Today we conclude the teaching on obedience to God’s word. It might be a hard thing to grasp for some. Loving God is not an emotional thing, it is an obedient thing. To love God is to obey His word.
On the roads from this small town to Jerusalem, if you would look on a map, it goes through a fairly mountainous range. It is probably the case, more than a few times when that Ark looked a little unsteady and they weren’t sure it was going to make it. Finally, it gets to the point where Uzza is so concerned he feels he better put out his hand or the Ark itself may tumble. He reaches, he touches, he offends God, and he is struck down. Why does God keep doing this? Why in light to what we know is going on in the hearts of these men, why is God continuing to strike down men who appear to be trying to do the right thing? Well, the answer comes from Numbers 4:
Numbers 4:15-20 (NKJV)
15 And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary when the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.
“These are the things in the tabernacle of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.
16 “The appointed duty of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest is the oil for the light, the sweet incense, the daily grain offering, the anointing oil, the oversight of all the tabernacle, of all that is in it, with the sanctuary and its furnishings.”
17 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 18 “Do not cut off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites; 19 but do this in regard to them, that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint each of them to his service and his task. 20 But they shall not go in to watch while the holy things are being covered, lest they die.”
That’s just a snippet of what’s in that chapter. Do you see how specific God is? He says I want these people to carry it. They are not to look at these things. They are to go in under very specific instruction from Aaron. If you don’t follow all this you are going to die. That was in the word of God. God even specified in making sure that family would never cease to exist because He wants those people within the tribe of Levi, the descendants of the Kohathites to be available to carry God’s Ark.
Earlier in Numbers chapter 4, God specified that the Ark had to be carried by these men using wooden poles overlaid with gold. The poles slipped through rings on the side of the Ark. And the entire Ark must be covered with a special cloth and animals skins so as to not be visible. I wonder where David got that idea? Where did he get the idea to put it on a cart and bring it on oxen? I think there are two likely reasons. First, it was easier. It would have been very difficult for a small group of men to carry this heavy Ark 9 miles through mountainous territory,
Numbers 4:4-6 (NKJV)
4 “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of meeting, relating to the most holy things: 5 When the camp prepares to journey, Aaron and his sons shall come, and they shall take down the covering veil and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. 6 Then they shall put on it a covering of badger skins, and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue; and they shall insert its poles.
How did David choose to carry it out? How did David choose to carry the Ark from that small town into Jerusalem? He placed it on that cart drawn by oxen through treacherous terrain and get it back into the city. It is much more expedient. So the first reason David did this was simply that it seemed a better way for him to move it in that way. There also was a second reason. Where a precedent was set. Think about how it got to where it is now in the first place. Remember the way the Ark found its way from Ashdod (the Philistines) to Beth Shemesh? On a cart that was drawn by two mother cows who God used to bring the cart back from the Philistines. I suspect that whatever hesitation David may have had in the first place to use this method was probably put to rest when someone reminded him that is how it arrived at Beth Shemesh from the Philistines. But David failed to recognize two difference between himself and the Philistines. First, God was responsible for bringing the cart back from the Philistines. The Bible tells us the Philistines devised a test to learn if their ailments were the result of the Ark. They selected two mother cows and separated them from their nursing calves who were nearby. When the mothers were yoked to the cart, the Philistines watched to see if they would take the Ark to Israel or if they would return to their hungry calves. The cows went against instinct and walked away from their calves and toward Israel. So the Philistines knew that God was responsible for their suffering and that the Ark belonged in Israel.
The second thing David overlooked was how he and the Israelites enjoyed the benefit of God’s revelation in God’s word while the Philistines did not have that. The Philistines never had God’s Law, they had no understanding of God’s requirements for how to handle or move the Ark. Remember they’ve been looking at the Ark and even looking in the Ark. Up to this point, they hadn’t been struck down by God. They were struck in a different way, they hadn’t been killed. Which isn’t to say God’s anger didn’t burn against them. It is to say with greater knowledge, with greater insight, comes greater responsibility. God tells us in His Gospel, ones who have been given more insight will be judged according to their insight. as believers, that we know it drives the accountability we have before God. That’s a biblical principle. They didn’t know God’s requirements for handling the Ark. Secondly, even if they had known. For example, somebody had told them how to handle the Ark. They had no Levitical priests to go find and ask to carry the Ark. They didn’t have the means to comply even if they had known.
When David looks at that precedent perhaps and decides if it was good for them then it is good for us. He’s drawing a comparison between apples and oranges. What the Philistines did and what God allowed them to do has no bearing on what they were to do as Israelites given what had been revealed to them in God’s word So despite those important differences he’s determined to follow the Philistine example. By following the example of the ungodly world, what happens, he sets aside the Law of God and Uzza dies. It would be fair to say Uzza’s death is on the hands of David. Being the leader, in that case, David allowed it to take place in the way it did, Uzza was sort of an innocent victim of David’s mistake.
I suspect that the church today generally struggles with a story like this. That we would struggle just a little bit with something that seems patently unfair. It seems unfair to us perhaps that God would strike down the men of Beth Shemesh and later Uzza in the time of David’s move when all they wanted to do was worship God. And the joy over the Ark leads them to make a few mistakes along the way. And God seems completely unmerciful in light of those mistakes.
You know what we want? We want God to give credit for trying. We want God to give them credit for what’s in their heart, for what their excitement wanted them to do rather than what their actions led them to do. We expect God to overlook their mistakes. We want to see credit given for desire, for motivation, don’t we? In other words, we want God’s ways to be like man’s ways. That’s what we want. Because when we see someone doing the wrong thing for the right reason, we’re usually willing to overlook their mistakes and give them extra credit. Like Robin Hood, he stole from the rich to give to the poor, so that makes it all good, Right? That’s the principle behind that story, he is seen as a hero and not as a thief. Because we want to see extra credit given for why they do what they are doing. Or how about in our own lives, when we smile in approval as our kids lie to grandma and tell her how much we love her cabbage stew. It’s ok because their heart’s desire is not to hurt grandma. So what I am prone to believe is when we look at a story like this with the eyes we have, human eyes, with our human heart, and our human ways and we divorce it from what God said in His word in His ways and we judge Him in light of how we believe, thinking about how things should operate, we find it a bit unfair. Because after all, it’s the thought that counts, right?
No, it’s obedience that counts. For God, it’s obedience that counts. Remember the words of Samuel when he spoke to Saul the king? As Saul commits offense, after offense, after offense against God. Finally, he broke the last straw in Samuel’s patience and he says this in 1st Samuel:
1 Samuel 15:22-23 (NKJV)
22So Samuel said:
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness (insubordination) is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He also has rejected you from being king.”
Samuel says in those words that the ultimate and purest form of worship can take place only in our obedience to God’s word. For all that we would like to say and think about our lives and think about our behavior before God and our desire to be a worshipping people and desire to be people to love and respect God who has saved us. The reality of Scripture is the only measure God uses for that purpose is our obedience. Obedience is the measure. Because what is a sacrifice, in the case as Samuel put it to Saul? Why did they sacrifice in the first place? What was the point of sacrifice? Sacrifice was instituted to cover sin. And sin is disobedience to God’s word. If obedience had been the way of life, a sacrifice would have never been necessary. I rather you do not make the mistake than have to come to me with a mistake having been done and now you have to cover for it. That was the point he was making to Saul. Because Saul was all about sacrifice. It was the easy thing anyone could do in their own power. And it is much easier than obedience. Similarly, very easy to come into a building once a week, perform the 35-minute music, participate in that, confess our sin and on Monday morning go back to doing what we want to do because after all we just went to church, we’ve got a pass for a week. That we think of our duty here as somehow absolving us from the responsibility to be in worship the other six days of the week.
God’s word stands as an unchanging, uncompromising standard of obedience. And we are not free to alter God’s standard regardless of our good intentions. That was the lesson He was teaching the nation of Israel and their handling of His Ark. God had prescribed a proper way to handle the Ark. And David and the men of Beth Shemesh knew precisely what that was, the word of God had not been lost, they understood the requirements of the Law. So ironically, while they were intent on worshipping God by
transporting the Ark to Jerusalem, in the midst of that they were actually demonstrating the opposite of worship by virtue of their disobedience of how they handled it. Remember Samuel’s words, he said stubbornness (insubordination), someone who runs against authority and against the instructions of those over them. Insubordination he said is equal to idolatry. Obedience To God’s Word
We can make the same mistake David and those men made, even today. We think that God will judge our intentions rather than our choices and decisions. And give ourselves basically freedom to go far from God’s word because we trust He knows we meant well. The church in Scripture is called to worship in two things. Remember? In Spirit and in Truth. Which essentially means to worship first in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. According to the Spirit’s leading in the church. And then secondly, Truth is the word of God. Christ is the embodiment of truth. But truth now in our hands is the word of God. But in some churches today, we will find, the power of God in the Holy Spirit has been replaced by the excitement of emotion and experience. Where it’s about what I feel about the emotion of the moment, about the presentation in the room, that’s worship as opposed to the Spirit doing anything in me personally. And secondly, the truth has been replaced in some cases by sort of pop psychology. That heartwarming 25-minute sermon with that cute story at the beginning and at the end and a tear jerker somewhere in the middle. Weaved together just right I can leave with a heartwarming message that does nothing for me once I leave the building. It has no power behind it because it is not the word of God.
God isn’t interested in our good intentions. Nor is He impressed by our better ideas or our improvements on the way its always been done. He’s not impressed with anything but obedience. If you are interested in worshipping God start with that and you will have your recipe. In Romans chapter 12, Paul tells the church: Obedience To God’s Word
Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)
Living Sacrifices to God
12 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
We present our bodies, which means daily, all day, every day as a means of worship to God. By becoming proof of God’s will. Proof here means to establish it, make it known, show it to the world. If you want to show people who God is and what His will is, live it out. In doing so you are worshipping Him. And what you are doing on Sunday, going to church, is just an extension of that. It’s just another manifestation of that. That is what God expected out of David. If you want to see how the story ends, there is actually a happy ending. Look at 1st Chronicles chapter 15, starting in verse 1:
1 Chronicles 15:1-3 (NKJV)
The Ark Brought to Jerusalem
15 David built houses for himself in the City of David, and he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it. 2 Then David said, “No one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before Him forever.” 3 And David gathered all Israel together at Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the Lord to its place, which he had prepared for it.
1 Chronicles 15:11-15 (NKJV)
11 And David called for Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and for the Levites: for Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab. 12 He said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites; sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel to the place I have prepared for it. 13 For because you did not do it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order.”
14 So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel. 15 And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders, by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord.
David said God broke out against us because we did not seek God according to the ordinance. I think that is probably a message the church couldn’t hear enough these days. To seek God is one thing. But to seek Him outside the means in which He provided means nothing. In their day it was according to the Law. In our day we live under the dispensation of grace. So the way in which God has provided for men to seek Him today is first and foremost through His Son. By knowledge and faith of His Son and His work on the cross, we have an opportunity to come boldly before the throne. Apart from that way, it is no different than David trying to carry the Ark on a cart. The intentions of someone who seeks God in the wrong way, being what they are, give them no benefit to a God who said I’ve given you the one way, obey and you will have access. And to those who have come to faith, the same rule applies. He has given to us through the Holy Spirit access to the word of God. To the knowledge, He will transform us into the likeness of Christ.
When we seek that transformation in other ways, outside the word of God, through the wisdom of men, through what the world teaches, then expect much the same outcome as the nation of Israel experienced in their day. You may not be struck down, not in that sense, but you might. At the very least you are going to fall short in what you are trying to achieve. Of understanding of the knowledge of Christ, of the peace that comes from that knowledge, from the opportunity to be in service Him. Frankly, from the opportunity to worship in every sense of the word. David recognized his mistake. He turned to the word of God, did it the right way, and God received it as such. He went into the city with joy, set up residence and became part of the future temple.
Let’s follow David’s example and let’s do it without the stumbling. How about we take out the part where we try to do it our own way. Whether it is individually in our own walk or corporately as well as a church. In all the decisions a church will make, the thought ought to be at all times, are we making decisions that coincide with what God has revealed for the church in terms of its mission and purpose and the way in which it is to operate as it gathers. Or have we started to look at what the world thinks is now the newest, greatest thing, the cart & ox, instead of the old guys and the poles. As a result, we think the new and better idea is going to carry us forward. where the old one perhaps we thought didn’t. God’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. His rules aren’t changing. His good ideas were the first ideas. We only have to see them as such and follow them. Obedience would be our best form of worship.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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