Caricature or Reality (pt 2)
(1 Sam 6:19-7:2; 2 Sam 6; Phil 4:4)
Summary: Following the movement of the Ark in early Israelites history, we learn that God is holy and that means that he is not a commodity, but Lord. It also means that even though Joy is appropriate and even commanded, God must be approached with reverence before he can be approached with Joy. It is only when we have reverence that we can acceptably have joy in the Lord.
Last week we saw that the number one characteristic of God is that he is holy. We need to understand this about God so we can make sure we are worshipping him and not some caricature of him we have made up in our mind.
Do you know what a caricature is? We usually think of it as a picture, such as a political cartoon or drawing at a fair where someone exaggerates some features of another person. It is curious how it works, because even though it is not a true to life representation, you can tell who it is.
People do the same thing with God. What we will see from the texts we will read this morning is that serving a caricature of God can be disastrous.
So that is why we begin once again with God's holiness. The epicenter of God's holiness in Israel was the Ark of the covenant. It was the most holiest object in the most holy place in Israel. Why was it so holy? It was the place where the glory of God dwelt. He sat enthroned above the Cherubim.
So when the Philistines defeated the Philistines in battle, the Israelites were puzzled. So they brought the Ark from its sanctuary in Shiloh out to their encampment on the battlefield. The Philistines were terrified. They had heard of the exploits of Yahweh and how he smote the Egyptians. So they fought with all their might, defeated Israel and captured the ark. This was a gloomy day for Israel. How could this happen? Why did it happen? The glory of God had departed Israel!
The Philistines take the Ark back to Ashdod and set it in their own temple with Dagon. They had captured a most powerful God. With BOTH Yahweh and Dagon together, nothing could defeat them. They were now invincible. However, the next morning, their god Dagon had toppled over on his face. They had to set their God back up again. They should have nailed him down to make sure he didn't fall again. The next morning, not only was Dagon prostrated before the presence of Yahweh, he was broken too. Then the plagues and pestilence started. They knew it was because they had the Ark which didn't belong to them. So they sent it to Gath, and the same thing happened there. So the leaders of Gath sent the Ark away to Ekron. The people of Ekron cried out when they say the Ark coming. They didn't want it and the distasters it would bring. So they sent the Ark back to Israel on a cart. After seven month in Philistia, the Ark came home.
Imagine the joy of the Israelites as the men of Beth Shemesh saw the Ark returning. They were overjoyed to see it. Can you imagine the cheering and the celebration? God was back! Their celebration came to an abrupt halt.
1 Sam 6:19-20 - "He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter. The men of Beth-shemesh said, "Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?""
That is more than the number of people in Leavenworth and Lansing combined! Their joy turned to fear.
The Israelites are about react the same way the Philistines did. They sent the Ark away.
1 Sam 6:21-7:2 - "So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, "The Philistines have brought back the ark of the Lord; come down and take it up to you. And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took the ark of the Lord and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord. From the day that the ark remained at Kiriath-jearim, the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord."
Did you know that the Ark remained in someone's house for safe keeping for 20 years? It was not to protect the Ark, but to protect the people. So the Ark sat their like a caged dangerous beast for 20 years. The people obviously did not understand their God yet.
Lesson 1 - God is not a commodity to be possessed and used
What can we learn about God from all of this? God is Holy. Just a few chapters prior to this, Hannah declares that there is "no one holy like the Lord (2 Sam 2:2)." Both the Israelites and the Philistines alike had not understood this about God. To them, he was some charm or talisman they could carry about to bring them good fortune. The Israelites thought that by bringing God's Ark out on the battlefield, they would be invincible. The Ark was not a magic wand they could wave to destroy the enemy. The Philistines thought the power of God could be a war trophy that they could possess by putting it alongside their own god, Dagon. They were sorely mistaken. The Ark was not some victory trophy they could catch and use for their own purposes. God was not a power to be possessed.
Today, this would be similar to charms that people use. There was a time when I was very young I had a rabbit foot. Many people have carried a rabbit foot or similar object thinking it would make things go better for them. Maybe it is a lucky suit, lucky shoes, or even a particular type of fragrance. Some even go so far as to wear a cross around the neck thinking it would ward of evil spirits. But that is not how God works. God is not a lucky charm to wield and use for our own goals.
Sometimes we say Jesus is mine! It would be better to say "I am his." We don't possess him, he possesses us.
Now we jump years into the future. David, a man after God's own heart, wants to bring the Ark to Jerusalem.
2 Sam 6:1-11 - "Now David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim. They placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart. So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals. But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. David became angry because of the Lord's outburst against Uzzah, and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. So David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, "How can the ark of the Lord come to me? And David was unwilling to move the ark of the Lord into the city of David with him; but David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. Thus 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. "
Disaster strikes again! What happened? It seems as if history is repeating itself. God unleashes his wrath once again. David is scared and leaves the ark in someone's house again. What happened? Is God too dangerous for anyone to approach?
Most of us probably remember at this point that God had specifically told the Israelites that only the Levites were to touch the Ark. But there is more to all this that just that.
Lesson 2 - Approach God with Reverence
The text says that God struck down Uzzah for his "irreverence." In Hebrew, it literally says that God struck him down for the irreverence. It wasn't just Uzzah's irreverence for touching the Ark, it was the irreverence of the whole fiasco. God had specifically told them that the Ark was to be carried by Levites on their shoulders. Not on a cart.
Some of the imagery of the indignity of being on a cart may be lost to us. In that culture, carrying a king or a dignitary on poles was commonplace. The dignitary would be elevated above others. Those carrying him would be the servants. It would be similar to a horse bearing the rider. The master is the rider, the servant is the horse.
On the other hand, you carry commodities in a cart. We may not relate to this very well, but we can relate to carrying things in the back of a pickup or moving truck. In the back of a truck, you carry resources to be used. It might be lumber. It could be furniture. I could be auto parts. Whatever it is, it is a commodity to be used. You don't transport important visitors on the back of a pickup truck. They get the limo.
So not only was carrying the Ark on a cart disobedient, it was undignified. It was treating God as a commodity to be used. You don't transport a king in the back of a truck. He gets the limo with a driver. We are the driver, he is the master. Treating God with indignity can result in his wrath.
God's wrath may be a hard concept to swallow. We usually think of anger and wrath as a sign of weakness. We think of it as a character flaw. So we don't like to attribute anger and wrath to God. But there is no difficulty if we remember that God's anger and wrath is not like ours. Consider the source of our own anger. It comes from impatience, insecurity, fear, or powerlessness.
One clear example of this is road rage. Someone is on the road, impatience, feeling powerless, and becomes agitated and angry enough to release his wrath. He may wind up getting into a fistfight or even killing someone. His anger spins out of control. However, God is not impatient, insecure, fearful, or powerless. The Bible shows us that God is patient, secure, and all powerful. So the source of God's anger is not the same as the source of our anger. When God gets angry, it is when his holiness is trampled on. Furthermore, his anger is controlled anger. It does not spin out of control. If so, then we would all have been gone a long time ago. When we treat him as anything less than the God he is, we are sinning. So God's wrath is holy wrath.
So this tells us that since God is holy and cannot be possessed as a commodity, he should be treated with reverential fear. We are his servants and are to take his yoke upon us. It is not that God is too dangerous to approach. It is that we need to approach him with a proper attitude and a proper heart. It is similar to approaching electricity. It is not that it is too dangerous. It is that it needs to be approached properly. In a similar way, we need to approach God in a way that acknowledges his holiness.
What does that mean in practical terms for us today? Let's continue to read and see how they approached a holy God.
2 Sam 6:12-15 - "Now it was told King David, saying, "The Lord has blessed the house of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, on account of the ark of God." David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness. And so it was, that when the bearers of the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouting and the sound of the trumpet."
I don't know about you, but I think I would be coming in trembling silence and reverence. Why does David leap and dance about with all his might? Is God going to approve of his joyfulness when he should be reverent? Is this really appropriate in light of everything that has happened?
2 Sam 6:16-23 - "Then it happened as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. So they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent which David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offering, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts. Further, he distributed to all the people, to all the multitude of Israel, both to men and women, a cake of bread and one of dates and one of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed each to his house. But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, "How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants' maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!" So David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel; therefore I will celebrate before the Lord. "I will be more lightly esteemed than this and will be humble in my own eyes, but with the maids of whom you have spoken, with them I will be distinguished." Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death "
Is there any indication that God approved or disapproved? Aside from the fact that God did not unleash his wrath, we are told that Michal had no children. Children were a blessing, and she didn't receive any.
Lesson 3 - Joy without Reverence is Repugnant to God
God approves of our joy. David's unbridled joy led him to leap and jump about. He was so joyful! In fact, Paul commanded us to be joyful.
Phil 4:4 - "Rejoice in the Lord always."
We must note the type of joy we are to have. In the stories above, there was joy, and two out of the three we looked at resulted in disaster. Why? Even though there was joy, there was a lack of reverence. Rejoicing without reverence is repugnant and insulting to God.
I've heard it said that rejoicing without reverence is spiritual pornography. It is taking something that is supposed to be honorable and beautiful and perverting it, turning it into something ugly. It is treating someone else, in this case God, as an object rather than as the Holy God that he is.
When it comes to joy, there are two extremes that I have noticed. On the one hand, you have joy of the spiritual pornography type. This is the attitude that you are always supposed to be on cloud nine. People try to whip themselves up into a frenzy. The results of this have been things like the so called "Toronto blessing" or "holy laughter." Some would go so far as to say if you do not rejoice, you are sinning. So some think to themselves, "got to rejoice, otherwise I am sinning." So they force themselves to rejoice.
The problem with this is that it is self-centered. Trying to always stay on cloud nine puts the focus on yourself and your emotions. That is not the kind of Joy Paul is talking about in Philippians. That is not the kind of joy David had as he was leaping and jumping around.
We need to rejoice, but not just to rejoice. We need to do as David did and rejoice in the Lord. The source of our joy is not to be self-centered, but God centered. David's passion in life was his relationship with God.
The other extreme comes from the idea that rejoicing is somehow sinful. Worship should always be with quiet reverence according to this view. Is God pleased if we force down the natural outpouring of joy that comes as a response to the presence of God? God didn't approve of David's joy, and he did disapprove of Michal's reaction. So we need to think twice before we criticize what we might consider overly joyful people. We are to rejoice in the Lord always.
The thing to keep in mind is that the source of our joy is in the presence of our Holy God. It is not to be self-centered, but God centered. Reverence and joy are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go hand in hand.
What does all of this have to do with prayer? How I pray reveals my view of God.
Since we don't have life groups this evening, I really want you to consider what your prayer life says about the God you believe in. I'm not talking about God as you read about in the Bible, but God as defined by your prayer life.
How often to you pray and what motivates you to pray? Do you rejoice to be in the very presence of God when you pray? Or do you only rejoice when you get the things you want? Do you pray without ceasing or only when you want something? If so, then maybe you have your God on a cart. If so, it's time to take up the cross and carry it daily. It's time to take his yoke upon you. He is the master. We are the servants.