The Rev. Stephanie Hamilton
2 Samuel 6:1-19
David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio,* the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
When they came to the threshing-floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah; so that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. David was afraid of the Lord that day; he said, ‘How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?’ So David was unwilling to take the ark of the Lord into his care in the city of David; instead David took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite for three months; and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
It was told King David, ‘The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.’ So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal, 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. They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt-offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
Our passage from 2 Samuel 6 is a story about Israel beginning a new way of being. In the previous chapters of 2 Samuel, we learn that the house of Saul has been defeated and David has become King. One of the first things King David does is to form one kingdom, uniting Judah and Israel. Jerusalem becomes the royal city. In this royal city God asks David to bring and install the ark of God. So David gathers a large army of men and goes to get the ark of God. For the Hebrew children, the ark of God was the symbol of where God was enthroned. It was a place where they could locate God. So by retrieving the Ark and installing it in the temple in Jerusalem, David was bringing the Holy One into the city. This act would have the effect of shaping Israel’s whole way of life and worship.
I grew up in an evangelical denomination that came out of the Holiness movement in the 19th century in North America. The church emphasized holiness and the theology placed a strong emphasis of unity through holiness. Our hymnal even had a large section devoted to holiness. One of the hymns I remember singing all through my childhood and teen years which sounded more like a march with a military feel is forever ingrained in my brain–it’s what folks these days call an “earworm:” once it burrows in there, it won’t come out. The chorus goes like this:
Holiness unto the Lord is our watchword and song, Holiness unto the Lord as we’re marching along. Sing it! Shout it! Loud and long, holiness unto the Lord now and forever.
From the teachings in Sunday School, youth group, and summer camp I was taught that cultivating a life of holiness was of the utmost importance; something to be vigilant about, something that required allegiance. After spending some time in this chapter of 2 Samuel, I think I have a newfound appreciation and can understand a bit more how a community of people, taking their cues from scripture, would place such a strong emphasis on holiness.
As we have just read, our story has a few starts and stops because bringing the Holy One into the city is not a simple matter. Let’s take a few minutes to revisit and see what we can sort out.
Chapter 6 begins with David gathering 30 thousand men (more like assembling an army) and going to Baale-judah to get the ark of God from the house of Abinadab. Abinadab’s two sons, Uzzah and Ahio place the ark on a new cart and the procession begins. There is music, singing and dancing to mark the occasion. As the procession to Jerusalem gets closer, there is an interruption. The oxen stumble and Uzzah, son of Abinadab reaches his hand out to steady the ark. God becomes angry and strikes Uzzah down and we are told he dies next to the ark. David becomes angry at God and then afraid. He isn’t sure that he wants the ark to come under his care in Jerusalem so he ditches the ark with Obed-edom the Gittite. After three months of Obed-edom and his whole household receiving blessings because of the ark, David decides it is time to retrieve the ark and bring it into Jerusalem. The journey is resumed, but this time David is better prepared and more intentional about the transfer. He dresses for the occasion by wearing a linen ephod only, a garment worn by the priests. And then, after six steps, stops and offers a sacrifice. Afterwards, the procession begins again with instruments, shouting and dancing. When the ark is placed in its prominent position, David again offers a burnt offering and an offering of blessing to God. He then blesses the people and provides for them meat, bread and raisins. When he returns home, he is then confronted by his wife about his ridiculous behavior. Michal insists that David brought shame on himself because of his dancing in front of the servants.
Bringing the Holy One into the city was very much a journey, one in which there were differing opinions on how it should be done. There were specific instructions as to how the ark was to be transported and it wasn’t by using a cart—even if it was a new cart. The instructions were to put the ark of God on poles and transport it with men carrying the poles. God striking down Uzzah when he reaches out to steady the ark gets our attention. It seems arbitrary, abrupt, and harsh. Upon first reading, a new cart suggests thoughtfulness and careful effort on the part of Uzzah.
Reaching out to protect the Ark, as well, indicates conscientious care. However, placing God in a box and handling God, as we see, can have dire consequences. God doesn’t need our protection. It wasn’t that the instructions were being ignored, it was that Uzzah thought he could handle God. God is not something to be boxed up and paraded around for our agendas and God won’t be protected from God’s own creation, no matter how muddy or dusty. A life of holiness–understanding on a deep level that the Holy One comes to us, exactly where we are in life, how we are in life and asks to be used for God’s good purposes. The day that the Attorney General quoted scripture to justify the inhumane treatment of families entering our country I about came unglued. It was such an abuse of power and misuse of scripture. If I were to say what holiness isn’t, that would be the prime example. And if the initial procession of the Ark was instituted with a similar mindset, God’s reaction, that hard stop, seems so appropriate.
When Uzzah was struck down, David became angry with God and expressed his fear of being the one responsible for the Ark. His question, “How can the ark of the Lord come under my care?” is the beginning of his understanding of what it will take to bring the Holy One into the city. If providing a new cart and care to steady the ark is not acceptable, how does one approach and live with and for this God? Perhaps it wasn’t so much that the ark of God was coming under David’s care, but that David would be responsible to God and living his life for God, cultivating holiness as a response to God. It is interesting that David decided he wasn’t sure of this relationship and what it required and so he placed the ark in the house of Obed-edom. But I don’t think David is any different from you or me. God’s call to holiness will transform us and sometimes that transformation is hard work. It can be a little nerve wracking saying yes to God. God’s call requires our full attention and will, perhaps, take us to places unknown. Not only is that hard, it is scary. Much of the time I would consider myself a risk taker; someone who leaps before she looks. Many times I feel like I am one to jump into the deep end of the swimming pool and once I’m in the water, I remember I don’t know how to swim. But then there are times, when encountering something new, I am like David. I become timid and will spend a fair amount of time watching and assessing before engaging. It took three months of David watching before he was ready to say yes to bringing the Holy One into the city. But, when David was ready to say yes, he went all out.
God’s call in our lives asks much of us. It isn’t an invitation to live carefully or guarded. It is an invitation to encounter what is holy in life and respond wholeheartedly, to dance with abandon, if you will.
For almost 9 decades, children, teenagers and young college students in both the de Cristo and Grand Canyon Presbyteries attend a week of church camp through Montlure’s camping ministry. When I was the director, i felt it was important to use the training and orientation times with the paid and volunteer staff, to stress that Montlure’s ministry was an vehicle through which to compliment the Christian Education happening in the home churches. I would stress that we didn’t have a Vegas mindset. What happened at Montlure should not stay at Montlure. The desire was for the campers to take their experiences to their home churches and to integrate their epiphanies and poignant moments into their everyday lives. Campers and staff come to Montlure with a single minded focus. They come knowing that they will talk about God, read about God and have significant moments in their faith development. It is the expectation that these things will happen. It is easier at Montlure to be single minded. Campers and staff were not in their normal environments, navigating their days with all the distractions. Schedules were designed to give balance to social, recreational and spiritual needs. And consequently, the youth were ready and open to learning and very willing to share their newfound insights. The challenge, however was to equip them with the tools necessary to continue the expectation they would encounter God back home when life wasn’t so carefully tailored to the above needs. Going home was their opportunity, if you will, to bring the Holy One into the city.
Life and culture has changed since God was enthroned on the Ark and David was enthroned in Jerusalem. When the ark was removed and the Temple destroyed, the Hebrew children began to understand that God was not confined to one specific place, but that the Holy One could be found everywhere. I think it is a far greater challenge to be mindful of the sacred in life and to see God in all of life than to locate God in one specific place. Cultivating a daily awareness and passionate relationship with God is not relegated to an hour once a week in our sanctuaries or one week a year on a mountain top in the northern regions of Arizona.
When David was ready to accept his role and responsibility of bringing the ark of God under his care and into Jerusalem, he was smart enough to know that his response mattered. His sacrifice, ecstatic procession and offerings all pointed to his understanding of what it meant to worship God. Although we can understand that our response to God’s invitation to be in relationship requires worship, my question is, what does that worship look like? How is it done?
A favorite passage, Isaiah 58, makes the clear connection between a way of life which in turn becomes a daily worship. It is not to set aside one day of the week and give God lip service. It is to live everyday as though our lives are an offering to God. Verses 6-8 read:
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bounds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”
This passage makes it clear that our worship is to recognize the face of God in everyone and do what we can to be nurturing and empowering. We need to care for one another and in all our words and actions be an agent for change and transformation. By doing this, we too, will be the ones bringing the Holy One into the city.
May it be so.