The Day the Music Stopped
David, the great psalmist, giant slayer, and eventual king of Israel is one of my favorite Bible characters. Jesus must have 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; 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, as I do, I often think of its writer, John Newton, a former slave trader. It’s hard for me to imagine a more despicable activity than slave trading. Truth and justice finally broke through the fog of Newton’s deception and, after his conversion, Newton would eventually become 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’m found,
Was blind but now I see…” (1)
Thank God for His amazing grace - and for 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 fact 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. Such an irony. The song could not have carried us to such heights had not the man sank to such depths. 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. When He became king, however, David was living a holy life of passion and purity, and decided that his first order of business would be to move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. God’s presence and glory dwelled over the Ark, and David, lover of God that he was, wanted this presence 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 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 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...to bring the Ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. David and all Israel went up to Kiriath-jearim...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 Uzza 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 cymbals” (v.5). It was a spectacular celebration!
Though David is about to make a serious mistake with the Ark, give him credit. The Ark and the 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 the 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 problems 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, reached out and touched the Ark in order to steady it.
And the power in it killed him.
The music and dancing stopped, as did the procession. Laughter turned to sorrow, and joy to mourning. A celebration became a funeral. Uncertain of what to do, David put the transporting of the Ark on hold, housing it at the nearby home of Obed-edom for 3 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 wasn’t easy, but 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. Their entire process was spelled out clearly in Numbers, the fourth chapter.
We are left to wonder what the motivation was behind David’s use of the cart. I believe it very likely boiled down to convenience. Carrying the Ark on shoulders for ten miles would have been hard work. Splinters, sore muscles, chafed shoulders, blisters on the feet - all would have been the painful result. The long hard miles up and down hills through the desert, in the 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 be easy or convenient. As my friend Damon Thompson 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’re discovered when sought after, with passion and intentionality.
Pray with me:
Father, thank You for Your desire to be with us. We thank You we now have access to You through the shed blood of Jesus, and we can dwell in Your presence as much and as often as we desire. Thank You for Your amazing grace.
We ask You for greater hunger. We ask You to increase our spiritual appetite for You. May we experience Your presence at ever-increasing levels, for doing so increases our longing for more. We want to be like David, people who are passionate for Your heart.
We ask that You please increase the presence of Holy Spirit in our nation. Bring a presence movement to America. We want such hearts for You that no sin or earthly pleasure can crowd You out.
In the Scriptures, You speak of different levels of Your amazing grace. In Acts 4:33 You speak of “great” grace. The Greek word is megas, from which we get the English word mega. I pray for mega grace to come to America. We need Your incredible, mega grace to save our nation. We believe America shall be saved, and this grace will be poured out. We thank You for it in the mighty name of Jesus...Amen.
We decree that Your grace is sufficient, and is being poured out on America.
Portions of this post were taken from my book, The Pleasure of His Company, published by Baker Books.
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