In I Chronicles 13:1-14, and 15:1-3, is recorded the story
of how David attempted to carry the ark from Kirjath-jearim to
Jerusalem on an ox-cart. However, when they reached the
threshing-floor of Chidon, the oxen stumbled, and one of the
drivers, Uzza by name, put out his hand to steady the ark, and
was slain on the spot by the hand of the Lord. Later, David
assayed to bring the ark on to Jerusalem, by conveying it in the
Scriptural manner, upon the shoulders of the Levites. This
time his efforts were successful.
David's desire to bring the ark to Jerusalem was a good one and it was a work upon which God had evidently set his approval. However, the desirability of a particular work does not justify the use of improper and unscriptural means to bring it about. Since the ark, as the coffin of God, was apparently intended as a type of the coming death of God the Son, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, we may regard the ark as a symbol of the gospel - the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ for our sins. Carrying the ark, then, becomes a figure of carrying the gospel, and some worthwhile lessons may be learned in this connection by studying David's way of carrying the ark.
It is certainly God's will that the gospel be carried to the lost; but as there was a wrong and a right way of carrying the ark, so there is a wrong and a right way to carry the gospel. Apparently in the interests of speed, efficiency and expediency, David adopted the Philistine, rather than the Scriptural, way of conveying the ark. It is a sad fact that, even today, Christendom is filled with Philistine ways of doing God's work. When the Philistines wanted to get rid of the ark after having captured it in battle, they placed it on a cart to which they hitched two milch cows. Since the Philistines did not know the Scriptural way of carrying the ark, and since their desire was to get it back to Israel, God prospered their efforts. However, when the men of Beth-Shemesh, who were Israelites, and who, therefore, should have known better, handled the ark with the same casualness and lack of respect, God rebuked them with a great slaughter.
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David's novel, but unscriptural, way of carrying the ark
seemed to be successful - to a point. The same is true of all
unscriptural ways of doing God's work. They seem to work;
and even, in some cases, to work better than the scriptural way.
But David's efforts ended in a calamity which would have been
unnecessary had the work been done according to Scripture. At
the threshing-floor of Chidon, or Nachon, Uzza put forth his
hand to steady the ark and was immediately smitten with death
for his impiety. The name Uzza means strength, and is a form
of the word used in Psalm 132:8, where the Psalmist speaks of
the ark of thy strength. The ark of God's strength does not need
man's strength to come to its rescue. So it is with the gospel.
Our business is not to support it nor help it, but merely to
convey it. Notice that, in spite of the unscriptural way in which
the ark was carried, it was nevertheless a blessing to those who
received it. See I Chronicles 13:13-14. However, this merely
illustrates the fact that God overrules our wrongdoing and
short-comings and sees to it that even our disobedience works
out his purpose and results in his glory. But we are still held
accountable for our wrongdoing, because our motive was not to
glorify God, but to please ourselves. When Joseph's brothers
sold him into Egyptian slavery, they unwittingly put his feet on
the path which would eventually lead to the palace of Pharaoh;
yet no one would think of commending these brothers for their
action. Their motive was evil. It was God who overruled their
evil purpose and made Joseph a father to Pharaoh.
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The right, or Scriptural, way to carry the ark is prescribed in Numbers 1:50-51:
"But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: they shall bear the tabernacle, and all the vessels thereof and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle. And when the tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down: and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death."
Uzza found, centuries later, that this law was still in effect. Subsequent passages indicate that the ark, the table, the candlestick (lampstand), the two altars, the vessels of the sanctuary, and the veil, or hanging, were to be in the charge of, and be carried by, only those Levites who were of the family of Kohath. See Numbers 3:29-31. In the fourth chapter of Numbers, elaborate instructions are given for preparing the various components, and assigning the responsibility for their conveyance, to the three branches of the Levites - the Kohathites, the Gershonites, and the Merarites. In the seventh chapter of Numbers, verses one through eight, we are told that to the Gershonites and Merarites were given a total of twelve wagons to be used in carrying their component parts of the tabernacle.
"But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none: because the
service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they
should bear upon their shoulders."
The Hebrew word for the wagons mentioned is the same as that
used to denote David's new cart.
Thus the ark was not to be carried on a wagon or cart, but on the shoulders of men who were both Levites and Kohathites. In actual practice, this seems to have been narrowed down still more, for many passages speak of the ark being borne by the priests. This would have been a Scriptural arrangement, for the priests (being the sons or descendants of Aaron) were both Levites and Kohathites. That the ark was carried by the priests, who were the most eminent of those who were qualified to carry it, shows the supreme importance attached to the ark over the other furnishings of the tabernacle.
In the tribe of Levi, with its threefold division into the Kohathites, the Gershonites, and the Merarites, we seem to have a picture of the church. The name Levi comes from the verb lavah, to join, to unite. The Levites, then, were the joined ones. But to whom were they joined? The answer is: to the High Priest.
"And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and his sons:
they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel."
So, the Levites (in name) represent those who are joined to the
great High Priest. The three-fold division of the Levites does
not suggest that there is a corresponding division in the church,
which is one body, but rather pictures the church in three
different aspects. The name Kohath means assembly, so that
the sons of Kohath are literally the sons of the assembly. The
church is by definition an assembly, and is composed of those
who are (at least nominally) sons of God. The name Gershon
means stranger or alien, and views the church as composed of
those who are strangers and pilgrims on the earth, and who
seek a better country. Merari is derived from the verb Marar,
to be bitter. Merari, therefore suggests bitterness, and the
bitterness of repentance may be said to be the hallmark that
distinguishes the true believer from the mere professor. While
it is impossible to have saving faith apart from repentance, it is
quite possible for a person to believe, in the sense of giving
intellectual assent to, the gospel, without repentance. Such
belief is, of course, worthless where salvation is concerned.
According to the typical picture, then, the gospel (ark) should
be carried by those who are sons of the assembly (Kohathites) as
well as joined (Levites) to the High Priest for his service.
Remember too, that where possible, the carrying of the ark was
restricted to the priests. This too harmonizes with the typical
picture, for each believer is a priest.
Thus as the ark was carried by the priests, the sons of Kohath, of the tribe of Levi, so the gospel has been committed to the trust of those who are joined to the Lord, assembled as a church, and are priests unto God. Any method of conveying the gospel which is not initiated by, controlled by, and centered around the church is, in the writer's opinion, a new cart.
Many, indeed, are the new carts being used today in doing God's work. Like David's cart, they seem to be successful until the threshing-floor is reached where the good and useful is separated from the trash:
"He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he
breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he
burneth the chariot (same as the Hebrew word for David's
cart) in fire."
"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
I Cor. 3:11-15.