In the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament for Christians, the separation of God and man was so great that the people were instructed to make special precaution when dealing with holy things. God’s presence was to be veiled due to the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. Numbers 4:4-6 explains, “‘The service of the Kohathites at the tent of meeting concerns the most holy objects. Whenever the camp is about to move on, Aaron and his sons are to go in, take down the screening veil, and cover the ark of the testimony with it. They are to place over this a covering made of manatee skin, spread a solid blue cloth on top, and insert its poles.’” Further in Numbers 4, the author explains “The Kohathites are not to go in and look at the holy objects, even for a moment, or they will die” (Numbers 4:20).
The Presence of the LORD (Attempt 1)
After taking over leadership of all Israel, David desired to reclaim the ark of the Lord and bring it back into Israel’s possession. The first attempt to return the ark began with the ark being set on a new cart and transported to Abinadab’s house. From there Abinadab’s sons Uzzah and Ahio were tasked to transport the ark. Then the story appears to get wild and confusing.
The text states, “When they came to Nacon’s threshing floor, Uzzah reached out to the ark of God and took hold of it because the oxen had stumbled. Then the LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah, and God struck him dead on the spot for his irreverence, and he died there next to the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:6-7).
In response to God’s actions, David became angry. He asked, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?” At this point, David felt anger toward God’s decision to kill Uzzah and disagreed with the outburst against Uzzah. Upon initial glance at this passage, we too might feel inclined to agree with David that God’s actions seemed brash and a bit extreme. However, we must not forget God’s character - that He is holy, just, righteous, loving.
Remember back to Numbers 4 when the instruction of how to handle the transportation of the most holy objects? When comparing how God’s people were instructed to transport the ark with how Uzzah and God’s people were transporting the ark in 2 Samuel 6, it becomes clear that Uzzah and God’s people were being disobedient to God’s commands as they attempted to transport the ark. Rather than carrying the ark, the people were allowing the ark to be transported on a guiding cart led by oxen. Rather than covering the ark, it was left uncovered. Finally, when their decisions inevitably did not work, Uzzah felt it necessary to have to touch the ark to prevent it from becoming unclean by touching the ground. One commentator reminds that it would be better to have the ark hit the dirt, which has never sinned against God, than to be contaminated by the touch of a sinful man’s hand.
Yet, David’s question still remained relevant - how can the ark of the LORD ever come to me? Tim Chester builds on David’s question in 2 Samuel For You, “there is an answer to David’s question. But we need to feel the full force of the question. How can God ever come to us? How can God ever live with us? God is so holy that sin is burned up in his presence. And we’re soaked in sin. We’re like a rag doll soaked in the flammable liquid of our sin. And God is a raging fire. If God comes to us, then we’ll be consumed by the holy fire of his presence” (Chester, 2 Samuel For You, p. 48-49).
The answer to David’s question - through sacrifice.
The Presence of the LORD (Attempt 2)
The second attempt to transport the ark to the City of David showed a different approach toward transporting the ark. 2 Samuel 6:13-15, 17-18 detail the second attempt, “When those carrying the ark of the LORD advanced six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened calf. David was dancing with all his might before the LORD wearing a linen ephod. He and the whole house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of the ram’s horn…They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent David had set up for it. Then David offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings in the LORD’s presence. When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of YHWH of Hosts.”
For the second attempt to transport the ark, David attempted to transport the ark according to God’s instructions rather than trying to do it his way. Immediately the reader learned that rather than having oxen carry the ark, David utilized people. After the people advanced six steps, there was an ox and a fattened calf sacrificed. The way David was able to receive God’s presence in the city of David - through sacrifice.
In both attempts to transport the ark. there was death. In the first attempt, Uzzah died. In the second attempt, an ox and a fattened calf were sacrificed. The penalty of sin is death, and one must be blameless in order to enter the Lord’s presence. The sacrificial system of the Jewish people allowed their sin to be transferred into an animal, taking on the penalty for their sin. 2 Samuel 6 is teaching that the way to enter the presence of the Lord is through a blood sacrifice. This concept is reiterated in the New Testament.
The Presence of the LORD (Jesus Edition)
2 Samuel 6 explains that the only way to have the presence of the Lord is through sacrifice. In God’s plan, He sent Jesus to earth to be our propitiation for sin. The term propitiation means simply, to make atonement. This atonement is necessary to appease the wrath of God and penalty for sin, while also reconciling the sinner to a sinless God. Jesus lived a perfect life and sacrificed himself as an unblemished sacrifice to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sin. The term propitiation is used three times in the New Testament: Romans 3:23-25; Hebrews 2:17; and 1 John 2:1-2.
Romans 3:23-25 states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.”
Hebrews 2:17 explains, “Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
In 1 John 2:1-2 John discussed Jesus’s propitiation as writing, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins.”
Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice that made it possible for sinful man to enter the presence of the Lord. Rather than attempting to do life our own way, when a person submits to God’s authority and trusts in Jesus as Lord and Savior, they enter a relationship with God that deems them sinless and not guilty of sin. Through this glorious exchange, Christians enjoy a fellowship with God and anticipate a day where there will be a royal banquet in heaven in which each Christian will participate.
Even that heavenly celebration was hinted at in 2 Samuel 6 as the Israelites proceeded to have a feast and party in celebration of returning the Lord’s presence to them. Chester commented, “God has come to his people and the people eat a meal in his presence. In every culture, eating a meal with someone is a sign of friendship and community. Eating a meal in the presence of God is the goal of the Bible story and the sign of our reconciliation with God” (Chester, 2 Samuel For You, p. 51).
Might we all be obedient to the Lord’s commands. Repent of attempting to do life our way. Turn to the Lord and trust in His statutes and instructions. Then we might enjoy fellowship with the Lord and look forward to reconciliation and an eventual meal in the presence of the Lord!
*the photo of the ark of the covenant is used from Disclose.TV.