For the week of April 14, 2007 / 26 Nisan 5767
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 6:1 - 7:17
They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. (2 Samuel 6:3,4)
The ark of God referred to in this passage is also known as the Ark of the Covenant. It was a gold-covered chest that was to be kept in the most sacred area of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle) and later, the Temple. Some time before the time period of this passage, it had been taken into battle and captured by the Philistines. The Philistines placed it in the temple of their god, Dagon. After several destructive occurrences, the Philistines discerned that the God of Israel was displeased with their keeping the ark, so they returned it. It remained at the house of Abinadab until after David became king and eventually sought to bring it to Jerusalem.
This happened at a time when things were going well for the nation of Israel. The return of the ark was one of several positive signs of those times. The return of the ark was accompanied with much joy and celebration. But at some point the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah, one of the sons of Abinadab, grabbed the ark. No one but the priests of Israel was ever to touch this most sacred object, and so as a result, God struck him dead. After this, David wasn't willing to take the ark any further. It would be three months before David would again attempt to bring it to Jerusalem.
We read in a parallel account of this story that when David made his second attempt to bring the ark, the method of transport was very different from that used in the disastrous first attempt:
That only men from the tribe of Levi should carry the ark was established in the Torah (see Bemidbar / Numbers 4:15 and Devarim / Deuteronomy 10:8).
Why David neglected this instruction the first time is not stated, but there is something in this from which we may be able to glean an important lesson. When the Philistines returned the ark to Israel, they had come up with an elaborate method that they thought would be best. One aspect of that was transporting it on a new cart. In that case the transport of the ark went according to plan with no mishaps (see 1 Samuel 5 & 6).
While we certainly don't know for sure, it is conceivable that David, knowing that the Philistines had successfully delivered the ark the way they did, sought in some way to copy their methodology. Even if he wasn't aware of it, his method was unintentionally patterned after theirs to some extent.
The Philistines didn't have God's revelation of the Torah, while Israel did. God showed favor toward the Philistines in their humility and respect toward the ark. He did not hold them accountable for the directives he had given to Israel. On the other hand, Israel's neglect of God's clear directives proved to be disastrous for them.
I wonder how many times we determine what is good and right for ourselves by looking at the lives of others. We tend to assume that if good results occur when others do what they do, then we too will experience the same results. But God doesn't treat everyone the same. He holds each of us accountable according to what he has revealed to us.
It also seems that many think we can experience the successes of others by copying their methods, but life doesn't work that way. What God wants is for each one of us to know him personally and to allow him to instruct us in his ways, seeking him for wisdom in how to live our lives. This is not to say it is we ourselves who determine our own truth. God has established his Truth through the Scriptures. What we need to do is to be careful not to filter God's truth through the experiences of others. Instead we need to allow God through his Word to directly impact our lives. As we do that we will avoid many unnecessary disasters.
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