Sermon Commentary for Sunday, July 14, 2024

2 Samuel 6:1-19 Commentary

Comments, Observations and Questions:

There is a lot going on in these not-quite-20 verses of King David’s story. The pieces feel disparate but if you sting them together in the right way, you may actually find a somewhat convincing tale of failure —> redemption or sin —> salvation.

Why Now?

In at least one commentary, this passage is placed at the start of a longer section, entitled: “The Consolation of Jerusalem.”  This gives us a clue that, along with everything else happening in this passage, there is some political intrigue afoot. So we might well begin by asking, “Why now?”  The Ark of the Covenant has been safely tucked away for 30 chapters or, as I Samuel 7 tells us, “The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time — 20 years in all.” Meanwhile, in the very next chapter, Israel asks for a king, unleashing a whole sequence of political ups and downs, gamesmanship, secret anointing, betrayal, catastrophic failure, and ascendency of a new King to the throne. And now that new King has won over the people, secured a capital city for his reign, defeated a prominent enemy of his people. Is it too conniving to suggest here that David has the Ark fetched from the Ark-ives (couldn’t resist) at this moment in order to lend credibility to the preeminence of his reign? Walter Brueggemann suggests as much.

“He appeals to the central symbol of the old order to legitimate a new order that decisively departs from all that was traditional. While this move may have been an act of good faith, it is also a nervy act of calculation.” Needing to boost his approval numbers, King David recognized a demographic within his grasp: the old guard. Theological conservatives who “have not forgotten the significance of the ark, which referred to the raw presence of Yahweh, the power of Yahweh, and the covenantal implications of Yahweh’s sovereignty. Now, under David, in order to have access to the ark and to its old significance, even conservative Israelites with long memories and keen theological sensitivity must make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the new city with David’s new power and new ideology.”

Taking the Lord in Vain

If this motivation feels crass, that’s because it is, at least, calculated.  It bumps against a prohibition etched in stone tablets brought down from Mt. Sinai. “Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.” Arguably, this isn’t a matter of naming names, except the text takes pains to highlight that the ark is not just an artifact but is, in fact, “the ark of Go, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim of the Ark.” Using the symbol of the Lord’s presence for one’s own political, professional gain.  What we see in the passage is a sad reoccurrence throughout David’s Kingship: the death of innocents drawn too close (sometimes ordered too close) to David’s power.  In this case, David demands the Ark brought to Jerusalem.  Along the way, the presence of God meets with a rut in the road, a team of oxen stumble and Uzzah stretches a hand to steady the precious artifact. Did he know better? Was this just a matter of instinct, the way I stretch my arm across the passenger seat after a hard brake, despite the fact my son is strapped in his carseat in the backseat?

Some commentators may venture a guess beyond the text but most sit silently with this difficulty in the text. Perhaps it is enough to say that all our sin, taking the Lord’s name in vain not excluded, has consequences extending far beyond ourselves.  As Brueggemann writes, “the ark must not be presumed upon, taken for granted, or treated with familiarity. The holiness of God is indeed present in the ark, but that holiness is not readily available.” The result of Uzzah’s death, in the narrative, is that David is reminded of the untouchable holiness of God and is stopped short in his quest to use God for his purposes. “When people are no longer awed, respectful, or fearful of God’s holiness, the community is put at risk. David may intend to use the ark for his own purposes, for religious equipment has powerful legitimating effect. Such a political use, however, does not empty the old symbol of its formidable theological power.”


Once David’s anger cooled, a reasonable fear of God’s power caused David to leave the Ark alone for a season.  After 3 months of God’s blessing on the place and household entrusted with the Ark, a chastened David is willing to try again. At last the presence of God is returning to its rightful place among God’s people!  This procession is marked by worship, offerings and banqueting. It is extravagance all around.  Again from Brueggemann, “the event evokes extravagance, for the coming of the ark is Yahweh’s self-giving to David and to Israel’s new political beginning.”

From this we might draw a, perhaps, unusual connection with the Ancient-Near Eastern tradition of a conquering army returning home.  A messenger is sent ahead, giving the people time to prepare.  Many flood out into the streets and out to join the army.  Together, they process into the city with dancing and, as Brueggemann reminds us here, a “new political beginning.” According to some Biblical scholars, this ritual may be what Paul is referring to the letter of I Thessalonians 4 when he writes about the Day of the Lord. “We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”  Note the import of these words when taken within the larger ritual.  The people who go out to meet their battle-tested and worn heroes, do not continue to progress away from the city but, rather, turn around and re-enter as a part of the parade!  Thus, what we have in this passage, may be a kind of image to shape our imagination for the day when Christ will return, triumphant in battle, inaugurating a new kingdom, joined by all who are eager to celebrate life in God’s presence forevermore.  There will be feasting, dancing (here, perhaps, David’s nakedness foreshadows a return to Edenic innocence?) and ecstatic praise of God’s glorious and eternal presence.


Awhile ago my nephew asked me, “Is it really that bad to say ‘oh my God’?” I was sympathetic to his point.  When we consider the “top ten list” from Exodus 20, it hardly seems comparable in terms of impact with sins like stealing, adultery and murder.  So I told him what I honestly think: that careless use of God’s name is disrespectful (I think I may have said “tacky”) but of far greater concern are those who would baptize their desires, inclinations, even sins by saying “God told me” or “God approves my cause and not yours.” There is no more startling image of this in recent history than the KKK’s close ties to Christian churches, for example this picture:

The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is God’s will for us in the third commandment?”  And answers, “That we neither blaspheme nor misuse the name of God by cursing, perjury, or unnecessary oaths, nor share in such horrible sins by others by being silent bystanders. In a word, it requires that we use the holy name of God only with reverence and awe, so that we may properly confess him, pray to him and praise him in everything we do and say.

The Christian church is not immune — and in fact may be uniquely susceptible to sins against the third commandment, all while scrupulously avoiding tacky epithets.


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