Sometimes the holiness of God is revealed to us in ways that horrify us, and even makes us angry. It is comforting to know that this is a normal reaction – even David had it. But God’s holiness reveals some deep and important truths about us and our needs.
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8 David was angry because of the LORD’s outburst against Uzzah, so he named that place an Outburst Against Uzzah, as it is today. 9 David feared the LORD that day and said, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me? ” 10 So he was not willing to move the ark of the LORD to the city of David; instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the LORD remained in his house three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and his whole family. (2Sam 6:8-11, HCSB)
Here we have the two major themes of this text. First is this: God is so Holy, so different and “other” that he is inapproachable. If it means death to touch the mere representation of God’s presence, who can endure his actual presence? This was shocking and horrifying to David. It even made him angry. I think we forget that the Holiness of God is shocking, terrifying and horrifying. It may even make us angry. Why does God behave so inexplicably?
Sometimes I think because of the grace given in Jesus, we forget why that grace was so important and so unbelievable. I am in my forties, and I remember a time when the Soviet Union was the biggest threat that existed to the freedom and stability of the world in general. The Soviet government tortured and killed people who dared to question them. In fact, they killed almost as many of their own Soviet citizens as the Nazis killed during the battles of World War 2. They dominated the countries around them, creating an Eastern European alliance of oppressive communist governments. They built walls and guard towers and minefields to keep their citizens from escaping to the freedom of Western Democracies. In 1986, I personally stood at the edge of a minefield, watching a communist soldier manning a machine gun in a tower that was behind a mesh and barbed wire fence. It looked like a maximum security prison. I imagined the millions of people trapped behind that fence, people who would be gunned down or blown up if they wanted to be free.
Today, Soviet Communism is still around in little pockets, but it simply cannot threaten the free world in the way that it used to do. My kids find it difficult to look at the Russian Federation with the same kind of dread I used to feel for the Soviet Union – and they shouldn’t. But I do want to them appreciate that the world is a better place today than it was thirty years ago, because people they never knew made sacrifices and choices that led to freedom for Eastern Europe. It is too easy to forget how real the threat was, and to not be grateful that it is over.
The same is true when it comes to the work of Jesus. Without Jesus, if we were simply to wrongly touch a representation of a holy God, we could be killed, like Uzzah. There was an irreconcilable gap between us and him. But since Jesus intervened, we often forget how serious the problem would be without him.
Now, one question that I hear quite often is, “doesn’t God just accept us as we are?” Actually, no. If he did, there would have been no need for Jesus to sacrifice himself. He has to change us before he can accept us. Through Jesus, it is the power of God that does the changing, not our own work and effort.
There is nothing I can think of that really illustrates the holiness of God adequately. But let me take a few tries at it. We raise goats, pigs, and chickens on our little farm. We do not allow these animals in the house with us. Think about it for a minute. Why don’t we allow pigs in the kitchen? Why don’t we allow goats to stand on our table and eat with us? Why do we care if they defecate on the table while we eat?
It starts with this – we are other than these animals. They are fundamentally different than us. I think most people would be willing to agree that pigs are not humans, and that goats do not behave according to human standards. Even though it is quite natural for them, there is something in us that rebels against having a farm animal defecate on the table where we eat. We simply do not tolerate it. It revolts us. This revulsion is deep and instinctive, showing us that the differences between us and our animals are also deep and persistent. We love our animals. But we can still be revolted by their behavior. We love them, but we refuse to let their behavior into our home. We must place limits on how and when those animals can be with us.
We do allow some animals in our home – dogs and cats. But part of why we allow this, is because we can train them to behave according to our standards. Even so, most people don’t allow dogs to sit at the table and eat with them. Most people don’t allow cats on the dinner table either. When our dog Mario goes out and rolls in manure – as dogs like to do naturally at times – we insist upon cleaning him up before we let him back in the house. He can lick himself a little bit, but there is no way he can adequately clean himself up to meet our standards. We have to do the work of making him clean.
Why can’t we just accept the animals as they are, and allow the goats to defecate in our food, and the dog to come into the house covered in manure? Sometimes it is hard to explain why we can’t allow such things, but we can’t. We are too different. It is simply not in our nature to accept such things, while it is in the nature of the animals to do such things.
So, because we are born sinful in nature, it is natural for us to behave in ways that God simply cannot accept. His nature is as different from our nature, as a goat’s nature is different from mine. When our dog manages to sneak into the house covered in manure, my reaction is swift and shocking. I move quickly and loudly to keep him from transferring manure to our carpet. He can’t understand me if I try to explain it to him reasonably, so I have to get his attention in a way that may seem shocking and horrifying to him.
So it is with God. His response to Uzzah is shocking and horrifying. David became afraid when he saw it, and said, “how can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” Meaning, “how could I ever be close to a God who is like this?”
But what the Lord did for us in Jesus is to give us a new nature. This is one of the reasons I think it is so important to realize that when we are in Jesus, (that is, when we have received him through faith) we are no longer fundamentally sinful. God cannot fellowship with fundamentally sinful beings. He has cleaned us up, changed us in ways we could not change ourselves.
Even though that was still in the future during the time of David, the Lord found ways to communicate that was his plan. And he included even those who lived before the time of Jesus in that plan:
For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. (Romans 3:25-26)
That grace is evident in this passage too. There is the shocking, horrifying holiness of God, the realization that we are fundamentally different and separated from him. But there is also a revelation here of his great goodness and love for his people. This holy, righteous, dangerous and incomprehensible God is also very, very good. He blessed the home, property and family of Obed-edom simply because the representation of his presence was left there. This is almost the opposite of David’s first problem. If the mere representation of God’s presence brings joy and grace and blessing, how can we not want God’s actual presence with us?
And so David is encouraged in his faith, and decides to bring the ark back to Jerusalem after all. As they proceed, David and the others with him are filled with joy and thankfulness to God.
5 David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of fir wood instruments, lyres, harps, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals. (2Sam 6:5, HCSB)
14 David was dancing with all his might before the LORD wearing a linen ephod. 15 He and the whole house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of the ram’s horn. (2 Samuel 6:14-15).
There is a sense of extravagance and freedom here. There are all sorts of instruments. People are shouting, and dancing and blowing horns. God’s grace and joy are filling the people.
Now, I want to point a few things about this. First, it shows us that we don’t have to be narrow in how we worship God. Some people sang. Others danced. We have six different instruments named, and it sounds like there may have others used that weren’t specified. Worship, as described here, included free and open expressions of joy through music and dancing. The instruments listed here are a lot more like guitars, bass and drum than they are like a pipe organ. It looks there was a lot of spontaneity also.
David’s first wife, Michal, did not approve. She told David that he made a fool of himself. David’s response is one of the best verses in 2 Samuel:
21 David replied to Michal, “I was dancing before the LORD who chose me over your father and his whole family to appoint me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel. I will celebrate before the LORD, 22 and I will humble myself even more and humiliate myself. (2Sam 6:21-22, HCSB)
David understood that the only opinion about worship that matters is God’s opinion. He worshipped the way he did for the Lord, not for anyone else. He was willing to go even further, and look even more foolish for the Lord.
This is very important, and in more ways than you might realize. First, I think we need to be encouraged by this to give honor and worship to God, even if it means looking silly to the people around us. If you are worried about how you look, you will not be able to fully worship God. When I’m not playing guitar, sometimes I raise my hands. I do this sometimes even when I’m not “feeling the vibe.” I do it because God is worthy to raise my hands to – he deserves that kind of honor. I do it to remind myself to quit thinking what others around me might be thinking, and wonder instead what God thinks. Worship should not be governed by what we think is socially expected, but rather by how we can truly honor God.
The second point is this: Worship should not be governed by what we think is socially expected, but rather by how we can truly honor God. Yes, I know I just said that, but this time, turn it around the other way. I’ve been in worship services where the social expectation is that you raise your hands and dance and jump up and down. I think that is terrific if those things are the way you express honor to God. But sometimes, I want to honor God by kneeling quietly, or bowing my head and standing still, or just singing with all my heart. I should not allow social expectations to force me to raise my hands or dance, any more than I should allow them to stop me from doing those things.
Now, please don’t use that as an excuse to stand with your hands in your pocket, refusing to give God the honor he deserves. I’m just saying, don’t let what others think you should do, or what others are doing (or not doing) be your guide for how you worship. Freely and fully express yourself to God in keeping with the person he made you to be. Sometimes the Holy Spirit may nudge you to go out on a limb and be more expressive – if he does, do it. Sometimes the Spirit may nudge you and remind you not to put on a show for others, but to focus on Him alone. Listen to that too.
Our God is holy. I think one reason David and his people worshipped so extravagantly, is because they had a very recent reminder of how holy God is, and how big the gap was between them; and yet they also had a reminder of how good and gracious he is to bridge that gap himself.
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about this today.