2 Samuel 6:11 (ESV) … “And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.”
The Ark of the Covenant was to be kept in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle, for it symbolized the glorious throne of God (Pss. 80:1; 99:1 niv); but for over seventy-five years, the Ark had been absent from the divine sanctuary at Shiloh. The Philistines captured the Ark when Eli was judge (1 Sam. 4) and then returned it to the Jews because the Lord sent judgment on the Philistines. First the Ark was sent to Beth Shemesh and then was taken to Kiriath Jearim and guarded in the house of Abinadab (1 Sam 5:1–7:1). During the reign of David, there were two high priests, Zadok and Ahimelech (2 Sam. 8:17), and it’s possible that one served at the sanctuary, which was in Shiloh and then moved to Gibeon (2 Chron. 1:1–6), while the other ministered at court in Jerusalem. David pitched a tent for the Ark in the City of David, but the furnishings in the tabernacle weren’t moved to Jerusalem until after Solomon completed the temple (1 Kings 8:1–4; 2 Chron. 5:1–5).
Why did David want the Ark in Jerusalem? For one thing, he wanted to honor the Lord and give Him His rightful place as King of the nation. But David also had a secret desire in his heart to build a sanctuary for the Lord (see chap. 7; Ps. 132:1–5), and the first step would be to place the Ark in the capital city. David knew that the Lord desired a central sanctuary (Deut. 12:5, 11, 21; 14:23–24; 16:2, 6, 11; 26:2), and he hoped the Lord would let him build it. David’s dream didn’t come true, but he did buy the land on which the temple was built (2 Sam. 24:18ff), and he provided the temple plans and the wealth and materials needed for its construction (1 Chron. 28–29).
Surely there was a political reason as well for moving the Ark to Jerusalem, for it symbolized “one nation under God.” David involved all the key leaders in the land in planning the event and issued a general invitation to the priests and Levites to come to Jerusalem from all their cities. “So David assembled all the Israelites, from the Shihor River in Egypt to Lebo Hamath [or “the entrance to Hamath”], to bring the Ark of God from Kiriath Jearim” (1 Chron. 13:5). Hamath marked the northernmost boundary assigned by God to Israel (Num. 34:8). It was David’s hope that past divisions and tribal differences would be forgotten as the people focused on the Lord. The presence of the Ark meant the presence of the Lord, and the presence of the Lord meant security and victory.
But one thing was missing: there is no record that David sought the mind of the Lord in this matter. Relocating the Ark to Jerusalem seemed a wise idea and everybody was enthusiastic about doing it, but the king didn’t follow his usual pattern of asking the Lord for His directions. After all, what pleases the king and the people may not please God, and what doesn’t please God will not have His blessing. David’s first attempt failed miserably because the Levites didn’t carry the Ark on their shoulders. God had given specific directions through Moses how the tabernacle was to be erected, dismantled, and transported (Num. 4), and the major pieces of furniture were to be carried on the shoulders of the Levites who descended from Kohath (vv. 4:9–20). When they used a new cart drawn by oxen, they were following the pattern of the pagan Philistines (1 Sam. 6), not the pattern given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The lesson here is obvious: God’s work must be done in God’s way if it is to have God’s blessing. The fact that all the leaders of Israel agreed to use the cart didn’t make it right. When it looked like the Ark would fall from the cart, Uzzah presumptuously took hold of it to steady it, and he was killed. But God had warned about this in the Law of Moses, and every Israelite surely knew of it (Num. 1:51; 4:15, 20). There’s no evidence that Abinadab was a Levite or that his sons Uzzah and Ahio were even qualified to be near the Ark, let alone touch it. David quickly had the Ark taken into the house of Obed-Edom, who was a Levite (1 Chron. 15:18, 21, 24; 16:5; 26:4–8, 15), and there it remained for three months.
The church today needs to heed this reminder and return to the Word of God for an understanding of the will of God. No amount of unity or enthusiasm can compensate for disobedience. When God’s work is done in man’s way, and we imitate the world instead of obeying the Word, we can never expect the blessing of God. The crowds may approve what we do, but what about the approval of God? The way of the world is ultimately the way of death.