If you’ve been to Hallmark lately—or even the greeting card section of your average megastore—you probably found yourself overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. First, it probably took a team of Sherpa guides to help you simply locate the “birthdays” section—bypassing all the other random holidays that are on display. I mean, do people really send cards for St. Patrick’s Day (I mean, besides the Irish)? And once you find the right holiday, you’re faced with rack after rack of increasing specificity. Birthdays for him, birthdays from him, birthday cards with audio chips that play prerecorded age jokes, birthday cards for second cousins twice removed—we could go on, but you get the idea. To me, the greeting card industry is evidence that we, as a society, have completely given up on trying to express our feelings for one another. Instead, it’s easier to just run in, poke around until we find just the right card, and then quickly sign it and lick the envelope shut before the big party.
Worship has become very much like that. For the better part of the last three decades, worship has shifted from an act we perform an hour on Sundays to encompass a whole genre of music. And now, we may go to a big-chain store and stand in the “Christian” or “Religious” music section, where we are sold “worship” albums featuring airbrushed, glossy covers of worship leaders promising to bring us into the Lord’s presence through this craft.
I’m not throwing rocks, exactly. I’m saying that the “worship-as-a-genre” approach can lead us to be just as shallow toward God as we are in the greeting card store. We find just the right words and clever sayings, then recite them in the hopes that the newest and latest album will thrill our souls toward God.
What’s the alternative? The alternative is to change our view of worship—to repent of our view of worship as merely a musical genre and turn it back into a way of living. David understood this. This is why David decided to bring the Ark of the Lord into the capital city of Jerusalem:
David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. 3 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, 4 with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. (2 Samuel 6:1-4)
This wasn’t errant superstition. David wanted the city of Jerusalem to be as much a religious as it was a political capital. So it’s only natural that David sees this as a cause for celebration.
In his Old Testament Theology, Bruce Waltke sees two distinct cycles at work in this chapter. Both follow the same pattern: (1) there is a great parade and (2) someone is scorned by the Lord.
CYCLE ONE: DAVID AND THE SCORN FOR UZZAH
David is participating in a great parade:
5 And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.8 And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. 9 And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” 10 So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 11 And 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.
This seems a harsh offense. Why would God strike down Uzzah because he was only trying to help? I can never forget a sermon I once heard from R.C. Sproul, who asked the pointed question: What makes you think his hand was cleaner than the ground? God is ferociously and powerfully holy. Our attempts to “improve” worship don’t make worship any better—they just make us look worse.
CYCLE TWO: DAVID AND THE SCORN FOR MICHAL
David realizes that the ark truly does bring the promise of blessing—again, through the Lord’s presence—so he decides to try again.
12 And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. 13 And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. 14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.
The linen ephod was the attire worn by priests—though many commentaries have stressed that simplicity of the garment. David wasn’t dancing in his underwear, here—but there was something undignified about the whole scene that set Michal—David’s wife—into a rage.
16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, 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. 17 And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. 18 And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts19 and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house.
20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” 21 And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
What are we to learn? First, that God is not improved by our worship. Too often we feel that it is our task to “make the gospel relevant.” But why? Is the gospel not already relevant? Like Uzzah, we may put out our hands to offer the Lord some help—only to find that we look foolish in the process. The gospel is always relevant—it’s our job instead to reveal its relevance by living it out in and through our lives.
Secondly, our worship is truly undignified. David wore a simple ephod—not the Kingly garments that were befitting his position. He came only with what he needed, because he recognized that it’s only a servant’s heart that the Lord truly demands. When we come before God, we come before him not clad in robes of our own accomplishments, but because we have instead been “clothed in Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Our dignity will never be found in the eyes of men, but eternally in the eyes of God.