DAVID’S INITIAL ATTEMPT TO TRANSFER THE ARK OF THE COVENANT TO JERUSALEM VIOLATES GOD’S HOLINESS AND ENDS IN TRAGEDY
August Konkel: The transfer of the ark is not a new topic in the narrative, as the chapter division might suggest. The attempt to return the ark is a continuation of the celebration that began at Hebron. All the remnant of Israel that made David king at Hebron is now urged to participate in the return of the ark (1 Chron 12:38; 13:2–3). In Hebrew syntax this is a direct sequence. Though readers are well aware of a significant gap in time between the seven-year rule of David at Hebron and his conquest of Jerusalem (11:4–9), the Chronicler invites them to view events from the perspective of the divine plan for David and Jerusalem. David immediately takes initiative for the restoration of the ark. His initiative is an evident contrast to the days of Saul, when the ark had been neglected for about twenty years (13:3). The presence of the ark was essential to the confession of divine rule. The Chronicler’s history presents the anointing of David and his initiation of worship in Jerusalem as the visible commencement of the kingdom of Yahweh (28:5–6). His history explains the events known from Samuel as the work of God in moving all Israel to inaugurate divine rule from Jerusalem.
Tyndale Commentary: The ark was an earthly representation of a heavenly reality; it symbolized the throne of God and His presence. God had said to Moses: “There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.” The cover of the ark was the place where the sins of the nation were atoned for. The cover was called “the atonement cover.” The Hebrew word is kapporeth, which the KJV renders as “mercy seat.” The LXX renders this in Greek as hilasteérion, which is the word the Apostle Paul uses when he describes the atonement brought about by Jesus Christ when He died on the cross. We read: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” That identifies the atonement cover with Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins.”
Chapter 13 clearly commends the priority David gives to the ark, but it also contains a warning that it was much more than a symbol of the divine presence. The enthusiasm of verse 3 (Let us bring the ark of our God back to us) gives way swiftly to David’s despair, How can I ever bring the ark of God to me? (v. 12). Even David could not take the reality of God’s presence for granted. If Chronicles’ readers wanted Israel’s former glories restored, they too must reckon with a God whose dynamic holiness could not be contained within human limitations.
Andrew Hill: The deadly mishap involving Uzzah (13:9) dramatically and immediately changes the mood surrounding the transfer of the ark of the covenant. The festive enthusiasm and joyous celebration of the procession suddenly turn into confusion, despair, and mourning. Interestingly, the Chronicler avoids all comment on the response of the Israelites participating in the event. What is clear is that Uzzah is struck down and killed by the Lord (13:10). King David’s response of both anger and fear to the tragedy is also readily reported (13:11–12). David’s visceral reaction seems to be based on the assumption that Uzzah is an innocent victim and that God has capriciously shown his disapproval for the enterprise of transferring the ark.
Thomas Constable: The lesson that the writer intended this incident to teach the readers is that Yahweh is holy, so His people should not take His presence among them lightly (cf. Lev. 10:1-11; Num. 16). God’s presence is real, and His people must deal with Him in harmony with His character (cf. Exod. 25-31). It would have been tempting to regard the rituals and physical objects used in worship as common. The writer warned his readers not to make this fatal mistake.
I. (:1-4) GOOD INTENTIONS – THE DECISION TO TRANSFER THE ARK TO JERUSALEM
Frederick Mabie: Although this episode quickly moves from human celebration to divine judgment (cf. vv.8–12), the Chronicler nonetheless maintains his emphasis on the unity of all Israel. Thus David confers with his military leaders (v.1) and engages “the whole assembly of Israel” at Hebron and the rest of the Israelites “throughout the territories of Israel” (v.2). Moreover, David receives support from “the whole assembly” and approval from “all the people” (v.4) regarding the relocation of the ark of the covenant (also cf. vv.5–6).
A. (:1) Soliciting Buy In for the Mission
“Then David consulted with the captains of the thousands and the hundreds, even with every leader.”
Peter Wallace: Notice that David does not merely impose his will. The king does not rule by arbitrary force. He rules by wisdom – and so he proposes a course of action which the people ratify.
John Schultz: The second theme is that of consultation, a special interest of Chronicles rarely found in Samuel or Kings. Kings such as Solomon (2 Chr. 1:2), Jehoshaphat (2 Chr. 20:21), and Hezekiah (2 Chr. 30:2; 32:3), are commended for this, in stark contrast with the failure of Rehoboam (2 Chr. 10:6-14) and Amaziah (2 Chr. 25:16-17) to follow good advice. David’s consultation here allows the Israelite people to take a corporate decision on the central issue of the ark’s future (v. 4). In so doing, Chronicles presents a leadership ideal for the people of God very different from authoritarian patterns well known in ancient and modern times. It is notable that in Chronicles, the kings who consult their people are also those who seek Yahweh (cf. v 3; 2 Chr. 1:5, Solomon; 2 Chr. 20:3-4, Jehoshaphat; 2 Chr. 30:18; 31:21, Hezekiah).
B. (:2-3) Stressing the Priority of This Unified Mission
“And David said to all the assembly of Israel, ‘If it seems good to you, and if it is from the LORD our God, let us send everywhere to our kinsmen who remain in all the land of Israel, also to the priests and Levites who are with them in their cities with pasture lands, that they may meet with us; 3 and let us bring back the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.’”
C. (:4) Securing Solidarity of Purpose
“Then all the assembly said that they would do so,
for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.”
Frederick Mabie: While the loss of the ark is theologically connected with Yahweh’s rejection of the Elide priesthood (cf. 1Sa 2:27–34; 3:11–14; 4:12–22), the Chronicler implies that it was subsequently neglected during the time of Saul (v.3). Given the connection between the ark and the presence of God in the midst of his people (cf. Ex 25:17–22; 1Sa 4:21–22), such neglect is a subtle but significant negative commentary on the spiritual priorities reflected in Saul’s reign. Conversely, the implication of v.3 is that David’s reign will be marked by seeking God and, by extension, attentiveness to the covenantal stipulations safeguarded within the ark. Ironically, the final remark of this section (“it seemed right to all the people,” v.4) seems to anticipate that what was right to God was not being sufficiently considered by David and the people (cf. 15:13).
II. (:5-8) MISGUIDED METHODOLOGY – CARRYING THE ARK ON A CART
A. (:5-6) Far-reaching Momentum for the Mission
“So David assembled all Israel together, from the Shihor of Egypt even to the entrance of Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. 6 And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim, which belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, the LORD who is enthroned above the cherubim, where His name is called.”
Andrew Hill: The point of departure for the processional transferring the ark of God to the central shrine in Jerusalem is Kiriath Jearim (1 Chron. 13:5). The city was a border town between Judah and Benjamin located approximately eight miles west of Jerusalem. The site was also known as Kiriath Baal and Baalah (Josh. 15:9; 18:14, 15; cf. 2 Sam. 6:2).
B. (:7) Fatal Mistake
“And they carried the ark of God on a new cart from the house of Abinadab,
and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart.”
Peter Wallace: But there’s a problem. God had told Moses that the ark was to be carried by the priests – not on a cart! And the reason for this prescription was because the ark of God is holy. The ark is “called by the name of the LORD” – and so if you profane the ark, you profane the name of the LORD.
C. (:8) Full-blown Musical Celebration
“And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, even with songs and with lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and with trumpets.”
Peter Wallace: All during the days of Saul, the people of Israel had allowed the ark of God to remain forgotten in the house of Abinadab – just as Saul had forgotten the LORD himself. Now, “David and all Israel” (note how this phrase is used both in verse 6 and verse 8) engage in a corporate act of remembering, as they carry the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem. And this corporate act of remembering overflows in rejoicing before God “with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.”
III. (:9-13) TRAGIC OUTCOME – UZZA STRUCK DEAD
A. (:9) Seemingly Innocent Triggering Event
“When they came to the threshing floor of Chidon,
Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, because the oxen nearly upset it.”
Frederick Mabie: While Uzzah’s action seems well-intentioned, it is nonetheless an act of spiritual profanity that violates God’s holy space (cf. Nu 4:15). This incident is reminiscent of the situation involving the two eldest sons of Aaron, who likewise violated God’s holiness by offering “unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his [the LORD’s] command” (Lev 10:1). In both situations, the individuals did what was right in their own eyes rather than what was right in God’s eyes and required in the light of his holiness.
Ron Daniel: Saints, this is so important for us to understand. If we disobey the Scriptures and put ourselves in compromising positions, then we can expect two things to happen. One, we will find ourselves in situations where we don’t have time to think, meditate, contemplate, and pray before having to react. And two, we will be judged for the sin that results, because the time to think, meditate, contemplate, and pray was when we were deciding whether or not to be involved in the situation in the first place.
B. (:10) Angry Reaction of the Lord
“And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzza, so He struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark; and he died there before God.”
Rich Cathers: Holiness is that quality about God describing His absolute purity, glory, power, and absence of sin.
Peter Wallace: God struck Uzzah down because Uzzah dared to touch the ark of the covenant. God is holy. And when an unholy man touches the ark of the holy God, holiness and unholiness collide. And when holiness and unholiness collide, something has to give! There are different levels of holiness in the OT. There are some objects that become holy – foods, clothes, etc. – if something unclean touches them, they become unclean. But the closer something gets to God, the more holy it becomes. There is no object on earth that is more holy than the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant is the place on earth where God’s feet rest. The ark is called by God’s Name – the LORD (Yahweh). Nothing in all of history is more holy – until the coming of the Holy One himself!
C. (:11-13) Angry Response of David
1. (:11) Perplexity – What’s the Big Deal?
“Then David became angry because of the LORD’s outburst against Uzza; and he called that place Perez-uzza to this day.”
August Konkel: When Uzzah died, David’s immediate response was anger at the outburst (pereṣ) of God against him (13:11). The great celebration with all manner of musical instruments (vv. 7–8) had instantly turned to tragedy. Uzzah died at the hands of the Lord he worshiped and whose sacred throne he had attempted to protect. The Lord bursting out against Uzzah resulted in a breach (pereṣ) of his family lineage; the place came to be known as Perez Uzzah from that time onward. At that moment it seemed to David that it was impossible to please God. The ark did not make its way to the citadel of Mount Zion that David had prepared for it; it was redirected to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite.
2. (:12) Fear – Inability of Completing the Mission
“And David was afraid of God that day, saying,
‘How can I bring the ark of God home to me?’”
3. (:13) Paralysis – Aborting the Mission
“So David did not take the ark with him to the city of David,
but took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.”
(:14) EPILOGUE – ARK PARKED AT HOME OF OBED-EDOM
A. Temporary Resting Spot for the Ark
“Thus the ark of God remained with the family of Obed-edom in his house
B. Targeted Blessing
“and the LORD blessed the family of Obed-edom with all that he had.”