II Samuel 6:1-19
When I planned this
sermon series, I did not anticipate that we would read this story on the
Sunday after the first Republican presidential debate.
In recent decades we have seen an increased alignment of religion and
politics, which is pleasing to some folks and alarming to others.
I still occasionally hear people say that there are no politics in
the Bible. To those folks
I want to say ďhave you read the gospels?Ē
But if we want to explore politics in the Bible, this text will do
Letís start with what
seems almost a throw-away line.
Verse 16 says, ďAs the Ark of the Lord was entering the City of David,
Saulís daughter Michal looked down from a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord, and she
despised him in her heart.Ē I have
heard a few preachers use this text to argue that worship should be
celebratory and that God is not pleased with Michalís rejection of the
kingís dancing before the Lord.
While I agree that worship can and should include dance and celebration, I
take issue with that portrayal of Michal. Letís remember that Michal was
Saulís daughter. In those days,
women were always defined by the men in their lives.
Michal was Saulís daughter, who made the mistake of falling in love
The Bible tells us twice that she loved David,
which is unusual because the biblical writers donít usually care about the
feelings of women. Never are we
told that David loves Michal.
By the time Michal fell in love with David, King Saul already perceived him as a threat.
So Saul offered his daughter Michal as a bride to
David, with one condition.
brings back the foreskins of 100 Philistines.
Saul was hoping that David
would get killed while attempting it. However,
David, the golden boy, killed 200 Philistines, brought back
their foreskins and married Michal.
Then things heated up
between Saul and David, with David living as an outlaw and Saulís armies chasing
him for several years. At some
point during that time, Saul gave Michal as wife to a man named Paltiel.
Michal is not mentioned again, until after Saul is dead and
David is king of Judah.
By the time she is mentioned again, David has 11 sons and an unknown numbers of wives. David demands her return to him as part of a peace
negotiation with the son of Saul who is ruling the rest of Israel.
It says that her husband Paltiel followed her weeping until he was
ordered to turn around.
And now, Michal
watches her husband dance in the streets of his city and she despises him.
She was used as a pawn, a political tool, by her father and then by
her husband. She was taken from
Paltiel, who may actually have loved her and given back to David, who had more wives than he knew what to do
with. She is consistently
identified as Saulís daughter.
Saulís dynasty and Davidís are in competition.
If Michal has a son; he could claim the throne in the name of his
grandfather, setting up another civil war with Davidís older sons. The
chapter ends by saying that she never had any children, which, in that
culture, is a way of saying that God is displeased with her, presumably
because she disapproved of Davidís
dancing. But I find it much
more likely that she is childless, because David
never enables her to have children, never treats her like a wife. That has
everything to do with human politics and nothing to do with whether or not
worship should be celebratory.
* * *
The major focus of
this text is not Michal, but the Ark of the Covenant.
It was a wooden box, covered with gold.
On top were two figures whose wings formed a throne for God. It
contained the stone tablets of the 10 commandments.
It had travelled with the people of Israel from Mt. Sinai
into the Promised Land. It was
a very powerful symbol of the invisible God who travelled with them.
The presence of God was intimately associated with it. Scholars
believe that it probably took about 200 years for the Hebrew people to
conquer and settle the land
So this artifact is very old by the
time of our story.
By now, David is king over all Israel.
He has made the former Jebusite city of Jerusalem into his capital, calling it the ďCity of David.Ē
He continues to consolidate his power.
What better way than to bring God into his city, making it not just
the political, but the spiritual center of Israel?
What better way to do that that with the Ark of the Covenant?
For the previous 20
years, the Ark has not been part of Israelís life.
Back before Saul was king, there was a battle with the Philistines.
Eli was the priest whose sons were corrupt.
They presumed to take the
into battle against the Philistines, assuming that God was on their side and
that they would win. They lost
that battle, and in the process, the Philistines captured the Ark.
The Philistines thought it was a great prize.
Except that in the first Philistine city to which it was taken, there
was a plague of rats and tumors.
moved from one city to another for 7 months and in every place, it caused
destruction and death. So the
Philistines sent it back to
It has mostly been
ignored for the last 20 years, but now David
wants it in Jerusalem.
The text does not tell us anything about what God wants, or whether
David even thinks about asking what God wants before
setting out to get it.
He takes a huge
number of men with him. They
load the Ark on an ox cart and start to haul it to Jerusalem with lots of
fanfare. But one of the ox
stumbles and maybe it looks like the
is going to fall off the cart, so a man named Uzzah reaches out to steady
it. And God strikes him dead on
the spot. So
abandons the plan and leaves the
of the Lord at the nearest place, the home of a man named Obed-edom.
This is a very
strange story. It might be
helpful to know that there were strict rules about carrying the Ark.
It was supposed to be carried by priests using long poles placed
through the rings on its sides.
It was not ever supposed to be on an oxcart.
Touching the Ark
was forbidden on pain of death.
As Uzzah quickly learned.
But even if we know
those things, the story doesnít work for us.
We believe in a God of forgiveness and second chances.
So why does Uzzah
die? Does God actually strike
him dead for touching the Ark?
Modern people have a hard time with this portrayal of God.
There is even a theory that the Ark, which was made of wood, coated
on both sides with gold, could have somehow built up enough static
electricity to kill Uzzah. If we buy that theory, then we can blame the
itself, and not God for Uzzahís death. I
think sometimes we preachers feel like we have to defend God; we have to
apologize for some of the ways that God is portrayed in the Scriptures.
But I donít think I can defend God and I donít think God needs my
defense. There are definitely
aspects of God which are beyond human understanding.
We call that mystery.
Even though I donít
think we can explain this, Iím still intrigued by what one preacher said.
The Rev. Craig Barnes is a Presbyterian minister, now president of
Princeton Seminary. In a sermon
about this text, he suggested that Uzzah was just being careful with the ark
while David was dancing around
with castanets at the head of the parade.
was the one who made the impulsive move to retrieve the ark, without taking
care to bring along the priests with poles for carrying it.
Rev. Barnes says, ďWhy did the Lordís anger burn against Uzzah?
Why didnít God strike down David?
I think it is because God has never been as offended by our
impulsiveness as by our carefulness.Ē
He goes on to say
that God will not boxed in, hauled around by our careful plans.
He is probably right in saying that many of us live too cautiously,
and that some impulsivity would indicate a more lively faith.
About that being Godís rationale for Uzzahís death, Iím not yet
What is clear to me
is that at the time of this event, the people were sure of the absolute
reality of Godís presence, a presence so powerful that lives were at stake.
And I wonder if I can get a hold of that kind of faith.
I notice three ways
that David responds to this reality.
First, when Uzzah dies, he is angry and afraid.
He says, ďHow can the Ark come into my care?Ē
So he leaves the Ark at the home of
Obed-edom for three months.
This first response is one of avoidance.
He just ignores the Ark,
thereby avoiding all thoughts of God.
But then word comes
to David that Obed-edom is being blessed by the very
presence of the Ark.
And David, of course,
wants his share of that blessing.
So he goes back to retrieve the
Only this time he treats it with the proper respect.
It is carried the right way and accompanied with sacrifices.
David even wears a linen ephod, which is the garment
of a priest, to demonstrate his respect.
It appears that he has learned that God will not be captured or
contained. God will be not be
hauled around or used to meet anyoneís purposes.
And then Davidís ultimate response is celebration, dancing and
shouting as they bring the Ark into Jerusalem.
The pattern I see is
anger and fear leading to avoidance of God, respect for God as evidenced by
religious ritual and then full-on joyful celebration of Godís presence in
community. I wonder if pieces
of that pattern are also true at different times in our lives and if being
able to name our own situation might sometimes help us move into the joy and
celebration we long to experience.
What I am coming to
see in these ancient stories is a very human man, a person who is sinful and
faithful at the same time, one who is politically savvy and manipulative and
still being used by God to lead Godís people.
I see a God who is involved, who is blessing David, but also a Power to be reckoned with, a Being
who will not hauled around to be used for personal or political purposes by
anyone, whether they are Godís identified enemies or Godís identified
The reality of Godís
presence is so powerful that lives are at stake. It is always a bad plan to
try to haul God on an oxcart.
In an election year, in any year, perhaps that is a timely message.
Thanks be to God.
One such scholar is Anna
Rev. Craig Barnes,
Time to Get Over It,
October 17, 2010