In the last essay we studied 2 Sam. 5, which tells of the early days of David’s rule over all the tribes of Israel. We saw the Lord leading David in rather direct ways. And we have seen David act with tremendous political savvy. A major reason was his determination to follow the will of the Lord. But regardless of the reasons, he made outstanding political decisions. First, he was patient regarding the fulfillment of the Lord’s plan to make him king over all Israel. David never tried to force the issue, but waited patiently for the Lord’s good timing.
Second, once he was anointed king over all the tribes, David secured his position by defeating the Philistines. Of course that was a matter of necessity rather than a wise political decision. But nevertheless David understood that solving that problem was a high priority; and he took care of it with dispatch, even though he was not quite ready militarily.
Third, in a brilliant move David conquered Jerusalem, and made it his capital. Since the Hebrews never had taken Jerusalem from the Jebusites, the city had no association with any of the Israelite tribes. Therefore Jerusalem was an ideal capital, because it was a neutral site for all of the tribes, keeping tribal jealousy to a minimum.
Now fourth, having the political situation under control, David turned to the religious life of the nation. The national religious life had fallen into a sad state of decay in one sense since the death of Samuel, and in another sense since the death of Eli. In the case of Samuel, no religious figure of similar stature had arisen to take his place. And in the case of Eli, the Ark of the Covenant had been separated from the tabernacle since its capture by the Philistines, and Eli’s subsequent death (1 Sam., chapter 4).
So David resolved to bring the Ark of the Covenant from its obscurity, and bring it back to a central place in the religious life of the people. He determined to bring the ark to Jerusalem and place it in a tent prepared for it. Once there, it would again give the people a central, national shrine, where they could worship God in accord with the Law.
An obvious question is that of why David didn’t bring the tabernacle, the old tent of meeting, from Gibeon to Jerusalem and place the ark in it. Scholars have speculated about that, but no certain reason is known. Interestingly, Solomon, when he later completed the temple in Jerusalem, brought the tabernacle to Jerusalem. That is recorded in 1 Kings 8:4. However nothing is said about what he did with it.
There is a longer, parallel account of what we see here in 2 Sam. 6, in 1 Chron., chapters 13, 15 and 16. I will refer to that parallel passage as needed. Looking at 2 Sam. 6:1-5, we note that according to the parallel in 1 Chron. 13:1-5, David in this matter once again was politically astute. We are told there that he consulted with the all of the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, as well as every leader,” presumably meaning the heads of families before making this decision. And then he collected representatives from the whole nation to participate in the festivities.
Now the number 30,000 in verse one has been challenged by some as too large. But that is not a crucial matter. You may recall that the ark was placed in the house of Abinadab after the Philistines who had captured it sent it back (1 Sam. 7:1). That was about seventy years earlier: 20 years to the beginning of Samuel’s leadership mentioned in 1 Sam. 7:2-4, 40 years under Samuel and Saul, and 10 years under David. So the ark had been in the house of Abinadab for that lengthy period of time.
Notice that they placed the ark on a new cart, as the Philistines had done when they returned the ark to Israel. That is important as we will see in the following verses.
In verse 6-11 we see that a man named Uzzah, who thought the ark was falling off the cart, reached out to steady it, and God killed Uzzah for that. David became angry with God, because the Lord’s wrath had lashed out.
Some have tried to say that David’s anger was directed at himself rather than God, but verse eight is clear. David was angry with the Lord. However David’s later actions indicate that he came to realize he was responsible; and he learned to be more careful when dealing the Lord’s sacred objects.
What David and his people had done was ignore the instructions of the Law for handling the ark. According to Numbers, chapter four, only Levites were to move the ark. And it was to be carried on poles, not on a cart. And in verse 15 of that chapter it is clearly laid down that anyone who touches it will die. When the ark was transported according to the Law’s instructions, the kind of accident that caused Uzzah to reach out to keep it from falling would not have happened.
In any case, David was filled with fear. So he decided not to take the ark to Jerusalem at that time. Instead he placed it in the home of Obed-edom, the Gittite, who was a Levite. And we are told that Obed-edom and his household were blessed as a result.
In verses 12-19 we see that after the ark had been in Obed-edom’s possession for three months and was blessed as a consequence, David overcame his fears and decided to complete his plans to bring the ark to Jerusalem. However this time David followed the Law. We see that clearly in the parallel in 1 Chronicles 15. David summoned the Levites and instructed them to purify themselves ceremonially so they would be prepared to carry the ark to Jerusalem (vv. 11-12). He then admitted to them that the problem the first time was that they had not carried it (v. 13). And then we are told that when they finally carried the ark, they carried it on their shoulders with poles according to the Law (v. 15).
Returning to 2 Samuel 6, notice in verse 13 that David offered significant sacrifices at the beginning of the journey. And 1 Chronicles 15:26 tells us that the Levites did the same at its end. During the festive trip David, “danced before the Lord with all his might” (v. 14). Dancing as an expression of religious enthusiasm always has been fairly common. But in Israel it normally was done by women (Judges. 11:34 and 21:21; 1 Sam. 18:6). But here David dances with uninhibited joy dressed in a priestly garment. The priestly clothing was appropriate, since David was the head of a priestly nation.
In verse 16 we begin to get an interesting glimpse into a strong difference of opinion about what constituted the proper dignity of a king. David’s wife, Michal whom, you will remember was the daughter of a king (Saul), “despised” David “in her heart,” because he was dancing in what she believed was an undignified manner, as we will see in verses 20-23.
When David full of joy arrived home to bless his own household, he was not greeted with pleasure. On the contrary, Michal greeted him with scornful words. She was offended by his lowering himself to the level of the common people by removing his kingly clothing and dancing in priestly garb in a garment that didn’t even cover him adequately.
David obviously was angered. And he retaliated by reminding Michal that the Lord had chosen him, David, to be king over her father. Furthermore David felt no reason to regret what he had done. He had humbled himself in order to honor the Lord. And he was willing to humble himself further. In addition, David suggested that the maidservants before whom he had danced would hold him in honor.
The passage ends with the statement that Michal “had no child to the day of her death.” It is unknown whether that means just with David, or if she was childless in her previous marriage as well.
All right, turning to application I would mention, first, that it is important to respect God’s holiness. We noticed the consequences when David failed to do that in respect to the ark of God. And later the consequences when he did do it. It is fashionable today to stress the love of God, which of course is important to do. But unfortunately, the holiness and justice of God are nearly ignored, which is dangerous to do. Yes, God loves everyone and wants to save everyone; but it also is true that he will bring his wrath upon those who do not repent of their sinfulness and enter into a love relationship with him.
Second, David’s dancing before the Lord must be dealt with. I believe many Christians today would agree with Michal rather than David. Mainline Christians especially have certain ideas about what is appropriate in worship; and they tend to be critical of people in other traditions, e.g., Pentecostalism, who dance before the Lord in worship services. I wonder what God thinks about it.