2 Samuel 7:1-18
By Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
That which is honestly meant to be a means to the more effective worship of God so easily degenerates into becoming an end in itself. The devotion which should be given to God alone becomes attached to the maintenance and preservation of the hallowed structure, the traditional ritual, the system of ecclesiastical prerogatives, the power of a priestly hierarchy. Ganse Little, “Interpreter’s Bible; vol. 2”
When God Says No!
During my junior year of college I had the sense that God was calling me into ministry. I didn’t know what that would look like, maybe as a pastor, maybe as a missionary, or something else. I started to explore what God wanted. After I graduated I spent a year as an intern at my home church. I had a wonderful time there seeing what pastoral ministry was like.
The following year I wanted to experience some type mission work. I sent out forty to fifty applications to a variety of mission and service agencies. Some of them were Presbyterian, some were from other denominations and some nondenominational organizations. I sent out applications to India, South America, the Middle East, Europe and a number of other places throughout the world. I would have gone anywhere and done anything to share God’s love and the good news of Jesus Christ. I kept getting back the same answer; “No thank you. No thank you. No thank you.”
I ended up learning about and being accepted as a Volunteer In Mission at a Children’s Center in Buckhorn, Kentucky. I spent a year in the hollers of Kentucky working with kids who for any number of reasons were not living with their families. I discovered two things at Buckhorn. First, the work I enjoyed most was not working with children who had terrible family backgrounds but working in the local church – probably God was calling me to pastoral ministry. Second, I met this cute chick named Tanya! J
I can look back now and say that going to Buckhorn was one of the best things that ever happened in my life. But the truth is, it was very difficult to hear all those “Noes” to my desire to serve God someplace in the world. It shook my faith and made me question my call to ministry. I have a sense that David may have had a similar reaction when God said “No” to him.
David had become the king of Israel, moved his capital to Jerusalem and brought the ark into the city. All of his enemies had been defeated and a royal palace had been built for David. Then David had an idea. Maybe he could build a house for God, a temple where the ark could stay. It would be protected and safe. People could come to the Temple and worship God. David had the resources to make a magnificent and beautiful temple that would inspire people to worship.
He asked Nathan, the prophet, what he thought about the idea. Nathan said “Sounds great to me. Go for it.” Nathan spoke too soon. That night God spoke to Nathan and told him to tell David “No.” God said a lot more than that. We will look at that in a moment. But the basic answer to David’s desire to build a temple is “No.” Please notice that David’s desire was not wrong. It wasn’t sinful. It just wasn’t God plan.
God answers our prayers in a variety of ways. One of the ways is by saying “No.” When has God said “No” to you? A young couple falls in love, gets married and has wonderful dreams for their family. Then they discover that they can’t have children. So they pray. You go to college, plan a career and then look for a job. You don’t expect to get rich but you hope for something that is inspiring and pays the bills. So you pray, but every place you apply says that they want someone with experience. You try to take care of your body. You hope to stay healthy. Then you get a diagnosis of cancer, or diabetes, or arthritis, or some other health issue that keeps you from living the abundant physical life you want. So you pray. None of those desires are wrong or sinful. But God says “No!”
How do you respond when God says “No”? Notice what David did. “King David went in and sat before the Lord” (2 Sam. 7:18a). The ark was the throne of God. It symbolized the presence of God. It was inside a tent in the city of Jerusalem. David went into the tent and sat in God’s presence. How often do you sit in God’s presence? By yourself, just you and God, listening? David also prayed. “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” (2 Sam. 7:18b). This was a statement of humility and praise. David recognized that he was nothing and God was everything. David went on to give thanks for the promise that God had made to David.
When God says “No” we don’t have to like the answer. In fact that would be dishonest. We don’t need to feel guilty. God isn’t necessarily punishing us or rejecting us. God’s “No” provides the opportunity to learn how to trust. Will we continue to turn to God when we are disappointed in him? Will we continue to worship God when we are angry at him? That is faith at its best. We trust that God has something different for us, something better. We trust that God is still at work in our lives. We trust that God’s promises are still true.
When I chose this story for today I thought that this would be a simple sermon about prayer and how we respond when God says “No.” It certainly is that, but as I read and studied this passage I realized that it is much, much more. One commentary said that this passage contains “the most crucial theological statement in the Old Testament.” There are some wonderful truths here about God. Let me share with you two of them. First, this passage points to a tension that exists between the Ark and the Temple. The Ark is a symbol of God’s freedom and mobility. Yahweh, the God of Israel is different from the other gods of that time. To get these other gods to help you there needed to be a temple and sacrifices. Yahweh didn’t need a temple to bring salvation to the people of Israel. The Exodus happened without a temple. The Ark is easily moved from one place to another, and even if the Ark doesn’t move God still moves where God wants. God is free to do what God wants. The Ark is a reminder that we cannot control God.
The Temple is a symbol of God’s centralized presence. The Temple is the place that you know God is present. You can always find God there. The Temple gives a permanent legitimacy to David and his royal regime. The Temple has the potential to be a place of beauty and inspiration.
If you read through our passage you realize that this tension between the Ark and the Temple is not resolved. It starts with David wanting to build a temple, but God says no. The ark is all that Israel needs. But toward the end of the passage God promised that David would have a son who would build a house, a temple, for God. We know that Solomon fulfilled that promise, and through the rest of the Old Testament story the Temple is the primary symbol of God’s presence.
This tension between the Ark and the Temple still exists. Over the years I have worshipped in many different places, from large cathedrals to intimate sanctuaries, from mountaintops to living rooms. For several months Tanya and I went to a new church that hadn’t yet built a sanctuary. They worshipped in a school gymnasium. I know that God was there, but I prefer a sanctuary, a place that is set apart for worship. I like the idea of the church as a Temple. However, we must never forget the Ark. God can be anywhere and we can worship anywhere. The God we worship is not limited to a sanctuary or a temple. God will not be controlled or tamed. God is free to go where God wants. That is what Jesus was all about. He was born in a way that no one expected. He hung out with people who were not religious. He was God, yet he died on the cross. We must live with both the Ark and the Temple.
There is a second theological idea in this passage. God’s covenant with David is an example of God’s unconditional love. In the Old Testament there are two types of covenants between God and the people of Israel. The first is called a Suzerain-vassal covenant. It’s between a king and his subjects. This is a conditional covenant. The king promises that he will protect the people and provide them with land and food and whatever they need to live. But the promise depends on the people obeying the kings laws. “I’ll do this if you do this.” The covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai, through Moses, is this type of covenant. Yahweh promises to be Israel’s god, to protect them and bless them, if the people follow the laws, the Ten Commandments.
The second type of covenant is called a Royal Grant covenant. In this the king gives land or other things to a beloved and faithful servant. It is usually passed on to the children of the servants. This second type of covenant is unconditional, and it is the type of covenant that God made with David. If you read through our passage you get a whole litany of what God has done for David. God says to David, “I took you from being a shepherd and made you a king. I have always been with you. I defeated your enemies and I will continue to defeat them. I will make your name great. I will make a house for you.” There is a play on words here. Our passage starts with David wanting to make a house for God, a temple. God says “No, you’re not going to make a house for me. I am going to make a house for you.”
Finally, God promises that David would have a son, who would become king. Even when that son sins and turns away from God, God would not reject that son. David’s sons and grandsons would be king forever. This is the beginning of the promise of the Messiah, a promise that was fulfilled in Jesus. The covenant that God made with David and the covenant that we have with God through Jesus is unconditional. It is based on grace. God loves you and there is not a thing you have to do to deserve it. In fact, there is nothing you can do to deserve it. It is all grace.
Last Sunday as I drove home I stopped about a half a mile from our house. There was a lemonade stand in a driveway, with a couple of kids selling lemonade, supervised by mom. I admit, I am a sucker for lemonade stands. To me, they are a reminder of grace.
To be honest with you, the lemonade at this stand was not nearly as good as the cup I had during our fellowship time. The lemonade at the stand was obviously from a powdered mix. It wasn’t too strong or too weak – I’ve had both of those at lemonade stands – but it was warm. They charged 50¢ for a small cup and I left a 50¢ tip, not because the lemonade was so great or the service was outstanding. It was simply a small act of grace. I have so many blessings that I don’t deserve. My life has overflowed with God’s grace. Maybe I can share a little bit of grace with others.
2 Samuel 6:1-19
by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
A reverent heart and a dancing foot can belong to the same person. David had both. May we have the same. Max Lucado, “Facing Your Giants”
Dancing and Celebrating
One man was dead. One man was dancing. Both were in response to the ark, and we don’t know what to do with either one.
Most of us have heard of the ark, though my guess is that much of what we know comes from Indiana Jones – the Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you want to see what the Bible says about the ark you need to look in the 25th chapter of Exodus. Moses was on Mount Sinai, and God gave him not only the Ten Commandments, but instructions for building the ark.
The ark is a box, a chest made of acacia wood. It’s about four feet long by two feet wide and high. The chest is covered with gold. The lid for the ark is also made of gold, and on top of the lid are two cherubim, angel like creatures. They face each other and it is between them that God sits. The ark was considered to be the throne of God, the holiest of places. It was a symbol of God’s presence and God’s holiness.
For forty years, as Israel wandered through the wilderness, the ark would lead them and the people would follow. When Joshua led the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land the priests carrying the ark were the first ones into the river. As soon as the priests were completely in the river the water stopped and the people crossed the river on dry land.
What is amazing is that after the people had entered the Promised Land they more or less forgot the ark. At one point the Philistines captured the ark and kept it for seven months. There are some wonderful stories about that in First Samuel. Finally, the Philistines couldn’t handle the ark so they sent it back to Israel. A priest named Abinadab kept it at his house, but it isn’t really part of the story. For seventy years or more the ark drops out of the story. It is almost as if the people ignored God.
Then David decided that he wanted to bring the ark to Jerusalem. Last week we looked at the story of David becoming the King of Israel and making Jerusalem the capital and unifying the kingdom. By bringing the ark to Jerusalem he strengthened his role as king and brought a religious legitimacy to it. He made changes in how Israel was governed and the ark would have brought the support of the conservative religious leaders. He brought a spiritual reformation to the Israelite faith. However, this was not an easy transition. It came at a great cost.
David and all the people who were with him went to Abinadab’s house. They put the ark on a new cart, pulled by some oxen, and headed for Jerusalem. Uzzah and Ahio, Abinadab’s sons, were in charge. Ahio walked in front of the cart, leading the oxen, and Uzzah walked beside it. David and the people of Israel went in front of the cart and danced.
The Hebrew isn’t clear exactly what happened. At one point the oxen stumbled, or the cart hit a bump and the ark started to tip. Uzzah, who was walking beside the cart, reached out and steadied the ark. God got mad at Uzzah for touching the ark and killed him right on the spot.
David’s reaction was very real. First he got angry with God for killing Uzzah. I have the sense that many people are uncomfortable with the idea of getting angry at God. It seems like a lack of respect and a lack of faith. David didn’t have any problem getting mad at God. In fact if you read the psalms it becomes clear that anger at God is a normal and healthy part of faith. Things happen in life that don’t make sense, things that we don’t like. A natural response, a faithful response, is to get angry.
David also became afraid of God. He recognized God’s holiness and his own unworthiness. He refused to take the ark to Jerusalem. It ended up staying at Obed-edom’s house for three months.
What do you do with a story like this? One man is dead, simply because he touched the ark, trying to keep it from falling. I doubt it is in the top ten favorite Biblical stories, or even the top one hundred. It makes us uncomfortable. We’d rather ignore it or even get rid of it. Many of the commentaries try to explain it away by saying that Uzzah was a priest and should have known better. There were laws about how the ark was to be transported. The ark had rings on the base of it. Poles were supposed to be put through the rings and the ark was supposed to be carried by priests on their shoulders, not hauled on a cart. In other words what happened to Uzzah was his own fault for not knowing or following the law.
That may be true, but this story is still very disturbing. Killing Uzzah because he didn’t follow the laws seems rather extreme. Isn’t the God we worship filled with love and mercy? Maybe smite Uzzah with leprosy for a couple of weeks, give him some food poisoning or have him sprain his ankle so he can’t lead the procession. But to kill him – that seems like overkill – literally.
This story points to a truth that has essentially been lost in our time. The God we worship is holy and dangerous. We must not be too casual or too comfortable with God. We need a healthy fear of God, because our lives might be threatened if we lose that fear.
To be honest with you, I’m not sure what that looks like for our lives. On the one side we want to avoid an unhealthy fear of God. We don’t want a fear that causes us to be paralyzed or legalistic, or a fear that causes us to withdraw from God. The other extreme is just as dangerous, but in our day probably more common. We don’t take God seriously. We ignore God’s commands and God’s word. We only pray when we need God, the rest of the time we pay no attention to God. We try to limit who God is and what God does or can do. God becomes nothing but a warm fuzzy who isn’t worthy of our worship.
Uzzah reminds us that the God we worship, the God of Jesus Christ, is the Creator and Lord of the universe. God is almighty and majestic, far greater than we can imagine. Our God is a god of judgment and salvation. Our God is dangerous and holy. We need a healthy fear of God.
About three months later David decided to bring the ark to Jerusalem. This time it was done properly. Priests carried it. Every six steps they stopped and offered a sacrifice to God. As the ark moved into Jerusalem people made all sorts of noise, shouting, singing, playing trumpets and banging drums. David danced in front of the ark with all his might, wearing nothing but a linen ephod. An ephod is like an apron that a priest would wear for religious ceremonies.
When the ark got into the city they put it into a tent and offered sacrifices. David took the food from the sacrifices and gave it to all the people. Everyone was blessed by the presence of the ark.
I want to share with you an illustration that is not intended as a political statement. It could be said of any president, so please don’t take this as a pro-Obama or anti-Obama statement. The past week or so have been pretty good for President Obama. Several Supreme Court decisions went his way. Congress voted for some of the actions that the President wanted. His eulogy at the funeral in Charleston was very positive and uplifting.
Imagine President Obama celebrating by wearing boxer shorts and doing cartwheels around Washington D.C.! That is an image that doesn’t seem possible. But essentially, that is what David did as the ark was brought into Jerusalem. Everyone was celebrating with David, except his wife. Then he made himself even more popular by handing out the food that was sacrificed. Everyone was blessed.
I believe that the lesson for us is that Christians should celebrate in a way that is extravagant and energetic. Our worship should be a celebration, filled with such passion and power that people will be excited about coming to worship. Worship should be the highlight of every week because it is filled with life, with energy and joy. Members and visitors will come to church just because it is the place to be, it’s a place where people will encounter our holy God, a place where people will be lifted out of their ordinary lives and filled with love and power.
The problem is that we are Presbyterians. I don’t want to get into a whole discussion about worship, but I think it is safe to say that, as a whole, Presbyterians are not known as having expressive and passionate worship. There are exceptions to that, but not many of us are comfortable with shouting “Amen.”
Tony Campolo tells the story of a church down south before the civil war. The white people all sat on the main floor and the African-Americans sat in the balcony. There was one slave named Frank who constantly interrupted the worship with shouts of “Amen” or “Praise the Lord” whenever the preacher said something good. Frank’s master got irritated with the interruptions but Frank just couldn’t help himself. Finally, the master told Frank that he would buy him a new pair of boots if he would stay silent all the way through a sermon. Frank desperately needed new boots so he was determined to stay quiet, no matter how good the sermon was.
That Sunday the pastor preached an exceptionally good sermon about all that God had done for us through Jesus Christ. Frank struggled hard not to say anything during the sermon. Every time he was tempted to shout out he would think about those new boots. In his heart he was shouting “Hallelujah!” but he kept his mouth shut. Toward the end of the sermon the preacher said something so wonderful about God that Frank just couldn’t control himself. He stood up and shouted, “Boots or no boots – Praise the Lord!”
Most of us aren’t comfortable using our bodies in worship. There aren’t too many Presbyterians who raise their hands or dance. Other than a black Presbyterian church I went to in college I don’t remember being in a Presbyterian worship service where people danced in the aisles.
So here is what I want you to do. First, I would like everyone to stand up – if you are able. Now, I invite you to raise your hands over your head, like you are surrendering, which is what worship is. Or, if you are a football fan, celebrate a touchdown. We are celebrating something even greater than six points. I’m not going to ask anyone to dance in the aisles, but would like everyone to turn around one time, with your hands up in the air.
I thought about asking Ron to play the hokey pokey – “turn yourself around.” Instead, let’s celebrate God’s love in Jesus by singing Lord of the Dance. I danced in the morning.