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 brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in his place, in the midst of the tabernacle that David had pitched for it: and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.
From the days when David had first roamed the land of Israel as a soldier of Saul’s army, his attention had been attracted to that great city of the Jebusites named Jerusalem. Here was a city in the very center of the nation so impenetrable that to that day they had not been able to dislodge the very limited forces of the Jebusites from it. Instinctively he had been drawn to look upon the city as an ideal location for the capital of their nation, and, even more, as a wonderful setting for the tabernacle of their God. Thus one of his first moves after being fully established as king over all Israel was to move in upon the city and take it for his own. Almost miraculously through the heroism of Joab this was very quickly done.
Into the city David moved to establish his home and his palace there, and at the same time he commanded that a new tent should be constructed for the worship of God in that same city. Actually the proper worship of God had been falling into greater and greater disarray ever since the children of Israel had entered the land of Canaan and especially since the Philistines had taken the ark from the army of Israel at the battle of Ebenezer. In the earlier period it had been primarily a matter of neglect and spiritual decline in the life of Israel; but when the Philistines had won the battle of Ebenezer it appears that they had also continued to march into Shiloh itself where the tabernacle was located and rendered it desolate (See Psalm 78:60-64;Jeremiah 7:12-14). Although the tent itself was spared, it no longer had seemed safe or wise to leave it there, and so it was moved on to Nob. Greatly reduced from its glory, particularly because the ark of the covenant was no more to be found within it, the tabernacle and its worship was nonetheless maintained for those few in Israel who still sought the worship of God with all their hearts, until, that is, the wrath of Saul fell upon the house of Abimelech for the assistance which they had given to David. Once again the tabernacle had been taken up and moved, this time to Gibeon, with the result that the worship of God was maintained only in a still more restricted form. Well did the Psalmist later sing, Psalm 78:60, 61, “He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men; and delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand.”
In spite of this, however, David did not think it well to take the original tabernacle and move it to Jerusalem. Possibly it was because he feared leaving the wrong impression by taking a building as historically important as the tabernacle of Moses out of one of the other tribes into a city found within the territory of his own tribe; and besides this he no doubt already had within the back of his mind plans to build a temple for the keeping of the covenant ark. Thus he merely ordered that a new tent should be built as a temporary residing place for the ark and, calling the representatives of Israel together, spoke to them as follows, “if it seem. good unto you, and that it be of the LORD our God, let us send abroad unto our brethren every where, that are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levites which are in their cities and suburbs, that they may gather themselves unto us: and let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we enquired not at it in the days of Saul.” (I Chronicles 13:2, 3).
By both the representatives of the people and by the people themselves this desire of David was met with great enthusiasm To those who were true worshippers of God and understood well the ways of Jehovah with His people, it meant that at last the favor of the Lord was fully returned to their nation and the time of forgiveness for all of their past wickedness was to be fulfilled. And then there were many others too, constituting no doubt the vast majority of the nation, who had very little comprehension of the real spiritual importance of this event but who, nonetheless backed the move of David with enthusiasm because they had become enamored of this their new king and whatever he suggested seemed good.
Nowhere was this message received with greater excitement, however, than in Kirjathjearim, and particularly within the house of Abinadab there. At last it appeared that they were to receive some recognition for keeping the ark of the covenant for these past seventy years. It was not that they had considered the ark to be of such special importance during that time. In fact, it may well have been that their reason for receiving the ark in the first place was merely because they were less fearful than most; and someone had to take it in after the terrible destruction which had fallen upon Bethshemesh after its people had presumed to handle the ark with their hands and even look into it. Few had wanted the ark after that, but the people of Kirjathjearim had dared to take it in, so that for seventy years it had stood practically unnoticed and uncared for in the house of Abinadab. But now, one no less than the king himself had brought it to popular attention again, and the people of Kirjathjearim were ready to take advantage of the attention they were to receive. In fact, they took it upon themselves to make the preparations for the transportation of this prized possession from their town to the new capital city, Jerusalem.
It was an immense gathering of people that came to Kirjathjearim, or Baale of Judah as it was called at that time, to bring forth the ark into the royal city. With David’s official company alone there were no less than 30,000 chosen soldiers together with a great company of musicians and many others while the size of the throng of ordinary people who came to watch, we can only imagine. The romance and excitement of the event had moved the whole nation until people came from every corner to see and watch, while to the minority of people who really understood, it was like a spiritual pilgrimage.
When at last the great, festive throng arrived at their village, the people of Baale were ready. With imagination they had prepared for the transportation of the ark to Jerusalem. Rather than going back to the law for their instructions, they had thought it most appropriate if they would merely carry through upon the manner of transportation first used for the ark by the Philistines when they had returned to Israel. Carefully they had built a whole new cart of new wood in the latest style of the day, a most appropriate means of transportation, it seemed to them, reflecting their concern for this great ceremony. Then upon the cart they placed two men, Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, men who had grown to maturity under the same roof as the ark and who were accordingly quite unafraid of it.
How many there might have actually been there that day who realized how far this manner of carrying the ark was from the manner specified in the law we do not know. Surely there must have been some, even if but a few, well enough versed in the traditions of Israel to know that this was not the way it was supposed to be, and it is hard to imagine that David was not one of them. But what was one to do when all the preparations were complete; and the possibility of causing offense was too great. With his implied consent that great company of Israel set out with all eyes upon that holy ark which set there for all to see upon this new cart.
Actually, besides the fact that it was contrary to the law of God, the transportation of the ark by means of a cart was quite inept and impractical. The roads of Israel, and especially those which led through the hill country surrounding Jerusalem, were little more than well worn foot paths which could become very narrow and rough when the going became hard. The result was that very soon the cart upon which the ark rode began to bounce and tip very badly once they had moved outside of the streets of the city. But to the sons of Abinadab, Uzzah and Ahio, this presented no great problem. Already as children they had often touched the ark when it was still in their own home. They had no particular fear, or respect for it either. At the moment the cart began to tip too badly, Uzzah merely reached out his hand to the ark to steady it so that it might not fall. But there was a difference. The longsuffering of God toward the disrespect and indifference reflected in this action once again had gone beyond that which He could endure. There, before the eyes of all and as a lesson to them, Uzzah was struck dead in a moment.
The people were amazed and dumbfounded. For the most part they did not understand what had happened or why. David really knew; but he was angry to think that the Lord should so disrupt this great and well-intentioned ceremony. Rebelliously, he called the whole move to a halt, commanded that the ark should be placed in a nearby house, that of Obededom the Gittite, and returned to his home disappointed and hurting.
Three months passed by before the heart of David gradually returned to a more proper and humble understanding of this event. They were not uneventful months, for during this time David was called upon to turn back two attacks of the Philistine army. But God was with him and gave him a glorious victory, making evident that He had not forsaken His people completely. Finally, there also came to David a report that God was blessing the house of Obededom with whom the ark was being kept. The result was that once again David determined to go and finish bringing the ark to Jerusalem as he had planned.
Once again it was a great multitude that went along to complete this transfer, only this time the crowd was missing many who before had been interested only in the festivity of the occasion and the whole attitude was much more subdued and much more reverent than it had been at first. The way of the Lord’s lesson had been painful and shocking, but it had been extremely effective in bringing through to the people that this was no mere ordinary box which was carried: it was the ark of the covenant through which in typical form God dwelt in the midst of His people. It was a foretaste of God’s mercy for His people such as would be realized only in its final form through the coming of Jesus Christ to His people.
The new respect which the people felt for the ark of the covenant was now evident throughout the great ceremony. No longer was there any wooden cart in imitation of the heathen, now the ark was borne upon the shoulders of the Levites as God in his law commanded. Again, no sooner had they gone six paces than they stopped to offer sacrifices in acknowledgment of their own sin and unworthiness. But still the ceremony was not without joy, only now the joy was of a deeper spiritual tone than before. Leading the ark came the king and about it and behind it were the musicians and singers and all of the people. It is thought that as they approached the great city Jerusalem and began to ascend its slopes, that there went up from the lips of the people the words of the 24th Psalm especially written by David,
The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, and sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift you your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the Ring of glory.
What more fitting figure could there be of Christ entering the New Jerusalem with all those who constitute the true Israel according to the election of our God.