February 23, 2007

Don't even put the ox before the cart . . .

2 Samuel has a story that has always troubled me. David and his men have defeated the Philistines and retaken the Ark of God that belongs in their place of worship. As they bring it to Jerusalem with great celebration, the oxen carrying this precious cargo stumble. A man named Uzzah puts out his hand to steady it, and with great anger God strikes him dead.

Uzzah’s action seems so innocent. Who wouldn’t have done the same thing? However, the Laws governing the service in the tabernacle say that the sons of Kohath are supposed to carry its furnishings, including the Ark, and “they shall not touch any holy thing lest they die.”

My study Bible says that this command about touching was to preserve the sense of God’s holiness and the importance of spiritual preparation before coming into His presence. No one should ever approach God lightly or without an understanding of His power and majesty.

My devotional book goes farther back in the story. After sympathizing with those of us who are troubled by this account, the author points out that David was not to transport the Ark on a cart in the first place. While it seemed okay, it was David’s idea, not God’s. God had appointed people to do the job, but David substituted an ox cart.

This writer goes on to say that God can take care of His own business, but too often we step in to arrange things and do things that we should wait for God to arrange or do. Or we move ahead with our grand ideas without Him asking us to do anything. We think we are doing His work, but it is our version, not His.

Jesus said, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing." My ideas, no matter how spiritual they seem, will not bear fruit. Instead my impetuousness could bring disaster.

This is a difficult lesson. It is one thing to learn not to do overtly sinful things, but going my own way in serving God is also sinful; He is not directing my actions.

The Bible says, “David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?’”

At this point David couldn’t see a way that the Ark could ever be brought home. It seems logical that he should simply go find some Kohathites, but he didn’t think of that at the time. I can relate to this too, in fact, today it hits me where I am.

I thought of a solution to a huge problem with a family member. I came to my Bible this morning with the prayer, “Lord, if this is not your idea, make it very plain.” In this reading, He made it plain. I would be trying this with an ox cart, but more than that, He makes it clear that I am not prepared to carry out my plan, and that any attempt without adequate preparation would be disastrous.

David left the Ark with a nearby family. In a few months he went to get it. The text says, “when those bearing the Ark of the Lord had gone six paces. . . .” David got it right. No ox cart; some people were carrying it as God commanded.

The text doesn’t say what happened to David during that waiting time, but if my experiences with God are any indication, in some way God prepared him for the task that He wanted him to do. This time, no one died and God blessed David for his obedience.

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