Hiram, king of the wealthy city of Tyre, on the Mediterranean Sea, now sought an alliance with the king of Israel, and lent his aid to me in the work of erecting a palace at Jerusalem. Ambassadors were sent from Tyre, accompanied by architects and workmen and long trains laden with costly wood, cedar trees, and other valuable material.
The increasing strength of Israel in its union under me, the acquisition of the stronghold of Jebus, and the alliance with Hiram, king of Tyre, excited the hostility of the Philistines, and they again invaded the country with a strong force, taking up their position in the valley of Rephaim, but a short distance from Jerusalem.
I with my men of war retired to the stronghold of Zion, to await divine direction.
2Sa 5:19 So David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand?” And the LORD said to David, “Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand.”
After this assurance I advanced upon the enemy at once, defeated and destroyed them, and took from them the gods which they had brought with them to ensure their victory. Exasperated by the humiliation of their defeat, the Philistines gathered a still larger force, and returned to the conflict.
And again they “spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim.” Again I sought the Lord and the great I AM took the direction of the armies of Israel.
God instructed me, saying,
“You shall not go up after them; circle around them and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. And it shall be, when you hear a sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall go out to battle, for God has gone out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.”
If I, like Saul, had chosen my own way, success would not have attended me. But I did as the Lord had commanded, and he “drove back the army of the Philistines from Gibeon as far as Gezer. And my fame went out into all lands; and the Lord brought the fear of me upon all nations.”
Now that I was firmly established upon the throne and free from the invasions of foreign foes, I turned to the accomplishment of a cherished purpose—to bring up the ark of God to Jerusalem.
For many years the ark had remained at Kirjath-jearim, about 15 kilometres away. But it was fitting that the capital of the nation should be honoured with the token of the divine Presence.
I summoned thirty thousand of the leading men of Israel, for it was my purpose to make the occasion a scene of great rejoicing and imposing display. The people responded gladly to the call. The high priest, with his brethren in sacred office and the princes and leading men of the tribes, assembled at Kirjath-jearim. David was aglow with holy zeal. The ark was brought out from the house of Aminadab and placed upon a new cart drawn by oxen, while two of the sons of Abinadab attended it.
The men of Israel followed with exultant shouts and songs of rejoicing, a multitude of voices joining in melody with the sound of musical instruments; “David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord … on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals.” It had been long since Israel had witnessed such a scene of triumph. With solemn gladness the vast procession wound its way along the hills and valleys toward the Holy City.
But “when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, 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 rashness; [marginal reading] and there he died by the ark of God.”
A sudden terror fell upon the rejoicing throng. I was astonished and greatly alarmed, and in my heart, I questioned the justice of God. I had been seeking to honour the ark as the symbol of the divine presence.
Why, then, had that fearful judgment been sent to turn the season of gladness into an occasion of grief and mourning? Feeling that it would be unsafe to have the ark near me, I determined to let it remain where it was. A place was found for it nearby, at the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.
The fate of Uzzah was a divine judgment upon the violation of a most explicit command. Through Moses the Lord had given special instruction concerning the transportation of the ark. None but the priests, the descendants of Aaron, were to touch it, or even to look upon it uncovered.
The divine direction was, “The sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.” Numbers 4:15. The priests were to cover the ark, and then the Kohathites must lift it by the staves, which were placed in rings upon each side of the ark and were never removed.
To the Gershonites and Merarites, who had in charge the curtains and boards and pillars of the tabernacle, Moses gave carts and oxen for the transportation of that which was committed to them. “But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none: because the service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they should bear upon their shoulders.” Numbers 7:9.
Thus in the bringing of the ark from Kirjath-jearim there had been a direct and inexcusable disregard of the Lord’s directions.
I and my people had assembled to perform a sacred work, and they had engaged in it with glad and willing hearts; but the Lord could not accept the service, because it was not performed in accordance with His directions.
The Philistines, who had not a knowledge of God’s law, had placed the ark upon a cart when they returned it to Israel, and the Lord accepted the effort which they made. But the Israelites had in their hands a plain statement of the will of God in all these matters, and their neglect of these instructions was dishonouring to God.
Upon Uzzah rested the greater guilt of presumption. Transgression of God’s law had lessened his sense of its sacredness, and with unconfessed sins upon him he had, in face of the divine prohibition, presumed to touch the symbol of God’s presence. God can accept no partial obedience, no lax way of treating His commandments.
By the judgment upon Uzzah He designed to impress upon all Israel the importance of giving strict heed to His requirements. Thus the death of that one man, by leading the people to repentance, might prevent the necessity of inflicting judgments upon thousands.
Feeling that my own heart was not wholly right with God, I, seeing the stroke upon Uzzah, had feared the ark, lest some sin on his part should bring judgments upon him. But Obed-edom, though he rejoiced with trembling, welcomed the sacred symbol as the pledge of God’s favour to the obedient. The attention of all Israel was now directed to the Gittite and his household; all watched to see how it would fare with them. “And the Lord blessed Obed-edom, and all his household.”
Upon me the divine rebuke accomplished its work. I was led to realize as I had never realized before the sacredness of the law of God and the necessity of strict obedience. The favour shown to the house of Obed-edom led David again to hope that the ark might bring a blessing to him and to his people.
At the end of three months, I resolved to make another attempt to remove the ark, and I now gave earnest heed to carry out in every particular the directions of the Lord. Again the chief men of the nation were summoned, and a vast assemblage gathered about the dwelling place of the Gittite.
With reverent care the ark was now placed upon the shoulders of men of divine appointment, the multitude fell into line, and with trembling hearts the vast procession again set forth. After advancing six paces the trumpet sounded a halt.
By my direction sacrifices of “oxen and fatlings” were to be offered. Rejoicing now took the place of trembling and terror. I king had laid aside my royal robes and had clothed myself in a plain linen ephod, such as was worn by the priests.
I did not by this act signify that I assumed priestly functions, for the ephod was sometimes worn by others besides the priests. But in this holy service I would take my place as, before God, on an equality with his subjects. Upon that day God was to be adored. He was to be the sole object of reverence.
Again the long train was in motion, and the music of harp and cornet, trumpet and cymbal, floated heavenward, blended with the melody of many voices. “And I danced before the Lord,” in my gladness keeping time to the measure of the song.
David’s dancing in reverent joy before God has been cited by pleasure lovers in justification of the fashionable modern dance, but there is no ground for such an argument. In our day dancing is associated with folly and midnight revelling. Health and morals are sacrificed to pleasure.
By the frequenters of the ballroom God is not an object of thought and reverence; prayer or the song of praise would be felt to be out of place in their assemblies. This test should be decisive. Amusements that tend to weaken the love for sacred things and lessen our joy in the service of God are not to be sought by Christians.
The music and dancing in joyful praise to God at the removal of the ark had not the faintest resemblance to the dissipation of modern dancing. The one tended to the remembrance of God and exalted His holy name. The other is a device of Satan to cause men to forget God and to dishonour Him.
The triumphal procession approached the capital, following the sacred symbol of their invisible King. Then a burst of song demanded of the watchers upon the walls that the gates of the Holy City should be thrown open:
“Lift up your heads, O ye gates; And be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; And the King of glory shall come in.”
A band of singers and players answered: “Who is this King of glory?” From another company came the response: “The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle.” Then hundreds of voices, uniting, swelled the triumphal chorus: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; Even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; And the King of glory shall come in.”
Again the joyful interrogation was heard, “Who is this King of glory?” And the voice of the great multitude, like “the sound of many waters,” was heard in the rapturous reply:
“The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.” Psalm 24:7-10.
Then the gates were opened wide, the procession entered, and with reverent awe the ark was deposited in the tent that had been prepared for its reception. Before the sacred enclosure altars for sacrifice were erected; the smoke of peace offerings and burnt offerings, and the clouds of incense, with the praises and supplications of Israel, ascended to heaven.
The service ended; I pronounced a benediction upon my people. Then with regal bounty I caused gifts of food and wine to be distributed for their refreshment.
All the tribes had been represented in this service, the celebration of the most sacred event that had yet marked my reign.
The Spirit of divine inspiration had rested upon me, and now as the last beams of the setting sun bathed the tabernacle in a hallowed light, my heart was uplifted in gratitude to God that the blessed symbol of His presence was now so near the throne of Israel.
Thus musing, contemplating, I turned toward my palace, “to bless my household.” But there was one who had witnessed the scene of rejoicing with a spirit widely different from that which moved my heart.
“As the ark of the Lord came into the city, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw me, the king, leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised me in her heart.” In the bitterness of her passion, she poured forth a torrent of bitter words. Keen and cutting was the irony of her speech:
“How glorious was the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovs himself!”
I felt that it was the service of God which Michal had despised and dishonoured, and I sternly answered: “It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD.
“It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel: therefore will I play before the Lord. And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.”
To my rebuke was added that of the Lord: because of her pride and arrogance, Michal “had no child unto the day of her death.”
The solemn ceremonies attending the removal of the ark had made a lasting impression upon the people of Israel, arousing a deeper interest in the sanctuary service and kindling anew their zeal for God.
I endeavoured by every means in my power to deepen these impressions. The service of song was made a regular part of religious worship, and I composed psalms, not only for the use of the priests in the sanctuary service, but also to be sung by the people in their journeys to the national altar at the annual feasts.
The influence thus exerted was far-reaching, and it resulted in freeing the nation from idolatry. Many of the surrounding peoples, beholding the prosperity of Israel, were led to think favourably of Israel’s God, who had done such great things for His people.
Why did God forbade David to build Him an ark?