8. David Brings the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6)

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James J. Tissot, 'David Dances before the Ark'(1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.
James J. Tissot, 'David Dances before the Ark' (1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York. Larger image.

Saul had become king primarily because the Israelites felt a need for a military commander to lead them in battles (1 Samuel 8:20). At that point, Israel was a loose confederation of tribes who looked to Samuel as Judge and worshipped Yahweh together. Saul united them to some degree and led them in an united army, primarily in defensive battles against their enemies.

However, David has a larger vision for his kingdom. He establishes a new capital city in Jerusalem in neutral territory, designed to unite all the tribes. Under him, the Philistines are not just resisted, but vanquished. But more than just being a successful military leader and diplomat, David loves the Lord.

Under Saul, worship of the Lord had languished. Saul had disobeyed the Lord's direction through Samuel (1 Samuel 13:13; 15:11). The ark had been lost a generation before and never returned to its place in the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 4-6). In his paranoia, Saul had slaughtered the priests who tended the tabernacle at Nob (1 Samuel 22:18-19), and no longer was able to seek the Lord because Abiathar, the remaining priest, had taken the ephod with him when he had fled to David (1 Samuel 22:20; 23:6). The worship of Yahweh was so diminished that Saul is reduced to seeking guidance from the witch of Endor, a spiritualist medium (1 Samuel 28).

David longs to renew the nation in the worship of Yahweh. To do that he wants to bring the long-neglected ark into his new capital city as a sign that the Lord, the true King over Israel, is once again in the midst of his people.[185] He also wants to unite the people, with Jerusalem as both their political and religious center.[186]

Bringing the Ark from the House of Abinadab (6:1-2)

This is not just an idle whim. David brings together "the whole assembly of Israel," as well as representatives from his army, and seeks to get their "buy-in" to a decision to bring the ark back. The Chronicler records his speech to the assembled multitude:

"If it seems good to you and if it is the will of the LORD our God, let us send word far and wide to the rest of our brothers throughout the territories of Israel, and also to the priests and Levites who are with them in their towns and pasturelands, to come and join us. Let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we did not inquire of it during the reign of Saul." (1 Chronicles 13:2-3)

The assembly agrees. As a wise leader, David elevates the restoration of Yahweh worship to be a national goal, not just the fulfillment of a king's pet project.

As you may recall, the Philistines had captured the ark when Samuel was a child. The glory had departed from Israel" (1 Samuel 4:21-22). The Philistines had paraded the ark as a trophy of war in Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron, but as long as they kept it, sickness followed (1 Samuel 5). No Philistine city wanted it. Finally, after seven months, they returned it to Israelite territory on a new cart pulled by two cows. Initially it was in the priestly city of Beth-Shemesh, but because they were judged for treating the ark carelessly (1 Samuel 6), the ark was finally moved to the city of Kiriath Jearim (also known as Baalah), a town about nine miles west of Jerusalem.[187] (See Appendix 7. Locations of the Ark and the Tabernacle.)

"They took it to Abinadab's house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the LORD." (1 Samuel 7:1)

There the ark remained throughout the judgeship of Samuel and the reign of Saul.

Now, bringing back the ark becomes a national event:

"So David assembled all the Israelites, from the Shihor River in Egypt to Lebo Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath Jearim. David and all the Israelites with him went to Baalah of Judah (Kiriath Jearim) to bring up from there the ark of God the LORD, who is enthroned between the cherubim -- the ark that is called by the Name." (1 Chronicles 13:5-6)

Transporting the Ark Man's Way (6:3-10)

Apparently, David didn't seek the Lord -- or read the Torah -- about how the ark should be transported. Rather, his method of transport seems to be similar to the Philistine approach of putting the ark on a new cart pulled by two cows (1 Samuel 6:7). The celebration of bringing the ark to Jerusalem begins with great joy.

"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 the whole house of Israel were celebrating[188] with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums[189] and cymbals." (6:3-5)

Then things go terribly wrong.

"6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, 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;[190] therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God." (6:6-7)

This recalls the severe punishment upon the men of Beth Shemesh for looking in the ark (1 Samuel 6:19). At that time, they had said: "Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?" (1 Samuel 6:20). The Holy God insists that holy things be treated with reverence in the manner he has prescribed!

Notice David's reaction.

"Then David was angry because the LORD's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, 'How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?'" (6:8-9)

  Why is David angry? The text doesn't tell us, but we can surmise two reasons:

  1. Misunderstood. David has done this with the best of intentions. He loves the Lord and wants Yahweh to be honored in Israel's capital of Jerusalem. His motives are right, he feels, so why would God bring judgment? He has been misunderstood.
  2. Humiliated. David has been publicly humiliated. The national celebration he has planned in front of 30,000 onlookers has ended with disaster, as if God doesn't approve of moving the ark. In people's eyes, David's relationship with God is being questioned.

David is angry, but he isn't stupid. He sends everyone home -- if they haven't fled already -- and makes arrangements to move the ark to the nearby home of Obed-Edom the Gittite. In this case, the Gath referred to is probably not the nearby Philistine city of Gath, but rather the Levitical city of Gath-Rimmon, a few miles east of Joppa (Joshua 21:24; 1 Chronicles 6:59).[191] This is likely, because we hear later of an Obed-Edom who is a prominent Levite who had seven sons, "for God had blessed Obed-Edom." (1 Chronicles 26:5),[192] seemingly referring to the next verse in our text:

"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." (6:11)

Q1. (2 Samuel 6:1-10) Why does God strike Uzzah? Why is David so angry?

Transporting the Ark God's Way (6:11-13)

"Now King David was told, 'The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.'" (6:12a)

When David learns that Obed-Edom is being blessed with the "dangerous" ark at his house, David realizes that the ark itself is not the problem. He wants that blessing in the City of David! He begins to research in the Torah about how the ark is supposed to be transported, and discovers:

"No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, because the LORD chose them to carry the ark of the LORD and to minister before him forever." (1 Chronicles 15:2)

This is the way the ark was carried across the Jordan River as Joshua led the people into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:3; 6:6). However, since this had been hundreds of years before, people had forgotten. Nevertheless, instructions for carrying the ark are found several times in the Pentateuch (Numbers 4:4-15, 19-20; 7:9; Deuteronomy 10:8; 31:9). Specifically, the Kohathite clan of the Levites is charged with carrying the sacred objects from the tabernacle, and it just happens that Obed-Edom is a Levite from the Kohathite town of Gath-Rimmon (Joshua 21:20-24).[193]

David now instructs the Levites:

"It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the LORD our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way." (1 Chronicles 15:13)

He makes sure that the priests and Levites consecrate themselves according the Torah before this ceremony (1 Chronicles 15:14). Then David tries a second time:

"12 So David went down and brought 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." (6:12-13)

This time, David makes sure to do God's will in God's way. It's interesting that they're rejoicing,[194] after their previous aborted celebration. But David knows what he had done wrong and he has made it right. He and the people come with faith before the Lord and God honors them in it.

Q2. (2 Samuel 6:11-13) How should the ark have been transported? How are Uzzah and David responsible if they don't know the provisions of the Mosaic Law? What does David's mistake in this incident teach us about seeking to do God's will?

David Dances before the Lord (6:14)

David leads his people in worship in the procession.

"David, wearing a linen ephod, danced[195] before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets." (6:14)

David is personally absorbed in joyful worship of his God. This is not some formal exercise, but worship from the heart -- and with the arms, legs, and feet. David is dancing, and doesn't seem to care that it might seem undignified. When David's wife Michal questions him about behavior below the dignity of a king, he responds:

"I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes...." (6:22)

A few years ago, Matt Redman wrote "Undignified." I have never really liked the song, but I must admit that the lyrics reflect the scripture rather accurately:

"I will dance, I will sing
To be mad for my King.
Nothing, Lord, is hindering
The passion in my soul

And I'll become even more
Undignified than this.
Some would say it's foolishness but
I'll become even more
Undignified than this."[196]

Often we are inhibited in our worship by what others might think of us. What will people think if I say "Amen" or if I lift my hands in worship? What will people think if I am so entranced with worship that I forget everyone around me and just focus on Him? It is before the Lord that we worship!

Free church Protestants don't understand Anglicans, Lutherans, Catholics, and the Orthodox who worship liturgically -- and vice versa! Pentecostals accuse quieter evangelicals of being "God's frozen people," while the quieter judge the Pentecostals as "holy rollers." Foolishness! Our worship reflects both our culture and our traditions. God had to remind Samuel on one occasion:

"The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.
Man looks at the outward appearance,
but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

When we worship, we focus on an "audience of One."[197] It doesn't really matter what others think. But it matters greatly what God thinks of our worship!

One of the great lessons of the Psalms is the importance of praise. The Psalms were not designed to be read silently, but to be sung out, at the very least, to be read aloud. The Psalms are designed to help us experience praise, to enter into it ourselves.

One of the revolutions we have seen in the church since the Jesus Movement of the 60s and 70s is how we worship God. Praises to God are more prominent now that the testimony songs characteristic of gospel music of a previous era. It is common in churches of all varieties to see people lift their hands in worship as they sing and pray.

Q3. (2 Samuel 6:14, 22) How would you describe David's approach to worship? What does his dancing here teach us? What do we learn about praise from the psalms he wrote? Does what others might think affect your ability to worship? How has God been working in your life to teach you to worship him in spirit and in truth?

David Brings the Ark into a Tent (6:17-19)

David can't very well return the ark to the tabernacle at Shiloh. Shiloh had been destroyed! (Jeremiah 7:12). The tabernacle had been moved to the priestly city of Nob, but the ark had never been there and Saul had slaughtered the town's priests and their families. The ancient tabernacle is now to be found at "the high place at Gibeon" (1 Chronicles 16:39-40; 21:29; 2 Chronicles 1:3, 13; 1 Kings 3:4), in a Levitical city where personnel continued sacrifices.[198]

David wants the center of Yahweh worship to be in the capital at Jerusalem, not in some priestly town. So he sets up a tent for the ark in Jerusalem, in hopes of eventually building a proper temple to house it.

"17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent (ʾōhel) 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." (6:17-19)

Worship in the Tent in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:4-6)

David is the great architect of worship before the Lord in Jerusalem. Compared to the emphasis on sacrifice at the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, worship before the ark in Jerusalem is characterized by praise music, much of it written by David and his musical successors -- Asaph and others.

This passage will give you the flavor of this worship that David instituted:

"He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel.... They were to play the lyres and harps, Asaph was to sound the cymbals, 6 and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow the trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God." (1 Chronicles 16:4-6)

However, David didn't restrict praise-worship only before the ark. Sacrifices continued at the high place in Gibeon -- along with musical praise.

"Heman and Jeduthun were responsible for the sounding of the trumpets and cymbals and for the playing of the other instruments for sacred song. The sons of Jeduthun were stationed at the gate." (1 Chronicles 16:42)

Some see "David's Tabernacle" being renewed in our day. I have spelled out my understanding of this in Appendix 5. The Tabernacle of David Today (2 Samuel 6:17; Acts 15:16).

Michal Despises David (6:20-23)

David is the great Praise Leader of Israel. But sadly, that very praise is misunderstood by one of the people closest to him, Michel, David's wife.

"And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart." (6:16b)

"Despised" is bāzâ, "to despise, disdain, hold in contempt ... to accord little worth to something."[199] When David comes home, happy in the Lord, ready to share his joy with his family, he is met by a rebuke from his wife.

"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, uncovering[200] in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar[201] fellow would!'" (6:20)

Here is David's response:

"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." (2 Samuel 6:21-23)

David's answer indicates that there is no longer any great love between the two. His response involves three elements:

1. God's choice of David over Saul's dynasty. It sounds like Michal resents David. She had loved him once, when he was the young warrior honored by her father the king (1 Samuel 18:20). However, for years she had been the wife of Paltiel, one of Saul's supporters and a fellow Benjamite. Paltiel obviously loved her deeply, for when she was to be returned to her legitimate husband, David, Paltiel "went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim" (3:16). Though she had been David's first wife, by the time Michal was returned, she seems to have been David's seventh wife in terms of status -- and all the rest bore him children! (3:2-5). Her once high status as a king's daughter is but a memory -- and she resents it! David understands this, and that is why he reminds her that God had made him king in the place of her father Saul:

"... The LORD ... chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel." (6:21)

2. Humility vs. pride. David isn't afraid to humble himself before the Lord. He knows Yahweh's character:

"You save the humble
but bring low those whose eyes are haughty." (Psalm 18:27)

Some commentators believe that David's short ephod exposed his genitals to the eyes of the low-class slave girls when he leaped in dance. That's possible, of course, but I think it's more likely that Michal is objecting to the fact that David takes off his royal robe to wear the simple ephod of a priest, and thus "uncovers" himself as if he were a commoner, rather than wearing the royal robes of a king.[202] The NIV's translation "vulgar" misleads us, I think. The word rêq doesn't suggest sexual vulgarity, only the idea of being common ("empty, vain, worthless"), rather than dignified as a king might be expected to be. Assuming that David is wearing the priestly ephod specified in the Torah, he will also be wearing a linen undergarment prescribed for this very reason -- to prevent a priest from exposing himself (Exodus 20:26).

David had spent years in desert camps fleeing Michal's father Saul. He knows homelessness and hunger. He knows fear and faith. However, all her life, Michal has been pampered as a king's daughter, and later as the wife of an important person the king chose to favor. She knows only luxury and has developed a sense of class superiority that sometimes accompanies wealth and position.

It is significant that David doesn't defend himself against a charge of exposing his sexual organs, as some believe happened. Rather, his answer justifies humbling himself before the Lord. The word translated "undignified" (NIV), "contemptible" (NRSV), "vile" (KJV) has the idea of being of little account, that is abased, or seen as humble.[203]

3. The priority of worship. David defends his act of worship as not for anyone's benefit but God's. Michal sees only the exterior -- because she isn't a co-worshipper, only an observer. God sees David's heart.

'It was before the LORD....  I will celebrate before the LORD." (6:21)

Q4. (2 Samuel 6:16, 20-23) What has happened to Michal that she is so bitter at David? How does her bitterness cause her to misjudge what she sees? Are you bitter towards God about something in your past? What effect might it have on your spiritual life? How can you find healing from the bitterness? What would have happened if David had conformed his worship expression to his wife's preferences?

Discipleship Lessons

What are we as disciples supposed to learn from these chapters?

  1. Seeking God's Way. David brings the ark to Jerusalem, but he doesn't take time to study the Word to see how it should be done. When he consults the Word, God blesses his efforts. We are to do God's will God's way!
  2. Desire to Worship. David sets an example before us of joyful, self-less worship. He doesn't seem to care what others think; he will worship his God! So often we are passive about worship. One of the messages of this lesson and the Book of Psalms is involvement in and love of worship.
  3. Bitterness and Despising. Michal despises her husband's enthusiastic worship of Yahweh because she allowed bitterness into her heart. We should search and cleanse our hearts so that our hurts don't keep us from understanding what God loves and desires of us.
Life of David, Discipleship Lessons in 1 and 2 Samuel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available as a book in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

We have traced David's journey from exile to Hebron and finally to king in the new capital of Jerusalem. He has capped this return to power by making central the joy of his life -- worship. In the next lesson, we'll see what happens when David seeks to take his love for the Lord to the next level -- to build Him a temple.


Father, I want to learn to worship you in a way that pleases You, that allows a humble and loving heart to express itself unfettered before You. Help me. Heal me so that I might worship You truly! In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals." (2 Samuel 6:5)

"David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets." (2 Samuel 6:14-15)

[185] Another reason may have been that since the Israelites had destroyed the Philistines' idols (5:21), David wanted to protect the ark, lodged only a few miles from their territory, from a reprisal (Bergen, 1 and 2 Samuel, pp. 328-329). At this point David's subjection of the Philistines may not have been complete.

[186] "Where Saul had neglected the ark and driven its priesthood from him, David established both Ark and priesthood in the official national shrine. It was a masterstroke. It must have done more to bind the feelings of the tribes to Jerusalem than we can possibly imagine." (Bright, History of Israel, p. 201).

[187] Kiriath Jearim ("city of forests") was one of four cities in the Hivite confederation (along with Gibeon, Kepirah, and Beeroth) that deceived Joshua into thinking they weren't nearby neighbors (Joshua 9:17). It had been assigned to both Judah (Joshua 15:60) and later to Benjamin (Joshua 18:28). The city had been known for being a religious center, since it was also known as Baalah (Joshua 15:9) and Kiriath-baal (Joshua 15:60), that is "City of Baal." It is identified with the modern Deir al 'Azar (C.E. DeVries, "Kiriath-Jearim," ISBE 3:42).

[188] "Celebrating" (NIV), "were dancing" (NRSV), "played" (KJV) in verses 5 and 21 is śāḥaq. "The simple stem of ṣāḥaq conveys the idea of laughter, whether in joy or incredulity. The stronger Piel stem connotes positively, "play and sport," or negatively, "mockery and derision." Here, of course, the sense is positive. The same word used to describe the Israelites' celebrating before the golden calf in at Sinai (Exodus 32:6), of children playing (Zechariah 8:5), and to play tambourines and dance (1 Samuel 18:6-7) (J. Barton Payne, ṣāḥaq, TWOT #1905).

[189] "Sistrums" (NIV), "castanets" (NRSV), "coronets" (KJV) is menaʿanʿîm, "a kind of rattle," from nûaʿ, "to shake" (Andrew Bowling, nûaʿ, TWOT #1328a). The word is found only here in the entire Old Testament.

[190] The NIV's explanatory phrase, "because of his irreverent act," doesn't appear in the Hebrew text.

[191] Gath-Rimmon is identified with Tell ej-Jerisheh on the south bank of the river Yarkon, about five miles northeast of Joppa (D.H. Madwig, "Gath-Rimmon," ISBE 2:414-415).

[192] Obed-Edom later became a doorkeeper for the ark in Jerusalem, in charge of 68 associates in ministry there (1 Chronicles 15:18, 24; 16:37-38).

[193] It's possible that Obed-Edom the Gittite (2 Samuel 6:10-12) is a different person from Obed-Edom son of Jeduthun (1 Chronicles 16:38). We're not sure. However, it looks that way when you put together 1 Chronicles 26:5 with 2 Samuel 6:11.

[194] "Rejoicing" (NIV, NRSV), "gladness" (KJV) is śimḥâ, "joy (both the emotion and its manifestation)" (Holladay, p. 353). "The root ś-m-ḥ denotes being glad or joyful with the whole disposition as indicated by its association with the heart" (Bruce K. Waltke, TWOT #2268b).

[195] "Danced" is kārar, a word that occurs only here in the Old Testament, both verses 14 and 16 in the Pilpel stem, "dance," literally, whirling (Gerard Von Gronigen, kārar, TWOT #1046).

[196] Matt Redman, "Undignified," © 1995, Thankyou Music.

[197] The phrase, "Audience of One" probably derives from a worship song by the same name composed by Michael Weaver (© 2002 Word Music, LLC)

[198] Gibeon is the modern el-Jib. After the Conquest, Gibeon had become a Levitical city in the tribal territory of Benjamin. The name gibʿōn ("hill") suggests a height, and the site is atop a limestone outcropping in the Judean hills (Keith N. Schoville, "Gibeon," ISBE 2:462-463).

[199] Bruce K. Waltke, bāzâ, TWOT #224.

[200] "Disrobe" (NIV), "uncover" (NRSV, KJV) is gālâ, "uncover." In the reflexive sense it can mean "to expose oneself" (Bruce K. Waltke, gālâ, TWOT #350).

[201] "Vulgar" (NIV, NRSV), "vain" (KJV) is rêq, "empty, vain, worthless." William White, rîq, TWOT #2161a.

[202] Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, p. 209.

[203] "Undignified" (NIV), "contemptible" (NRSV), "vile" (KJV) is qālal, "be slight, swift, trifling, of little account," here, ""to be light or slight" (Leonard J. Copps, qālal, TWOT #2028). It is used in parallel to "humiliated" (NIV), "abased" (NRSV), "be base" (KJV) is shāpāl, "be low, sink, be humbled" (Hermann J. Austel, shāpāl, TWOT #2445).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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