1 Chronicles 13 – King David Brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem
A. The attempt to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.
1. (1-4) The plan to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.
Then David consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds, and with every leader. And David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you, and if it is of the LORD our God, let us send out to our brethren everywhere who are left in all the land of Israel, and with them to the priests and Levites who are in their cities and their common-lands, that they may gather together to us; and let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we have not inquired at it since the days of Saul.” Then all the assembly said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.
a. David consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds, and with every leader: Notably, the text does not say that David consulted with the LORD. A group of godly men with good intentions would soon make a significant mistake because they took counsel with each other, but not with the LORD.
i. Payne on to our brethren everywhere who are left: “Literally ‘our brothers that are left.’ This may reflect something of the seriousness of the third major Philistine oppression against Israel, 1010-1003 B.C., which David had just broken (2 Samuel 5:20, 25).”
b. Let us bring the ark of our God back to us: This was the ark of the covenant, which God commanded Moses to make more than 400 years before David’s time. It was a wood box (the word ark means “box” or “chest”) completely covered with gold and with an ornate gold lid or top known as the mercy seat.
i. The ark of our God was 3 feet 9 inches long, 2 feet 3 inches wide and 2 feet 3 inches high. In it were the tablets of the law that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s rod that miraculously budded as a confirmation of his leadership.
ii. The ark of our God had come back from the land of the Philistines some 70 years before this (1 Samuel 7:1). In those years it sat at the house of Abinadab, but now David and the people wanted to bring it back to the center of the national consciousness.
c. For the thing was right in the eyes of all the people: The idea of bringing the ark of the covenant back to the center of Israel’s consciousness was good; their method of bringing it would soon be exposed as faulty.
i. It was good for both David and for the Israelites to have the ark in Jerusalem. “He knew that not he, but Jehovah, was their true King. His own rule must depend upon the will and counsel of God. Thus it was not only necessary for him to know, the fact must be recognized by the people.” (Morgan)
2. (5-8) The procession of the ark from Kirjath Jearim.
So David gathered all Israel together, from Shihor in Egypt to as far as the entrance of Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kirjath Jearim. And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, to Kirjath Jearim, which belonged to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God the LORD, who dwells between the cherubim, where His name is proclaimed. So they carried the ark of God on a new cart from the house of Abinadab, and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart. Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets.
a. To bring up from there the ark of God the LORD, who dwells between the cherubim, where His name is proclaimed: The ark of God represented the immediate presence and glory of God in Israel. David considered it a high priority to bring the ark out of obscurity and back into prominence. David wanted Israel to be alive with a sense of the near presence and glory of God.
b. So they carried the ark of God on a new cart: Transporting the ark on a cart was against God’s specific command. The ark was designed to be carried (Exodus 25:12-15) and was only to be carried by Levites of the family of Kohath (Numbers 4:15).
i. “There it was expressly ordained that the Ark should be carried on the shoulders of the priests, because the cause of God must proceed through the world by the means of consecrated men, rather than by mechanical instrumentality.” (Meyer)
ii. We can imagine what these men thought. “Look – we have a new cart for the ark of God. God will be very pleased with our fancy new cart.” They thought that a new technology or luxury could cover over their ignorant disobedience.
iii. “The long neglect of the Ark may have rendered these men unfamiliar with the very explicit commands concerning the method of its removal. Or they may have grown careless as to the importance of attending to such details.” (Morgan)
iv. The Philistines transported the ark on a cart in 1 Samuel 6:10-11. They got away with it because they were Philistines, but God expected more from His people. Israel was to take their example from God’s Word, not from the innovations of the Philistines. “Israel got into difficulties because they failed to recognize that worship of the true God meant they could no longer simply follow contemporary pagan practices.” (Selman)
c. Uzza and Ahio drove the new cart: The meaning of the names of these sons of Abinadab paint a meaningful picture. Uzza means “strength” and Ahio means “friendly.”
i. Much service for the LORD is like this – a new cart, a big production, with strength leading and friendly out front – yet all done without inquiring of God or looking to His will. Surely David prayed for God’s blessing on this big production, but he didn’t inquire of God regarding the production itself. This was a good thing done the wrong way.
d. Then David and all Israel played music before God: Judging from the importance of the occasion and all the instruments mentioned, this was quite a production. The atmosphere was joyful, exciting, and engaging. The problem was that none of it pleased God because it was all in disobedience to His word.
i. We are often tempted to judge a worship experience by how it makes us feel. But when we realize that worship is about pleasing God, we are driven to His word so we can know how He wants to be worshipped.
ii. “If you read the story through, you will see that it appears to be an affair of singing, and harps, and psalteries, and timbrels, and cymbals, and trumpets, and of a new cart and cattle; that is about all there is in it. There is not even a mention of humiliation of heart, or of solemn awe in the presence of that God of whom the ark was but the outward symbol. I am afraid that this first attempt was too much after the will of the Flesh, and the energy of nature.” (Spurgeon)
B. The death of Uzza and its aftermath.
1. (9-11) Uzza touches the ark and is killed in judgment.
And when they came to Chidon’s threshing floor, Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before God. And David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzza; therefore that place is called Perez Uzza to this day.
a. When they came to Chidon’s threshing floor: At a threshing floor the whole stalks of wheat are gathered and the chaff is separated from the wheat. There was a lot of chaff in this production, and God would blow away the chaff at Chidon’s threshing floor.
b. Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark: This was strictly forbidden. Regarding the transporting of the ark Numbers 4:15 says, they shall not touch any holy thing lest they die. He did it because the oxen stumbled (perhaps seeing the grain on the threshing floor) and he feared that perhaps the ark might fall off the new cart and crash to the ground. He believed that his hand on the ark was better than the ark on the ground.
i. Uzza decided in a moment to disregard God’s command and do what seemed right to him. This shows us that even our decisions made in a moment matter before God.
c. He struck him because he put his hand to the ark: God fulfilled the ominous promise of Numbers 4:15 and struck Uzza. David wanted Israel to know the presence of the LORD and God showed up at Chidon’s threshing floor – but not in the way anyone wanted.
i. The sin of Uzza was more than just a reflex action or instinct. God struck Uzza because his action was based upon critical errors in his thinking.
· Uzza erred in thinking it didn’t matter who transported the ark.
· Uzza erred in thinking it didn’t matter how the ark was transported.
· Uzza erred in thinking he knew all about the ark because it was in his father’s house for so long (2 Samuel 6:3)
· Uzza erred in thinking that God couldn’t take care of the ark Himself.
· Uzza erred in thinking that the ground of Chidon’s threshing floor was less holy than his own hand.
ii. “He saw no difference between the ark and any other valuable article. His intention to help was right enough; but there was a profound insensibility to the awful sacredness of the ark, on which even its Levitical bearers were forbidden to lay hands.” (Maclaren)
d. David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak: David’s anger was rooted in confusion. He couldn’t understand why his good intentions weren’t enough. God is concerned with both our intentions and our actions.
3. (12-14) David’s fear and God’s blessing on Obed-Edom’s house.
David was afraid of God that day, saying, “How can I bring the ark of God to me?” So David would not move the ark with him into the City of David, but took it aside into the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house three months. And the LORD blessed the house of Obed-Edom and all that he had.
a. David was afraid of God that day: He did not need to be afraid of God, but afraid of his own sin. There was no problem with God or with the ark itself (as the blessing on the house of Obed-Edom demonstrated). The problem was with the lack of knowledge and obedience on the part of David and those who helped him plan the entrance of the ark into Jerusalem.
i. “If Chronicles’ readers wanted Israel’s former glories restored, they too must reckon with a God whose dynamic holiness could not be contained within human limitations.” (Selman)
b. How can I bring the ark of God to me? David knew it was important to bring the ark of God into the center of Israel’s life. He wanted all Israel to be excited about the presence and glory of God. Because of what happened to Uzza, David felt he couldn’t do what God wanted him to do.
i. David’s response in the following chapter shows that he found the answer to his question. He answered the question with the thought later expressed in Isaiah 8:20: To the law and to the testimony! David found the answer in God’s word.
ii. The whole account reinforces the principle that God is interested in the process as well as in the outcome. It would never do for David or Israel to have the attitude, “As long as we get the ark to Jerusalem, it doesn’t matter how we do it.” How they did it really did matter, and how we do things today (especially in serving God) also matters.
c. Took it aside into the house of Obed-Edom: David did this in fulfillment of God’s word. Obed-Edom was a Levite of the clan of Kohath, of the family of Korah (1 Chronicles 26:4). This was the family within the tribe of Levi that God commanded to transport and take care of the ark (Numbers 4:15).
d. And the LORD blessed the house of Obed-Edom and all that he had: When God’s word was obeyed and His holiness was respected blessing followed. God wanted the ark to be a blessing for Israel, not a curse. We might say that the curse didn’t come from God’s heart but from man’s disobedience.
i. Selman believes that the name Obed-Edom the Gittite means that he was from Gath, and the blessing on his house is therefore an example of the undeserved blessing of God, with the Lord displaying His grace to both Obed-Edom and to David. However, it seems better to take the observation of Adam Clarke: “That this man was only a sojourner at Gath, whence he was termed a Gittite, and that he was originally a Levite, is evident from 1 Chronicles 15:17-18.”