The Life of David, Vol. I.
by A. W. Pink
Bringing Up The Ark
2 Samuel 5 and 6
For lack of space we were obliged to omit from the preceding chapter a number of important points upon the closing verses of 2 Samuel 5; so we will use them here as the introduction for this one. We saw how that when the Philistines came up against David (2 Sam. 5: 18), he "enquired of the Lord" what he should do (v. 19), and God responded with the gracious assurance that the enemy should be delivered into his hands; which was accordingly accomplished. Then we saw that other Philistines came up against him again (v. 22). Taking nothing for granted, David once more sought unto the Lord for divine instructions. Therein we are taught the duty of acknowledging God in all our ways (Prov. 3:6), and His gracious readiness to grant needed light for our path, for "whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4). The whole of that blessed incident reveals some valuable and precious lessons on the intensely practical subject of divine guidance.
David did not act mechanically when the Philistines came against him the second time, and do according as God had instructed him on the first occasion; instead, he definitely inquired of Him again! Circumstances may seem identical to our dim vision, nevertheless, it is our duty and wisdom to wait upon the Lord on all occasions, trustfully seeking His instructions, implicitly obeying when His will is made clear to us through His Word. In no other way can victory over the lusts of the flesh and the subtle wiles of the devil, be insured. As we saw in our last, the Lord did not give David the same answer on the second occasion as He had given him in the first. His response was quite different: the first time He said, "Go up" (v. 21); the second time He said, "thou shalt not go up, but fetch a compass behind them," etc. It is at that point, particularly, that there is important instruction for us.
On the first occasion the Lord said unto David, "Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into thine hand" (v. 19). But on the second, He said, Thou shalt not go up, but fetch a compass behind them, and come upon them over against the mulberry trees. And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the Lord go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines" (vv. 23, 24). That made a greater demand upon David’s faith, patience and submission, than the former order did. It was humbling to the pride of the flesh not to make an open and frontal attack. It called for quite a march to circle around and get to their rear. And when he got there, he must wait until he heard a movement in the boughs of the mulberry trees; and waiting is much harder than rushing ahead. The lesson here is, that as we grow in grace and progress in practical godliness, the Lord requires fuller and fuller submission to Himself.
"And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees." This was the equivalent of the word that was given to Israel at the Red Sea, as they saw the Egyptians bearing down upon them: "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord." The mulberry trees could not move of themselves: David was to tarry till a breath from the Lord stirred them: he was to wait till he heard the wind (emblem of the Spirit) stirring their leaves. He was not to go to sleep, but to remain alert for the Lord’s signal. The lesson here is, that while we are waiting for the Lord, we must diligently observe the providential motions of God: "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same" (Col. 4:2).
"When thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself": that is, David was to respond to the intimation which God had graciously given him. The practical lesson for us is obvious; when the Lord has made known His will, prompt action is required. There is a time to stand still, and a time to move. "Go forward" was the second word to Israel at the Red Sea. Strange as it may seem, there are many who fail at this very point. They arrive at some crisis in life: they seek unto the Lord for directions: His providential "pillar of cloud" goes before them, but they do not "bestir" themselves and follow it. It is only mocking God to ask Him for light when we respond not to what He has given. Listen attentively for His "sound of a going" and when you have heard it, act.
Observe the blessed and assuring promise which accompanied the directions to David at that time, "For then shall the Lord go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines" (v. 24). if we carefully compare that with what is said in verse 20, it will be seen that the Lord wrought more manifestly on this second occasion than He did on we first. There we are simply told "and David smote them," though he promptly ascribed his victory unto God. But here the Lord promised that He would smite the Philistines. The comforting lesson for us is, that if we duly wait upon God, implicitly obey His instructions—no matter how "unreasonable" they seem, nor how distasteful; if we diligently watch every movement of His providence, and "bestir" ourselves when His will is clear, then we may assuredly count upon Him showing Himself strong on our behalf.
There is a blessed sequel to the above incident recorded in 1 Chronicles 14: 16, 17, which is not mentioned in 2 Samuel, "David therefore did as God commanded him; and they smote the host of the Philistines from Gibeon even to Gezer. And the fame of David went out into all lands; and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations." God will be no man’s debtor: He always rewards those who keep His commandments. He not only enabled David to vanquish the Philistines, but He also honored the one who had honored Him, by causing his fame to go abroad, so that all nations were afraid to attack him. And is it not equally the case now, that where there is a soul who is fully subject to Himself, He causes even Satan to feel he is but wasting his time to assail such an one! Compare Proverbs 16:7.
The next thing we are told of David after his triumph over the Philistines, is the godly concern he now evidenced for the ark. This is exceedingly beautiful, manifesting as it does the deep spirituality of our hero, and showing again the propriety of his being designated "the man after Gods own heart." David’s first thought after he was firmly seated as king over all Israel, was the enthronement in Jerusalem of the long-forgotten ark, that sacred coffer which held supreme place among the holy vessels of the tabernacle; that ark concerning which the Lord had said to Moses, "Thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the testimony" (Ex. 25:21, 22).
That ancient symbol of the presence of the true King, had passed through many vicissitudes since the days when it had been carried around the walls of Jericho. In the degenerate times of the Judges, it had been superstitiously carried into battle, as though it were merely a magical mascot, and righteously did God mock their impious expectations: "the ark of God" fell into the hands of the uncircumcised. The Philistines carried it in triumph through their cities, and then housed it in the temple of Dagon. But again Jehovah vindicated His honor, and the ark was sent back to Israel in dismay. it had been joyfully welcomed by the inhabitants of Bethshemesh: then, alas, unholy curiosity moved them to look within the sacred chest, and the Lord smote them "with a great slaughter" (1 Sam. 6:19).
The ark was then removed to the forest seclusion of Kerjathjearim (the city or village of the woods) and placed in the house of Abinadab, where it lay neglected and forgotten for over fifty years. During the days of Saul, they "enquired not at it" (1 Chron. 13:3). But from his days as a youth, David was deeply exercised over the dishonor done to the Lord’s throne: "Lord, remember David, and all his afflictions: How he sware unto the Lord, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob; surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, nor slumber to mine eyelids, until I find out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah: we found it in the fields of the wood" (Ps. 132:1-6). He had resolved to establish a place where Jehovah’s worship could be celebrated, a house where the symbol of His presence should be fixed and communion with His people established.
Now that he was established over the kingdom of Israel, David did not forget his early vows, but forthwith proceeded to put them into execution. "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 cherubim" (2 Sam. 6:1, 2). No doubt it was with a full heart that David now acted, with deep longings after God, with fervent rejoicings in Him (see verse 5). No doubt he painted a bright picture, as he anticipated the blessings which would follow the ark being rightfully honored. Alas, how his hopes were dashed to the ground! Sad indeed was the immediate sequel.
"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 cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was in 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 comets, 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 the breach of Uzzah to this day" (vv. 3-8). Some exceedingly solemn lessons are pointed in this passage, and they are recorded for our warning; alas that they are so widely disregarded in Christendom today.
"To bring back therefore the Ark from the place of its dishonour; to bring it again into the bosom of Israel; to make it once more that which Israel should seek unto and enquire at: and above all establish it in the citadel of Zion, the place of sovereign supremacy and strength, these were the immediate objects of David’s desires. Herein he was fulfilling his office of king, in giving supremacy to God and to His truth. But the servants of God have not unfrequently to learn, that the pursuit of a right end, does not necessarily imply the employment of right means" (B. W. Newton). This is the first thing here to take to heart.
"And they set the ark of God upon a new cart." By so doing they were guilty of a serious error. In the fervency of his zeal, David ignored the precepts of God. The Lord had given very definite instructions as to the order which must be followed when the ark was to be moved. Through Moses Jehovah had said, "When the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering veil, and cover the ark of testimony with it: and shall put thereon the covering of the badgers’ skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof" (Num. 4:5, 6). The sacred ark was to be duly hidden from the gaze of the curious, but it does not appear that this detail was attended to by David! Nor was that all: "And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward: after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it" (Num. 4:15); "they should bear upon their shoulders" (Num. 7:9).
The will of God was plainly revealed: the ark was to be covered, staves were to be inserted in the rings in its ends, and it was to be carried on the shoulders of the Kohathites. Nothing had been said about placing it on "a new cart": that was a human invention, and contrary to the instructions of the Lard. David’s desire was holy, his motive was pure, but he went about things in a wrong way, and dire were the consequences. Now there are two ways of doing the work of the Lord, two ways of acquitting ourselves when engaged in His service: strictly following what is prescribed for us in the written Word of God, or following our own ideas and inclinations—or following the example of other men, which amounts to the same thing. Alas, how much the latter is now in evidence; how often are right things being done in a wrong way!
The due order for the removing of the ark had been plainly made known by God in His written Word. Jehovah had given express command that the ark should be covered with the sacred curtains, committed to the charge of a divinely selected set of men, and it must be carried on their "shoulders," and in no other way. That was God’s way: to move it on a cart drawn by cattle was man’s way. Some might think the latter was to be preferred. Some might consider it was such a "little" matter as to be of no consequence. Some might conclude that as their object was right and their motive pure, that even though they ignored the prescribed mode of performing the duty, they might surely count upon the divine blessing. What the Lord thought of their procedure is evidenced in the tragic sequel.
But how are we to account for David’s serious failure to heed the commands of God? What is the explanation of the "confusion" which here attended his well-meant and praiseworthy effort? Let us go back again to the beginning of 2 Samuel 6, and read carefully its first three verses. Notice, dear reader, a very significant omission; observe closely the solemn contrast between his conduct in 2 Samuel 5:19 and 5:23, and what is said of him here. Each time the Philistines came up against him, David "inquired of the Lord," but nothing is said of that now he purposed to conduct the ark unto a suitable habitation for it! Need we wonder, then, at what follows? If, God’s blessing be not definitely sought, how can it be rightfully expected? If prayer does not precede and accompany our very best actions, what are they likely to amount to! If in any of our ways God be not "acknowledged," be not surprised if they lead to disaster.
"And David consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds, and with every leader. And David said unto all the congregation of Israel, If it seem good unto you, and that it be of the Lard our God, let us send abroad unto our brethren everywhere, 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" (1 Chron. 13:1-3) Instead of "inquiring of the Lord," David had conferred with his officers. There was no need whatever for him to "consult" with any human being, for the will of the Lord was already upon record! And what was the policy suggested by the "leaders"? Why, to imitate the ways of the religious world around them! The Philistine "priests" had counseled that the ark be returned to Israel upon "a new cart" (1 Sam. 5:2-11), and now David—under the advice of his officers—"set the ark of God upon a new cart" (2 Sam. 6:3)!