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The Fear of the Lord

Two weeks ago we were looking at 2 Samuel chapter 6 and we only got about half-way through the story, so today I want to finish up that chapter. Now if you missed part 1, let me give you a quick recap of the story thus far.

At this point in the book of 2 Samuel, David is the newly appoint King over all Israel. He has just conquered the fortress of Jerusalem and has made it his capital city – and as part of that process, he also wants to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem as well.

Now the Ark of the Covenant (Or the Ark of God as it is called in 2 Samuel) symbolized God’s presence among His people. It was basically a gold-plated wooden chest that normally resided within the Tabernacle in the inner room called the Holy of Holies – but for the last several years, the Ark had been at the home of a man named Abinadab. It had been taken there after the Philistines captured the Ark and then, shortly thereafter, returned it back to the Isrealites.

And so now, after several years of basically being forgotten about, David determined to bring the Ark of God back to Jerusalem. However, David neglected to carefully follow the instructions of the Lord – as given to Moses way back when the ark and the whole Tabernacle were first put together.

You see, because the Ark of the Covenant represented the very presence of God – it was to be treated with the utmost respect and reverence. It was never to be touched by anyone other than the priests – and when being transported, it had to be carried by the Kohathite family from the tribe of Levi – and it was only to be be carried on it’s built-in carrying poles.

However, when David attempted to move the Ark to Jerusalem – the Ark was placed on a cart pulled by some oxen and guided by Abinadab’s sons (who were not part of the Kohathite family from the tribe of Levi, but were from the tribe of Judah). And then, as they were moving the Ark, one of the oxen stumbled, and one of Abinadab’s sons – Uzzah – instinctively reached out his hand to steady the Ark, and God immediately struck him dead!

What was intended to be a great day of celebration for Israel as they brought the Ark to Jerusalem – had turned into a very sobering reminder of the awesome power and holiness of God – something that the Israelites had seemed to have forgotten. And that’s about where we left off last time – with Uzzah lying dead beside the Ark – and everyone in the processional not really sure what to do next.

So we’re going to look at the rest of the story today. We pick up the story now in 2 Samuel chapter 6 – starting today at verse 8.

8 David was angry because the Lord’s anger had burst out against Uzzah. He named that place Perez-uzzah (which means “to burst out against Uzzah”), as it is still called today. 

2 Samuel 6:8

And I’ll just pause here for a moment. Isn’t it interesting that David’s first reaction to all this is anger!? Not shock or confusion or even fear at this point – but anger. 

Now the text isn’t very clear about who David was angry with. Was David was angry at himself, or angry at Uzzah or angry at the Lord – we’re not sure – it just says that he was angry because of that had happened! But the way I read this, I kinda assume that David was angry at God. 

  • Maybe David thought that God was over-reacting to something so simple and so innocent as Uzzah reaching out his hand to steady the Ark when the oxen stumbled. 
  • Or maybe David took it personally that God would interrupt and really de-rail David’s big day – making him look bad in front of all the people! 
  • Or maybe David just couldn’t understand why – in the middle of this parade designed to honour and glorify God – why would God strike someone dead! Didn’t God realize that David was doing this all for him!?

Well, we’re not really told the reasoning behind David’s anger, but I think I can relate to any of those possibilities. And maybe you can too.

How often do you and I get upset with God when God allows something that interrupts or derails our plans? Or how often do we take it as a personal slight when God allows us to experience the consequences of our own actions? How often do we accuse God of being unfair or being uncaring when bad things happen to us or our loved ones?

I expect we all know what it’s like to get angry at God.

I’m reminded of the story of Jonah – he was pretty angry at God too. Remember that? God told him to preach to Ninevah and to tell them that they would be destroyed if they didn’t repent. And of course, Jonah was pretty eager to see them be destroyed (as they were the cruel enemies of the Isrealites), but after Jonah preached to them, they repented and turned from their sins – and God determined not to destroy them after all. And this made Jonah furious!

 This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. 2 So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. 3 Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”

4 The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

Jonah 4:1-4

And that’s such an important question for us to ask ourselves when we get angry at God. “Is it right for me to be angry about this?” Is it right for me to be angry at God?

I think if we’re honest with ourselves – we’ll find that the answer is no. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll find that it’s usually our own selfishness that is rising up within us – causing us to become angry with God.

That was certainly the case for Jonah – and I think it was also the case for David.

You see, in order for us to be angry with someone – we have to hold the belief that they did something wrong. We don’t get angry with someone for being loving or doing right. We get angry when we believe they did something wrong – that they have acted somehow less than loving – less than good – less than right. 

So to be angry with God, we have to believe that God did something wrong. And that simply doesn’t line up with what the Bible teaches about the character and person of God.

In part one of this chapter we looked at the holiness of God – and part of God being holy is the fact that He never does wrong. We looked at James 1:13…

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

It is simply not in God’s character to sin or to do wrong. And so with that knowledge, if we know that God cannot do wrong, how could we possibly be justified in being angry with him?

And so I would encourage you this morning, that the next time you find yourself angry with God for whatever reason – I’d ask you the same question that God asked Jonah: “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

And if it’s not – perhaps you need to re-evaluate with whom (or even if) you should be angry?

Well, I’m not sure if David asked himself that question or not, but it seems that that his anger soon dissipated – or at least quickly changed into fear. Take a look at verse 9.

9 David was now afraid of the Lord, and he asked, “How can I ever bring the Ark of the Lord back into my care?” 10 So David decided not to move the Ark of the Lord into the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom of Gath. 11 The Ark of the Lord remained there in Obed-edom’s house for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his entire household.12 Then King David was told, “The Lord has blessed Obed-edom’s household and everything he has because of the Ark of God.”

2 Samuel 6:9-12

After seeing Uzzah being struck down by the Lord, David became afraid of God and decided not to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem after all. At this point, David didn’t exactly know why God had struck Uzzah down – and so he needed some time to figure out what he had done wrong and how he could do things differently.

And so in the meantime, he left the Ark at the house of Obed-Edom – and it stayed there for about 3 months – but while it was there, God blessed Obed-Edmon greatly. And this is an important detail. When the Isrealites treated the symbol of God’s presence with the proper reverence and respect – according to the instructions of the Lord – God was eager to bless them!

And I think this is what helped David see that there is a big difference between being afraid of the Lord – and having the fear of the Lord.

You see, at this point, David was afraid of the Lord. He didn’t want the Lord’s presence anywhere near him. That’s why he left the Ark with Obed-Edom – rather than continuing to bring it into the city of David.

But when David was afraid of the Lord – staying distant from Him – he also missed out on God’s blessings!

What was needed was not to be afraid of the Lord – but to have the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord doesn’t mean that we are afraid of Him – it means that we understand his power and his holiness – and are thus careful to approach him the manner that He has prescribed!

It’s a little bit like electricity. I have a healthy respect for electricity as I really don’t like to be electrocuted. However, I am not afraid to have electricity running all through-out my house. Having that power is a huge benefit for me – I’d hate to be without it. So I just know that when I need to wire a switch or something like that, there are certain precautions I need to take! I need to recognize it’s power and treat it with due respect.

That’s kinda what it means to have the fear of the Lord. We don’t have to be afraid of God. I mean, God loves us like crazy – and in fact, loves us so much that he died on a cross for us! He has made a way possible for us to be with him – and when we choose to be with him, we receive his incredible blessings!

But we have to recognize that He is still God! He is all powerful. He is holy. He deserves and demands our utmost honour and respect and obedience. We have to come to him on His terms. We need to have the fear of the Lord.

And I think David began to see that. As he saw how Obed-Edom was blessed because of the presence of the Lord, He began to realize that He didn’t need to be afraid of the Lord, but He certainly did need to have the fear of the Lord.

Now the Bible doesn’t record what David did during this those three months while the Ark was with Obed-Edom, but if we flip over to 1 Chronicles 15 (which a parallel passage to 2 Samuel 6), we see that he must have done a little bit of research and he learned that He had been very wrong in how he had tried to moving the Ark.

Starting at verse 11 it says…

11 Then David summoned the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, and these Levite leaders: Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab. 12 He said to them, “You are the leaders of the Levite families. You must purify yourselves and all your fellow Levites, so you can bring the Ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place I have prepared for it. 13 Because you Levites did not carry the Ark the first time, the anger of the Lord our God burst out against us. We failed to ask God how to move it properly.” 14 So the priests and the Levites purified themselves in order to bring the Ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to Jerusalem. 15 Then the Levites carried the Ark of God on their shoulders with its carrying poles, just as the Lord had instructed Moses.

1 Chronicles 15:11-15

It seems that somewhere during those three months while the Ark was at the house of Obed-Edom – David had an ‘ah-ha’ moment and he realized that he had failed to ask God how to move the Ark!

His intentions had been good – and he was doing a good thing for God – but he wasn’t doing it God’s way. And that’s where he got into trouble. 

David’s neglect to carefully seek and then follow the will of God had cost Uzzah his life! I can only imagine how sorrowful David was when he realized that. His failure had cost a man his life!

And that’s such a good reminder for us. Even when it doesn’t result in physical death, our sin – our neglect to do things God’s way – can be incredibly damaging to us and to the people around us. 

And I think the even more powerful reminder is that David wasn’t intentionally sinning! He wasn’t purposely rebelling against the Lord – but he had neglected to study the Word of God and learn what God wanted him to do or to not do. All of the instructions for moving the Ark of God were all recorded in the Torah – the books of the Bible that David (as king of Israel) should have been very familiar with. 

Actually, in Deuteronomy, God specifically commanded that any kings of Israel had to write out their own copy of God’s laws and had to keep it with them at all times – reading it daily! Let me show you…

18 “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees.”

Deuteronomy 17:18-19

I’m guessing at this point in his life, David hadn’t really done that – or he would have know how the Ark was to be moved! And as a result, David’s ignorance of the Word of God caused him and others to sin – and in the case of Uzzah – even to die!

You know, we usually think of David as being someone who was intimately familiar with the Word of God.

We read passages like Psalm 119…

9 How can a young person stay pure?
By obeying your word.

10 I have tried hard to find you—
don’t let me wander from your commands.

11 I have hidden your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.

12 I praise you, O Lord;
teach me your decrees.

13 I have recited aloud
all the regulations you have given us.

14 I have rejoiced in your laws
as much as in riches.

15 I will study your commandments
and reflect on your ways.

16 I will delight in your decrees
and not forget your word.

Psalm 119:9-16

That’s the Bible-loving David that we usually think of. But I wonder if it was this incident of incorrectly moving the Ark (resulting in Uzzah’s death) that perhaps spurred David on to become that person! Maybe when David realized the high price of his ignorance, he determined to learn all that He could about God and his Word – so that this would never happen again! As verse 11 says… 

“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11

Now of course, I don’t know for sure that it was this incident is what motivated David to really get to know the Word of God and hide it in his heart – but it’s certainly possible. I think that’s something that we all need to strive for! It’s so important for us to know the Word of God – lest we and others suffer for it! Don’t wait until you or others have paid the price before you really get to know the Word of God!

But now that David knew exactly how God wanted the Ark to be moved, he once again made plans to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. Going back to our passage in 2 Samuel 6, we read in verse 12.

So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration. 13 After the men who were carrying the Ark of the Lord had gone six steps, David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 2 Samuel 6:12b-13

I can imagine that after Uzzah was struck dead the first time they tried to move the Ark, everyone was a little bit on edge when they made the second attempt. I imagine that everyone – especially the Levites who were carrying the Ark – breathed a sigh of relief, when after the first six steps – everyone was still alive!

And so they all stopped right there and offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God! And from there, the rest of the day was a huge celebration! It says in verse 14…

14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. 15 So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns.

16 But as the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him.

17 They brought the Ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the special tent David had prepared for it. And David sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. 18 When he had finished his sacrifices, David blessed the people in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 19 Then he gave to every Israelite man and woman in the crowd a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people returned to their homes.

2 Samuel 6:14-19

It was a great day of celebration before the Lord – complete with gifts of bread, raisins, and dates! Everyone was filled with joy and thanksgiving – everyone that is, except for David’s wife Michal.

While everyone else had joined in with David, praising God and dancing and celebrating in the streets, Michal the daughter of Saul, stayed at home – and as verse 16 says… 

“When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him.” 2 Samuel 6:16

And at first glance, we probably wonder “What’s her problem? Did she just wake up grumpy that day or what?” Well, let’s read on to get the rest of the story. verse 20

20 When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!”

21 David retorted to Michal, “I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord. 22 Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes! But those servant girls you mentioned will indeed think I am distinguished!” 23 So Michal, the daughter of Saul, remained childless throughout her entire life.

2 Samuel 6:20-23

Now there is a lot of stuff going on in this part of the passage, but in a nutshell, Michal thought that David had not acted very ‘kingly’ in his worship of the Lord! For one, he had not been wearing his royal robes – he just had a linen garment like the many other priests that were there that day – he looked pretty much like everyone else in the crowd. Secondly, his dancing and leaping were not really the behaviours of royalty. We can’t even imagine the queen of England ever leaping or dancing – and apparently, neither could Michal. She despised David for not acting the part of the king – which, as queen, also reflected on her! And that’s probably more the issue. She thought David’s ‘foolish’ behaviour made her look bad.

But David was not concerned about his appearance to his people or to his wife for that matter. He was concerned about his appearance before God! And he was willing to look entirely foolish to his entire kingdom – if it meant praising and glorifying God. He was going to honour the Lord as whole-heartedly as he could – and if that made him look foolish – then so be it!

And that’s a great reminder for us too. I think too often, we tone-down our worship or even our conversations about God because of what other people might think. For example, even in the church, our western Canadian culture has taught us (men in particular) that it’s not normal to enthusiastically sing about how much we love God! Somehow that’s not manly! And so we don’t sing. We don’t clap. We don’t raise out hands. And I’m not saying that we have to do that – or that worship with dancing is better than worship without.

That’s not the issue at all. But the point is, are we letting other people’s views of us impact how we worship God? 

  • What’s more important to us – how people view us – or how God views us?
  • Is it more important that we keep up appearances – or that we honour and glorify God?
  • Are we afraid of man – or do we have the fear of the Lord?

And that’s really the issue – are we afraid of man – afraid of what others might think of us… Afraid of what they might say or do? Or do we truly fear the Lord? Is His opinion of us the only one that truly matters?

And whether we apply that to our worship or how we share our Christian testimony at work or how we educate our children or how we conduct our business – it all comes down to the same question:

Are we afraid of man – or do we fear the Lord?

And I hope that for our church – for each man and woman and child here today – that we would each choose to fear the Lord.


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