ordinary levels, and the daily wear and tear of business is felt, then it will be seen that there is no true union that does not begin in religious identity of sympathy and purpose. Where the house is divided upon religion it is divided fatally; no compromise can create an enduring truce: a profound mistake was made at the beginning, and it will exert its disastrous influence until the dissolution of the unhappy bond.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 6". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany