Skip to content

In the Presence of a Holy God

Today we will be looking at 2 Samuel chapter 6. At this point in our journey through the book of Samuel, David has recently been crowned king over all Israel. Originally, he had ruled over just one tribe of Israel – the tribe of Judah – and he did that for about 7 years, but now the other 11 tribes of Israel have also accepted him as King – so David is now King over the entire unified kingdom of Israel.

As one of his first acts as King, David set out to conquer the Jebusite fortress of Jerusalem – one of the last unconquered strongholds within the borders of the Promised Land. And as we read last time, David successfully conquered this fortress and made it his new capital city. He renamed the city – The City of David – and build a palace for himself within it’s walls. And now, as David moves into his new home in the capital, he also desires for the Lord to make His home there as well!

You see, over the last 40 years, it seems that the Israelites had kinda neglected their relationship with God! Specially, the Ark of the Covenant (which was to represent the very presence of God) had been more or less forgotten about – and wasn’t even kept in the same place as the tabernacle! And we’ll talk more about that in a bit – but today we’re going to see how David determines to fix all that! He knows how important it is to have God at the centre of all life – and so he wants to bring the Ark of the Covenant back into the center-focus and attention of all the people of Israel.

Now our main text for today is 2 Samuel chapter 6, but as we work through our passage today, we’re going to be looking at a lot of different Scriptures from a lot of different places. And I actually want to start in 1 Chronicles chapter 13 because it basically gives us the same story, but with a bit more background than what we read in the 2 Samuel account. So let’s begin at 1 Chronicles chapter 13, starting at verse 1.

David consulted with all his officials, including the generals and captains of his army. 2 Then he addressed the entire assembly of Israel as follows: “If you approve and if it is the will of the Lord our God, let us send messages to all the Israelites throughout the land, including the priests and Levites in their towns and pasturelands. Let us invite them to come and join us. 3 It is time to bring back the Ark of our God, for we neglected it during the reign of Saul.”

4 The whole assembly agreed to this, for the people could see it was the right thing to do. 5 So David summoned all Israel, from the Shihor Brook of Egypt in the south all the way to the town of Lebo-hamath in the north, to join in bringing the Ark of God from Kiriath-jearim.

1 Chronicles 13:1-5

So after consulting with his officials, his generals and captains – as well as the whole assembly of Israel – everyone agreed that it was time to bring back the Ark of God – because it had been neglected during the 40 year reign of Saul. They would send messages throughout the land and the whole nation (including the priests and Levities – who had been chosen by God to serve in the tabernacle) – they would all join together in restoring the Ark of God to it’s proper place.

Now there are probably a few questions that you might have as you read all this:

For one, why did the Ark of God need to be brought back? Where was it, how did it get there, and why wasn’t it were it belonged? Or for that matter, where did it belong anyway? Or perhaps an even more basic question might be: What exactly was the Ark of God and why was it so important to the people of Israel?

To answer those questions, we have to go way back when God first rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. When God first brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He made a covenant with them that He would be their God and they would be his people. As part of that covenant, God gave them some very specific instructions on how they (a sinful people) could have a relationship with Him (a Holy God). 

A significant part of those instructions involved building the tabernacle and all of it’s furnishings. There were altars and candlestick holders, tables with special bread, wash basins and all kinds of things. We can read all about those things in the book of Exodus. 

And everything about the tabernacle was very symbolic – as I mentioned at our Good Friday service – it all pointed towards Christ and how he would die on the cross for our sins and make a way for us to be right with God. But of course, that hadn’t happened yet at this time – and so all the stuff that went on at the Tabernacle was symbolic of what Christ would do for us.

But of all the different furnishing in the tabernacle, the central piece was the Ark of the Covenant (or the Ark of God as it’s referred to in Samuel.)

Let me just read for you God’s instructions to the Israelites regarding the construction and the purpose of Ark. This is in Exodus 25:8…

8 “Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. 9 You must build this Tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the pattern I will show you.

10 “Have the people make an Ark of acacia wood—a sacred chest 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high. 11 Overlay it inside and outside with pure gold, and run a molding of gold all around it. 12 Cast four gold rings and attach them to its four feet, two rings on each side. 13 Make poles from acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 Insert the poles into the rings at the sides of the Ark to carry it. 15 These carrying poles must stay inside the rings; never remove them. 16 When the Ark is finished, place inside it the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you.

17 “Then make the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—from pure gold. It must be 45 inches long and 27 inches wide. 18 Then make two cherubim from hammered gold, and place them on the two ends of the atonement cover. 19 Mold the cherubim on each end of the atonement cover, making it all of one piece of gold. 20 The cherubim will face each other and look down on the atonement cover. With their wings spread above it, they will protect it. 21 Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark. 22 I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel.

Exodus 25:8-22

So physically speaking, the Ark of the Covenant was a gold-plated wooden chest with these solid golden cherubim on the lid – which I’m sure would have looked pretty impressive! But of course, symbolically, it was even more significant! This represented the physical location where the infinite Creator of the universe would dwell among his people. It was here that a Holy God would be present among a sinful people. That’s pretty awesome!

And so as you might imagine, the Israelites were expected to treat the Ark of the Covenant with extreme reverence and respect! After all, it was like the throne of God! The Ark was to be located in the Holy of Holies – an inner room within the tabernacle that no one but the high priest was allowed to enter – and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. Furthermore, when the Ark was being transported (since it was to go with them as they wandered in the wilderness and eventually travelled through and conquered the Promised Land) – the Ark was only to be carried by the Kohathites (who were a family within the tribe of Levi) – and actually, not even they were allowed to touch it. In Numbers 4, we read:

5 When the camp moves, Aaron and his sons must enter the Tabernacle first to take down the inner curtain and cover the Ark of the Covenant with it. 6 Then they must cover the inner curtain with fine goatskin leather and spread over that a single piece of blue cloth. Finally, they must put the carrying poles of the Ark in place.

15 The camp will be ready to move when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the sacred articles. The Kohathites will come and carry these things to the next destination. But they must not touch the sacred objects, or they will die.

19 “This is what you must do so they will live and not die when they approach the most sacred objects. Aaron and his sons must always go in with them and assign a specific duty or load to each person. 20 The Kohathites must never enter the sanctuary to look at the sacred objects for even a moment, or they will die.”

Numbers 4:5-6, 15a, 19-20

So you can see that the Ark of the Covenant was to be treated with extreme respect and reverence – even those who carried it from place to place were not allowed to even look at it uncovered – let alone touch it – or they would die!

And of course, the purpose of all this was to emphasize the absolute holiness of God! And maybe this is another concept that we need to define a little bit.

To be holy means to be set apart – or to be separate from – the root word of holy actually means to cut or to separate.

And so when we say that God is holy, we are saying that He is set apart or separate from… Separate from what? From two things really.

    1. First of all, He is separate from his Creation. God is not like anything or anyone He has created. That includes angels and people. Even though we are created in His image, God is totally unique and separate from His creation. He is holy.
    2. He is separate from anything sinful or evil. Part of what it means for God to be holy is that He is morally perfect – there is no hint of evil in Him, nor can there be. As James reminds us:

“God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.” James 1:13b

Habukkak 1:13 says…

13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.

Habukkak 1:13

God’s holiness means that He is consistently and deeply opposed to sin. His goodness is in direct conflict with anything and everything evil.

And so, as sinful human beings, this puts us in an awkward spot to say the least! How can we, with our corrupt and sinful attitudes and actions – ever be in the presence of such a holy God?

Well, that’s exactly the point that God was making through the symbolism and the stipulations surrounding the Ark. Sinful people simply could not be in the presence of God.

At least, not without God making some sort of provision for that. But we’ll talk more about that a little bit later. For now, we’d better get back to our story. We actually haven’t even started reading our account from Samuel – so let’s go there now.

Reading from 2 Samuel chapter 6 – starting at verse 1.

Then David again gathered all the elite troops in Israel, 30,000 in all. 2 He led them to Baalah of Judah to bring back the Ark of God, which bears the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. 3 They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house, which was on a hill. Uzzah and Ahio, Abinadab’s sons, were guiding the cart 4 that carried the Ark of God. Ahio walked in front of the Ark. 5 David and all the people of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals.

2 Samuel 6:1-5

At first glance, this seems to be a great moment in the history of Israel. David is bringing back the Ark of God – and everyone is celebrating and praising God!

But you may have noticed that something is not quite right. As we read through those passages in Exodus and in Numbers, you probably noticed that God designed the Ark to be carried by the Kohathites on long carrying poles. The Ark was designed with those gold rings on its feet that had long carrying poles through them – and God’s instructions seemed pretty clear that only the Kohathites from the tribe of Levi were to carry the Ark or any of the sacred objects of the tabernacle for that matter!

But here we have the son’s of Abinadab who were from the tribe of Judah – not Kohathites from the tribe of Levi – and they are transporting the Ark of God on a cart – rather than carrying it by the poles as God had specifically instructed them!

I’m sure their intentions were good and honourable – but they had neglected to follow God’s instructions. They had ignored God’s provision for how they were to carry the Ark and had devised their own way to do it.

This was not unlike what had happened several years earlier – an incident that had caused the Ark of God to be left in Abinadab’s care in the first place.

I don’t want to take too long to review all that, but as a quick summary:

Back when Samuel was just a kid, the Isrealites had taken the Ark of God into battle against the Philistines – treating it like a good luck charm to help them win the battle – rather than treating it with the awe and respect it deserved as the symbol of the presence of God among them! As a result of their arrogance, they were defeated by the Philistines and the Ark was captured!

Of course, God used this as an opportunity to illustrate his holiness to the Philistines – and he caused plagues to strike the Philistines in every Philistine town where they took the Ark! Before too long, the Philistines determined that they didn’t want to keep the Ark around any longer and so they decided to send it back to the Israelites! Now of course, they had no idea how God had instructed the Ark to be moved – nor did they have any Kohathies among them to carry it even if they did! And so their solution was to put the ark on a new cart – hitch it to some cows and send it on its way.

So they did that and those cows carried the Ark straight back to Israelite territory and it came to a stop at a place called Beth-Shemesh. But again, the people of Israel seemed to have forgotten God’s instructions and several of them looked inside the Ark – which was totally against God’s commands – and so God put those Israelite men to death!

In the aftermath of this, we read in 1 Samuel 6 – verse 19

And the people mourned greatly because of what the Lord had done. 20 “Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” they cried out. “Where can we send the Ark from here?”

21 So they sent messengers to the people at Kiriath-jearim and told them, “The Philistines have returned the Ark of the Lord. Come here and get it!”

So the men of Kiriath-jearim came to get the Ark of the Lord. They took it to the hillside home of Abinadab and ordained Eleazar, his son, to be in charge of it. 

1 Samuel 6:19b-7:1

And I think that question in verse 20 is such a relevant question even for us: Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? And the answer is no one. No sinful man or woman can stand in the presence of a Holy God. It is only by the grace and the specific provision of God that we may – and we’ll touch on that again a little bit later.

But with this incident in mind, you would think that David and the Israelites would have been very careful to follow the instructions of the Lord as they moved the Ark towards Jerusalem – but apparently, the only thing they remembered was how the Philistines had transported the Ark – and it was the Philistines example that they followed by putting the Ark on a new cart – rather than following the clear and specific instructions of the Lord.

And so, as the Ark traveled along in the new cart, and David and all the people sang and celebrated, we read in 2 Samuel chapter 6 verse 6:

6 But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. 7 Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God.

2 Samuel 6:6-7

As God had done with the men at Beth-Shemesh who had forgotten the holiness of the Lord and looked into the Ark, so God had done with Uzzah. God had promised back in book of Numbers – that if anyone touched the Ark of God – the penalty would be death.

Now I’m sure that Uzzah had nothing but good intentions. The oxen had stumbled and perhaps the Ark of the Covenant was starting to slide off the cart – it was likely just his initial reaction to reach out and steady the Ark. There was no malicious or evil intent, I’m sure!

But regardless of his intent, Uzzah sinned against the Lord none-the-less! The issue wasn’t just that he touched the Ark as the oxen stumbled, he never should have been near the Ark in the first place! There should have been no oxen involved in the process! The Ark should have been carried on poles by the Kohathities in the manner prescribed by God.

You see, Uzzah’s death wasn’t just about the one action of one man touching the Ark, this was about the Israelites ignoring the provision of God in order to do things their own way – the way they thought was best. Uzzah just happened to be the unfortunate fellow that received the brunt end of God’s stern reminder to them all that God’s way was the only way.

And we’re going to pause our story here for today and we’ll finish it up in the weeks to come, but I think this is a good place to reflect on our own lives. Because don’t we do the same thing all the time?

Don’t we tend to ignore God’s specific instructions for how he wants us to live – and rather choose to do things our own way? Don’t we tend to copy the behaviours of the people around us – following popular culture, rather than following the specific instructions of God? We’re not much different from the Israelites – copying the methods of the Philistines in how they moved the Ark.

And even more specifically, this story is such a great reminder for us that as sinful people, we cannot come up with our own way to be right with God. We cannot enter into the presence of a Holy God by simply trying to be a good person or attending church or reading our Bible daily. None of those things are the way God has prescribed for us to come to him. Because none of those ways deal with the problem of our sin!

Remember, our God is a holy God! He is consistently and deeply opposed to sin. His goodness is in direct conflict with sin. And that’s a good thing!

Sin is utterly and completely destructive to our lives. Even without the Scriptures to tell us that sin is destructive, I know all of us have experienced the pain and suffering that comes from sin – either as the result of our own sin or that of someone else’s.

And so it’s a good thing that God that holy and that He opposes sin. But as sinful people – born with a sinful nature and prone to sinful thoughts and behaviours – that’s a big problem! 

We asked the questions earlier: Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? Not me. Not you. Not anyone! At least, not without some sort of provision by God.

Thankfully, God has made a provision for us for how we can come to him. And that way is through Jesus Christ. And he is the only way.

Jesus Himself said:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Just as the Israelites had one way to carry the Ark of God – we too have one way to our Heavenly Father – and that is through God’s provision of Jesus. Specifically, we have to trust and believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died on a cross for our sins and was raised to life again.

Failure to accept God’s provision will result in death. Not simply a physical death – as Uzzah experienced – but a spiritual death. We will remain separated from God forever. We will have no relationship with Him and will not be able to stand in his presence or experience his goodness!

And so this morning, I just want to encourage you, that if you have never put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin and the privilege of standing in the presence of a Holy God – would you consider doing that today? I’d love to talk to you more about that after the service.

And for those of us who have already done that, let us take this opportunity to thank and praise the Lord for the provision of His Son, Jesus Christ – without whom, we would have no hope of ever being with our Creator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *