Who is Carrying the Ark?

II Samuel 6:1-10

David desired to restore worship to Jerusalem and a prime requirement of that was to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem. To accomplish this goal, the scripture said he took 30,000 chosen men and took them to bring the ark back to Jerusalem. He took great care no doubt because David was a man of passionate devotion. The Scripture takes care to note that David put the ark on a new cart. The Hebrew word here means "new, new thing, or fresh." David probably had a special cart made for this occasion. It was probably a cart that had never been used for any more mundane purpose.

No doubt the oxen were also fine animals. David probably spared no effort and expense to make sure he had secured the best animals. Imagine the expense and fanfare as the ark was carefully placed on the cart and finally began to move back towards Jerusalem. This was the most holy symbol God had given the Hebrews. The ark was typically hidden away in the holy of holies, visible only to the priests. Imagine the excitement and the people crowding one another to get a glimpse at the thing that was so significant to the Israelites. Imagine the gleaming beauty of the ark as its gold covering shimmered in the sun.

The Scripture continues that David and the people with him played and celebrated before the Lord with all their might. They put all their effort into raising their voices and raising their instruments in worship. Picture what a sight it must have been. David, one of Scriptures most intense worshipers, was leading the procession. The Scripture indicates they were playing and worshipping with all their might. David was a genuine worshipper so the worship was doubtless genuine and intense. I am quite sure you could hear the worshippers for some distance. David, being the king, would have also had a large procession following along side him. In short there is no doubt that David made this quite an event. He longed to worship and he longed for others to worship and the ark was central to their worship.

Then, in the midst of this glorious procession, something terrible happened. The oxen stumbled and shook the cart as they came to Nacan's threshing floor. Uzzah reached out and touched the ark and died immediately. David became so afraid of the ark and upset at God that he halted the procession to bring the ark into Jerusalem and instead left it at Obed-edom's house and returned to Jerusalem. The key issue here is not just Uzzah's fatal act of touching the ark. The issue, as David later learned, was that the ark was being moved improperly.

God had given very specific rules on how the ark was to be moved and David violated those rules. Even though he had the best of intentions and was trying to advance the worship of God and restore it to the capital city of Israel, he tried to do so using his own best efforts rather than move the ark the way God commanded. In fact, David moved the ark the very way the Philistines had moved it by placing it on a cart. He used the Philistine's method rather than the method that God had ordained to move the ark.

God had specifically given instructions on how the ark was to be moved. It was to only be moved by the Levites and the weight of the ark was to rest on the Levites shoulders by two staffs covered over in gold. The ark was never to be pulled by oxen on a cart. That is the method of flesh. The Philistines used that method to transport the ark. It was a method that represented what mankind could do out of his own ability. It was a method totally devote of the process and requirements of God and rested instead on the abilities of man.

Oxen are beasts of burden. They sweat and work and toil. That is their primary purpose. They are hard workers used to till the cursed ground. The weight of God's dwelling place is not be pulled by something that represents sweat and weight and effort. Remember Jesus said "my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Not only was the ark not to be pulled by oxen, its weight was not to be supported by a cart made by man. The weight was to be supported by a priest and a priest alone and that priest could only carry the weight by bearing on his shoulders a staff covered in gold. The weight was to be borne, not by something that man created, but by somebody that only God can create.

The ark was meant to be carried by a man. The symbol of God's presence, power, and glory can be carried only by men. No other creature on earth is fit to carry it. A man, consecrated to God as a priest, is the only being in the universe that is fit to carry God's presence upon the earth. In fact, man was created precisely for this reason. Man was created as the being that could take the glory of God that exists in the spirit and demonstrate that glory and authority in the physical world on the earth. God will not allow anything else on the earth to carry His glory. His glory is carried by men who wield the staff of God that is attached to his glory just as the rods used to support the ark were. They are staffs that are not held upright as the normal staff is, but it is a staff of authority that is laid on its side in submission to God and is shared with another as each staff rested on two men's shoulders.

No single man carries God's glory on the earth, but rather He rests his authority on His body on the earth. His kingdom of priests shares His authority on the earth and they are to use that authority for the purpose of establishing His reign on the earth and bringing His glory to the earth. How do they do this? By consecrating themselves as priests that they might take on the staff, or the authority, of Christ and then using that staff to carry the very presence of Christ to the world. For upon such men's shoulders rests, not only the glory of God, but Jesus Christ Himself.

You see that ark represented Jesus Christ. God's revelation of His power and glory on the earth is found in Jesus Christ and Him alone. Just like Christ, the ark was made of two very distinct natures. It was fashioned first out of lowly wood. It was then covered entirely with gold. Jesus also was fashioned of the dust of the ground that He might be man and yet was also overlaid with the pure gold of His divinity. What shines forth is His divinity. What rests just beneath the surface is His humanity. The two become one inseparable unit fashioned from two natures.

The ark itself is God's witness to the world of what He desires. He desires men, strong men, of character and perseverance and endurance just like the acaia wood. Those same men are to then be fashioned and overlaid with pure gold. The ark is not only the glory of God Himself but it is the offer of God to the world. It is God holding out to men the opportunity to have their dusty frame overlaid with the divine and to have their fallen nature overlaid and supplanted by the divine.

Even the rods the priests bore on their shoulders illustrated this. They did not just bear rods of wood which would resemble a man's staff of authority. They bore the ark with rods of wood that were overlaid with gold. Even the authority inherent to a wooden staff had to be overlaid with gold as the authority it had as a staff was not enough unless that staff also carried the divine authority.

Carrying the ark placed a demand on the priests and God is asking the question today, "Are there men who can carry the ark?" Are there men who can carry the weight of the ark just by themselves with no man-made tools or helps or do we have a better method of carrying the ark? What David did was done with the best intensions and the purest hearts. Not only that, he was one of the most intense worshippers recorded in Scripture. He lived as close to God's heart as he could and he shared his feelings openly with God. His desire in moving the ark was to have the symbol of God's presence as close to him as he could and move the symbol of God's presence back to the center of the nation.

So then David's motives and the attitude of his heart were completely pure. The problem is that the methods used were not according to the Divine requirement. The methods used to accomplish a noble and pure goal were the methods of the flesh. They were methods of man's ability. The lesson here is very significant because using these methods ultimately had a part in causing Uzzah's death.

How often, though, do we try to evangelize or "advance the kingdom" or "fight the culture wars" or "take our cities for Jesus" using the best methods we can come up with? We worship long and loud and we make a display to the world about Jesus and proclaim Him publicly. Yet are trying to carry the glory of God, the presence of Jesus, and the good news of the gospel to the world using our best efforts and our wisdom?

Do we seek to advance the kingdom using only men that have the kind of character to carry the presence of the Lord and His authority on their shoulders only using Divine strategies or are we simply sanctifying the techniques of the flesh? Or, even more dangerous, are we mixing the two? David combined extravagant, loud worship with the attempt to move God's presence with beasts of burden and a man made cart. God will allow such mixture for only a limited period of time.

Christianity will also shake, stumble, and falter when the load is carried by the effort of man. Man's toil cannot sustain the weight of God's glory. God would rather have the very symbol of His power and presence fall to the ground than sustain it by man's ability. This was a fatal and expensive lesson for Uzzah and it has been expensive in our day. How many times does the church stumble? How many scandals does God allow? He does nothing to stop them because he refuses to just sweep things up under the rug. He refuses to build a church upon any foundation other than His Son. He allows the church built upon man to fail and to fail publicly. The only church He covers and protects is the one that is built upon His Son.

He allows men to use His name, but He does not allow them to carry His presence and righteousness so long as they are at the center of the effort. As long as there is sweat, toil, and ingenuity at the center of any effort, no matter how pure the intention, how public the display, or how productive it seems to be.

I am not here to name names or try to tear anyone down, but consider things yourself. How much work is going on today to expand the "kingdom of God," a term I do not even think we could all describe in the same way, that has more basis in human effort, achievement and marketing techniques than it does in the glory of God? I am wondering more and more if the reason that our youth are leaving the church in droves is less because we do not present the intellectual arguments for Christianity decisively and more that the presence of God is not in His temple. They pull back the curtain of the Scriptures with its promises of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit and they can find no visible demonstration of such power and so they cast the thing aside.

The church can and should make intellectual arguments for Christianity and refuse to surrender the marketplace of ideas to her opponents, but all her intellectual arguments mean nothing if the power of God is not in her midst. Paul made a brilliant speak on Mars Hill and the author of Hebrews contains many brilliant arguments to the Jews for the gospel, but if the power of the resurrection is not in our midst then, as Paul said, we of all men are most to be pitied.

How will the redemption of God be taken to the world? The mercy seat is God's mechanism of redemption for mankind. It is here that the blood of Christ was sprinkled that you and I might live. The only way this mercy seat can be taken to the world is for men and women to be in a place with God where they can bear the weight of his authority and let it rest on them. Such individuals are the only mechanism God uses to transport His mercy seat and they will be the only ones that will take His mercy seat to the world.

God is making a call and asking "Who will carry the ark?" Carrying the ark places a great demand on the men who carry the ark. It is not a light thing. It requires the character of God and the purity of a priest. It requires a consecrated life and lifestyle. It is not a light thing to carry the ark and at the same time it is not a task of toil and sweat either. Christianity in this day and hour, particularly in the western world, is stumbling under the weight of our current methods. We have used man made methods as long as we can.

We have used every tool at our disposal to try to bring the presence of God. The amount of television and radio broadcasts, printed material and resources, conferences and teachings, and churches is staggering. I doubt that any country in the world has ever seen a gospel enterprise on the scale of what America has. And I am not here to try to tear it down or attack it, but I have to ask one fundamental question: with all this effort, money, toil, sweat, and activity why is the presence of God so seemingly absent? Why does God not crown this activity with the same glory He rested on the first century church?

I am not attempting to tear down any one institution, but rather ask the question that nobody wants to face. In Herod's temple, there was nothing in the Holy of Holies and yet the worship continued as though there were. The ark was gone and yet worship continued year after year. Likewise, are we willing to face the music and admit that the ark is missing from our houses of worship as well? If someone was to walk in the church and pull back the veil, would He find the glory of God hovering over the mercy seat or would we be ashamed to find that that there is nothing there?

Christianity, or some flavor of it, has long been a bedrock of western civilization. That, however, has changed. We now live in a time where the world is becoming more and more openly hostile to Christianity. In the past men were content to pay lip service to Christianity even if they did not embrace the rulership of Christ in their hearts. However, that is no longer true. Men now openly assault Christianity on every side. The world has changed and this hour in history is quite different from the way the western world has been in times past.

Men no longer are content to submit to at least a portion of the requirements of Christian morality. They now pull back the curtains of our Christianity with reckless abandon and the great tragedy is that they find, more often than not, that the ark is not there. We worship and sound pious and make quite a display and talk about the power and holiness of God, but these things have become abstract concepts, doctrines, and ideologies rather than present realities.

Perhaps the Christian church is losing the next generation, not just because they do not teach a coherent Christian world view, but because the kids know that the presence is not there and they are no longer content to follow the form and adopt the framework of their parents.

We have tried long and hard and thrown a lot of money and effort into rescuing America, and I am not saying it has all been wrong or is a wasted effort. Again, I have no desire to tear down, but to build up. However, we must look at our efforts and examine them carefully. Are we advancing the cause of Christ by carrying His ark upon the shoulders of men that are fit for the task, or are we using every method that is natural to men to attempt to advance the gospel?

God's ways and his requirements are different from ours. He discards money, power, status, talent, and achievements. In short, He ignores everything that creates inequality and division among men. He requires no grand efforts and no expensive campaigns. He makes a requirement that is far more difficult because it is far more personal. The requirement of God in this hour is men.

He can replace everything that we can accomplish with all our worship, music, money, talents, effort, commitments, sweat, and toil with a few men that He possesses that are fit to carry the ark. That is really all He is after and the church will ultimately stumble and falter unless that requirement is met. God's answer to the world is not the success of Christianity; it is the transformation of a fallen man into the image of His Son.

Whenever a fallen man is transformed into the image of Christ by the power and presence of the Spirit of God, God has His answer to the world. All the other efforts have their root in good intentions but they are fundamentally flawed and will never achieve the goal of expanding the kingdom of God. Jesus was very clear that the kingdom was not of this world. It does not use the methods of this world, nor does it find its manifestation in the systems of this world. The two are on a collision course. Paul reminds us that our citizenship is of another realm. Peter calls us "Aliens."

Our strategies to fight the "culture war" in the west must come from above. They may seem foolish to our natural minds, and no doubt will be must simpler and much less grand than what we could come up with. However, there is a decision here with far reaching implications. We can make much sacrifice, effort and fanfare for God and ultimately lose or we can submit to His methods and carry His presence in the way that He intended even though the enemy will fit it with all his vengeance and the world will mock it.

This is the basis of Jesus' commission to the disciples: Go and make disciples. We are not to amass a group of followers or to sign men onto our values. We are to make disciples. We are to make men capable of carrying the ark. The church can no longer be run simply by the men that are the best at business or bring the most financial resources to the table. They may be very good men. They may make many financial sacrifices to push the church forward, but this is not God's requirement. He is looking for disciples that can carry the ark. Such men may be failures in the world's system, but they are precious to God.

Our role as believers then is not just to carry the ark ourselves, but to also to commit our life to building up other believers that they may be disciples that can carry the ark as well. It is our God given commission and we dare not shrink away from it. It is a heavy requirement to be sure and something that does not come easy, but it is the only way to advance the kingdom. It is the only way to meet God's requirements in this hour. It is one thing to create nice men's and women's programs and to have a nice "discipleship program," but quite enough to develop men and women God's way. It is a million times more difficult than running successful programs, but we dare not shrink away from God's requirements unless we are just looking for a successful religion to fill up a small appetite for some kind of spiritual activity. If we long to be possessed by God and if we want His presence in our midst, then there is no other answer but to become a disciple and go and make disciples.