When God Rained on David’s Parade (2 Samuel 6:1-23)
My wife and I were privileged to participate in the marriage of our daughter Jenny recently. As the time for the wedding drew near and things became a little intense, someone passed a book along to my wife with the suggestion that we read a particular chapter. I do not remember the title of the book, but I do remember the essence of the chapter. It was written by a minister, who told of the most memorable wedding ceremony he had ever conducted.
The bride-to-be was a young woman whose mother was, to say the least, obsessive-compulsive. She wanted the wedding to be just perfect, and so she owned the entire ceremony. She planned the ceremony down to the last detail, and then checked and rechecked to make sure nothing had been overlooked. Of course, there had to be an orchestra. The dress was breathtaking. The church was an architectural wonder. The flowers, the ceremony, the cake and refreshments were all arranged under the watchful eye of the mother of the bride. This mother virtually harassed every person who had a part in the ceremony. The rehearsal was flawless, assuring the mother of the bride that everything was under control -- her control.
Then came the fateful day and the actual ceremony -- with its unplanned events. As the moment for her entrance approached, the bride nervously waited with her father in the reception room. Pacing around the tables, she picked at the nuts, then the punch (which was spiked with champagne), then a little appetizer. . . . When the moment came for her to walk down the aisle with her father, she had visited each table and sampled its contents several times. She hardly thought of what she was doing, and neither did her father. Then came the processional. All groomsmen were in place. The groom stood in the front of the church, alongside the minister, awaiting his bride. The bridesmaids gracefully made their way down the aisle and took their places. Now was the bride's finest hour.
As the bride and her father proceeded down the aisle to the front of the church, no one seemed to notice her flushed face, nearly matching the color of her wedding gown. Just as she reached the front, as her mother watched in her seat to her left, all of the food she had eaten chose to depart -- the bride vomited. I do not mean a polite little heave, hardly noticed when coughed into a handkerchief. I mean a complete emptying of the insides; the bride completely hosed down everyone and everything anywhere near her at the front of the sanctuary. The mother of the bride was the first to be baptized, followed by the groom and the nearest bridesmaids. The stench was immediate and gut wrenching. It was obvious that a chain reaction might be imminent. The bride's mother was horrified. The bride fainted, but was caught nicely by her groom. The father was able to avoid the line of fire and stepped out of the way, with a faint smile on his face, slightly amused by the humor -- and the irony -- of it all.
Quickly, the pastor pronounced a brief recess. The bride was cleaned up, along with the mess at the front of the church. Those who had been hosed down by the bride regained some semblance of cleanliness and dignity. In a short while, the wedding resumed, and the deed was done -- without the pomp and circumstance the mother of the bride had in mind. Ten years later, they all laughed as they watched a replay of these events, captured more than adequately by the three video cameras the mother of the bride had carefully arranged, each capturing the event from a slightly different angle in grim detail.
Some days, no matter how carefully we plan and orchestrate events, things just have a way of going wrong. This is the way it happened with King David. After David captured the city of Jebus, he had it in his heart to retrieve the ark of the covenant (here called the “ark of God”), which had been kept privately in the home of Abinadab at Kiriath-jearim.23 David carefully consulted the leaders of the nation, so that this was an action taken by the whole nation:
1 Then David consulted with the captains of the thousands and the hundreds, even with every leader. 2 David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you, and if it is from the LORD our God, let us send everywhere to our kinsmen who remain in all the land of Israel, also to the priests and Levites who are with them in their cities with pasture lands, that they may meet with us; 3 and let us bring back the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” 4 Then all the assembly said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people. 5 So David assembled all Israel together, from the Shihor of Egypt even to the entrance of Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim (1 Chronicles 13:1-5).24
As in the wedding story, all the details of transporting the ark to Jerusalem had been thought through and the necessary preparations made. A new cart was acquired to carry the ark some six miles or so east and a little south to Jerusalem. This journey involved some changes in elevation since Kiriath-jearim was located in the hills, and so was Jerusalem, but in between there were lower lying areas, which meant some up and down hill maneuvers. There was great rejoicing as David and the Israelites brought the ark to Jerusalem. David and those with him celebrated with all their might (1 Chronicles 13:8; compare 2 Samuel 6:5). All sorts of musical instruments and singers participated in the celebration, and from the context, we can infer that there was enthusiastic dancing as well.
Suddenly something went wrong, and one of the oxen nearly upset the cart. We are not told exactly what happened. Perhaps the oxen stumbled, or they may have been startled by some enthusiastic gesture on the part of someone who ventured too close. In some way, the oxen momentarily got out of control, and this motion was transferred to the cart, causing the ark to be jolted in such a way that it appeared it would fall off the cart. The thought of the ark crashing to the ground was too much for Uzzah, walking along side the cart close to the ark. Instinctively, he reached out his hand and took hold of the ark to steady it. When he did, God struck him dead. The celebration came to a screeching halt. Joy turned to amazement and bewilderment. David's joy turned to anger, because God had “rained on his parade.” All of this was being done to honor God. Did God not understand? Why would He strike one dead who had helped for years to care for the ark? Why would God ruin such a wonderful occasion?
David wanted the ark of God there in Jerusalem, with him. Now that Uzzah had been struck dead, David was unwilling to continue, fearful of bringing the ark near him in Jerusalem. He decided it was safer to keep the ark at a safe distance, at least until he could figure out what had gone wrong. What was the problem? What went wrong? And what was the solution? Our text never actually tells us. It is almost like a riddle we are supposed to figure out for ourselves. The answer is in the Bible, as we shall see, and it has application to our lives today, just as it did for those long ago. There is yet another dimension to this story which we have not mentioned, and that is the story of Michal, who also “rains on David's parade.” From that too we have lessons to learn. Let us listen then and learn what the Spirit of God has for us in this text.
God Rains on David's Parade
1 Now David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim. 3 They placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart. 4 So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. 5 Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals. 6 But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. 7 And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. 8 David became angry because of the LORD'S outburst against Uzzah, and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. 9 So David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” 10 And David was unwilling to move the ark of the LORD into the city of David with him; but David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 11 Thus 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.
We find what went wrong here by going back in Israel's history to the time God gave Israel the Law, when He gave them instructions concerning the construction and transporting of the ark. These are the words God spoke to Moses concerning the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant.
8 “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. 9 “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it. 10 “They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. 11 “You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. 12 “You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet, and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. 13 “You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 “You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. 15 “The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it. 16 “You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. 17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18 “you shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 “Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20 “The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 “You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. 22 “There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 25:8-22).
When the tabernacle was first set up, the Lord's presence appeared there at the tabernacle:
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35).
God gave very clear instructions about the ark of God. He not only gave specific instructions about how it should be made, He indicated who should carry it and how it should be transported from one place to another. In Numbers 5, God tells exactly how the tabernacle should be taken down and carried to its next resting place. Notice especially the words of verse 15:
15 “When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy objects and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is to set out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them, so that they will not touch the holy objects and die. These are the things in the tent of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry” (Numbers 4:15; see also 7:9).
We should recall from Exodus 25:14-15 that the ark had rings, through which poles were inserted, and these poles were the means by which the Kohathites were to transport the ark.
The ark had accompanied the Israelites wherever they went while they were in the wilderness. It went before the Israelites when they crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 3:14-17). We find the ark mentioned quite often in 1 and 2 Samuel. Samuel slept near the ark as a child (1 Samuel 3:3). When the Israelites were being beaten by the Philistines, they unwisely took the ark into battle with them as a kind of magic charm. They not only lost the battle, they lost the ark as well (1 Samuel 4). The next two chapters (5-6) of 1 Samuel are the account of how God plagued the Philistines, so that they finally decided they did not want the ark among them. What is most interesting is the method they chose to transport the ark back to Israelite territory. The Philistine priests and diviners gave the Philistine leaders instructions concerning how the ark should be removed. Notice these instructions and their outcome:
7 “Now therefore, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never been a yoke; and hitch the cows to the cart and take their calves home, away from them. 8 “Take the ark of the LORD and place it on the cart; and put the articles of gold which you return to Him as a guilt offering in a box by its side. Then send it away that it may go. 9 “Watch, if it goes up by the way of its own territory to Beth-shemesh, then He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we will know that it was not His hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance.” 10 Then the men did so, and took two milch cows and hitched them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home. 11 They put the ark of the LORD on the cart, and the box with the golden mice and the likenesses of their tumors. 12 And the cows took the straight way in the direction of Beth-shemesh; they went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right or to the left. And the lords of the Philistines followed them to the border of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6:7-12).
It is not surprising that the Philistines chose to transport the ark on a new cart, drawn by two cows. First, the Philistines did not possess the law, so they surely did not know how God instructed for the ark to be carried. Furthermore, where would they get the Kohathites to carry it? Most importantly to the Philistines, this method of transporting the ark provided them with a test, so that they could determine whether all their plagues were really the hand of God or simply “bad luck.” The fact that two cows would leave their calves and without a driver draw the cart into Israelite territory was too difficult to be a coincidence. This was the hand of God.
The problem is that the Israelites imitated the Philistines rather than to obey God. I believe the instructions given by God in the law were simply forgotten rather than willfully ignored or disobeyed. The ark had not been carried for many years. It had remained out of circulation, out of use, in the home of Abinidab for a good 20 years before it was put back into any kind of use (see 1 Samuel 7:2; 14:18-19). It is easy to see why no one paid any particular attention to the instructions given Israel by God for its transportation in the wilderness.
Besides all this, who would want to carry the ark by hand when it could simply be loaded on an ox cart? When I was growing up a good many years ago, my father decided to move one of the buildings he had constructed. It was made of logs and used as a kind of garage. He wanted to move it a hundred feet or so. He planned to use what we called a “stump puller,” a very heavy gearbox with a long cable attached. By pacing back and forth 16 feet, the cable could be advanced about an 1/8th of an inch. This worked very well on stumps. I can remember that stump puller suspended by a cable so tight it literally would sing -- a kind of scary thing, I might add. As a young and lazy lad, I was eager to think of a faster, easier way to move that shed, so I proposed that we hook a chain to the shed and pull it with the pickup. I would drive, of course. My dad momentarily weakened and agreed to try. I hooked the chain up to the truck and was ready to go when my dad came to his senses and changed his mind. He told me to go get the stump puller, as he had originally planned. At least I got to drive to get the stump puller. I jumped into the truck and sped off, forgetting to unhook the chain. Much to my father’s dismay, I nearly pulled the building down.
If I had been living back in those days, I would have wanted to use the ox cart too, especially if I were one of the men chosen to carry the ark on my shoulder. It made sense. It was easier. But it was not the way God prescribed. And the method God prescribed was not just a senseless rule. It was a rule which had its reasons. The reason touching the ark was such a serious matter is disclosed to us in verse 2 of our text:
2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim.
In Exodus 25, God told Moses He would meet with him and speak to him from above the ark, between the cherubim (25:22). God chose to manifest His presence in the tabernacle, specifically from the ark. When God’s glory first filled the tabernacle, even Moses was not able to enter (Exodus 40:34-35). Sinful men cannot get too close to a holy God.
No wonder Uzzah was struck dead for having laid hands on the ark. The ark was holy. It could not be touched. Anyone who touched it would die. By using poles, men could transport the ark without touching the ark itself. And these men, walking in step with each other, gave the ark stability. Putting the ark on that ox cart made it susceptible to the movements of the cart and less stable, and thus more likely to fall off the cart. The only way to keep this from happening was to grab hold of the ark, as Uzzah did, and to die, as Uzzah did.
David and those involved in transporting the ark erred in several ways. First, they had already lost the awe and reverence one should have for the holiness of God. Second, they had forgotten the clear instructions God set down in the law for the transporting of the ark. And third, they had forgotten a hard lesson Israel had learned in their not-too-distant past. When the ark was returned to the Israelites by the Philistines, carelessness on the part of some Israelites cost them their lives:
19 He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great slaughter. 20 The men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” 21 So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of the LORD; come down and take it up to you” (1 Samuel 6:19-21).
How ironic it is to see the Israelites imitating the Philistines. The irreverence of the Philistines brought plagues upon their cities. They came to fear the Lord and particularly His ark, and sought to send it away to others. Now, when the ark is returned to the Israelites, they are irreverent and are smitten of God so that they too wish to send the ark to someone else. The lesson of 1 Samuel 6 is already forgotten by 2 Samuel 6, and may I remind you that in the original text, these two books are really one. A few years, or a few chapters, and lessons learned the hard way are all too quickly forgotten. Why do we find it easier to relive history rather than learn from it?
Home at Last
12 Now it was told King David, saying, “The LORD has blessed the house of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, on account of the ark of God.” David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness. 13 And so it was, that when the bearers of the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14 And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sound of the trumpet. 16 Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. 17 So they brought in the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent which David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offering, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. 19 Further, he distributed to all the people, to all the multitude of Israel, both to men and women, a cake of bread and one of dates and one of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed each to his house.
There must have been an air of sadness in Jerusalem during those days when the ark remained in the house of Obed-edom. They were great days for Obed-edom and his family, however. We are not told what form the blessings took, but we are told that during the time the ark was in his house, Obed-edom and his family were blessed of God. People heard about it, and word reached David as well. It was a sign of sorts. Had David concluded the ark was a kind of curse on those close to it? If this were the case, David certainly did not want the ark there in Jerusalem with him. That is why he had it kept a safe distance away in the home of Obed-edom. But now it became apparent that the ark was really a source of blessing. What went wrong that brought about the death of Uzzah? How could this be rectified so that the ark and its accompanying blessings could come to Jerusalem? These questions must have been heavy on David's mind, and on the minds of other Israelites as well.
I believe we are expected to know the answer, which is the reason the author does not spell it out for us. The author of the Chronicles does not assume as much on the part of his readers, so he tells us directly:
1 Now David built houses for himself in the city of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it. 2 Then David said, “No one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for the LORD chose them to carry the ark of God and to minister to Him forever.” 3 And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem to bring up the ark of the LORD to its place which he had prepared for it. 4 David gathered together the sons of Aaron and the Levites: 5 of the sons of Kohath, Uriel the chief, and 120 of his relatives; 6 of the sons of Merari, Asaiah the chief, and 220 of his relatives; 7 of the sons of Gershom, Joel the chief, and 130 of his relatives; 8 of the sons of Elizaphan, Shemaiah the chief, and 200 of his relatives; 9 of the sons of Hebron, Eliel the chief, and 80 of his relatives; 10 of the sons of Uzziel, Amminadab the chief, and 112 of his relatives. 11 Then David called for Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and for the Levites, for Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel and Amminadab, 12 and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers' households of the Levites; consecrate yourselves both you and your relatives, that you may bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel to the place that I have prepared for it. 13 “Because you did not carry it at the first, the LORD our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.” 14 So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel. 15 The sons of the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles thereon, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD (1 Chronicles 15:1-15).
David is first angered by the death of Uzzah, which quickly turns to fear. David's fear is healthy and well-founded, but God wants to be near His people to bless them. The only way this could happen was for men to approach Him in the way He prescribed. His presence was associated with the ark. Men could draw near to Him, but not too near. They could not touch the ark, lest they die. This meant the only way the ark could be moved was to move it as God had declared, by the Kohathites, who were to carry the ark by its poles, placed through the rings of the ark.
David now was assured that the nearness of the ark was a blessing, but that it must be brought to Jerusalem in accordance with God's directions. And so David assembled the Israelites and commissioned the sons of Kohath to carry it, instructing them carefully about the way they were to carry out their duty. The author informs us that after the ark was carried six steps, a sacrifice was offered. Those first six steps were no doubt the most tense steps of the entire journey. After the death of Uzzah, those nearest to the ark (the Kohathites) were surely nervous about being so close to this sacred box, indeed, to the presence of God Himself. As the journey continued, men's courage and joy must have increased. Soon there was great celebration as they made their way to the holy city.
Our text in 2 Samuel informs us that there was great celebration as the ark was brought to Jerusalem. The parallel account in 1 Chronicles is even more detailed. It was not just a small group of Israelites, but “all the house of Israel” (2 Samuel 6:15). On the first ill-fated journey with the ark, musicians accompanied the ark (2 Samuel 6:5). On the second successful journey, there were a whole host of musicians (1 Chronicles 15:16-24). It was one of the great moments in Israel's history:
28 Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, and with sound of the horn, with trumpets, with loud-sounding cymbals, with harps and lyres (1 Chronicles 15:28).
It was a time of celebration, of offering sacrifices and feasting:
17 So they brought in the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent which David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offering, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. 19 Further, he distributed to all the people, to all the multitude of Israel, both to men and women, a cake of bread and one of dates and one of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed each to his house (2 Samuel 6:17-19).
16 Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. . . . 20 But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants' maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!” 21 So David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel; therefore I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 “I will be more lightly esteemed than this and will be humble in my own eyes, but with the maids of whom you have spoken, with them I will be distinguished.” 23 Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
It seems there was only one person in all of Israel who did not, who would not, enter into the spirit of rejoicing and celebration, and that person was Michal, David's wife. The author of the Chronicles makes very little of this, devoting only one verse to the subject and informing us that as Michal looked on, she despised her husband in her heart for his role in the celebration (1 Chronicles 15:29). The author of 1 and 2 Samuel has a similar verse (2 Samuel 6:16), but he then follows up by describing the confrontation between David and Michal which followed, and telling us the outcome (verses 20-23).
Let us first consider what appears to be Michal's perception of the whole event. Michal was not a part of the celebration; she was a spectator, not a participant. She was looking out the window of the palace, watching the ark arrive within the city (verse 16). All the rest of the nation were in the streets. Indeed, all the rest of the nation had been with the ark from the time it left the house of Obed-edom. She was not a part of the caravan which accompanied the ark. She seems to want no part of it. Even if she had not been personally thrilled about the event, you would think she could have made some kind of token appearance with her husband, but it didn’t happen.
After all the celebration ended, David went home to bless his household. Michal had no intention of being a part of this, and so she proceeded to “rain” on David's praise and blessing. She must have been standing in the doorway as David arrived, with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. Before he could open his mouth, she seems to vent her anger toward him. What was it she saw, or thought she saw, that made her so angry? By her own words, she saw a king, a man of position and power, acting like a fool. She saw a man indecently clothed -- not naked, grant you, but dressed in a way that was far below his position -- and she was livid about it. David had acted like a fool; he had embarrassed himself, and most certainly he had embarrassed her.
Before we turn to David's perception of this same situation, let us first look at what the author tells us. How does the author see David here? Does the author's assessment of the situation square with Michal's? First we must note that our author does not suggest that David was naked or improperly dressed. He does tell us that David was dancing with all his might, and that he was wearing a linen ephod (6:14). He tells us that when his wife Michal saw this, she despised him in her heart (6:16).
The author of Chronicles tells us more about David's actions:
25 So it was David, with the elders of Israel and the captains over thousands, who went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD from the house of Obed-edom with joy. 26 Because God was helping the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. 27 Now David was clothed with a robe of fine linen with all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the singing with the singers. David also wore an ephod of linen. 28 Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, and with sound of the horn, with trumpets, with loud-sounding cymbals, with harps and lyres (1 Chronicles 15:25-28).
The first thing I would emphasize here is that David was not acting alone. He was celebrating with all Israel. If he was dancing, so were the rest, and the rest included Israel's top leaders. Was David joyful and exuberant? So was everyone else; well, nearly everyone except Michal, of course. Was David dressed in a linen ephod? That was what Samuel used to wear as he ministered to the Lord (1 Samuel 2:18). It was what the priests wore (1 Chronicles 15:27).
Michal was not angry with David for doing something wrong and thus standing out from the rest of the people. She was angry with David for behaving like the people, the commoners, and looking like a lowly priest. She was angry with David because he was not acting like a king as he worshipped God. He had humbled himself. He had demeaned himself. He had lowered himself. And Michal would not forgive David for doing so. If God rained on David's first parade by striking Uzzah dead, Michal rained on David's second parade, by despising her husband and criticizing him for acting like less than a king.
David's words to his wife are strong and may even seem harsh, but that is because they reflect the wickedness of Michal's heart. A righteous man cannot take her rebuke lightly. David had several things to point out to his wife:
(1) His conduct, which Michal found so disgusting, was “before the Lord” (6:21). David's actions may have been seen by his wife, but they were not done for her benefit; they were done for God's benefit. David was not performing for his wife. He was not even performing for the crowd. He was performing for the Lord. His worship was not intended to please her. I am reminded of the words of the apostle Paul here:
10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).
3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed -- God is witness -- 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6).
Worship has become a performance in our day, I fear, a performance for the audience and not for God. David's words to his wife could just as well apply to us. Worship should be “before the Lord,” performed for His pleasure and for His approval, not for man's. Far too much of what passes for worship today may be only a man-pleasing performance.
(2) David will not be kept from celebrating, especially when the one whom he is seeking to please is also the One who promoted him (6:21). I think Michal was disgusted because David was celebrating, because he was joyful. She was like all too many Christians today who seem to be saying, “Wipe that smile off your face. Don't you know you're in church?” David was celebrating because he had much to celebrate. He was celebrating his kingship, and this kingship had been given Him by God. How then could his celebration be wrong? It was wrong to refuse to rejoice over that which gave God pleasure.
I wonder how long it has been for many of us since we last did something joyfully, exuberantly, enthusiastically? There is no virtue in being somber. There is no excuse for being somber when God Himself is rejoicing, when God is finding pleasure. We should rejoice not only with those (fellow-men) who rejoice (Romans 12:15), we should rejoice with God who rejoices. I fear we are more like Michal than David when it comes to the joyful celebration of our God and His works.
(3) Third, David reminded his wife that she was acting like her father, and that her husband was the one God elevated as king in her father's place. God exalted David above Saul, Michal's father. He made David king in Saul's place. He set Saul's entire household aside and started all over with David and his house. Here was Michal, taking her father's place. How could Michal be so proud, proud of her status as the daughter of the king (Saul)? Why did she disdain David so much, even though he was God's choice for Israel's king? This was only because she was the daughter of her father. Did it trouble her that David had won the hearts of the people, and that her husband refused to distance himself from those he ruled? Instead of standing with her husband, as Jonathan did, she stood up against him. And in this, she was just like her father. But let her be reminded that God set her father aside. And so David likewise sets Michal aside. Whether David ceased to have intimate relations with Michal or God simply closed her womb, Michal died childless. This we know was a source of great sorrow, sadness, and shame from the first chapter of 1 Samuel. God's judgment was upon her.
(4) Fourth, David ruled over his people as a humble servant, and not as a tyrant. Michal had despised and criticized David for not acting like a king. David's response appears to be that because God had made him king, he would be God's kind of king. He would not be a king like Saul, her father, because God removed Saul, setting that kind of king aside. God raised up David to be a different kind of king, a servant-king. If this was the kind of king Michal loathed, so be it; David would be the kind of king God appointed him to be. David identified with the people rather than distinguish himself from them. Even more, David dressed and worshipped God “as a priest” (6:14-19; 1 Chronicles 15:25-27). Did God not call Israel to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6)? In wearing a linen ephod, David exercised a legitimate form of priesthood.
Saul was wrong for usurping Samuel's role as a priest and prophet (1 Samuel 13:8-9). This was wrong because it was disobedience to a clear command. David was exercising his priesthood in a way that was pleasing to God. But in Michal’s mind, this humble position was below the dignity of a king, and so she despised her husband for humbling himself before the people.
This text is filled with lessons for us. First, there are lessons we can learn from Uzzah. We do not know much about Uzzah. We cannot be certain about his relationship to God. We do not know what his motivation was for reaching out and touching the ark. Generally speaking, I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. I tend to think he was genuinely concerned that the ark might fall to the ground, and touching the ark did not seem to him to be such a serious matter if he was attempting to save the ark.
We do know that Uzzah grew up with the ark in his home (1 Samuel 7:1-2; 2 Samuel 6:2-4). Did he become too accustomed to things holy? It is certainly a possibility. The same danger exists for us. Each and every week we remember our Lord's atoning work on the cross of Calvary by celebrating communion at the Lord's table. The saints at Corinth began to see this as a ritual, and their conduct at the Lord's table was not pleasing to the Lord. Paul told these saints that they failed to “judge the body rightly” (1 Corinthians 11:29). For this failure, a number of the Corinthians were stricken with illness, and some even died (11:30). Let us be very mindful of the holiness of God and the sacredness of our worship. God does not take our insensitivity to His holiness lightly.
Ananias and Sapphira were more concerned about what people thought about them than how God saw them. And so they lied to the Holy Spirit by saying they had given all of the proceeds of the sale of their property, rather than just part of them (Acts 5:1-11). God is a holy God who calls His people to holiness (see 1 Peter 1:14-16). He takes our sin very seriously. When Herod failed to give God the glory and accepted people's praise as praise to a god, God struck him dead (Acts 12:20-23). Disregarding the holiness of God can be deadly.
Uzzah is a reminder to us that God's holiness is such that sinful men cannot draw near to Him, unless He provides the means to do so. After the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, God had to expel Adam and Eve from the garden. God provided them with coverings, but this was only a partial solution. When God delivered the nation Israel from their Egyptian bondage, He gave them His law from Mt. Sinai. His glory and majesty were revealed to the Israelites:
16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. 20 The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up (Exodus 19:16-20).
More than once God established boundaries, beyond which neither man nor animal could pass. God had Moses warn the people of the danger of drawing too near to Him:
12 “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 'No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.' When the ram's horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain” (Exodus 19:12-13).
20 The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. 22 “Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, or else the LORD will break out against them.” 23 Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, 'Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.”' 24 Then the LORD said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, or He will break forth upon them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them (Exodus 19:20-25).
I recall the words of Moses, spoken to the Israelites before they entered the promised land:
15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 “This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.' 17 “The LORD said to me, 'They have spoken well. 18 'I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 'It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).
There at Mt. Sinai, the Israelites began to grasp the holiness and the glory of God. They rightly perceived that to get too close to God would be fatal. They decided they needed a mediator to intercede with God on their behalf. They asked Moses to fulfill this role, and he agreed, commending them for their decision. They were not cowardly (or at least not just cowardly); they were wise. Sinful men need a mediator to approach a holy God.
The tabernacle, the ark, the priests and the sacrifices provided a short-term solution, but there was still the need for a permanent solution to the problem of sinful men approaching a holy God. It was God who solved this problem in the person of Jesus Christ. In His incarnation (his birth as a child in Bethlehem), God took on human flesh. He identified with sinful men to provide an eternal solution for the problem of our sin, and the danger of drawing near to Him.
We can only stand in awe of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in His incarnation (his birth, coming to this earth as the sinless God-man). With wonder, we read these words of the apostle John:
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life -- 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us -- 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).
It is through Him that we have the forgiveness of God and the boldness to enter into God's presence:
5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:19-23).
The invitation of the Gospel in the New Testament is that sinful men draw near to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ:
16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8).
The warning of the Bible is that the Lord Jesus Christ will draw near in judgment upon all who have refused to draw near to Him by faith:
5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 3:5).
Have you drawn near to God through faith in Jesus Christ, God's only provision for men to enter into fellowship with Himself? If not, I urge you to do so this very hour. God will allow us to go to hell any way we please, but if we would go to heaven, it must be by way of the means God Himself has provided -- the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We can learn from Michal. Michal serves as a kind of prototype of the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees of our Lord's time. As Michal had come to enjoy her position as daughter of the king, so the scribes had come to enjoy their privileged position as religious leaders in Israel. They feared losing their power, and they feared losing their status. They challenged Jesus about His authority. They looked upon our Lord with disdain because He associated with the lowly. Just as Michal bore no fruit (i.e., children), neither did the scribes and Pharisees. Those who would worship God must come to Him in humility, not in pride. So far as our story is concerned, Michal was the only person not joyfully worshipping God. No wonder, since she was preoccupied with herself.
We can also learn from David. David serves as a prototype of Christ in our text and beyond. He was both a king and a priest (he wore a linen ephod). David laid aside his royal robes and humbled himself, just as our Lord laid aside His royal robes and humbled Himself (Philippians 2:5-8; see also John 13:1ff.). David refused to allow any class distinctions when it came to worship. Godly worship will not tolerate classes of inferiors and superiors. The gospel equalizes all men. We are all sinners, condemned to God's eternal torment. And we are all saved apart from our own merits or works, solely on the basis of Christ's atoning work on the cross of Calvary. How then could David do anything but humble himself in worshipping God, even though his wife despised him for doing so?
Finally, this chapter has a great deal to say in relationship to the charismatic/non-charismatic controversy so prevalent in the church today. There are two extremes, two polarities, and we are prone to drift toward one or the other (and sometimes one and then the other). The first is that of reckless abandon. David and the rest were so caught up with their worship they seemed to forget who they were worshipping -- a holy God. We can get so carried away with the emotional element of our worship that we lose all self-control. In the excitement of the moment, things that God has clearly forbidden somehow seem permissible, even necessary (like grabbing the ark). Uzzah was “caught up” in the excitement of bringing the ark of God back, but he forgot to pay close enough attention to God and to His Word. Uzzah died for his irreverence. Let us never forget this. Enthusiasm is never an excuse for disobedience to the Word of God.
For many, the danger I have suggested is hardly a danger. We are in no danger of getting carried away with our worship. Our worship is so stiff or so structured that nothing unplanned could possibly happen. Listen well. I am not opposed to structure, and there is much to be said for an appreciation of God's majesty in our worship. But some of us don't raise our hands or our voices because we are too proud to do so. Like Michal, we are more concerned with our dignity than with God. Let us beware of avoiding enthusiasm in our worship because we think it beneath us.
Two extremes are exposed in our text, and both are wrong. Enthusiastic worship, which underestimates the holiness of God and violates the Word of God, is wrong, and no matter how much enthusiasm you may add, it is still wrong until it rightly views God and until it rightly approaches God. Stately worship that avoids emotion and enthusiasm, purely because we are too proud to humble ourselves before God, is just as wrong. The former produces barrenness; the latter produces death. Let us seek to worship God as David and Israel eventually did, in accordance with His Word, with humility, with hearts filled with joy and gratitude, and with enthusiasm.
23 Kiriath-jearim here is called Baale-judah in 1 Chronicles 13. In Joshua 15, which speaks of the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, the city is called Baalah (Joshua 15:9-11), and then further designated as Kiriath-jearim (15:9).