Rejoice with Trembling
Scripture: 2 Samuel 6
1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim.
David intends to bring the ark to his capital city. He knows that the ark represents the presence of God. He later calls it the footstool of God, recognizing that God is the true king over Israel. David knows himself to be a servant of God, the real king. His intent in moving the ark could not have been better.
3 And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, 4 with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.
Despite their intentions, they are already doing things the wrong way. There are two problems here. First, the ark was only supposed to be carried by a particular family of Levites – the Kohathites. Second, they placed the ark on a cart, and it doesn’t matter that the cart was brand new. The ark was supposed to be carried with poles on the shoulders of the Kohathites.
None of that may seem like a big deal to us, but apparently it was a big deal to God.
5 And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.
He had the best intentions. He was trying to keep the ark from falling on the ground. He was attentive and careful. But, as RC Sproul once said, “The presumptuous sin of Uzzah was this: He assumed that his hands were less polluted than the dirt.”
7 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. 8 And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day.
The band stops playing. The people stop singing. The procession comes to a halt because God struck a man dead for touching the ark and it didn’t matter what his intentions were.
They named that location “the place where God broke out against Uzzah.” And David was angry because the Lord “broke out” against Uzzah. The same root word is used four times in chapter 5 verse 20 to describe God breaking out against his enemies.
What this means is that God is dangerous – even with His own people. He is not safe.
This was God’s breaking point. They were handling the ark all wrong anyway. Uzzah touching it was simply the last straw. It was God’s “breaking point”.
The question we all want to ask is, “Why did God kill Uzzah?” Instead, we should be asking the question, “Why didn’t God kill the entire assembly?” He had every right to do so. They had broken all the rules! God was actually very gracious with everyone else, including David.
Uzzah became the object of God’s wrath to teach an important lesson. God is holy and He takes worship very seriously.
As Tim Chester writes, “God is not there for us. We are here for Him.” And He is not OK with us inventing ways to “worship” Him. This is why many Christians feel more comfortable approaching God in a way that pays respect to His holiness.
9 And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” 10 So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.
David was so troubled by this incident that he stops the party and cancels his plans. He went home angry and afraid, without the ark. And maybe that was for the best. This event changed David. Maybe he needed to get his heart right. Maybe he needed to take some time reflecting on the Word and reading the Levitical law before trying this again.
11 And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
Notice that the ark is not a curse unless it is handled incorrectly. It was always meant to be a blessing to God’s people.
12 And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing.
Has David learned his lesson? Was three months long enough?
13 And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal.
Notice the ark is being carried. Notice also that David added sacrifices, which were completely unnecessary. But it demonstrates that David now understood how serious this was. Now we are ready to read the rest of the story.
14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.
16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart.
17 And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. 18 And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings,
he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts 19 and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house.
20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”
21 And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord.
22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
This is a fascinating story, and it reminds me of the plot of the 1984 movie “Footloose”. Michal has a problem with David’s dancing because it was indecent. And she’s technically right. Dancing and leaping and whirling around in a linen ephod was almost certainly immodest.
And this is a good opportunity for us to talk about dancing in worship. Many churches today teach that dancing is not an appropriate form of worship, because it is not mentioned specifically in Colossians 3:16 and because God never gave specific instructions in the Bible concerning dancing in worship.
The Apostle Paul does give instructions for public worship in 1 Corinthians 14. Dancing is not mentioned and at the end of the chapter he says that everything should be done decently and in order.
However, Psalm 149 specifically mentions dancing as a form of worship. And whatever David and the people were doing in 2 Samuel 6 was clearly an act of worship. Notice, however, that it was not a performance, and it was not done in every situation.
In fact, David makes it clear that his dancing was not for the eyes of the people. It was for God. Michal’s concern was what others will think. David’s concern was what God will think.
In light of all this, I would urge us to be charitable with our brothers and sisters in Christ from other backgrounds and cultures who use dance as an expression of worship. If it is not a performance, then it is probably not out of bounds.
But that’s not the main point of the text. We have these two stories side by side for a reason. What do the stories of Uzzah and Michal teach us about God when we read them together?
I think the question that David asks in verse 9 and his response to God is the key. Do you remember the question? “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?”
If God is so holy that one error deserves death, how can I handle the things of God? But, at the same time, God is so good and so full of blessing that David can’t resist.
“I will be humiliated in my own eyes,” David says. “I will celebrate before the Lord.”
In other words, there is a place for both reverence and joy in our worship. And David captures this perfectly in Psalm 2:11, where he writes, “Rejoice with trembling!”
Rejoice with trembling. The joy of the Lord and the fear of the Lord coexist in our worship.
But do they? Is this how we approach God when we worship? Is this how we think of God at all? How would you evaluate your own worship? What happens in your heart when you worship?
Of this passage, W.G. Blaikie said this, “There are times to be calm and times to be enthusiastic; but can it be right to give all our coldness to Christ and all our enthusiasm to the world?”
Most of us in this room don’t really care who wins the Super Bowl tonight, but if you enjoy watching football then you will probably pick a team to cheer for. It’s more fun that way. And some of us get very enthusiastic about sports.
The same men who will shout praises to a grown man carrying a leather ball across an imaginary line will stand quietly in worship barely whispering a hymn. That can’t be right.
We dare not walk into the presence of a holy God under the pretense of worship and give him half-hearted praise. But that’s exactly what we do.
And for many of us, the pandemic has been a season of drifting even further away. We desperately need to recapture the joy of worship, the joy of fellowship, and the joy of our salvation!
But this is not something we can manufacture. I can’t change your heart. I can’t even change my own heart. All I can do is ask myself again the same question David asked of himself.
How can the ark of the Lord come to me? How can the presence of the Lord come to me?
There’s a clue in our text. Did you catch it? David attempted to move the ark twice and something died during both attempts. Uzzah died the first time. Animals died the second time. How can the presence of the Lord come to me? Answer – through sacrifice.
And that’s where we find the Gospel today. How can the presence of God come to a sinner like me? How can God remain holy and choose to show mercy at the same time? Only through the sacrifice of Jesus.
And even though David had no way of understanding it at the time, somehow this box that should have been his curse was instead his blessing. And only God could make that happen by His grace. God does not accept us based on the quality or quantity of our worship. He accepts us based only on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
We could ask Uzzah – why were you so worried about the cart when everyone else was worshipping? We could ask Michal – why were you so worried about David’s dancing when everyone else was worshipping? Why are we so disengaged and disinterested from God and His Word and His church?
What is it that God wants from us this morning? I want to end with some of David’s words in Psalm 51.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.