When we were going through the first five books of the Bible I often referred to the three Ps to summarise God’s promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. The three Ps are people, place and presence. God promised to give Abraham and Isaac and Jacob a people. In order words, he was going to make them into a mighty nation so that the number of their descendants would be like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore, too many to count. And God was going to give them a place: a land of their very own where they could live in peace and safety. And when the people come into into the right place, they would enjoy the presence of God in their midst. God would dwell among them.
So, that was his promise to them in the book of Genesis. Then, at the beginning of the book of Exodus, we saw that their descendants had become a great people and a mighty nation. During their time in Egypt they had multiplied greatly and had become exceedingly numerous so that the land was filled with them. However, the people of God were in the wrong place: they were living as slaves in Egypt. And so, the Lord brought them out of Egypt. And in the rest of the book of Exodus and in the books of Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy we read of their journey to the Promised Land, which was the place God had prepared for them.
However, Joshua was not able to conquer all of the land; and during the time of the Judges and during the reign of Saul, their enemies continued to attack them and to harass them and to make life difficult for them. But what do we find in today’s passage? Well, David, who was God’s Anointed King at that time, was able — with the help of the Lord — to defeat their enemies, the Philistines. And David then brought the ark of the Lord up to Jerusalem. And since the ark signified the presence of the Lord, then we have in today’s chapter the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham and Issac and Jacob. Finally, finally, God’s people were in the place he had prepared for them where they could enjoy the presence of God in their midst.
And so, that’s what today’s passage is all about. However, if you remember, any time I mentioned the three Ps, I also said that they are fulfilled in two ways. They are fulfilled in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way in the nation of Israel, living in the land of Canaan. But they are also fulfilled in a spiritual, greater and eternal way in the church of Jesus Christ, and in the new heavens and the new earth, where all of God’s people will enjoy the presence of the Lord forever. And so, what we read here today anticipates what is yet to come and what we’re hoping for when all of God’s people will come into the place God has prepared for us to be with the Lord forever.
So, let’s study this passage together which begins with victory over God’s enemies.
Victory over God’s enemies
David has been anointed king over all of Israel. He has conquered Jerusalem and made it his city, the City of David. And in verse 17 of chapter 5 we read that when the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him. They were ready to fight this new king, just as they had fought against and killed Saul, the previous king. The Philistines gathered together in this valley which was just south of Jerusalem. And David enquired of the Lord whether or not he should go and attack the Philistines. He wanted to know God’s will and whether the Lord would give the Philistines into his hands. And remember this is one of the things which made David different from Saul. Whereas Saul disregarded the will of the Lord, David wants to do God’s will. And so we often find him enquiring of the Lord. And the Lord responds and tells David to go, because he — the Lord — will surely hand the Philistines over to David. And sure enough, when David went out to attack the Philistines, he was able to defeat them with the help of the Lord. And according to verse 21, the Philistines abandoned their idols and David and his men carried them off.
I think we’re meant to recall what happened many year previously, when Eli the priest was still alive. Do you remember that fateful day? The Israelites went out to fight the Philistines, but the Philistines defeated the Israelites, and Eli’s two sons were killed and the ark of the Lord was captured by the Philistines who carried it off. But now that defeat has been reversed, because the Israelites under David have defeated the Philistines and the Israelites have carried off the Philistine idols.
Nevertheless the Philistines try again. Once more they came up and spread out in the same valley. And once again, David enquired of the Lord. What should we do? The same as before? Well, not the same as before, because this time they’re to go around the Philistines to attack them from the rear. And the Lord tells them to wait for the sound of marching in the tops of the trees. When they heard that sound, they must move quickly, because the Lord is going out before them to strike down the Philistines. We’re not told what the sound of marching was. Some commentators suggest it was merely the sound of the rustling of leaves in the wind. But since the Lord is the Lord of hosts, who commands armies of angels, perhaps the sound signified that the Lord was coming with his angels to destroy his enemies. And so, with the help of the Lord, David and his men were able to strike down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer. This was a decisive victory.
The way the Philistines kept attacking the Israelites is one more example of the enmity which the Lord spoke about in Genesis 3 between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. He was saying there will always be this opposition, this hatred, from those who are the offspring of the serpent towards those who are the offspring of the woman. Those who are of the serpent belong to the Devil and they will always oppose and hate those who are of the woman and who belong to the Lord Jesus. And so, throughout the Bible we see this opposition and this enmity in action. I’m sure you can think of many examples, beginning with the way Cain hated and killed Abel. And, of course, we see it throughout history. And we see it today in the way the church is persecuted around the world and the way an unbelieving world despises believers. And we see it in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and in the way the Philistines kept attacking the Israelites.
But the way the Lord helped David defeat the Philistines also anticipates what will happen in the future when the Lord God will judge and destroy his enemies, all those who refused to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, we read at the end of the book of Revelation of a time when Satan will gather unbelievers from around the world for one last battle against the Lord and his church. They will march across the breadth of the earth to surround the people of God. But the battle will be brief, because we read that fire will come from heaven to devour them. And Satan will be thrown into the lake of burning sulphur to be tormented day and night forever. And a throne will be set up and everyone who has ever lived will stand before the throne to be judged for what they have done. And those who do not belong to the Saviour, and who have not been washed and cleansed by his blood, will be thrown into that lake of fire.
In other words, the day is coming when the Lord God will defeat his enemies once and for all. For many years, the Philistines were able to continue in their rebellion and they were able to attack and to harass and to persecute the people of God. But, in the end, they were destroyed by David, with the help of the Lord. And the defeat of the Philistines anticipates and foreshadows that great and terrible day of the Lord when the Lord will come to overthrow his enemies. For a while, he allows them to continue in their rebellion and sin. And so for a while, it seems to them that they have nothing to fear and that there will never be a day of judgement. But then, finally and suddenly, the Lord will come to deal with them.
And that’s why the message of the church to the world is always the same in every generation. The message is: repent and believe. Turn in repentance from your life of rebellion and sin and unbelief; and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Saviour of the world. Believe in him, because he died for sinners to reconcile them to God. So, repent and believe so that you need not fear the day of the Lord, because whoever repents and believes is pardoned by God and receives the free gift of eternal life.
The Ark of the Lord
And so, defeating the Philistines in battle foreshadows that great and terrible day of the Lord, when the Lord will come to destroy his enemies, all those who refused to believe in the Saviour. And what we read in chapter 6 foreshadows the fulfilment of God’s promises to make a people for himself who will live in the place he has prepared for them and where they will enjoy his presence in their midst.
And so, we read in verse 1 of chapter 6 that David brought together 30,000 chosen men. Remember that the Hebrew for ‘thousand’ can also refer to a company of soldiers. So, perhaps he gathered 30,000 men or perhaps he gathered 30 companies of men. In any case, it was a large number and it recalls the same number of men who were defeated by the Philistines in the days of Eli, when the ark of the Lord was captured by the Philistines. And David and his men went to get the ark of the Lord and to bring it up to Jerusalem. And look how the ark is described in verse 2. It’s the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. So, the ark was a wooden box which was covered in gold. And on top of the ark were gold images made to look like angels with their wings stretched out.
Now, the ark was sometimes known as the ark of the covenant, because it contained a copy of the Ten Commandments, which were the terms of the covenant which the Lord made with his people on Mount Sinai in the days of Moses. But the ark also represented God’s kingship, which is why the text refers to God being enthroned between the cherubim. The ark was, in a sense, God’s throne on the earth and it matched his throne in heaven above. And just as he was surrounded by angels in heaven, so his throne on earth was surrounded by these golden images of angels.
And so, although David was God’s Anointed King, David was well aware that God is the True King, who rules and reigns in heaven above over all that he has made. And now that David has settled himself in Jerusalem, he wants to bring the ark of the Lord, God’s throne, into Jerusalem to signify that God is the King.
Many years before, the Philistines had captured the ark. Whenever they returned it, it was kept in a place called Kiriath Jearim in the home of Abinadab. And all these years later, it’s still there. And so, David set off with his men to get it. We’re told he put it on a new cart in order to transport it. That’s how the Philistines transported it whenever they captured it. And we read how the sons — or perhaps the grandsons — of Abinadab were guiding the cart. And David and those with him were celebrating with all their might before the Lord. This was a great and joyful occasion. But then disaster. One of the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. And perhaps the ark began to slide off the cart, because Uzzah reached out his hand and touched the ark, presumably to steady it. And we read that the Lord’s anger burned against him and God struck him down so that he died beside the ark.
What was wrong? David doesn’t seem to know. We read that he was angry because of what had happened, but he doesn’t seem to know what was wrong or why the Lord acted like this. And David was afraid and decided to stop what he was doing and for three months he left the ark in the house of this man Obed-Edom.
So, what was wrong? Why did the Lord act like this against Uzzah? The book of Numbers is helpful here, because it provides instructions about the ark. First of all, no one was allowed to see the ark. When it was first made, it was to be kept in the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle. And no one — apart from the High Priest — was allowed to go inside the Most Holy Place or even see inside it. When they were in the wilderness and it was time to pack up and move on, the priests first had to cover the ark so that no one could see it. And then, once it was covered, certain Levites were to carry it using long poles, which were inserted along the sides of the ark. And so, no one was to see it and no one was to touch it. And Moses warned the people that the Levites must not look at the ark or any of the other objects which belonged in the Most Holy Place, because they were holy things. And so, the Levites must not look on them, even for a moment, otherwise they will die. The Lord warned his people what would happen. And on this occasion, in 2 Samuel, David and his men did not pay attention to the word of the Lord. And therefore the Lord’s anger broke out against this man, Uzzah.
And it seems that David must have discovered what was wrong, because when he had another go at transporting the ark to Jerusalem, it says that they carried the ark. Do you see that in verse 13? And as well as carrying the ark, they were careful to offer sacrifices as well so that the Lord would look with favour on them. And again, they celebrated on the way, with shouts and the sound of trumpets and David danced.
And according to verse 17 they brought the ark into the city and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David again offered sacrifices to the Lord: burnt offerings for forgiveness and fellowship offerings to celebrate that they had peace with God. And David blessed the people in the name of the Lord and gave them gifts. In those days it was the custom for a new king to bestow gifts on his people. And so, on behalf of the Lord, David gave gifts to the Lord’s people. And then, all the people went home.
According to verse 14, David wore an linen ephod. In other words, he wasn’t wearing his royal robes, but only a simply garment. And perhaps he wasn’t wearing his royal robes in order to make the point that the true King is the Lord God Almighty. And now the True King had come to rule among his people.
And so, God’s promises to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob were fulfilled, because the Lord had done what he said he would do: he had made a people for himself, a great nation like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore, too many to count. And he had brought them to the place he had prepared for them, which was the Promised Land of Canaan. And he was now living in their midst, ruling and reigning over his people from his throne in Jerusalem.
But, of course, even though God’s people were in God’s land where they enjoyed the presence of the Lord, they were not yet in the true Promised Land, where God promises perfect peace and rest and fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. You see, look at verse 16 where we read about David’s wife, Michal. And according to verse 16, when she saw David dancing and celebrating before the Lord, she despised him. And in verse 20, she spoke sarcastically to him:
How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slaves girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would.
She was being sarcastic, because she thought he had dishonoured himself by his dancing. She complained that he was being vulgar.
Do you see? This was not yet the true Promised Land, because they were still living in a fallen world where sin abounds and where people despise one another, instead of loving one another. And as we read on in the story, we’ll read about David’s sin with Bathsheba. And we’ll read about the sins of other people. And we’ll read how the nation was divided into two. And if we were to read further, we’d read of the way the whole nation, it seemed, turned from the Lord so that eventually the land was overrun by their enemies once again.
And, of course, you and I are not living in the true Promised Land, because we still live in a fallen world where sin abounds. Wherever we look in the world, we’ll come across people who despise one another and who fall out with one another and who hurt one another. Even in the church, we need conciliation services, because believers who are meant to love one another and who are meant to be kind to one another fall out and they grumble and complain and they criticise and they hold grudges.
God has promised to make a people for himself who would live in the place he prepared for them and where they would enjoy peace and rest in the presence of the Lord. God’s promises were fulfilled in part whenever David brought the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. But David was not living in the true Promised Land. And God’s promises are fulfilled in part in the church of Jesus Christ, because all those believe are the spiritual descendants of Abraham and God is extending his kingdom throughout the world, adding to it through the preaching of his word. And when we gather for worship, we enjoy the presence of God in our midst, because he comes to speak to us and to receive our worship.
But his promises are only fulfilled in part and we must wait for them to be fulfilled in their entirety which will only happen on the last day, when the Lord Jesus Christ will come again to gather his people — all who believed in him — and he’ll bring us into the True Promised Land, which is the new heavens and earth. And on God’s holy mountain, in the new Jerusalem to come, we’ll enjoy the presence of God, who will dwell with us. And in the new heavens and earth, we won’t despise one another or hate one another or fall out with one another or hurt one another. We’ll love one another. And we’ll love one another, because having been raised with Christ to live forever, we’ll be glorified and made like Christ forever. And so, sin will be no more. And we’ll love one another perfectly and we’ll love God perfectly. And there won’t be any enemies there to attack us or to hurt us. And there will be no more disease or death or crying or pain.
And so, when that day comes, when the last day comes, God’s promises will be fulfilled in their entirety and all of God’s people — everyone who belongs by faith to the Saviour — will live in the place he has prepared for us — which is the new heavens and earth — and we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest in the presence of our God forever and forever.
How can sinners like us hope to come into the presence of a holy God? After all, Uzzah was destroyed because he touched the ark which was holy. So, how can we hope to come into the presence of a holy God and live? It’s only because of Christ, who did all that was necessary to bring us to God. He offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to take away our sin and guilt forever. And by believing in him, we are pardoned and accepted by God, who treats us as if we have done everything right even though we may have done everything wrong.
And while we wait for the last day, when we will be brought into God’s presence and made perfect forever, God sends his Spirit down from heaven to work in us and to help us to live a holy life now, a life which reflects the glory to come. He gives us his Spirit to help us to love and serve one another. And so, while you wait for the last day, you must ask the Lord every day to send his Spirit from heaven above to help you to do his will and to live a life which reflects the glory to come.