Before we begin our story of the Ark of God we need to recap what we have learned so far. 2nd Samuel chapter 5 concluded with David’s 2nd and more decisive victory over the Philistines. The Philistines had been more than a thorn in Israel’s side for the past three centuries; they had prevented Israel from living peacefully enough to be able to establish nation status within their sovereign borders.
The Holy Scriptures often present some of the most significant history-changing events in the most subdued way. It was and remains Yehoveh’s pattern that whatever the nations observed as their customs, social conventions and religious practices, the customs, social conventions and religious practices followed by the members of God’s Kingdom would be different or even the opposite.
The victorious gentile kings of old had teams of writers who would record and embellish every detail of each military victory (often even turning a draw or a loss into a win), and usually to glorify and to credit the king for his god-like invincibility.
Therefore even the most resounding Israelite triumphs in battle are usually recorded with little detail or fanfare, and the battle leader mentioned only as a matter of record. And this is because when Israel obtained a great victory, it was to be seen as more of a triumph of Israel’s God than Israel’s army.
So to glorify the bloody battle (itself) or its leader would be precisely the wrong attitude for both the participants and the historian. And it would also be unsuitable for the reader of these events to emphasize the brilliant battle strategy or the exceptional courage and skill of the Hebrew warriors.
So even though very little is said about these two battles between David and the Philistines as recorded in 2 Samuel Chapter 5, the impact of David’s victories represented a sea change in Israel’s progress. And of course, it is the Lord who is given credit for these victories because it is the Lord who won them before a single arrow was shot in anger.
One of the things that seem to have endeared David to God was his proper attitude in just such circumstances. The defeat of the Philistines caused David to exclaim:
2 Samuel 5:20
ADONAI has broken through my enemies for me like a river breaking through its banks.
And so the place where the battle was fought was named Ba’al P’ratzim: the lord of breaking through (at this point in Israel’s history the term ba’al had been adopted into the Hebrew language and was often used to mean “lord”). That name bore such impact on Israel’s history that we find it remembered in even Isaiah’s day (more than 250 years later).
What we noticed in 2 Samuel 5:21 is that the Philistines had brought their gods with them into battle just as the Israelites had brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle many years earlier. The Philistines’ idols were captured and burnt up at David’s order, just as the Ark of the Covenant was lost for a time to the enemy upon Israel’s defeat several decades earlier.
Let’s move on now to 2 Samuel 6 that focuses on the Ark and the story of David’s attempt to make Jerusalem not only Israel’s political capital but its spiritual capital as well.
Read 2 Samuel 6.
About 70 years had passed since the Ark of the Covenant rested in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, as it should according to the regulations of God as ordained at Mt. Sinai.
Now that Israel was again united in a political way not seen since those 40 years of wandering in the wilderness it was time to restore the ancient worship of Israel that had so sadly become perverted (and now nearly forgotten) from the moment Israel’s collective feet touched the waters of the Jordan River at Joshua’s leading.
And this could only happen when the Philistines were subdued, and when the place the Lord chose to where His Name would dwell on earth came under Israelite control: Jerusalem.
Verse 1 explains that David assembled 30,000 men to go and fetch the Ark of God. The Complete Jewish Bible in this matter gets the vocation of these 30,000 men incorrect; they were not crack military troops, but instead, they were the chosen political representatives of the whole land. These were the bachar, the clan leaders and other prominent men from all the descendants of Jacob.
Since the aim was to bring back the holiest object that had ever graced this planet, it was appropriate that a solemn procession that represented all Israel was convened to accompany the Ark.
Troops were not needed (although undoubtedly some went along as standard precaution and protocol) because this was not a military expedition. The Philistines were confined to their Mediterranean seacoast territory at this moment and no longer a threat in Canaan.
Further, the Ark was not in the hands of the Philistines it was in Israelite possession, specifically in the care of a Levite family located at a place that is here called Ba’al-Judah. The family was that of Abinadab; he may have been a priest because his son’s name was Eleazar and that is a common name among the priestly clan. Later genealogies in the Bible also seem to imply that Abinadab was a priest.
On the other hand, they could have been an ordinary family of Levites (non-priests). The reality is that the divinely ordained structure of the various offices and duties of Priests and Levites had become blurred, mixed, and applied haphazardly for a very long time, so it’s hard to know with any certainty just how it was arranged at this time.
Let’s pause to recall the circumstances that directed the Ark of God to reside at its present resting place.
1 Samuel 6:21 NKJV
So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjath Jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of the Lord; come down and take it up with you.”
1 Samuel 7:1 NKJV
Then the men of Kirjath Jearim came and took the ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord.
Place names continuously shift in the Bible with the ebb and flow of territorial control and the evolution of languages. We can be sure that these are all the same place because in the Samuel scroll found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran it explicitly says so.
Ba’al Judah is a small hilltop community located about 8 miles northwest of Jerusalem, so it would have been considerably less than a day’s journey for David and Israel’s leadership to travel to the Abinadab’s home. Its located at the confluence of the tribal territories of Judah, Benjamin (and in earlier times, of Dan) but the name itself makes it clear that the place was considered as belonging to Judah.
The last part of verse 2 is confusing and so has been translated many ways. It speaks of the Ark, the Name of God, and the Cherubim on the lid of Ark. One interpretation seems to say that God’s Name, Yehoveh, was written (carved) above the Cherubim. Another makes the passage to be an embellishing or glorification of the God who’s Ark it is.
But the Hebrew Sages see it a bit differently; as an explanation of WHICH god is represented by this Ark. This matters considering the reality that the Ark was for a time in the Philistine’s possession. It had been stored away in a typical home in an area controlled by the Philistines for the past 70 years. And Israel had only in an obtuse kind of way even practiced its religion for a very long time.
One would think that with the detailed instructions in the Torah on building the Ark, etc., that it was self-evident that YHWH was the God represented by this golden box with the winged representations of spiritual beings ensconced on its lid.
But in fact, this is one of the few times in the Hebrew Scriptures that God’s formal name, YHWH, is directly attached to the Ark and used in conjunction with the Ark.
Of course, this use of God’s actual formal name is obliterated in both the Hebrew and English versions of the Bible because in both cases the 6000 appearances of God’s name (Yehoveh) in the ancient scroll texts have been replaced with words like Adonai, HaShem, Lord, and God. Thus starting around 300 B.C., due to some new traditions, when the prominent Hebrew scholars read the Torah, to their mind God’s name isn’t even present.
Nonetheless, the way this passage probably ought to be read is:
David and all of the people that were with him arose and went forth from Ba’al Judah to bring up from there the Ark of Elohim, which is called by the name: “Yehoveh of hosts who is enthroned upon the Cherubim.”
In other words, the phrase, “Yehoveh of hosts whose enthroned upon the Cherubim” is presenting as an alternate name for the Ark. Of course what it really is, is a kind of revival statement to recall that it is Israel’s God alone who dwells above the Ark, and Israel’s god’s name is YHWH.
And by the way just to demonstrate how the Lord’s name has become tragically obscured in both Judaism and Christianity, is where we often see God called Adonai Tzv’aot in the Hebrew Bible, or The Lord of Hosts in the English Bible. In fact, the original Hebrew says Yehoveh Tzv’aot or Yehoveh of Hosts; it almost always uses God’s formal name in that title, not the more generic words of Adonai, Lord or anything else.
To transport the Ark the 8 miles from Abinadab’s home to the City of David, the Ark was carefully set into a newly built oxcart and accompanied by Uzzah and Ahio, who are said to be Abinadab’s sons.
Although they could have been his grandsons as there is little distinction made in Biblical Hebrew thought and word between sons and grandsons). As they led the cart in procession the 30,000 bachar (chosen men of Israel) walked along with David celebrating the Ark’s re-emergence with songs, dance, and musical instruments.
But when (in verse 6) the oxen suddenly stumbled the cart lurched, tilted and it appeared that the Ark was about to fall. Instinctively Uzzah reached up to steady the precious cargo, and instantly he fell dead. This event so unnerved David that he balked at bringing the Ark into his compound and so he left it somewhere else.
A great deal is going on here so let’s examine this episode piece by piece. There was a whole host of miscues and errors being committed on David’s part that led to this fiasco. To begin with, the Ark should have never been placed in an oxcart (new or otherwise).
The Torah is quite specific that not only should the Ark be carried on the shoulders of men, but that those men should be Levites of the clan of Kohath.
Numbers 4:15 CJB
When Aharon (Aaron) and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy utensils, when the camp is about to move forward, then the descendants of K’hat (Kohath) are to come and carry them. But they are not to touch the holy things so that they won’t die. These things are the responsibility of the descendants of K’hat in the tent of meeting.
Num 7:8-9 NKJV
And four carts and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the authority of Ithamar, the son of Aaron, the priest. But to the sons of Kohath, he gave none because theirs was the service of the holy things, which they carried on their shoulders.
Where would Uzzah and Ahio (who were Levites or perhaps even priests) or David get the idea, then, that the proper and solemn way to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelite capital was in a new oxcart? The answer: from the pagans.
Let’s once again refer back to 1st Samuel and the story of the Philistines trying to rid themselves of the Ark of the Covenant because it had caused such death and devastation throughout the Philistine territory. I’ll condense it by only examining the most pertinent verses.
1 Samuel 6:1-2 CJB
The ark of ADONAI was in the country of the P’lishtim (Philistines) for seven months. The P’lishtim summoned the priests and soothsayers and asked them, “What are we to do with the ark of ADONAI? Tell us how to send it back where it belongs.”
1 Samuel 6:6-8 CJB
Why be obstinate like the Egyptians and Pharaoh were? When he had done his work among them, didn’t they let the people go?- and they left. Now take and prepare yourselves a new cart and two milk-cows that have never been under a yoke. Harness the cows to the cart, but put their calves back in the shed. Then take the ark of ADONAI and lay it on the cart. In a box next to it, put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Then send it away to go off by itself,
1 Samuel 6:15 CJB
Then the L’vi’im (Levites) removed the ark of ADONAI and the box that was with it, which contained the gold objects, and put them on the big rock.
1 Samuel 6:21 TLV
So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of Adonai. Come down—bring it up to you.”
1 Samuel 7:1 TLV
Then the men of Kiriath-jearim came and fetched up the ark of Adonai, brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of Adonai.
Its a sad commentary (and its well noted by the Hebrew Sages) that these Levites who were to accompany the Ark on behalf of King David (whose duty it was not just to know the Torah but to teach it) had no idea how to treat it, which means they had little to no knowledge of the Law of Moses.
So 70 years after first receiving the Ark back from the Philistines the time came to move the Ark to the City of David. It apparently was assumed that the right thing to do was to carry it there in the same manner as it was brought to them: using an oxcart. And they figured that it MUST be a new cart, never used because that had a beautiful, religious ring to it.
Tom Bradford has said on numerous occasions that the history and development of Christianity and Judaism have run along parallel tracks especially in how to worship and observances approached.
Both groups started out with the pure Word, determined to stick to God’s ordained ways at all costs, and then within one generation; they began to infect it with social customs, modern philosophies, and human doctrines that felt comfortable, familiar and fit in better with their worldview and circumstances.
In a matter of two or three generations the doctrines and traditions that arose from this manmade mixture with the divine became the norm and most worshippers no longer had any idea of what the original pure religion even looked like nor they did they seem to care enough to find out.
Judaism drifted in that direction, and modern Christianity has followed suit. The bulk of our current Christian liturgy customs has become a strange brew of the Bible and varying degrees of paganism mixed with modern societal attitudes resulting in something that I have no doubt that the earliest Christians, nor Paul or Christ, would ever have recognized.
Yet because the Holy Scriptures are today treated as entirely secondary to a sect or denomination’s practices and teachings most followers of Messiah are blissfully unaware of just how far off course we are as compared to what the Bible ordains.
And of course, when confronted with such a startling suggestion that our worship practices and doctrines may need to be re-examined, the dedicated layman and leader lash out in an unyielding defense of whatever their cherished traditions might be.
Heaven forbid that an ordinary worshipper would point out the obvious in the Holy Scriptures to a Pastor or an Elder because the typical response usually boils down to: “perhaps you don’t belong here anymore.”
How quickly we recognize the corruption of God’s Laws among the Biblical Hebrews (in all the Biblical eras) and how fast we condemn them for it. How equally easily Christ’s modern-day followers choose to turn a disinterested eye towards God’s commandments and how quickly we excuse or rationalize away our questionable practices, which are either un-Biblical in their source or even expressly forbidden in the Word.
Those who organized and led this procession and put the Ark of God into a common oxcart simply exercised what seemed right by Middle Eastern social convention and in their own eyes without bothering to consult or consider God’s written commands. And this would prove not only to be an embarrassing failure for King David but deadly to one of the worshippers in particular.
However, this wasn’t the only indiscretion that David allowed for in this adventure. The Rabbis tell us that in this 1st attempt to bring the Ark to Jerusalem the attitudes of all involved were utterly wrong. And this is reflected in contrast between the Hebrew words used to describe this 1st attempt versus the 2nd one that went considerably better. Look at verse 5; it says this:
2 Samuel 6:5 CJB
David and the whole house of Isra’el celebrated in the presence of ADONAI with all kinds of musical instruments made of cypress-wood, including lyres, lutes, tambourines, rattles and cymbals.
The key word is “celebrated,” which in Hebrew is sachaq. Sachaq means to laugh, to mock, to make merry, to jest, and to generally joking around frivolously. To translate this word as “celebrate” isn’t wrong provided the readers know that it’s used in the sense of a party atmosphere.
Sadly some gentile Bible translators so misunderstand this word that they attach it the musical instruments and say that the house of Israel “played” (sachaq) musical instruments, which thoroughly distorts the meaning. In David’s 2nd attempt to bring the Ark to the City of David (a successful effort), which begins in verse 12:
2 Samuel 6:12
So David went and joyously brought the ark of God up from the house of ‘Oved-Edom into the City of David.
The operative word in this passage is “joyously,” which in Hebrew is simchah. Simchah might sound familiar to you because, at the end of the yearly cycle of reading through the Torah, Jewish Synagogues celebrate with an observance that they call Simchah Torah.
Simchah speaks of inner joy and gladness of the heart. It is similar to what Christians might call the “joy in the Lord.” Its a pious and reverent joy, as opposed to a raucous party mood. So the second attempt to transport the Ark was accompanying with the proper respect.
I’m afraid that especially since the 1960’s, there has been a concerted effort in Christianity to move away from the breathtaking reverence into a comfortable familiarity with the Godhead.
We now have the laughing, good-guy Jesus, who is our party buddy. The grandfatherly Father who winks at our indiscretions and looks the other way and tells us not to be concerned; and a Holy Spirit that is more there to provide us with warm, fuzzy feelings than with concrete guidance, correction, and divine enlightenment.
Many good books have chronicled this reasonably recent evolution of Christianity, and unfortunately, the purpose primarily revolved around the need to fill the pews and grow the church treasuries.
The strategy began to change God’s image to one that was more likable and approachable on our terms and to make the obligations of Believers towards God as no more than showing up for a weekly church service and tithing. It’s not unlike the modern view of education at our Public Schools that is more and more about lowering standards to move kids through the system.
David, the Levites, and the Elders of Israel all made this same grave error. Their cavalier attitude was that as long as they invoked God’s name, they could proceed any way they chose (that they had full liberty in the Lord). They thought that as long as they enjoyed the observance and felt good in their hearts about it, God would approve.
They did what our modern religious institutions have done: they exchanged attention to God’s holiness for the pursuit of their happiness. They even figured that the strictness of the Law and the Torah were for their ancestors, not their current era.
The 3rd error made was mostly Uzzah’s, and he paid for it with his life. The Holy Ark is NEVER to be touched with human hands under any circumstances. Metal rings were formed into the Ark so that carrying poles could be inserted and these were not to be removed. The Ark was to be covered in cloth so as not to be viewed and also to remind not to touch!
Let me remind you of a fundamental Torah principle that was obviously merely laid aside in David’s day and is utterly forgotten in our time: holiness is theoretically transferable by contact. This study is too extensive to review here, so refer to Leviticus to learn about how holiness and uncleanness are transferred from people to objects, objects to people, and so on.
But understand that this is neither superstition nor an abolished principle. Briefly, there are definite and well-defined laws in the Torah about the prohibition of anything holy coming into contact with something that is not. We also get some examples of what the consequences are for allowing it.
One of the most infamous events that happened in Numbers 16 is during the wilderness journey out of Egypt when a group of disgruntled men led by the rebel Korah decided that they have as much right inside the Tabernacle compound as God’s priest. And so they brought their firepans with them to the Tabernacle. It resulted in two things:
- The fire pans touched holiness, and so they became holy, and
- The rebels were all killed.
Read this brief section of Numbers 16 and the beginning of 17.
Numbers 16:35 CJB
Then fire came out from ADONAI and destroyed the 250 men who had offered the incense.
Numbers 17:1-3 CJB
ADONAI said to Moshe, “Tell El’azar the son of Aharon the cohen (the priest) to remove the fire pans from the fire, and scatter the smoldering coals at a distance, because they have become holy. Also, the fire pans of these men, whose sin cost them their lives, have become holy, because they were offered before ADONAI. Therefore, have them hammered into plates to cover the altar. This will be a sign for the people of Isra’el.”
There are two remedies for something that has accidentally become holy through contact with a holy object: either it is consecrated for use by God, or it’s to be destroyed. By touching the immeasurably holy Ark of God, Uzzah instantaneously contracted a measure of holiness for which he (and no one else for that matter) is authorized; therefore he was destroyed (killed).
Should Uzzah have allowed the Ark to tumble out of the cart and onto the ground as an alternative? The short answer is yes (assuming that God would have permitted that actually to happen). This is an excellent example of what happens when we presume to take spiritual matters into our own hands, in our way. Our good intentions do NOT trump God’s laws and commands.
And just so that we’re together on this: this matter of contracting unauthorized holiness is not a simple issue of “sinning” or (in Uzzah’s case) of choosing between committing the lesser of two evils. That choice only comes in matters between humans.
In other words, committing the sin of lying to save an innocent human life from unjust death is the lesser of two evils. But lying to God, or about God, is entirely different. There are separate Torah Laws about the relationship of humans to God and humans to humans.
One more thing and we’ll wrap up today’s lesson. Verse 6 explains that the procession with the Ark had arrived at Nachon’s threshing-floor when this incident of Uzzah’s death occurred. And in verse 8 the name of the place seems to have been changed to Peretz-Uzah (Perez Uzzah) in commemoration of what happened there.
First, let’s look at the Hebrew Goren Nakhon (Nachon); despite most translations that make it seem as though there was a man named Nakhon who owned this threshing-floor, that is not the case. Goren means “threshing floor,” and Nakhon means “stroke or disaster.”
So Goren nakhon was merely a description of the place and what happened there, not its name. But because of the incident, it was later given the name of Peretz-Uzah meaning, “Bursting out against Uzzah.”
We’ll continue with this story next time.