Notes for teaching on 2 Samuel 6, a portion of which is featured in Explore the Bible, Summer 2018, Session 3.
Note: The key texts for the Explore the Bible curriculum are 2 Sam 5:9-12; 6:12-19. I have chosen to focus on chapter 6 in order take in the entire story of David’s moving of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
David moves the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, also known as the “City of David,” and places all of his kingly standing in God’s hands.
The passage is applicable today because it prompts us to reflect on fear/respect, worship, and trust.
Notes on the Text
(Quotations taken from the NIV)
1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2 He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
At this point in the story, David has consolidated his authority in Israel. Beyond gaining the backing of the northern tribes through the messy process with Abner and Ish-Bosheth (2 Sam 3-4), David has also conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city (2 Sam 6-16). Now he moves to give the Ark of the Covenant a new home in his capital city of Jerusalem.
To understand the significance of this move by David, we must first understand the significance of the ark itself. As its name suggests, the Ark of the Covenant was an important symbol of God’s covenant relationship with his people. This was so because it contained (1) the ten commandments, (2) a piece of manna, and (3) the staff of Aaron. Thus, the ark functioned as a tangible reminder of God’s covenant with Israel (based on the ten commandments), God’s provision for his people (the manna was their food in the time of wilderness wandering), and God’s specific means of interacting with his people (the priesthood). Beyond this, God’s presence was understood to accompany the ark. As the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery explains, “…the ark was understood to be the throne or the footstool to the throne of God. Above the ark were placed two cherubim with outstretched wings and downcast eyes. God was envisioned as enthroned on the wings. The ark was the symbol of God’s very presence on earth.” As David brings the Ark to Jerusalem, he is giving a new home to one of the most important symbols of Israel’s national identity and to the manifest presence of God himself.
The above in mind, it is not surprising to observe the fanfare that accompanied this move. Thirty thousand men are assembled, the ark is transported on a new cart, and all of the people celebrate with abandon.
As with other parts of David’s story, this moment in David’s reign can be understood both politically and devotionally. Politically, David brings the very presence of God to his capital city. What better way to cement his authority? Devotionally, David may be seen as giving the symbol of God’s presence the honor it deserves. It would be at the very center of national affairs. I would argue for a combination of the two. David’s bringing of the ark to Jerusalem is smart both politically and devotionally. He therefore makes the move.
For background on the Ark, see:
- Ex 37:1-9 – The building of the ark
- Numbers 4:15 – Instructions for handling the ark (and other items)
- 1 Sam 4:1a-11 – The ark is lost to the Philistines
- 1 Sam 6:1-7:2a – The Philistines return the ark, which ends up in Kiriath Jearim (also called Baalah), where 2 Sam 6 begins
6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.
On the journey to Jerusalem, the oxen pulling the new cart stumble, and a man named Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark. Uzzah, no doubt, did not mean any ill by this action. His touching of the ark is interpreted by God as irreverent, though, and God strikes him down. Here we see the holiness of God on display. In Numbers 4:15, strict instructions had been given that the ark not be touched. Uzzah’s attempt to steady the ark is therefore seen as inappropriate even though he probably had good intentions.
This, of course, is a hard passage. Our sensibilities tell us that Uzzah should not be punished for trying to do a good thing in steadying the ark. The key here is to see that Uzzah is not being punished for his good intentions. Rather, he is being punished for his lack of reverence. The ark is accompanied by the very presence of God, and as such must be given the utmost respect. According to well-known rules, the ark was not to be touched. It therefore was inappropriate for Uzzah to touch the ark even though he meant well. In this we see that even our service to God must align with God’s commands. Moreover, the story stands as a stark warning of becoming too familiar with the holy God.
8 Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.
9 David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” 10 He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.
David’s sensibilities seem to mirror our own, as he takes offense at the Lord’s treatment of Uzzah. Indeed, we are told that David, the man after God’s own heart, became angry, presumably at God. Mixed with his anger, however, is a newfound fear of and respect for God’s presence. Whereas David at first moved the ark in celebration, he now questions whether he himself is worthy to house the ark and ultimately abandons the journey.
It is instructive here that David is seen to be in a dynamic relationship with God. John Goldingay explains the incident like this: “When the accident [Uzzah’s touching of the ark] happens, God gets angry, and David gets angry but also fearful. God is a real person with real emotions, and so is David, and they have an overlapping range of emotions.” Thus, God cannot be taken for granted, and his people are allowed to express the full range of emotions in their relationship with him.
12 Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
After three months, word gets back to David that no one has died near the ark sense the Uzzah incident. In fact, God is prospering the household of Obed-Edom, who is housing the ark. This in mind, David decides to continue the ark’s journey to Jerusalem. As before, there is much rejoicing, and David takes the lead in celebration by dancing before the Lord “with all his might.”
16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
As David enters the city, Michal sees him dancing from a window and despises him for it.
17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
The procession ends with sacrifices at the ark’s intended resting place. David then brings the event to a close by blessing the people and sending them away with food. Considering that the first crowd that David assembled was made up of thirty thousand men (6:1), we’re probably talking about an incredible amount of food being distributed. David has been extravagant both with sacrifice to God and generosity to the people as the ark comes to its new home.
20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”
23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
Here we see a heart-breaking spat between David and Michal, the woman who at one time loved him. Michal, who despised David when she saw him dancing, now calls him on the carpet for it. Her complaint is that David has not acted with the dignity befitting his office – he has danced half naked like a “vulgar fellow” rather than conducting himself as a dignified king!
David’s response is sharp and harsh. He basically says something to the effect of, “My dancing was between me and God, so stay out of it! And by the way, the same Lord I danced before is the one who chose me over your father and your relatives to rule. You may think that I have humiliated myself, but the people hold me in high esteem!”
The reason for Michal’s barrenness is not given and can be understood in one of several ways.
- God kept her from having children as some form of punishment.
- Michal was medically unable to have children.
- David refused to sleep with her after this incident.
- Michal refused to sleep with David after this incident.
While many sermons have taken the first tack, I think that it may be better to go with numbers 3 and 4. The Bible never says that God punished Michal in this moment, and marital breakdown is a good explanation for her not having children.
As can be seen in the preceding discussion, David and Michal’s argument can be seen as the breakdown of a marriage. In this, it feels very true to life. Walter Brueggemann argues that we should view the argument through a political lens as well. Remember that Michal’s marriage to David legitimizes David’s rule to followers of Saul. In effect, Michal is a human bridge between the old regime and the new. In this tense exchange, we see David turning away from Michal as a legitimating force for his kingship. Rather, he rests all of his trust in God, before whom he dances with reckless, even humiliating abandon. Michal, our last link to Saul, now recedes into the background as David no longer views his relationship with her as vital to his standing as king. Of course, real human drama and hurt accompany all of this, but David’s turn to Yahweh, messy though it was, is an important piece as well.
Notes for Teaching
2 Sam 6 offers a wealth of teaching themes. Here are a few that I see:
- God’s Holiness: What does it mean to have proper respect and fear for our loving God?
- Worship: What are appropriate expressions worship?
- Marriage: How should Christians today understand David and Michal’s falling out? Was it pleasing to God?
- Trust: What does it mean for us to place all of our trust in God?
While most of these themes are self-explanatory, let me take a moment to address worship since that has been a sore spot in much of the North American church for the past few decades.
When it comes to worship, it is obvious that the people of Israel were often more expressive in their worship than many Baptist congregations today. They celebrated before the Lord with loud instruments (like cymbals), and David dances in 2 Sam 6. While these forms of worship are different for many of us, they are not wrong. Indeed, Michal’s despising of David should give us pause before judging another person’s or congregation’s way of worship.
At the same time, nothing in this passage says that David’s indignity before the Lord is somehow prescribed for Christians today. Yes, David danced. That doesn’t mean everyone has to. When it comes to worship, our primary text is 1 Corinthians 12, which tells us that we should be careful to build one another up in worship. That means we don’t do things in worship in order to draw attention to ourselves. Rather, it means that we sometimes will or won’t do certain things for the sake of the wider congregation. This is the beginning point for a discussion of worship – not 2 Sam 6.
This is not to say, however, that 2 Sam has nothing to teach us. If anything, it shows that true worship can be found in what we would deem “undignified.” Think here of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. Everyone thought that she was being inappropriate. Jesus interpreted her action as a gift of love. Yes, edification is key in our worship. There are moments, though, when we need to allow room for people to be genuinely overwhelmed and even undignified before the Lord. That last part is the key. So long as worship, regardless of form, is “before the Lord” and in keeping with his word, we should give each other a lot of latitude.
A Possible Teaching Plan
- What do we know about the Ark of the Covenant?
- What was it?
- What was in it?
- Who could handle it?
- Why was it important to the Israelites?
Explain: Fill in historical blanks as needed.
Fear the Lord
Read: 2 Sam 6:1-5
Explain: Explain that at this point in his story, David has consolidated his kingship and set up his capital in Jerusalem.
- Why would David want to bring the ark to Jerusalem?
- If this scene were in a movie, what would it look like?
- What is David’s and the people’s attitude toward the ark?
Read: 2 Sam 6:6-7
- Why did God strike Uzzah down?
- Did Uzzah mean to disrespect God?
- Was it fair for God to punish Uzzah in this way?
- What can this episode teach us about our own relationships with God?
- Are there ways today that we might be displeasing God when we think we are doing him a favor or are acting from good intentions?
o I think here of the often vitriolic way we seek to defend our faith and values. Here we are trying to defend Jesus by speaking in ways that Jesus would disdain. This trend is prevalent on social media and at the holidays when we vilify people for not saying “Merry Christmas.”
Read: 2 Sam 6:8-15
- What is David’s reaction to Uzzah’s death.
- Is it okay to be angry with God?
- Does David have a better understanding of God after this incident?
- What eventually persuades David to bring the ark the rest of the way to Jerusalem?
Read: 2 Sam 6:16 and 20-23
- What do you think David looked like as he led the procession?
- Was Michal right to despise David? Why specifically did she despise David?
- What can this teach us about worship today?
- Does Michal and David’s fight feel true to life?
- Why do you think Michal never had kids?
- What do you think Jesus would have thought about all of this?
- What are ways that we can honor God and one another in our own disagreements (especially in married relationships)?
Explain: Explain that David’s reaction to Michal can also be seen in a political light.
- Why was Michal important to David’s standing as king?
- What does David’s choice of undignified worship of God over Michal’s demand for dignity mean for his kingship? Is he relying on Michal for validation anymore?
- Are there ways that we don’t fully trust God today?
Walter Brueggemann’s 1 and 2 Samuel in the Interpretation commentary series.
John Goldingay’s 1 and 2 Samuel for Everyone
“Ark of the Covenant” in the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery