2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Following the deaths of Saul and his sons (1 Samuel 31; 2 Samuel 4), David became king over both Israel and Judah. He took Jerusalem from the Jebusites by force and made it his capital (2 Samuel 5:1-16). Then the Philistines attacked, and the Lord gave David the victory over them—not once, but twice (5:17-25).
Prior to David’s assumption of the throne, the ark of the covenant, the holiest object in Israel, suffered a checkered history. It had resided at the temple in Shiloh when Eli was the priest there (1 Samuel 3:3). Then the people of Israel, including Eli’s corrupt sons, Hophni and Phinehas, took the ark into battle with them to insure their victory, but the Philistines succeeded in captured the ark (1 Samuel 4). However, after suffering a series of calamities (1 Samuel 5), the Philistines returned the ark to Israel (1 Samuel 6). Israel housed the ark at Kiriath-jearim, and it remained there for twenty years (1 Samuel 7:1-2).
After that, except for 1 Samuel 14:18 (a verse which may have been inserted later) there is no mention of the ark again until 2 Samuel 6. The reason for this silent period is uncertain. However, it seems significant that so little is said about the ark, which represents the presence of God, during Saul’s reign.
But now the period of silence is ended. David is king, and he intends to render the ark the honor that it is due. He also hopes to enjoy the Lord’s blessings by bringing the ark—and, by implication, God’s presence, inside the walls of Jerusalem.
See 1 Chronicles 13:1-14; 15:1 – 16:6 for a parallel account to this story.
2 SAMUEL 6:1-5. THEY SET THE ARK ON A NEW CART
1David again gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2David 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, even the name of Yahweh of Armies who sits above the cherubim. 3They set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in the hill: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart. 4They brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was in the hill, with the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. 5David and all the house of Israel played before Yahweh with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with harps, and with stringed instruments, and with tambourines, and with castanets, and with cymbals.
“David again gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand“ (v. 1). Thirty thousand is a large number. While Israelites didn’t treat numbers as exactly as we do, we can assume that this is, indeed, a very large gathering. We need to recover our sense of wonder when we see numbers like this. It is all too easy to pass over them without considering their meaning.
If you happen to live near a large military installation, consider the fact that few military installations house thirty thousand soldiers. A division is typically half that many soldiers, and a division plus support personnel is still less than thirty thousand. I have seen battalions (about 600 soldiers) march in ranks, and that is impressive. Thirty thousand is the equivalent of fifty battalions.
Or if you have a corporation with a major presence in your community, check to see how many people they employ. Some corporations employ thirty thousand people, but few employ that many in one place.
David is assembling these thirty thousand men as an honor guard to accompany the ark of the covenant from its current home in Baale-judah to Jerusalem, which David has made his capital.
If you have ever been involved in taking a scout pack or a youth group on an overnight trip, perhaps you can imagine the logistical challenge involved in taking thirty thousand soldiers on a road march. I checked with an army cook to see how much food would be required to feed thirty thousand men. The standard is 18 pounds (8.2 kg) of fish and 21 (9.5 kg) pounds of rice and bread to feed one hundred soldiers one meal. To feed thirty thousand soldiers would require 5,400 pounds (2,450 kg) of fish and 6,300 pounds (2,860 kg) of rice and bread—plus vegetables—plus coffee. Try to imagine the number of stoves that would be required to cook that quantity of food. Consider how much water would be required for cooking—and cleanup—and drinking. And that is just one meal. In a modern army of thirty thousand soldiers, nearly one thousand of those soldiers would be dedicated to food transportation and preparation.
David is a general, so he knows the logistics required to care for thirty thousand men. He makes this effort as a way of honoring the ark —and, by implication, of honoring God.
“David arose, and went with all the people who were with him, from Baale Judah“ (v. 2a). As noted above, the last location mentioned for the ark was Kiriath-jearim (1 Samuel 7:2). We assume that Baale-judah and Kiriath-jearim are either two names for the same town or the names of two adjacent towns. Kiriath-jearim is located 9 miles (15 km) west northwest of Jerusalem. A journey of this length by a large contingent of men would require a day each way.
Baale-judah is located near Philistine territory. David has just finished defeating the Philistines, but he can expect future conflict with them. That might be part of his motivation for moving the ark to Jerusalem, where it can be more easily defended.
“to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, even the name of Yahweh of Armies who sits above the cherubim“ (v. 2b). The ark of God is the Ark of the Covenant—a chest made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. It is 2.5 cubits (45 inches or 114 cm) by 1.5 cubits (27 inches or 69 cm) by 1.5 cubits. It contains the tablets of the Ten Commandments as well as Aaron’s rod and a golden urn filled with manna. On top of the ark, two cherubim guard a gold mercy seat—God’s throne. The ark is the holiest object in Israel, and symbolizes the presence of God.
“They set the ark of God on a new cart“ (v. 3a). This is not the manner in which the ark is supposed to be carried. The Torah prescribes that the ark is to have four rings of gold mounted two on each side of the ark, through which poles of acacia wood and overlaid with gold are to be placed. These poles are not to be removed, but are to remain in place. When the ark is moved, it is to be carried by these poles (Exodus 25:13-15). The Kohathites (the descendants of Kohath, the second son of Levi) are tasked with carrying the ark as well as other tabernacle furnishings (Numbers 3:27-31; 4:1-20; 7:9). “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the Tent of Meeting, the most holy things” (Numbers 4:4).
We don’t know why David chooses to move the ark on a new cart or why the Kohathites are not mentioned. The newness of the cart is obviously intended to honor the Lord, but it appears that during the twenty year hiatus that the ark remained in Kiriath-jearim (or Balle-judah) Israel forgot how to handle the ark properly. We can be sure that David intentions are good. However, this failure to observe the provisions of the Torah might have something to do with the death of Uzzah, which is related in verses 6-7 (not included in the lectionary reading).
“and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in the hill: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart.They brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was in the hill, with the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark“ (vv. 3b-4). Earlier, when the Philistines returned the ark to Israel after suffering a number of calamities related to the ark’s presence among them, the Israelites “brought (the ark) into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of Yahweh” (1 Samuel 7:1). Eleazar, Uzzah, and Ahio are all sons of Abinadab. We don’t know if they were Kohathites. As noted above, Kohathites are responsible for carrying the ark.
Another small detail: The ark is made of acacia wood. It is overlaid with gold inside and out and has gold molding all around. It has rings of gold substantial enough to bear the weight of the ark. The mercy seat and cherubim are made of pure gold. The mercy seat (pure gold) is two cubits and a half (45 inches or 1.14 meters) in length and a cubit and a half (27 inches or 69 cm) wide (Exodus 25). The ark contains two tablets of stone, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s rod. Imagine how heavy it must have been. Anyone who has seen pallbearers struggle to carry a casket a few feet can appreciate how difficult it would be to carry the ark by its poles for nine miles. However, we can be sure that neither David nor the Kohathites would place the ark on a cart simply to spare the Kohathites the burden of carrying it.
“David and all the house of Israel played before Yahweh with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood“ (v. 5a). This dancing is intended to be an expression of the joy that they feel in the presence of the ark of God, which is the symbol of the presence of the Lord.
“and with harps, and with stringed instruments, and with tambourines, and with castanets, and with cymbals“ (v. 5b). Lyres and harps are stringed instruments. Tambourines and castanets and cymbals are percussion instruments. Verse 15 mentions a trumpet—a wind instrument. The sense we have here is that David and the assembled Israelites have pulled out all the stops with regard to celebration.
2 SAMUEL 6:6-11. THE ANGER OF YAHWEH WAS KINDLED AGAINST UZZAH
6When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached for the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the cattle stumbled. 7The anger of Yahweh was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. 8David was displeased, because Yahweh had broken forth on Uzzah; and he called that place Perez Uzzah, to this day. 9David was afraid of Yahweh that day; and he said, “How shall the ark of Yahweh come to me?” 10So David would not move the ark of Yahweh to be with him in the city of David; but David carried it aside into the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11The ark of Yahweh remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite three months: and Yahweh blessed Obed-Edom, and all his house.
The lectionary reading omits this paragraph, but the preacher needs to be aware of it. It is a troublesome paragraph, because Uzzah appears to have done a good thing—reaching out his hand to steady the ark, which may have been in danger of falling—but the Lord became angry and struck Uzzah so that he died. We get the impression of an unpredictable God imposing punishment out of proportion to the provocation.
Scholars debate the provocation. What was Uzzah’s sin? Why was the Lord angry? The traditional explanation is that Jewish law prohibits people from touching the ark, and Uzzah violated that prohibition (Numbers 4:15). In the parallel account in First Chronicles, David attributes the problem to the fact that Levites didn’t carry the ark during the first journey (1 Chronicles 15:13). Some scholars speculate that Uzzah should have trusted the Lord to take care of the ark. If the problem had something to do with the fact that they were transporting the ark on a cart instead of having it carried on poles as prescribed by the Torah, it would seem that the Lord would strike David dead rather than Uzzah. Perhaps the Lord was intent on demonstrating the significance and power of the ark, so Uzzah had to die for touching it (v. 7), while Obed-edom the Gittite prospers for housing it (v. 11). But that still seems unfair to Uzzah. This remains a troublesome text that raises issues that we cannot resolve completely.
After seeing what happened to Uzzah, David was afraid to take the ark to Jerusalem, so he took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. Did Obed-edom volunteer to house the ark, or did King David order him to do so? We don’t know the answer to that question, but it is interesting to imagine how Obed-edom might have felt upon learning that he was to be responsible for the ark that had just been the cause of Uzzah’s death.
2 SAMUEL 6:12-15. DAVID DANCED BEFORE YAHWEH
12It was told king David, saying, “Yahweh has blessed the house of Obed-Edom, and all that pertains to him, because 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 joy.
13It was so, that, when those who bore the ark of Yahweh had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened calf. 14David danced before Yahweh with all his might; and David was clothed in a linen ephod. 15So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of Yahweh with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
“It was told king David, saying, ‘Yahweh has blessed the house of Obed-Edom, and all that pertains to him, because 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 joy” (v. 12). After Uzzah died, David was afraid to take the ark to Jerusalem (v. 10), but once he learned that the Lord had blessed Obed-edom, who had housed the ark for three months, he decided to move the ark to Jerusalem (known as the city of David after David took it from the Jebusites—2 Samuel 5:7). He brought the ark to Jerusalem with rejoicing. We are not told how many people are involved in the procession this time, but it is most likely a grand procession like the earlier one.
“It was so, that, when those who bore the ark of Yahweh had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened calf “ (v. 13). There are unanswerable questions here. First, are the six paces followed by sacrifice like unto the six days of creation followed by rest? Second, does David go six paces, make a sacrifice, and then proceed uninterrupted to Jerusalem—or does he interrupt the procession every six paces to make a sacrifice? If the latter, he would make sacrifices approximately 3,000 times during the procession (assuming that six paces equals 15 feet and the total distance is 9 miles). The Bible records large-scale sacrifices (1 Kings 8:5, 63), so that is within the realm of possibility.
Presiding over sacrifices is the job of a priest. David assumes a priestly role by making this sacrifice. Later, he will build an altar to the Lord and offer burnt sacrifices on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (24:18-25). Psalm 110:4 suggests that the Lord has made David “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” Solomon will also make sacrifices, offering “the burnt offering, and the meal offering, and the fat of the peace offerings” (1 Kings 8:64).
“an ox and a fattened calf“ (v. 13b). The parallel account in First Chronicles says that the Levites sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. Is this in addition to David’s sacrifice or in place of it? We don’t know.
“David danced before Yahweh with all his might“ (v. 14a). As before, David dances before the Lord with all his might as a way of demonstrating the joy he feels in God’s presence.
“and David was clothed in a linen ephod“ (v. 14b). An ephod is a garment. Priests wear ornate ephods of linen (Exodus 28:15-28), but the boy Samuel also wore a linen ephod while working in the temple—presumably a simple unadorned garment (1 Samuel 2:18). While its purpose isn’t absolutely clear, the ephod appears to be a liturgical garment.
The parallel account in First Chronicles has David “clothed with a robe of fine linen” as well as a linen ephod (1 Chronicles 15:27).
“So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of Yahweh with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet“ (v. 15). Once again, this is intended to be a joyous frenzy in celebration of the Lord’s presence and favor.
2 SAMUEL 6:16. MICHAL SAW KING DAVID DANCING, AND SHE DESPISED HIM
16It was so, as the ark of Yahweh came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before Yahweh; and she despised him in her heart.
“It was so, as the ark of Yahweh came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before Yahweh“ (v. 16a). In most instances where Michal’s name is mentioned, Saul is also mentioned. At this point in time, Saul and his sons are all dead, so there would appear to be no reason to mention that Michal is Saul’s daughter. The fact that the text does mention her tie to Saul suggests that she thinks of herself as established royalty. As royalty is concerned, David is a Johnny-come-lately by comparison with her pedigree.
“and she despised him in her heart“ (v. 16b). Michal grew up in a royal house and is accustomed to royal treatment and royal deportment. That is the problem here. David is not exhibiting regal bearing. Quite the contrary! He is leaping and dancing in the streets like a drunken adolescent—or, at least, that is how it seems to his wife.
Later, Michal will confront David, saying, “How glorious the king of Israel was today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” (6:20). That sounds as if the linen ephod that David was wearing was a skimpy garment that exposed David’s private parts during his wild dance. However, as noted above, the First Chronicles account has David clothed in a robe as well as an ephod. That account doesn’t include the confrontation where Michal accuses David of vulgar behavior, but it does close with Michal despising David in her heart (1 Chronicles 15:29).
2 SAMUEL 6:17-19. THEY SET THE ARK IN ITS PLACE
17They brought in the ark of Yahweh, and set it in its place, in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before Yahweh. 18When David had made an end of offering the burnt offering and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of Yahweh of Armies. 19He gave to all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to everyone a portion of bread, dates, and raisins. So all the people departed everyone to his house.
“They brought in the ark of Yahweh, and set it in its place, in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before Yahweh“ (v. 17). The ark has dwelled in a tent from the beginning, so there is nothing unusual about David housing it in a tent. In the next chapter, David will propose building a proper house for the ark of God, but the Lord will send him word by the prophet Nathan not to do so (7:1-17).
Once again, David acts in a priestly role, offering burnt offerings and offerings of well being (peace offerings). Burnt offerings are consumed by the fire (Leviticus 22:17-25). Peace offerings are divided. The blood and fat are burned as the Lord’s portion. The priest receives the breast and right thigh, and the worshipers receive the rest (Leviticus 3:16-17; 7:22ff.).
“When David had made an end of offering the burnt offering and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of Yahweh of Armies“ (v. 18). This kind of blessing is also a priestly prerogative (Numbers 6:22-27).
“He gave to all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to everyone a portion of bread, dates, and raisins“ (v. 19a). In a world where people enjoy meat and raisins only occasionally, this would be a wonderful banquet—a natural part of a royal celebration.
“So all the people departed everyone to his house“ (v. 19b). Every party must at some point come to an end. When this party winds down, the people return to their homes and life returns to its ordinary routines.
As noted above, Michal will chastise David for shamelessly uncovering himself (6:20). The chapter concludes with these words: “Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death” (6:23). While this could mean that she failed to conceive, the context suggests that David never again invited her to his bed. With many wives, he had no need for a woman who despised him.
Saul’s sons are dead. The fact that Michal has no children brings an end to Saul’s lineage.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Anderson, A.A., Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, Vol. 11 (Dallas, Word Books, 1989)
Baldwin, Joyce G., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries:1 & 2 Samuel, Vol. 8 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988)
Bergin, Robert D., The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Samuel, Vol. 7 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996)
Birch, Bruce C., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Numbers- Samuel, Vol. II (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
Brueggemann, Walter, Interpretation Commentary: I and II Samuel (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1973)
Cartledge, Tony W., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Samuel (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys, 2001)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Dutcher-Walls, Patricia, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Evans, Mary J., New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Samuel (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2000)
Gehrke, Ralph David, Concordia Commentary: 1 and 2 Samuel (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968)
Klein, Ralph W., Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Samuel, Vol. 10 (Dallas: Word Books, 1983)
Newsome, James D., in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Peterson, Eugene H., Westminster Bible Companion: First and Second Samuel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999)
Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan