Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
II Samuel 6
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 24: 4,5
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Weíve come together this evening to remember particularly the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. Yet I do not ask your attention this evening for the account of the Lordís ascension as we find it in the books of Luke; I ask your attention instead for Davidís efforts to bring the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. I have chosen this passage of Scripture for this eveningís sermon because it sets before us some of the concrete applications of Jesusí ascension.
His ascension. When He ascended into heaven Christ received from the Father a seat at Godís right hand, and so was crowned to be king over all. It is as Jesus said to His disciples before His departure: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Mt 28:18). So Peter on the day of Pentecost could tell the crowds before him that God has made Jesus Ėwhom they crucified- "both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). In truth, the Christ whose ascension we today remember, is Lord of the universe, King of kings.
Itís a thought we like. Our Savior: King of the entire world Ė Yes, we like that thought. Itís for us a source of comfort as we listen to the news, as we observe the growing secularization of our culture. Itís for us a source of comfort as we keep our ears open to developments in church life, as we busy ourselves in our homes with raising our children. That Christ is sovereign; yes, the thought is most reassuring. We know: His lordship means that the gates of hell shall not prevail; Christís kingdom shall triumph. Reassuring.
But itís also, brothers and sisters, a reality with which we need to work concretely each moment of our lives. If Christ is Supreme Ruler, it follows that we shall need to submit to His decrees every moment of every day. After all, in things big or in things small we are citizens of His kingdom. This is the material God sets before us in II Sam 6. If God is king Ėas David wished to acknowledge- then David needs to submit to Godís every command. Else confessing Godís kingship is a farce.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
CHRISTíS KINGSHIP MEANS THAT GODíS PEOPLE HUMBLY SUBMIT TO HIM.
I draw out this theme by directing your attention to three points:
- Why David wanted to bring up the ark
- What God did to stop Davidís plan
- How David could fulfil his plan
Why David wanted to bring up the ark
Iíve spoken, brothers and sisters, in my theme for this evening of "Christís kingship" and in my points I speak of the ark. You will wonder what the connection is between Christís kingship and the ark. Allow me to elaborate.
We learn from Ex 25 that the ark was one of the items of furniture that God commanded Israel to construct for the tabernacle when they were still at Mt Sinai. It was a box, approximately one meter long, half a meter wide, and half a meter high, overlaid with gold inside and out. The ark was known as the "ark of the covenant" and so symbolized the bond between God and Israel; the people was His people and He was their God.
On the ark, God said to Moses, the people had to construct a seat Ė the mercy seat. This seat was for God (as it were) to sit on; on the ark was the throne from where God ruled over His covenant people. Itís because of the throne on the ark that God also commanded Moses to place two cherubim, two angels on the ark. As God in heaven has angels around His throne, so on earth, around that throne-on-the-ark, God placed angels. And God told Moses that from this throne on the ark He would speak to Moses and so give His royal commands to His people Israel.
This throne is called the "mercy seat". Thatís a reference to the gospel of Christís atoning work. The Hebrew term for "mercy seat" captures the notion of covering sin, of hiding them under the blood of another. This, of course, is the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. Thatís also why the mercy seat with the ark had a place in the tabernacle; in that tabernacle the gospel of forgiveness was proclaimed through the sacrifices on the altar. This, we understand, explained the reason why God could be King over Israel; it is because of the shedding of blood Ėultimately the work of Christ on the cross- that the people of Israel could be Godís people by covenant and He be their king. This throne was a "throne of mercy", was a throne rooted in mercy, in Godís free grace in Jesus Christ. This explains too why the ark in our text is called "the Name, the Lord of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim." Godís reputation is indeed that He is Yahweh, captain of hosts, sovereign commander of armies. And this is Israelís God-by-covenant Ė Yahweh, the Lord.
But as it was, the people of Israel in Davidís days did not appreciate the fact that God was their king. For years already "everyone [in the land] did what was right in his own eyes" (cf Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). So the people tolerated a king Saul, who marched the young men of Israel up and down the countryside in his mad attempt to kill Godís anointed, David. That was simply and only because Godís sovereignty in Israel was not acknowledged. He was King; in fact, His throne in Israel. But see, it stood in a forsaken corner of the land, forgotten in the house of AbinadabÖ. The people had once thought they could compel the Lord of hosts to do their wishes. So they had
"sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim" (I Sam 4:4).
But "the Lord of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim" did not let Himself be placed under human compulsion; He remains God, King of kings, and that was why He let His throne Ėand the ark of the covenant- be captured by the Philistines (I Sam 4:11). But even then He did not forget His people by covenant; from the land of the Philistines He let Israel know that Dagon, god of the Philistines, fell over before Him, bowed down in worship (I Sam 5:3f). And the God enthroned on the ark demonstrated His sovereignty by causing those two fresh cows to pull the cart back to Israel without the guidance of human drivers (I Sam 6:10ff)Ö. But the people of Israel still did not acknowledge the kingship of their covenant God; in disregard for His sovereignty they set the ark Ėthe throne of their God- in the house of Abinadab on the hillÖ (7:1). And they themselves demanded a human kingÖ, "like all the nations" (8:5)Ö. So God gave them a human king Ė a terror for the land; Saul, possessed of evil spiritsÖ.
And all the while the ark remained forgottenÖ. Commentaries agree that for a period of some 70 years the ark ĖGodís throne of mercy in Israel- remained forgotten in the house of AbinadabÖ. And thatís to say that for 70 years "they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them" (I Sam 8:7) Ė as God said to Samuel.
No, thatís not to say that Israel denied Godís existence all those years. Read through the first book of Samuel for yourself, and you will see that the people knew very well who the Lord was, and the sacrificed to Him too. But the point is that the people served God with their lips while their heart was far from Him. Shall we say: they confessed that the Lord was more than Dagon, that their God was a great God. Through their sacrifices they acknowledged that redemption from sin comes from the Lord alone. But that the Lord God was King of kings, that He demanded total allegiance over every aspect of life Ė No, that was asking too much. They served the Lord, but on their own terms; they served the Lord, but not in all of life Ė they set Him in a corner of their lives for use when the need arose.
Precisely that, congregation, makes the desire of David in our text so exciting. King Saul was content to have his throne wherever his capital city was, and to have Godís throne hidden far off in the house of Abinadab; Saul didnít wish to submit himself to Godís sovereignty in the way he ruled over Israel. But not so David. Scarcely is David secure in his kingship over Israel and has his throne established in Jerusalem, when David makes it his business "to bring up Ö the ark of God, whose name is called Ďthe Name of the Lord of Hostsí, who dwells between the cherubim." By Godís gracious working in his heart He knows that you canít have two competing thrones within a kingdom. Israel is first of all Godís people; He is "the Lord of hosts", King of kings. If David is going to set up a throne in Israel in competition to the true King, he can expect only trouble; the true King will not let Himself be ignored or overthrown Ė as king Saul also experienced. And he was now dead, as result of his rebellion against Israelís true King.
So David, under the guidance of Godís Holy Spirit, set about organizing reformation in the land. He may be king and have a palace of Jerusalem Ė as II Sam 5 tells us. But David knows: his throne cannot exist in competition to the kingship of God; his throne needs to be subservient to the kingship of God. But then Godís throne cannot remain forgotten in the house of Abinadab; no, then that throne needs also to receive profile in Jerusalem. Thatís whatís behind Davidís action in our text; God is King, so He must be enthroned in the capital city of the kingdom. Thatís why "David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale Judah to bring up from there the ark of God."
And to capture what this movement of the ark was all about, David wrote psalms for the people to sing while the ark was being transported to Jerusalem. I think of Ps 24:
"Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you 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" (vss 7f).
You see it before your eyes: the gates of Jerusalem need to open wide to let the ark enter the city, to welcome the throne of the King of glory, to welcome the King of glory Himself. So too Ps 47:
"God has gone up with a shout,
The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with understanding" (vss 5-7).
How exciting for a people who for years ignored the kingship of their covenant God; no wonder Samuel records in vs 5 of our chapter that
"David and all the house of Israel played music before the Lord on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals."
As David instructed in Ps 47, they "sang praises to our King"! After years of neglecting the Kingship of their covenant God, Israel had cause to rejoice at the reformation God was working through David Ė the man content to be king-under-God.
Here, of course, is the reason why we also feel free to sing Ps 24 and Ps 47 specifically on Ascension Day. At His ascension into heaven the journey of the ark from the house of Abinadab to the city of Jerusalem received its fulfillment, and so we do well to acknowledge Him as King Ė and do so with rejoicing.
But see: despite the rejoicing of Israel, the noble plans of the king end in disaster Ė second point. For suddenly, violently, God put a stop to Davidís plan.
What God did to stop Davidís plan
What, congregation, does it really mean that God is King? Let it be clear: it means more than that He fights our battles for us. Radically, violently, the Lord spelled out to David and to Israel Ėand so to us also- that a confession of His kingship comes at a price. It is easy to say Sunday by Sunday with the Apostlesí Creed that Jesus "ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty" Ė and that, essentially, is what David wanted to confess with his effort to bring the ark to Jerusalem.
But see, David did not submit himself to Godís commands. And this is something God wonít tolerate. To confess that God is King requires that one submits to the Kingís instructions. Well, Israelís King had given specific instruction about how His throne was to be handled. The passage we read from Exodus 25 gave instruction that rings were to be placed on the four corners of the ark and poles prepared "that the ark may be carried by them" (vs 14). In Numbers 4, when the Lord gave instructions about how the tabernacle was to be moved, He specified that the Levites, "the sons of Kohath" had to carry the contents of the tabernacle Ė including the ark (vs 15; cf Dt 10:8). In fact, in Num 7 God specified that while carts had to be built to move the contents of the tabernacle (vss 6-9), the ark had to be carried. On top of it all, God decreed that no one was to touch the ark (Num 4:15). The instructions of the King were clear.
But observe now what happened in II Sam 6. I read in vs 3 that "they set the ark of God on a new cartÖ, and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart." You recall: placing the ark on a new cart is also what the Philistines had done when they wanted to send the ark back to Israel (I Sam 6:7,10). For them it worked; the ark arrived safely back home. So David thought to do the sameÖ. And he forgot that the command about how to transport the ark was not given to the Philistines (that people who live in rebellion against the King of kings). But Israel who received the command, and Israel who wishes to acknowledge the Lordís Kingship shall surely have to take His commands seriously!
The same is true for Davidís decision to permit the two descendants of Abinadab Ėtheyíd grown up with the ark in their house- receive the honors of escorting the ark to Jerusalem; how fitting that they get the honors! But God had said something about the priests transporting the arkÖ!
So God the King took David and all Israel by the scruff of the shirt. The Lord let the oxen stumbleÖ, and Uzzah put out his hand to support the sliding arkÖ, and suddenly he lay dead on the ground! Vs 7: "the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God."
We say: how horrible, how harsh God is! Just for putting out his hand Ėimpulsively, weíd say- to stop the sliding ark from crashing to the ground Ė and God is so angry with him that He kills him?! What kind of a God is this?! We empathize with Davidís reaction, we share his anger because of the Lordís outbreak. And we understand so well Davidís decision to shelf the project; he shoved the ark into the house of Obed-Edom the GittiteÖ.
Why did the Lord strike Uzzah dead? Why this bitter ending to Davidís noble plan? Isnít God too harsh in dealing with His people like this? Weíd like a gentler God, more sympathetic, more understanding of our good motivesÖ.
But the situation is this, beloved. Since God is King, all who confess His Kingship shall need to be consistent; all shall need to submit to His every wish. In the service of the Lord of hosts there is no room for serving Him halfway only, no room for serving Him only when it suits, no room for Him according to personal taste. If someone would confess that God is King, he must Ėsays God- take every command of God seriously.
But David didnít. Why not? Was he unaware of these commands? Did he consider them minor, not so important? We donít know. Whatever the case was, God struck Uzzah dead. And thatís to say that God impressed on His covenant people that acknowledging His kingship comes at a price. Reformation is wonderful, but reformation is never cheap. If one will confess that God is King, one needs to accompanying that confession with deeds that demonstrate submission, obedience to this King.
On this point nothing has changed in the course of centuries. Christ ascended into heaven, and so is King of kings. His demand for submission and obedience is as absolute as the Lordís demand was in Davidís day. Today too the Lord is insistent that thereís not a square inch of life of which Christ does not say, "Mine!", and thatís to say that His laws extend to every corner of our existence; His kingship is totalitarian.
That reality, of course, demands from us a response. Our society says that people are free to make up their own minds; we donít like lords over us Ė and certainly not in the private corners of our lives. What I do in my bedroom is surely my business, and mine alone?! And how I serve God when Iím in Timbuktu is surely my business and mine alone! But the Lord speaks differently, very differently. He is King, specifically on Ascension Day we confess that, and that simply means that we need to take every command of His seriously. That in turn, of course, means that we need to know His law book Ėthe Bible- well, and make it our business to submit to Godís every command as they come to us through the pages of holy writ.
We move on to our last point:
How David could fulfil his plan
With the death of Uzzah, the Lord stopped Davidís noble plan in its tracks. But as it turns out, the Lord also granted David grace to complete the plan heíd begun. For some 70 odd years the ark of God was tucked away in the house of Abinadab, but we read nothing of Godís blessing on that house. But now that Davidís attempt to bring the throne of God to Jerusalem ended with the ark being placed in Obed-Edomís house, the Lord blesses Obed-Edom. It is as if the Lord wants to catch Davidís attention, to encourage him to complete the project he began.
And so it happens. After three months, Davidís resolve to bring Godís throne to Jerusalem is renewed. I read in vs 12: "So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with gladness." But notice: this time he did not permit a cart to be used, or get Obed-Edom to escort the ark. Instead, David subjected himself to the will of his King as revealed in passages of Scripture as Ex 25 and Num 4. So I read in vs 13 about persons "bearing the ark" Ė according to Godís command. As David himself said in Ps 24:
"Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive blessing from the Lord,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face" (vss 3ff).
He knew: humble obedience befits the one who acknowledges Godís kingship! So I read also that when the bearers "had gone six paces", David "sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep" (vs 13). Hereís an acknowledgment of the gospel of free grace; David the sinner Ėlook at how he disobeyed the commands of his King in his first attempt to bring Godís throne to Jerusalem- knew He needed forgiveness from His sovereign King.
And see: the Lord granted His grace, granted that His throne should reach Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom! So Ėvs 17- after the ark had been set in its place in the tabernacle David erected for it, "David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord." Burnt offerings, peace offerings: according to the instruction of God in the book of Leviticus, these offerings expressed oneís thankfulness to God for the grace He granted. And there is the reason too why "David danced before the Lord with all his might" (vs 14), and why he "distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israel, both the women and the men, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins." Here was deep gratitude that God could be publicly acknowledged as King in Israel, here was deep gratitude that God granted David grace to be instrumental in working this reformation among the people.
How marvelous, beloved, is the work of God in our chapter! He did not tolerate that He was ignored as King in Israel those many years. At His time He caused His kingship to be remembered Ė both in its blessings and in its obligations.
This is the God who is King of the world still. Christ on the cross compelled the forces of darkness ĖDagon, if you will- to bow down and worship Him; Satan must acknowledge that Christ is King. God has received Him into the throne-room of the world; in heaven He sits at Godís right hand as Lord of all. Fulfillment of the ascension of the ark!
In a world that ignores Christís Kingship, this is the gospel we proclaim whenever we confess the Saviorís ascension. But we shall need to be consistent. If Christ is King, we need to be careful to obey His every command. It is written in New Testament Scripture, Hebrews 12: "let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God" ĖHe is King!- "is a consuming fire" (vs 29). Amen.