The context of this situation should be seen as David's determination to continue to unite Israel as a single kingdom. In 2 Samuel 5 we learn numerous things. (1) David was made King over all Israel. He was requested to lead the Hebrews as a shepherd, not as a dictator. (2) David made Jerusalem the new capitol of the nation. Jerusalem was not under Israel's control or Judah's control--it previously belonged to the Jebusites. Thus it is a "neutral" city that favored neither side as far as past history was concerned. (3) David made Jerusalem his royal city by having his palace built there. He settled in his new home, married additional wives and added concubines, had eleven sons who were born in Jerusalem (the author named them and acknowledged that daughters were also born to David at that time), (4) and the Philistines were decisively defeated.
The occurrence of David's determination to move the Ark to Jerusalem was his effort to make the royal city also the site of national worship. The royal city, the political capitol, would also become the geographical site of national worship. This would further consolidate the nation as a single kingdom. By building a permanent Jewish temple there, this would become the unquestionable, permanent center of Judaism.
Recall some background. When the Philistines returned the Ark to Israel in 1 Samuel 6:1-16, they returned it on a new cart (verse 7). It was obvious to the Philistines this method was "the god appropriate way" to return the Ark. They seemingly were correct--in ways that only God could have guided/directed, the Ark returned to Israelite territory. The Hebrews at Beth-shemesh were so ignorant in their view of God and the proper treatment of the Ark, they viewed God and treated the Ark inappropriately. As a result, they suffered the consequences--massive death. The last recorded time the Ark was transported with obvious God approval was on a new cart built by the Philistines. When David brought the Ark out of its seclusion to be placed in the Jerusalem tent he prepared for it, he and the Levites again transported the Ark on a new cart.
When the Ark was in danger of falling from the cart, Uzzah touched it to stabilize it. As a result, Uzzah died immediately. His act did not honor God. It violated the God declared method for moving the Ark given in Exodus 25:13-15 [do remember Uzzah's action occurred many, many generations from the declaration in Exodus 25. It is obvious that even those "who should know" did not know.]
When Uzzah touched the Ark, he quickly died. David was shocked! He was both angry and afraid [the original language may suggest David was angry at both Uzzah and God]. Again, place the happenings in context. The Ark was moved at David's request. This was the man who faced Goliath, who trusted God as he lived among the Philistines, who refused to kill King Saul because of his respect for God, and who [even in times of deep distress] knew God's kindness and protection. Before all David's distresses, God obviously was with David. David captured Jerusalem in the understanding God was with him. Even in moving the Ark, David was certain he sought God's purposes. He was (1) strengthening the union of the nation and (2) honoring God. Uzzah's death was extremely confusing for David. He was certain (1) he honored God all his life, (2) he was strengthening the union of Israel as God wanted, and (3) he was elevating the status of God in the entire nation.
With Uzzah's death, many things were called into question. Why did this happen? Was he wrong in one, two, or all three of these things? Suddenly David knew a kind of terror he had not known previous--he was afraid of God! He had been terrified by people, but he had not been terrified of God. His past relationship with God sustained him! He knew God sought his best interest in all past circumstances even when he was deeply distressed. What did Uzzah's death mean? Was God no longer with David? Did God not want the Ark in Jerusalem? Was God not honored by what David did? This incident was not just about Uzzah. In a fundamental, relevant way it was about King David as well.
A confused, grief-stricken, afraid David immediately decided it was too dangerous to take the Ark to Jerusalem. He did not know what the appropriate thing to do was. He decided the Ark again should go into seclusion, so he sent the Ark to the home of Obed-Edom.
In three months, it was reported to David that the family of Obed-Edom was blessed [in unspecified ways] because of the presence of the Ark in his home. Immediately some basic questions were answered for the King. God was not dangerous! The Ark was not dangerous! Jerusalem would be in no danger because the Ark was present in the city! Uzzah's death did not mean King David was doing the wrong thing in bringing the Ark to Jerusalem!
A second time David began bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. Note this time they are "bearing the Ark" (verse 13, NAS). Every six paces sacrifices were offered [this was an elaborate, expensive trip filled with ceremony--all of which occurred because of David's desire, not God's directive]. Evidently, leading this elaborate ceremony was a dancing David who was not clothed in his royal clothing. It was a noisy occasion with shouting and trumpet blasts.
Michal saw the procession and the leaping, dancing King David as the Ark entered Jerusalem. The woman who once loved David and helped him escape the murderous wrath of her father (1 Samuel 18:20; 19:11-17) despised David. After David finished the ceremonial placement of the Ark in Jerusalem, he returned home to bless his family. Michal met him and criticized his actions. To her, David acted in an embarrassing manner, not at all in a manner befitting royalty. David informed her that he was acting as one who honored God, not as a King. He regarded putting off the royal attire, wearing part of the priests' garments, leaping, and dancing as appropriate conduct before the Lord.
The author noted, for whatever reason, Michal died childless.
For Thought and Discussion:
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 11
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