Day 31, Chapter 30: The Price
You may have surmised by now that David, the great psalmist, giant slayer, and eventual king of Israel, is one of my favorite Bible characters. I’ve written about him a good bit in this book. Jesus must’ve liked him, also; He accepted the title “Son of David.”
David’s ultimate success, in spite of his colossal failures, should bring hope to all of us. The “man after God's heart” also went after another man’s wife, and the famous giant killer also caused the death of a loyal soldier – the woman’s husband – in order to cover the affair. It doesn’t get much worse than that. But forgiveness and cleansing are for sinners, not perfect people, and we all qualify. Someone once said, “The only perfect people are in heaven.”
I thank God for His amazing grace. I love to sing the song and think often of its writer, John Newton, a former slave trader. It’s hard for me to imagine a more despicable activity than slave trading. But truth and justice finally broke the fog of deception, and after his conversion, Newton would eventually be a significant voice for the abolition of the slave trade. Later, he penned the famous words:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see.1
Thank God for His amazing grace - and the song. Some historians actually believe Newton took the melody of “Amazing Grace” from the singing of slaves aboard one of his ships. Whether true or not, the irony that the song sang more than any other in the history of the world was written by a former slave trader is, like the song itself, amazing. But the song could not have carried us to such heights had not the man sunk to such depths. And when all was said and done, the greatness of his sin was no match for the greatness of God’s grace.
David would one day need - and find - this grace. But at the time when he became king, David was living a pure life of passion and purity, and he decided that his first order of business would be to move the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. Above the ark was where God’s presence and glory dwelled, and David, lover of God that he was, wanted this right next to the palace so he could make regular visits. He also wanted God’s presence to be the focal point of the nation.
Then David consulted with the captains of the thousands and the hundreds, even with every leader. David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you, and if it is from the Lord our God, let us send everywhere to our kinsmen who remain in all the land of Israel, also to the priests and Levites who are with them in their cities and with pasture lands, that they may meet with us; and let us bring back the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” Then all the assembly said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.
So David assembled all Israel together, from the Shihor of Egypt even to the entrance of Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim, which belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, the Lord who is enthroned above the cherubim, where His name is called. They carried the ark of God on a new cart from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio drove the cart.
(1 Chronicles 13:1-7)
This was quite an undertaking. Samuel’s version of the endeavor says David gathered thirty thousand specially chosen men of Israel to be part of this procession (2 Samuel 6:1). Thirty thousand! He and the entourage were “celebrating before the Lord with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and symbols” (v.5). It must have been quite breathtaking.
Though David is about to make a serious mistake with the ark, give him credit. The ark and presence of God were important enough to him that he wanted this to be a BIG deal. “After all, this is Yahweh, God Almighty, we’re talking about,” was probably his reasoning. “Nothing is too much or too good for Him. In fact, make a new cart on which to transport it.”
And that’s where the problem started.
Because the ark was transported on a cart, pulled by oxen, it wasn’t stable. When they hit a rough spot, the cart shifted and it looked like the ark might fall off. One of the drivers, Uzzah, touched it in order to steady it.
God killed him.
Talk about raining on a parade! The music and dancing stopped, as did the procession. Laughter turned to sorrow, and joy to mourning. A celebration became a funeral. David, uncertain of what to do, put the transporting of the ark on hold, housing it at the home of Obed-edom for three months while he researched what to do next.
The problem, David eventually discovered, was the mode of transportation – the new cart. The ark wasn’t supposed to be transported in this manner, but rather carried by poles running through rings on the sides of the ark. This way it was secure and didn’t have to be touched. And though the process would be much more difficult, priests were supposed to carry the ark on their shoulders. The entire process was spelled out clearly in Numbers, the fourth chapter.
We are left to wonder what the motivation was behind David’s using a cart. I believe it very likely boiled down to convenience. Carrying the ark on shoulders for ten miles would’ve been hard work. Splinters, sore muscles, chafed shoulders, blisters on the feet – all would’ve been the painful result. The long, hard miles up and down the hills in the desert heat – “let’s just let the oxen do it.“ David learned the hard way that, contrary to human preference, ignorance isn’t bliss, easy doesn’t do it, and it’s not just the thought that counts.
The three idiomatic expressions from which I took these statements may be witty, but often they’re simply not true. In fact, they can be deadly. David and his followers discovered that it’s more than the thought that counts. Obedience matters. And they learned that experiencing the Lord’s presence and glory wouldn’t come easy or conveniently. As my friend Damon Thompson once said, “If Christianity was intended to be convenient it wouldn’t have been built on crosses and martyrs.” God’s presence and glory aren’t stumbled onto by happenstance, nor are they found by the casual seeker. They are discovered when sought after, with passion and intentionality.
In First Things First, A. Roger Merrill tells of a business consultant who was moving into a new home. He decided to hire a friend of his to landscape the grounds. She had a doctorate in horticulture and was extremely bright and knowledgeable.
Because the business consultant was very busy and traveled a lot, he kept emphasizing to her the need to create his garden in a way that would require little or no maintenance on his part. He pointed out the absolute necessity of automatic sprinklers and other labor-saving devices.
Finally, she stopped and said, “There’s one thing you need to deal with before we go any further. If there’s no gardener, there’s no garden!” 2
If there are no tired shoulders, there will be no ark.
Our world has become obsessed with convenience. Whether it be our food, travel, communication or gardens, we’re determined to live “new cart” lifestyles. The trend has finally made it to the church. We offer many convenient times, styles, and locations. Because we're so busy we offer the condensed and abbreviated versions. Some congregations are now so efficiently convenient they can serve you your weekly God-connection in 45 minutes, less time than it takes to watch your favorite television show: fifteen minutes of worship, fifteen minutes of announcements and fellowship, and a fifteen-minute message.
But wait, there’s more. If that doesn’t work for you, you can stay at home and watch the service online. “And by the way, we promise not to mention anything that might convict or sadden you. There will be no sin talked about, no grieving over the lost, and no mention of social or moral injustices such as abortion or human trafficking. We strive to make it quick, easy, and pleasant.” I’m waiting for attendance “indulgences” to be sold: “Throw in an extra twenty bucks this Sunday and stay home with our blessing next week.”
I don’t believe our new-cart version of Christianity is God-honoring or biblical. The pleasure of His company is readily available, but it’s not cheap. It will cost you time and effort. God wants intimacy with us, but He isn’t an easy score. He expects marriage and covenant, not one night stands. But I assure you, He is more than worth the price.
David and his leaders decided to give it another try – the inconvenient way. “Let’s carry him ourselves, on our shoulders and next to our hearts. It’ll be hard work and will take all day, but having His presence and glory nearby will be worth it.”
Now it was told King David, saying, “The Lord has blessed the house of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, on account of the ark of God.” David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness. And so it was, that when the bearers of the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouting and the sound of the trumpet. (2 Samuel 6:12-15)
In the Chronicles account of this, we’re told that “God was helping the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 15:26). Isn’t that encouraging, and so typical of God’s heart? When we honor Him by seeking His presence in the appropriate manner, He makes it easier to find Him. Our Father wants our company.
For David it had finally happened. The presence-junkie would have unfettered access to the Lord and His glory. He placed the ark in a tent, called simply the “tent [or tabernacle] of David,” and filled it with 24/7 worship. History tells us David himself spent hours at a time lingering inside. The inconvenience of the process had been rewarded by the enjoyment of His presence. Pursuit won.
This can be your story, as well. On this side of the cross our hearts are the tent. As unfathomable as it may seem, we are now the Holy of Holies. His presence is always with us and in us. You be the cart also - that’s what He really wants. Carry Him everywhere you go.
Reach for Him; He’ll reach back. Make Christ your magnificent obsession, Yahweh your Papa, and Holy Spirit your daily companion. Never again settle for the substandard existence of a life without the pleasure of His company.
Pray with me:
Father, You are worthy of the highest praise, the most extravagant adoration, and the furthest possible reaches of our love. Jesus, there is nothing we could ever give or do or say that would equate to the great sacrifice You made. You paid the price in full that we might have salvation. And yet, to freely bask in Your glory there is still a price that must be paid.
How can we bring to You an offering that costs us nothing? Father, we repent for doing this very thing – trying to access the most exquisite of blessings while limiting You by what is easy or convenient.
More than the mere sacrifice of our lips, the sacrifice of our lives is required in order to become the tabernacle of Your glory and Your presence. Today, we purpose in our hearts to give our time and effort toward fueling an intentional, passionate pursuit. Jesus, You are worth it all. We refuse to live without experiencing the great pleasure of Your company. You are our magnificent obsession.
What a great journey this has been, Lord! We are confident that as we have done what You instructed us to do, the act of obedience has become an entry point for Your presence and power. Wonders are coming! Breakthroughs are imminent! You, Lord God, are about to explode onto the earth scene. We can’t wait. It’s going to be glorious.
John Newton, “Amazing Grace,” 1779 (lyrics in the public domain).
Stephen R. Covey, A. Robert Merrill, Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), p 77.