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David's Triumph and Tragedy (2): 2 Samuel 5-6

H A Barnes, Westhoughton

What Jerusalem became

We have previously seen the natural ability and the spiritual insight that David displayed in taking the fortress of Zion and rebuilding Jerusalem. Here we are going to examine first the enduring results of that great work, and then we shall see the great setback he experienced in trying to bring the ark into Jerusalem the wrong way.

When he had captured Zion, David called it his city, the City of David, and it is by that name it is mentioned nearly 50 times in Scripture, while it is called Mount Zion only 18 times. After David's victory, many blessed things could be said about the city: Jerusalem was later called "the city of the great King" (Mt 5.35), "the holy city" (Is 52.1, Mt 4.5; 27.53), and even "Ariel" meaning "the lion of God" (Is 29.1,2,7). It was beautifully situated, with the surrounding mountains as its security: "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people" (Ps 125.2); it was "Zion, the perfection of beauty" (Ps 50.2; Lam 2.15); and "Zion, the city of our solemnities" (Is 33.20).

It was always associated with peace. It might well have been the city of Melchizedek, king of Salem (meaning peace) (Gen 14.18). "In Salem also is his tabernacle" (Ps 76.2), and, "in this place will I give peace" (Hag 2.9). But as always there are two sides to things, so human responsibility says, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Ps 122.6).

The Lord's thoughts of Jerusalem

Of course, behind this human story is God's own sovereign will. Psalm 132.13 tells us that "the Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation", so Jehovah had always wanted this place, no doubt from the foundation of the earth, and He had been denied it by Israel and Judah's weakness and sin. Jehovah's throne and David's throne being in the same place is a picture of the Millennium (Micah 4.2), when many nations shall come to Zion. So David's thoughts had come into line with God's thoughts; he was indeed a man after His own heart: "The Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart" (1 Sam 13.14), and then, "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will" (Acts 13.22).

But what was it specifically for God? This is revealed to us in descriptions such as, "my holy hill of Zion (Ps 2.6); "mount Zion which he loved" (Ps 78.68); "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings [tabernacles] of Jacob" (Ps 87.2). God will not change His mind about it, for "a Lamb stood on the mount Sion" (Rev 14.1), and in the Millennium, "The name of the city from that day shall be, THE LORD IS THERE [JEHOVAH SHAMMAH]" (Ezek 48.30-35), when Zion will be "the joy of the whole earth" (Ps 48.2). See also Isaiah 1.27; 2.3; 4.1-6; Joel 3.16; Zechariah 1.16-17; 8.3-8; Romans 11.26.

The new cart

The ark was then in Baale (otherwise called Baalah or Kirjath-jearim) in Judah, where it had been left since the Philistines had sent it back on their new cart. David took his thirty thousand chosen men, and with "all the people" (2 Sam 6.2), went to bring the ark. The Scofield Reference Bible says this incident is about "Doing the right thing the wrong way", and adds as a note that "blessing does not follow even the best intentions in the service of God, except as that service is rendered in God's way…God had given explicit directions how the ark should be borne (Num 4.1-15), but David adopted a Philistine expedient". Eventually, an acknowledgement was made that they had done it the wrong way: "we sought him not after the due order [proper way, Scofield]" (1 Chr 15.13). When they followed David's own ideas, the oxen stumbled, causing Uzzah to try to steady the ark, but this brought God's instant judgment (2 Sam 6.1-11; 1 Chr 13.9-14). However, when they then did it the right way "God helped the Levites that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord" (1 Chr 15.26). Even before this, David had half corrected himself, when he carried the ark into the house of Obededom the Gittite (2 Sam 6.10), but had not yet used the Levites as far as we are told.

No one will doubt the sincerity of David and those with him in the venture; his desire was indeed to do the right thing with the ark. Nor do we doubt his great display of human wisdom in going as far as a new cart, indicating that he would never think of using an old cart. However, God is best served in His revealed way, not by copying the Philistines (the world), or thinking up our own ideas. If we award full marks to David in chapter 5, then it must be no marks for David in chapter 6.

Lessons for us today

In both incidents we have considered, David undoubtedly sought to do what he thought was right. In the first he was doing unfinished business from the past in completing work that should have been done hundreds of years before. Human resourcefulness was called for, and his natural skill as a military tactician was well applied. There are times when we have to use our human initiative, as given and guided by God. However, there are also times when we should simply obey God's revealed Word that "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Sam 15.22), however much we think we can improve on it. We, too, are always in need of divine mercy, from first to last, for none of us is above making mistakes (James 3.2); Paul salutes Timothy with the words, "Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (2 Tim 1.2).

There are many things that have not been entered into by believers for a very long time, but God is still waiting for us to take up His Bible promises, whether on a personal or a collective level. The earlier failure of other believers should be no discouragement to us. However, at the same time, while we should seek to do what other believers have left undone, we should not copy what unbelievers have done before us, even in seeming spiritual observances, in seeking to serve God in their native darkness.



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