Jehovah called David from the sheepcotes of Bethlehem to the throne of
Israel. One of his first cares, on becoming king, was to obtain possession
of the stronghold of Zion, and this very thing he did. "And David dwelt in
the stronghold, and called it the city of David. And David built round about
from Millo and inward. And David waxed greater and greater..." (2 Sam. 5:9-10 ASV).
It is worthy of note here that David "perceived that Jehovah had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel's sake" (2 Sam. 5:12 ASV). In receiving the blessings of God, unlike many, he did not fail to recognize the God of the blessings. Next, after Zion had been occupied, David desired to bring the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem from Kirjath-jearim, where it had been left after being restored by the Philistines in the early days of Samuel (1 Sam. 7:1). Elaborate preparations were made to bring up this treasure.
"David again gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand" (2 Sam. 6:1 ASV). Someone has well said, "In bringing up the ark to Jerusalem, the king showed a commendable desire to interest the whole nation, as far as possible, in the solemn service. The people, numerous as they were, grudged neither the time, the trouble, nor the expenses. A handful might have suffered for all the actual labor that was required, but thousands of the chief people were summoned to be present, and that of the principle both of rendering due honor to God and of conferring a benefit to the people." It is not a few preachers, elders, and deacons only that should be called to take a part in the service of religion. Christians generally should manifest an abiding interest in the worship and service of the Lord. It does not require a large audience to "break bread," conduct a Sunday night worship, or a Wednesday prayer meeting, but it is infinitely better for all who can attend these meetings.
No one can doubt that it was right to remove the ark under proper conditions, for God told His people how it should be moved (Num. 4:1-16) — that is, it should be carried by the Levites. Also it was right to bring it to Jerusalem. But the great trouble in this case came through the use of "a more modern method" of transportation by David.
The Philistines, in bringing up the ark from Ekron to Beth-shemesh, had used a new cart (1 Sam. 6:7), and used it successfully. So, instead of following the instructions given through Moses, David copied the example of the Philistines. The "new cart" seemed to work well for a while. The procession had reached "Nachon's threshing floor," when the "oxen stumbled," and Uzzah, putting forth his hand to stay the ark, was smitten dead (2 Sam. 6:6-7). The ark was left in the house of Obed-edom, and the thousands disbanded.
Why all this trouble? Had Uzzah sinned in that he touched the ark? Yes, but someone had sinned in this matter before Uzzah. Speaking to the Levites, David said, "For because ye bare it not at the first, Jehovah our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not according to the ordinance" (1 Chron. 15:13 ASV). Thus David located the trouble at the right place. The king and his people had tried to do a good work in a bad way.
It is frequently said that the end justifies the means, but it did not in this case. What matter is it, some of this generation say, if the money has been obtained in ways that are not commendable, just so it is used for the poor or the preaching of the word? Does it matter how or by whom the gospel is preached, if the evangelization of the nations is the purpose? Does it make any difference what is done in worship, if it is all intended for the glory of God? All who speak after this fashion should remember that David could have asked, "What difference does it make how we move the ark, just so we bring it to Jerusalem?" with as much show of reason as they. It is never right to set aside God's way of doing things for man's way.
One great hindrance to primitive Christianity today is the use of Philistine carts in the service of the Lord. They may seem to make some show of success for a time, but sooner or later — usually sooner — the "oxen stumble," and they fail. The modern missionary society is very like a Philistine cart as a means of transporting the gospel. In the use of it, there has been some bovine stumbling, some Uzzahs have been smitten, and, at times, the cart wheels have been badly bogged in the Serbonian mire of "open membership," "institutionalism," and "centralized control." The church is God's only means for carrying the gospel to the nations and no modern organizations will He accept.
David could never have been a man after God's "own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14) if he had been unwilling to confess his sins and make amends for them. The ark remained in the house of Obed-edom for three months. In the meantime David grew in respect for the word of God, for he said, "None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath Jehovah chosen to carry the ark of God" (1 Chron. 15:2 ASV). God's way was employed. It worked. "The Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon" to Jerusalem in triumph and joy. How different the result from that of the first effort! How different the means employed! "As for God, his way is perfect" (Psa. 18:30).