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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

David's Delight

Today we have an account of a chapter in the life of David. David was now King of Israel and reigning from Jerusalem, which he had captured in battle and made the capital city. This chapter is about joy. In verse 14, we read, ‘David was dancing before the Lord with all his might’. This was whole-hearted celebration. In the most well-known piece of writing that David ever wrote, Psalm 23, we find these words, ‘surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life’. There were days in David’s life where this truth must have been hard to appreciate; hard to cling onto; hard to believe. But not today. Today, the truth of David’s God was right before his eyes - ‘He is good; his love endures for ever’ (1 Chronicles 16:34). This was not a day set in isolation. Like every day, it followed on from the day before; yesterday. And the previous days, and the previous years, are relevant to this day of celebration. There is a ‘back story’ to every story. There is always history, always something in the past, which is relevant to today. I was reminded of this a week ago when watching Match of the Day. Leeds United had gone to Aston Villa and beaten them by 3 goals to nil. All three goals were scored by Patrick Bamford. It is generally considered quite special to score three goals in one game. The player gets to keep the match ball and this three goal feat is given a name. We call it a ‘hat-trick’. As the Match of the Day presenter noted, this was a ‘hat-trick for Patrick’. Patrick was interviewed after the game. Patrick held the match ball in his hands with pride. He had a beaming smile. He said, ‘I’ll be telling my kids, at some point in the future, about this. I’m sure I’ll never forget it.’ His happiness was infectious. I don’t support Leeds United but I was smiling with him! When the programme went back to the studio, the pundits were also affected in the same way. One of them was asked to comment on Patrick’s moment of celebration. He said that you could see it ‘in his interview there – the joy pouring out of him.’ Joy was pouring out of him! But the seed of that joy was in what had gone before. It was planted in his history.

Patrick Bamford had shown great potential as a goal scorer, as a young player. But, now, at 27 years old, he hadn’t quite fulfilled his potential. He had been moved around various football teams. Only once before had he scored a hat-trick and that was against the team that he currently plays for. He hadn’t enjoyed the full support of his own team’s fans. Most seemed to hold the view that he wasn’t good enough to play for Leeds United now that they were in the top division. But he had proved his doubters wrong. He had now scored six goals in six Premier League games which had only been equalled by one Leeds player in the past, and that player was a footballing legend. He had a Premier League hat-trick. His joy was all the more because it grew out of his past experience. This is exactly what we find with King David. His joy is linked to history. It is linked to David’s very recent history and the nation of Israel’s deeper history. To understand the joy of the moment we need to appreciate the back story. So, let’s take a look. The account centres on the ark of the covenant of the Lord. This was an object that was at the heart of the worship of God by his chosen people, Israel. After the Israelites had escaped from their Egyptian captivity, the Lord spoke to Moses and gave him detailed instructions for the construction of the ark. This is detailed in Exodus 37. It was a chest made from acacia wood that was completely overlaid with gold, inside and out. The stone tablets, on which the Ten Commandments were written, were placed inside it, along with other special items from Israel’s history. It had a cover, called the ‘atonement cover’, in the NIV, made of pure gold. At either end were two angel type figures, called cherubim, made of beaten gold, with their wings spread upwards to shadow the atonement cover. It had four gold rings attached, two on opposite sides, and through these rings were placed two poles of wood, again overlaid with gold, by which the ark was to be carried by the specially commissioned Levites whenever Israel relocated during their wilderness journey. Viewed as a mere object it would command an enormous sum of money. But it’s true worth was greater still. For, in a cloud above the atonement cover, between the two cherubim, Almighty God descended and spoke to his people Israel (Numbers 7:89). Back to David’s day, the ark was not in its rightful place. The ark should have be at the heart of Israelite worship and David believed that it should therefore be in its new capital, Jerusalem. But, much as the worship of God had been neglected by Israel, so the ark had been neglected also. Fifty years earlier the ark had been misused by Israel. It was before Israel had its first king, so before the reign of Saul.

This was at a time when the nation as a whole had departed from the worship of the one true and living God. In 1 Samuel 7:2-4 we have the account of Israel’s repentance and turning back to the Lord. This instructs us about their previous practices. Like the nations around them, they worshipped many Gods, described as ‘foreign gods’, ‘Baals’ and ‘Ashtoreths’. This must have been the situation with them as they went into battle in the account given three chapters previously, in 1 Samuel 4. Foolishly, they decided to bring the ark to the battlefield, as they prepared to fight with the Philistines. But they treated it like some magic object and they acted presumptuously. Yes, the ark brought God to Israel. The ark was a conduit through which God’s blessing to Israel came. So, Israel presumed that they would meet with God’s blessing if they took the ark to the battle. ‘Let us bring the ark... that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies’, they said (1 Samuel 4:3). Blessing did come to Israel through the ark, but only when Israel’s heart was right. And Israel’s heart was not right. Israel’s heart was divided. They shared what was rightfully the Lord’s with Baal and Ashtoreth and others. They did not have the singleness of heart that their God demanded (Deuteronomy 6:13-14). As a consequence, Israel was defeated and the ark was captured. The Philistines took it to the temple of Dagon in the port city of Ashdod. But the Lord was not pleased and caused supernatural events to take place. His ‘hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them’ (1 Samuel 5:6). Eventually, the Philistines consult their own religious leaders and decide to return the ark to Israel. 1 Samuel 6 paints a picture of the awe and reverence which these enemies of Israel gave to Israel’s God in that moment. It stands in marked contrast to Israel’s own attitude to their own God. That same chapter details further folly by Israel. Finally, the ark is brought to the Israelite city of Kiriath Jearim and left in the house of a man named Abinadab. His son Eleazar is consecrated to guard the ark. Verse 2 of 1 Samuel 7 reads ‘the ark remained in Kiriath Jearim a long time – twenty years in all’, but this could easily be misleading. It may mean an initial twenty year period of residence with Abinadab, which serves as an interlude before the second part of the verse where we read, ‘then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord’. Or it could be that the ark was moved and then returned. When Saul was King of Israel, he asked for the ark to be brought to the battlefield. This is in 1 Samuel 14 :18, although we aren’t actually told that Saul’s request was followed through. Two things are certain, though. One is that the ark was ‘neglected during the reign of Saul’. These are David’s words in the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 13:3, as recorded in the NLT.

The second thing we know is that the ark was either returned to Abinadab’s house, or it never moved from there, because that is where David goes to fetch it from. This gives a period of at least 50 years. Saul came to the throne after the ark was left with Abinadab and he reigned for 42 years (1 Samuel 13:1). David followed Saul as King but it was over seven years before he made Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The ark of God was neglected for five decades. David wants to put an end to this sad period of Israel’s history. Then David himself gets it wrong. This is recorded in the chapter of our text. Rather than consulting the record of God’s law, which stated that the ark must be carried (Numbers 4:15 & 7:9), the Israelites use a cart pulled by oxen. We then have this sad episode of the oxen stumbling and Uzzah reaching out to steady the ark, which results in his death. Before things hardly get started they are brought to a tragic halt. David is initially angry. How like our reaction when things go wrong. We look for someone to blame. Anyone but ourselves! David should have blamed himself. Instead, he is angry with the Lord (v.8). Then, his anger turns to fear and his fear turns to disillusionment. He asks the question, and how we hear his pain in it, ‘how can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?’ The ark is once again left behind. But goodness and mercy do follow David. Three months later, he is given the news that the household of Obed-Edom, where the ark was left, has been abundantly blessed ‘because of the ark of God’ (v.12). David is encouraged and his resolve returns. Now he has learnt a lesson from the previous tragedy and the ark is moved in accordance with God’s instructions. That is the back story. It is a sad, sad history. But out of it comes joy. Joy as the ark returns to the heart of Israel. When David dedicated the palace building to the Lord, he wrote the words which we find in Psalm 30. The words of David in that wonderful song are so relevant to the day described in today’s reading - ‘you turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent’. David could not be silent. His cup overflowed (Psalm 23:5) and his joy could not be contained. He truly lets himself go. There surely couldn’t have been anyone observing these events that would have mistaken David’s joy for anything else. But, sadly, David was judged and David was despised for his actions that day. And even sadder is the fact that he was misjudged by someone that should have understood him better than anyone. David was misjudged and despised by his wife Michal. It was my intention to focus this week on Michal’s comments and David’s response to them. But I am going to leave that until next time, if the Lord is willing. For the remainder of today’s time let us focus on the joy.

David’s joy was linked to the sadness of the past. On that day, things had been marvellously turned around, for Israel in general and for David in particular. Essentially, this is the main theme of the bible. The Lord does turn things around. He does this again and again and again. At creation, he brought light into the darkness. When sin entered into his creation, and death and ruin followed, the Lord promised that he would turn things around (Genesis 3:15). Like David, we all have a back story. It is a sad, dark, depressing one. Through sin, we have all gone astray from God (Romans 3:10-18) and deserve to perish. But the Lord can turn things around. He is able to do so. He is willing to do so. The bible tells us ‘that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). God turns things around at such great cost to himself and, yet, all he asks of us is that we turn back to him and believe what the bible teaches about salvation through his Son. This is what the apostle Paul taught. In Acts 20:21 we read Paul’s words to the church elders from Ephesus about the message of the gospel that he preached. He says, ‘I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.’ We have briefly considered the ark of the covenant law today. We have noticed that under the Old Covenant law this was part of the conduit through which the Lord’s blessing came to Israel. It was the channel through which blessing came to his people. Under the New Covenant, we have no need for an ark, or any other religious artefact to bring God’s blessing upon us. Hebrews 9 deals with this subject gloriously, as we have considered in recent weeks. We have no need of an ark. All that believers need is found in Jesus Christ. Matthew 1:23 talks about the fulfilment of prophecy when God’s Son came to our world. It quotes from Isaiah 7:14 with these words, ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).’ To commune with his Old Covenant people, Almighty God descended between the golden cherubim above the atonement cover. He was hidden in cloud, his glory not able to be viewed by sinful Israel. It was a meeting that was surrounded by an awesome fear and expectation. How this is seen in today’s chapter. Uzzah reaches out to touch the ark. Uzzah dies. But, in his Son, God meets with us in a new and life-giving way (Hebrews 10:20 NLT). Jesus is truly ‘God with us’. Through Jesus, God is speaking to us directly, and his glory is no longer hidden from view. Hebrews 1:2-3 assures us of this amazing fact. We read, ‘in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’. Uzzah reached out and touched the ark and his sin led to his death. But in the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ the Lord we are invited to reach out; to touch God and receive life. That is some turnaround! What joy should be ours as we believe in Jesus? The New Testament is full of encouragement for believers to have joy. Paul says, in Philippians 1:4 ‘in all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy’. Always. Salvation of souls, partnership in the gospel, the continued work of Christ in people’s lives, were a constant matter for rejoicing with Paul, and so they should be for us. What about when life is difficult? Well, there is a wonderful statement in Psalm 94:19. May we prove the truth of it - ‘when anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.’ The gospel is a turnaround message. And the bible calls on believers to turn around again and again. Do life’s difficulties impact on our joy? Then look again. Look again to Jesus. There is no other answer. Paul’s joy was wrapped up in this. Yes, we often start projects but never get them finished, but our Lord doesn’t. Paul says, ‘(I’m) confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 1:6). I will finish with Paul’s prayerful request from Romans 15:13. ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


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