“And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
When God gave Moses instructions for building the ark as recorded in Exodus, He was really specific about it. Every single detail of how it was to be made and what it was to look like was spelled out exactly as God wanted it. He even gave them instructions for how to make the materials (gold-covered poles) with which the ark was to be transported. These poles were the only things that were to be used to move the ark. And nobody was to touch it. Ever.
The ark was the most powerful symbol of God’s presence the people of Israel had. The tabernacle was certainly important, but God’s presence was said to be directly present between the cherubim on the lid of the ark. For more than 20 years, though, the ark had not been in the tabernacle. After it was returned by the Philistines first to Beth-shemesh, and then to Kiriath-Jearim, the ark had been residing in the house of Abinadab. This meant that when the people went to encounter the presence of God in worship in the tabernacle, it wasn’t there. Once David had fully secured his reign over all of Israel, he decided it was time to fix that. So he went to get it and bring it home.
But, for all the care Abinadab’s family had given to caring for it, by the time his grandsons were its guardians (Uzzah and Ahio were the grandchildren of Abinadab; this does not represent an error, though, because a Hebrew literary custom was to refer to multiple generations as the “sons” of some notable ancestor) had evidently forgotten how it was to be transported. Rather than shouldering it on a pair of golden poles, they put it on a cart. It was a new cart, but it was still a cart. They didn’t do it like God had rather explicitly told them to do it.
When we do something other than the way God has told us to do something—even if we are ostensibly doing something for Him—we’re setting ourselves up for trouble. That was certainly the case here. God doesn’t give us instructions for no reason. He tells us to do things a certain way on occasion because He wants them that way. We may not always understand the why behind it, but we can trust that He knows what He’s talking about.
In this case, God had given the people the ark as a physical representation of His presence. They had taken that flippantly in the past and paid for it. If He allowed them to do so now as David was bringing it back to be a symbol of God’s presence blessing his kingship, this flippancy would have introduced a crack into the very foundation of his reign that would have eventually created major problems.
In our own situations, we understand the presence of God very differently because of Christ and the cross. God’s presence dwells within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. There is no physical thing that represents it more presently than us. When as followers of Jesus who are bearing the Spirit of God in our hearts we walk a path of sin, we are taking this presence just as flippantly as David was here. There will be consequences for that. They may not come immediately, but they will come.
Let us take the incredible treasure of God’s Spirit and presence we bear by the grace we have been given in Jesus with the seriousness it deserves.