“Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the LORD of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. And David was displeased, because the LORD had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day. And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and said, How shall the ark of the LORD come to me” (2 Samuel 6:1-9).
David realised that the Ark of the Covenant ought to be housed in Israel’s new capital city and attempted to bring it to Jerusalem. The Ark represented God’s presence with His people. “There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony” (Exodus 25:22). The Ark had spent the last twenty years in the house of Abinadab in Kirjath-jearim, and it looks like it was largely forgotten about and neglected, though its whereabouts was known. David’s desire was to restore the Ark as the focal point of worship in the tabernacle.
A good idea
David made every preparation, or so he thought, to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem from Baale, which was previously called Kirjath-jearim. “And David said unto all the congregation of Israel, If it seem good unto you, and that it be of the LORD our God … And let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we inquired not at it in the days of Saul. And all the congregation said that they would do so: for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people. So David gathered all Israel together, from Shihor of Egypt even unto the entering of Hemath, to bring the ark of God from Kirjathjearim. And David went up, and all Israel, to Baalah, that is, to Kirjathjearim” (1 Chronicles 13:2-6). It seems that David had ignited a revival for seeking God, for now all the people thought it was a good idea to have the Ark amongst them. He wanted to re-establish in the hearts of all that the Lord was the true King of Israel.
The thirty-thousand men he took with him were to protect the Ark from the Philistines since they had captured it, to their discomfort, on one occasion (see 1 Samuel 5:1 – 6:12). They may also have been there to keep the excited crowds from getting too close to the Ark.
The bad idea
David, and those who assisted him, overlooked a problem with their plan, for the method to ferry the Ark to Jerusalem was flawed. The details and the people could be controlled, but animals are unpredictable. Besides this, David had not used the prescribed way of transporting the Ark. It was the responsibility of the Kohathites (Levites) to carry it rather than animals. “These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation” (Numbers 4:15) … “The service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they should bear upon their shoulders” (Numbers 7:9). He must have had the Kohathites to lift the Ark onto the cart, for anyone else doing so would have died. David’s “new” method was doomed to failure as soon as the Ark was placed on the “new cart”. Is it possible that he thought that God had relaxed His will since the last time the Ark was sent back to Israel by the Philistines? “Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them: And take the ark of the LORD, and lay it upon the cart” (1 Samuel 6:7-8). The Philistines knew no better regarding the cart, but the Israelites did. “This was a hasty and inconsiderate procedure, in violation of an express statute” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary). The new cart may have looked good, but God’s word cannot be changed.
The street celebration was silenced as soon as the oxen “stumbled” and shook the Ark at the threshingfloor of Nachon (1 Chronicles 13:9). The threshingfloor was a cobbled area for beating grain, so would have been very uneven and bumpy. Unfortunately Uzzah thought he could steady the Ark so reached out to touch it. It was probably an instinctive reaction, but it was still a bad idea. Our text informs us that Uzzah was in error, that is, he sinned. This is an illustration of a spiritual fact, for “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Had he become too accustomed to seeing the Ark in his home for so long that he had forgotten the rules? Had he forgotten about what happened the last time someone had touched the Ark? “And he [God] smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter” (1 Samuel 6:19). “Here we see the danger it is to follow good intentions, or to do anything in God’s service without his express word” (Geneva Study Bible).
God is holy and does not change His will just because someone comes up with a good idea to serve Him. “The LORD our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order” (1 Chronicles 15:13). This event put fear in David and the people, so at least they had come to terms with the absolute holiness of the Lord. In closing, we have to wonder who David was displeased with, God, Uzzah, the priests or himself? Probably he was angry with his own oversight regarding the correct way of moving the Ark. If this is the case, then he took responsibility over what had happened. Breaking God’s laws always ends in disaster, but honouring them will result in blessing, as we shall see in our next study.