June 29, 2010 David Balzer

1 Chronicles 13, 15-16: Parking the Ark

Did you hear about the vision of Mary at Coogee beach a few years back? It got everyone excited. If you stood behind the beach, and looked up on the headland, you could see a white paling fence. And at a certain time of day. And in a certain light. It looked like the Virgin Mary, with a shawl over her head. Or so some people thought.

And Coogee Beach became a shrine to Mary. And people came from far and wide. To look for the vision. And to pray. Because they thought it was a miracle. And that God would somehow answer their prayers if they’re prayed at that particular spot.  Most of us would probably see it all as superstition. And yet people are convinced that it’s good for their faith.

What IS the relationship between visible objects like this/ and the invisible God? Are there some physical things which are valuable to use to help us worship God? Things that remind us of what God’s like. Or represent who he is.

Or is it somehow idolatry? Is there a fine line between worshipping the OBJECT / and worshipping GOD?

And it’s just these sorts of questions that these chapters from Chronicles are addressing. They’re talking about THE ARK OF THE COVENANT.

What we’ll see / is that the Ark REPRESENTS God. It has certain characteristics that REFLECT what God is like. And that as we learn more about the ARK, it shows us something of what God is like.

But at the same time, it never REPLACES God. It is never to be worshipped as God. Or used as a lucky charm. As if there is something powerful about the object itself.

Let me give you a crash course on the Ark. It’s the box God told Moses to make/ when Israel was out in the desert. It was only about a metre long. 75 cm high and 75 cm wide. It had two cherubim on the lid. One at each end, facing in.)

And God promised that that’s where he’d meet with his people. It would REPRESENT his throne. Number 7:89 tells us that Moses would hear God’s voice speaking from between the two cherubim.

And it was called the Ark of THE COVENANT because God wanted it to REMIND people of the covenant. Or the AGREEMENT He’d made with Israel.

And God told Moses to put the Ten Commandments into the box. The two stone tablets. That was to remind Israel of THEIR SIDE of the agreement. How they could please God.

And as Israel moved through the desert, the Ark would lead the way. Because it REPRESENTED God. Represented that God was leading them.

But somehow, over the years, its meaning changed. And people saw it more as a good-luck charm. It didn’t REPRESENT God anymore. They thought it had power on its own.

And so in Samuel’s time, the people had taken the Ark with them into battle against the Philistines. But they didn’t bother asking God what HE thought. And because they made the mistake of thinking that it was THE ARK ITSELF which guaranteed God’s presence, they got beaten. The Philistines won. And captured the Ark.

And that’s where it stayed for a while. Until things started to go wrong for the Philistines. Their idols fell over and broke. The people developed tumours. Many died. There was a plague of rats. All curses that GOD was bringing because they had the Ark.

People were PETRIFIED. And so they sent the Ark back to Israel. They loaded it onto a cart, and two cows pulled it back into Israel.

And just over the border, they stopped. And the Israelites there couldn’t believe their eyes. So they took the Ark off the cart. And put it on a rock. And sacrificed the cows to God as a burnt offering.

But curiosity got the better of some of them. And they looked inside the Ark. And 1 Sam 6:19 tells us that God put 70 of them to .

And that was enough for them to pass the hot potato along to someone else. It was a nice idea at the time. But more trouble than it was worth. And so it wound up at Kiriath Jearim. Maybe 10 kms down the road. At Abinadab’s house. And it stayed there for at least 40 years – the whole reign of Saul in fact. 40 years out in the sticks. Out of circulation.

And that, more or less, brings us to the start of today’s story. 1 Chron 13. David gets everyone together, and they all agree that it’s a great idea to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. Because the Ark represents God. And He deserves to be back at the centre of Israel’s life. And that’s in Jerusalem.

And David says “It’s about time we do this. We didn’t inquire of the Lord before the Ark during the entire reign of Saul. What do you reckon?”

And v4 says they all agree.

But all this should set warning bells ringing. Because what has David just done? He’s asked EVERYONE ELSE’S’ opinion/ except the most important person. God.

And he even KNOWS that that’s what he should do. He recognised SAUL’S mistake. But for some reason, he’s forgotten to do it himself.

And so they all head off to Kiriath Jearim. Maybe 15 kms away to the east. Towards Philistine country. And when they get there, Abinadab sends his sons to help out. They load the Ark onto a cart. After all that’s what they Philistines did!

Why do people follow the example of the very WORST people? Follow a bad example, and things are bound to go wrong.

David follows Saul’s example. And the people at Kiriath Jearim follow the Philistine’s example. And you can be sure things aren’t going to turn out well.

Although they do START well. There’s cheering and music and dancing and singing. This is a great occasion. They’ve got the full big band. And v8 tells us they were celebrating with ALL THEIR MIGHT.

And all of this tells us that the ark is VALUABLE AND IMPORTANT. In fact, there’s nothing MORE valuable and important. Because the Ark REPRESENTS God. And there’s nothing more valuable and important to Israel than God himself.

But look at v9. When things start to go pear-shaped.

(1 Chr 13:9-10 NIV)  When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. {10} The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.

One minute everyone’s cheering because the important and valuable ark is coming home. And the next, there’s stunned silence. Because God has acted. Executed the punishment. Because the Ark represents God. And it shows us his wrath. His anger.

And David can’t work it out. He thought God was on his side. That he’d got everything figured out. And so he’s angry at God.

But it doesn’t take him long to realise that ANGER won’t get him too far with God. And so his anger turns to FEAR. Verse 12.

(1 Chr 13:12 NIV)  David was afraid of God that day and asked, “How can I ever bring the ark of God to me?”

David’s emotions have changed from EXCITED JOY to AWESOME FEAR. All in a few moments. Perhaps he was TOO friendly with God. And approached too easily.

And now he realises that he needs to approach God more cautiously. With more reverence. On God’s terms.

(Is that something WE need to be careful of. That we don’t approach God too flippantly? Too casually? Too confident in our own abilities? Or thinking we’ve got God all figured out?)

And so David wonders how he can EVER bring the Ark to Jerusalem. And he puts it in the “too-hard basket”. He leaves the Ark at the house of a guy called Obed-Edom. Imagine the scene. Obed-Edom answers a knock on his door. He recognises King David. All these nervous-looking servants looking over his shoulder. “Oh, Your majesty what can I do for you?”

“Well, I’ve got this Ark here. And God’s just killed someone who touched it. I’m not sure what to do with it. So I’d like to leave it with you for awhile. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

Obed-Edom probably wasn’t too keen to take him up on the offer. But here’s the funny thing. The Ark was a means of BLESSING as well as cursing. Because Obed-Edom was BLESSED for the three months he had the Ark.

We don’t know why. We don’t know HOW he was different from anyone else. But that’s the thing about God. He is the wrathful, holy, jealous God who punishes SOME. But he is also the God who BLESSES those who obey him.

And for some reason – that included Obed-Edom.

Meanwhile, David goes back to Jerusalem. And does some homework. And this time he learns his lesson. Flip over to Ch 15 v1

(1 Chr 15:1-2 NIV)  After David had constructed buildings for himself in the City of David, he prepared a place for the ark of God and PITCHED A TENT FOR IT. {2} Then David said, “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.”

He’s actually decided to ask GOD what he thinks about the plans. And look down to v12. David’s instructions to the priests.

(1 Chr 15:12-13 NIV)  He said to them, “You are the heads of the Levitical families; you and your fellow Levites are to CONSECRATE yourselves and bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place I have prepared for it. {13} 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.”

And this time David gets it right. The Ark is holy. Because God is holy. And so the priests need to prepare themselves. Purify themselves.

And THIS TIME, things go without a hitch. Which is a big relief for everyone. And once again, there’s a wonderful celebration. Full band. Dancing. Singing.

In fact, David even writes a special song for the occasion. It’s there from v8 of Ch 16. And it tells us what David’s learned about God from this episode. And it’s exactly the lessons that the Ark was MEANT to teach. To point people toward WHO GOD IS. And WHAT HE’S DONE FOR HIS PEOPLE.

Let’s skip through some of the ideas. WHO GOD IS. And WHAT HE’S DONE FOR HIS PEOPLE. Verse 8. “Give thanks to the Lord. Praise him” David says. Why? V9. Because of HIS WONDERFUL ACTS.

V12. “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced”

And in particular/ the things he’s done FOR HIS PEOPLE. Look at v15.

(1 Chr 16:15-18 NIV)  He remembers HIS COVENANT forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, {16} the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. {17} He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: {18} “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.”

But he’s not just confined to Israel. He’s bigger than that. He’s the God of the WHOLE EARTH. He MADE IT. It’s a mistake to think There’s no way that he’s ACTUALLY SITTING on the Ark. Don’t make THAT mistake. That’s what David says from v23.

(1 Chr 16:23-28 NIV)  Sing to the LORD, ALL THE EARTH; proclaim his salvation day after day. {24} Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among ALL PEOPLES. {25} For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above ALL GODS. {26} For all the gods of the nations are idols, BUT THE LORD MADE THE HEAVENS. {27} Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy IN HIS DWELLING PLACE. {28} Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength,

And v30. “Tremble before him all the earth” David learned THAT lesson first-hand.

And it’s all these things that WE can learn from the Ark, too. Because the Ark REPRESENTED God. And TAUGHT us, and REMINDED us about him.

But we should never make the mistake of confusing visible objects (like the Ark) with the invisible God. Objects or places have no power in themselves. Special things or locations might be HELPFUL and USEFUL. But they’re not COMPULSORY. Or ESSENTIAL. We can’t guarantee God’s approval simply because we use a certain object, or pray in a certain place.

And that’s a mistake that people make today. Objects and places might be HELPFUL and USEFUL. But they’re not COMPULSORY. Or ESSENTIAL.

We’ve had people come HERE, and say that we’re not a REAL church because we don’t meet in a real church building. “But our God made THE HEAVENS” says David. “How could a BUILDING contain him?”

Some people think it’s not real unless the minister wears certain clothes. Or uses certain words. But God isn’t a genie in a bottle. Who you can control and manage. As long as you use the right words, or objects, in the right places. He’s the God of the whole universe. He made it all. And he doesn’t give in to OUR every demand. Just because we have certain objects. Or use certain words.

But that doesn’t mean we can approach God ANY way WE LIKE. David learned THAT lesson. We must come to God on HIS TERMS.

But it’s not with objects, or words, or in particular places. There’s no ritual, or magic words, or special constume or building. And King David worked THAT out for himself, too. Listen to what he said in Psalm 51. V16. What REALLY gets God’s attention.

(Psa 51:16-17 NIV)  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. {17} The sacrifices of God are A BROKEN SPIRIT; A BROKEN AND CONTRITE HEART, O God, you will not despise.

What’s he saying? What makes God sit up and take notice? Is it objects, or places, or words. No! None of those EXTERNAL things. God wants A HUMBLE HEART.

Jesus says unless you become like a little CHILD you cannot see the Kingdom of God. That means recognising the world doesn’t revolve around us. We can’t CONTROL anything that happens. We don’t DESERVE anything from God. We’re nothing more than trumped-up rebels. Rebels who’ve turned our backs on God. But who NEED Him. Who need his forgiveness. And his help. And his love.

THAT’S the way God wants us to approach him. Forget any of the religious trappings we find around. None of those will cut the mustard. None, by themselves, will get us any closer to God.

But that gets us back to a question I asked at the start. Does that mean there’s NOTHING we can use to help our relationship with God? To understand and remember him better? Is there anything TODAY that does the same job as the Ark of the Covenant?

I think there is. But it’s not something someone ELSE has made up. It’s something Jesus himself has given us.

At the last meal he had with his disciples. The night before he was killed. He took a loaf of bread, and a glass of wine. And he said this about the bread

(Mat 26:26-28 NIV)  …”Take and eat; THIS IS MY BODY.” {27} Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. {28} THIS IS MY /  of THE COVENANT, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

The ARK of the covenant/ reminded Israel of who God was, and what he’d done for them. The WINE of the covenant reminds US of who JESUS is, and what he’s done for US.

Let’s make sure we VALUE and USE what Jesus has given us. To strengthen our faith. And make us more grateful to Jesus. To remind ourselves of our sinfulness and need for him. And that we are all united in that need.

Let’s make sure we learn the lesson of David. 1 Chron 16 v23.

(1 Chr 16:23-30 NIV)  Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. {24} Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. {25} For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. {26} For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. {27} Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place. {28} Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, {29} ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. {30} Tremble before him, all the earth!

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