For the week of April 17, 2004 / 26 Nisan 5764
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 6:1 - 7:17
Originally published the week of April 6, 2002 / 24 Nisan 5762

Follow the Instructions

So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing (2 Samuel 6:12).

After King David set up Jerusalem as Israel's capital, he decided to bring the ark of the Lord there. The ark was a most sacred object central to Israel's worship ritual. As the story goes this first attempt was most tragic. As they were transporting the ark on a ox cart, the oxen stumbled, and a man named Uzzah tried to prevent the ark from falling. Because he touched it, which was something no one was ever to do, God struck him dead.

David was very upset as a result and refused to bring the ark any further. So it was left in a home in that vicinity for three months before David made another attempt, which this time was successful.

Our portion tells us they transported the ark differently the second time. Instead of using oxen and a cart, we read that it was carried (2 Samuel 6:12). Why they did it differently the second time is found in the first book of Divrei Yamim (1 Chronicles). David said,

"It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the Lord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way." So the priests and Levites consecrated themselves in order to bring up the ark of the Lord , the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God with the poles on their shoulders, as Moses had commanded in accordance with the word of the Lord (Divrei Yamim A / 1 Chronicles 15:13-15).

It was their failure to observe God's regulations in how they transported the ark that led to disaster. Had they taken the time to refer to the Torah, Uzzah would not have died, and much grief would have been avoided.

But how is it that they so easily neglected God's clear directions in this matter? The ark was such an important object, and David and the others must have at least been aware that God had given detailed instructions concerning it even though they may have forgotten what the details were. Here are a couple of suggestions of what may have led to their being so careless.

The last time the ark was moved was many years earlier when the Philistines, who had captured it from the Israelites in battle, returned it without incident (1 Samuel 6). How did they transport it? They used a cattle-driven cart. We don't know for certain that this was in David's mind, but we naturally tend to think that if something works for some people, then it should work for us too. If the ark was successfully transported by cart the last time, why would it not work this time?

But this is not right. God doesn't deal with all people exactly the same. He hadn't given instructions about the ark to the Philistines as he did to the Israelites. Also the people of Israel were told over and over again not to copy the customs of the other nations around them.

The second thing that may have led to their negligence was that things were going really well for the nation at that time. It is easy to be careless when life is good. When we feel blessed (or lucky as some would say), we tend to think that nothing could go wrong. But just because God's favor is on us at any given time, that doesn't mean that we can afford the risk of careless behavior.

We shouldn't need disasters to alert us to our negligence. This disaster could have been easily avoided if David and the others would have paid more attention to God's instructions.

We mustn't base how we live upon either the results of other people's actions or upon how things are going in our own lives. Instead, we need to be directed by what God is actually saying to us.

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