Moving the ark

After David had overcome his enemies and become king of Israel, he decided to  bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem.

David consulted with the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with every leader. And David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and from the LORD our God, let us send abroad to our brothers who remain in all the lands of Israel, as well as to the priests and Levites in the cities that have pasturelands, that they may be gathered to us. Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” All the assembly agreed to do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.

So David assembled all Israel from the Nile of Egypt to Lebo-hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim that belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD who sits enthroned above the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were driving the cart. And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.
1 Chronicles 13:1-8

But something unexpected happened.

And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God.
1 Chronicles 13:9-10

David was afraid to bring the ark any farther.

So David did not take the ark home into the city of David, but took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of God remained with the household of Obed-edom in his house three months. And the LORD blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that he had.
1 Chronicles 13:13-14

David later realized that the reason for his failure was that the ark was being carried on a cart rather than being carried by the Levites as God had commanded.  He tried again to bring the ark to Jerusalem but this time he followed the instructions God had given.

Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.”

So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD.
1 Chronicles 15:11-15

This time he succeeded.

And they brought in the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God.
1 Chronicles 16:1

The Law of Moses contained clear instructions for carrying the tabernacle and all that was in it.  After the tabernacle was constructed the chiefs of the twelve tribes gave the Levites six wagons and twelve oxen to help them when the nation moved from one location to another.  Here is how Moses divided these gifts among the Levites.

So Moses took the wagons and the oxen and gave them to the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service. And four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder.
Numbers 7:6-9

The tabernacle itself could be carried on wagons.  (It was fortunate for the Levites that this was so.  The tabernacle was made of curtains 42 feet long and 6 feet wide.  It would have been difficult for men to carry them long distances.)  The ark and the other items in the tabernacle could not be carried that way.

On one occasion the ark was successfully carried in a cart.   First Samuel 4:1 to 7:2 tells how it was carried into battle in the hope of giving Israel victory over the Philistines.  Instead the Philistines defeated Israel and capture the ark.  God punished them by sending a plague on them and the Philistines decided to return the ark to Israel in order to stop the plague.

Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the LORD and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.”  

The men did so, and took two milk cows and yoked them to the cart and shut up their calves at home. And they put the ark of the LORD on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh.

Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it. The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there. A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD.
1 Samuel 6:7-14

God judges our actions on the basis of how much we know of his will.  Someone who doesn’t know what God wants can get by with actions that would bring judgment on a person who knows more about God.  The Philistines were allowed to use a cart to carry the ark because they didn’t know God’s commands.  The Israelites weren’t because they should have known better.

The reason David’s first attempt failed is found in this sentence, “David consulted with the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with every leader.”  He asked the opinions of his military and political leaders rather than that of the priests and Levites.  He learned his lesson and did better on his second attempt.  “Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab.”

Churches and Christian organizations sometimes make the same mistake David did.  When making plans they rely too much on human wisdom and not enough on God’s Word.  The Bible gives us an example of how church business should be conducted.

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Acts 13:1-3

A typical modern church would probably have had a business meeting instead of a prayer meeting before sending someone out to preach the gospel.  There would have been reports about the need and discussions as to who they should send, where they should go, and how their work would be financed.  Instead, they started by worshiping God and he revealed to them what he wanted them to do.  Churches do need to have business meetings but if each business meeting was preceded by a prayer meeting to find out God’s will the work of the church would be carried out must more efficiently and effectively.

Posted on August 24, 2016, in Bible study, practical lessons and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Thanks, this was well said.


  2. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God.

    Seems like a rather heavy-handed punishment, don’t you think? How do you reconcile this with passages proclaiming God is merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression?


    • There is no need to reconcile them because there is no conflict. God is merciful but he also requires total obedience.


      • How is striking someone dead in a fit of anger considered merciful?


        • This wasn’t mercy, but judgment for disobedience. Uzziah touched the ark, something that God had forbidden.


          • Right. Which demonstrates that in this instance God was neither merciful, nor slow to anger, nor abounding in steadfast love, nor forgiving of iniquity and transgression.

            Justice necessitates following through with the prescribed punishment, whereas mercy grants a reprieve from said punishment. One can be either just, or unjust; merciful or non-merciful. But one cannot be just and merciful at the same time.


            • God is just and justice demands that all sin be paid for. He shows his mercy by sending his son, Jesus Christ, to atone for our sins by his death and resurrection.

              All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
              (Romans 3:23-26 ESV)

              Today we can be forgiven if we believe that Jesus died for our sins. Before Jesus came people could be forgiven if they believed God’s promise that he would send a redeemer. If Uzzah believed this promise, then only his body died and he is now in Heaven.


              • Forgiveness requires nothing more than an extension of forgiveness. If someone accidentally steps on my toes or cuts ahead of me in traffic, I simply pardon their carelessness and move on without demanding a blood sacrifice in exchange. So why would an all-wise and all-powerful being deem it necessary to engage in such a pointless exercise?

                Moreover, how is punishing the innocent for the transgressions of others (aka scapegoating) just or merciful? Would it have satisfied justice if Judge Edward D. Cowart had executed one of his own daughters in lieu of sentencing Ted Bundy? Such an act would have defied the very tenets of western jurisprudence.

                And how could Uzzah possibly have believed in a promise made long after his and King David’s death?


                • We can forgive others without demanding a payment for their sins because we ourselves are sinners and are under no obligation to judge others for their sins. God can’t do this because for him to do so would be to condone injustice.

                  Uzzah was well aware of the promises of a coming redeemer. The first promise was made immediately after sin first entered the world.

                  “I will put enmity between you and the woman,
                  and between your offspring and her offspring;
                  he shall bruise your head,
                  and you shall bruise his heel.”
                  (Genesis 3:15 ESV)


                  • What injustice did Uzzah commit in (reflexively) stabilizing the ark after the ox stumbled? Who was harmed?

                    Gen 3:15 explains why snakes and humans are enemies but makes no mention of a coming redeemer. Did you post the wrong verse?


                    • Uzzah and all the others involved in moving the ark were disobeying God’s commands as to how the ark should be moved. If they had obeyed there would never have been any need for anyone to touch the ark to stabilize it.

                      Genesis 3:15 speaks of the offspring of the woman. (Some translations call it the seed of the woman.) This is a reference to the virgin birth of Christ. Satan bruised Christ heel by getting him crucified, but by his death and resurrection he destroyed the power of Satan, thus bruising his head.


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