II Samuel 6 The Ark Is Brought To Jerusalem, And The Regulative Principle Of Worship.
This chapter highlights an incident of both deep historical and theological significance, and also very common soap opera drama. David musters 30,000 soldiers of the united kingdom to go and retrieve the ark of God (v. 1). Baale Judah was another name for Kirjath Jearim, in Judah (Cf. Josh. 15:9). The author of I Chronicles also notes that David included the priests and Levites in this effort since it involved the moving of the ark (13:2). There could be no doubt that David knew the history of previous attempts to move the ark after the nation attempted to retrieve it after it was captured by the Philistines (I Sa. 4-7:1). There are those who see the judgment that fell on Uzzah in this passage as harsh and unreasonable on God’s part, but Uzzah clearly should have been aware of the past incidents where those seeking to transport it also were not mindful of the LORD’s directives in this regard.*
The author of I Chronicles also notes that David consulted with the peoples representatives, and as a result found that they had the support of the people as well (v. 4). He also notes that the ark is not just the place where the LORD takes on the specific name of ‘the LORD of hosts’, but it is the place where this name is proclaimed (v. 6). The ark is where the LORD “dwells between the cherubim” (II Sa. 6:2). The LORD dwells between the cherubim as Israel’s Shepherd and Leader (Ps. 80:1). The ‘hosts’ refers to the angelic army of the LORD who go in and out from his holy presence to fight his battles as he commands. The cherubim are special angels who are given the specific charge of guarding the ark itself. The author of Hebrews describes them as “the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” (9:5 Cf. Ex. 25:18-20; 26:1, 31; I Kgs. 8:7; II Chron. 3:11; Ps. 18:10; Is. 6:2; 37:16; Ezek. 1:4-14; 9:3; 10:5, 8, 12, 15; 37:9).
The cherubim are present from the guarding of the garden after the fall (Gen. 3:22-24), to the revelation of the throne of heaven (Rev. 4:8). They guard the way into the presence of the LORD, and they are stationed immediately above the mercy seat to show that since the fall no one may approach the LORD of hosts without the atonement which his own mercy provides, prefiguring the atonement which Christ himself provided (Heb. 9:3-15). So when Uzzah stretches out his hand to steady the ark, he presumes upon his own innocence (v. 6). The LORD was angry because he must guard his own holiness, but David appears to be angry because he did not understand the depth of the separation between a holy God and sinful humanity (vv. 7-8). However, anger quickly turned into fear, “and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD come to me?’” (v. 9)
David wanted the ark in Jerusalem because he knew of the blessing it would bring, including victory in their battles with the LORD’s enemies, but now he realized it could also bring cursing for not obeying the directives in the law-word of the covenant. More proof was given when David decided to leave the ark with Obed-Edom the Gittite, who presumably did not touch the ark but let it rest in his presence, such that the LORD blessed his house (vv. 10-11). When David learns of this, he decided to continue the journey of the ark to Jerusalem, presumably after he studied what was required to do so (v. 12). It would appear that, just in case, David decided to offer sacrifices after six paces for the forgiveness of any sins of omission (v. 13). David was so happy to finally have the ark in Jerusalem that he made music and danced before the LORD (vv. 14-15). However, Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s first wife, despised him (v. 16).
Once the ark rested in the midst of the tabernacle that David had made, he also offered burnt offerings and peace offerings (v. 17), and “blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts’ (v. 18). This blessing was more than just words, he also distributed to all the people “a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins” (v. 19). Michal then expresses her displeasure regarding David shamelessly uncovering himself in front of the maids like some base fellow, but David made clear that he was not dancing for them but before the LORD (vv. 20-21). Further to the point, David emphasized the need for him and anyone to humble themselves when worshipping the LORD (v. 22a). For this attitude and consequent behaviour, the maidens would hold him in honour (v. 22b). We are then told that Michal “had no children to the day of her death” (v. 23).
This incident is commonly referred to as an example of the importance of the doctrine called ‘the regulative principle of worship’, which holds that one must not worship the LORD in any other way than what he has prescribed in holy scripture. It is in fact a doctrine which one ought to follow with respect to the whole of life and not just formal worship. With respect to worship, it does stress the need to pattern our worship after the manner prescribed by the LORD in holy scripture. However, lest one thinks that it is simply a matter of externals, we also see in the example of David, that it also involves the attitude of one’s heart. David humbled himself, part of which was the acknowledgement that in order to approach the LORD one must seek mercy and forgiveness, seen in his offering of blood sacrifices and in his words to Michal. Finally, worship is covenantal, so that when done right yields blessing, but cursing when done wrong.
* “Only God’s appointed priests were to touch God’s ark and even then only in a specified manner (see Lev 16:2; Nu. 4:15).” Thomas and Greear, ‘Exalting Jesus In 1 & 2 Samuel’ (79)