I was in a rush, and I didn’t bother to check. I didn’t look at my commentary, because I figured I already knew what it said. Since I was writing about God’s words and my experience with them, I thought, well, that’s good enough.
In my last post, “Feeling Foggy,” I said that Paul wrote most of his letters from his house arrest in Rome, but it’s not true. He wrote just four of them from there–Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, (Guzik, http://enduringword.com–chapter 1 notes for each of those books).
I also wrote that the church in Rome started because of Paul’s preaching, which also isn’t true. There was already a church in Rome before he got there; he’d written the letter to the Roman believers ahead of his coming, (Guzik, http://enduringword.com–Acts 28 notes).
Thinking I already know; failing to check. Wouldn’t you know, today’s reading brings this exact problem up.
1 Chronicles 13-14
When David is made king over all Israel after Saul’s death, he decides to bring the ark of God back to Jerusalem that’s been at Abinadab’s house. It was abandoned during Saul’s reign after it was returned by the enemy Philistines, and became a symbol for Saul’s talk-to-the-hand to God himself.
But David wants to make God’s worship front and center now that he’s king, “Let’s bring the ark of our God back to us, for we didn’t inquire of it during the reign of Saul.” It’s a great idea, and it comes from a happy heart that wants to honor God’s place with his people.
David asks his military leaders what they think of it, and then he asks the people who’ve gathered there, since they’ve just installed him as king over a re-established Israel. “The whole assembly agreed to do this, because it seemed right to all the people,” 1 Ch 13:1-4.
He sends out invitations to everybody else to meet up at Abinadab’s house, and he lines up Abinadab’s boys to help guide the new oxcart they’ve put the ark on. Somebody’s thought to get a marching band there to make it a real shindig, and David and everybody else were “celebrating with all their might before God” as they parade their way to Jerusalem, 1 Ch 13:2-8.
As good as David’s intentions are, God let’s him know ASAP they aren’t good enough. When they get as far as somebody’s threshing floor, the oxen stumble and Uzza reaches out to steady the ark, so it doesn’t fall off the cart. Another good intention in my book, 1 Ch 13:9.
But God evidently doesn’t think so. Uzza gets zapped and dies on the spot. David gets mad, the music dies, and the whole party stops. David’s afraid to mess with the ark after that, so he ditches it at nearby Obed-Edom’s house, and everybody goes home to sulk, 1 Ch 13:10-13.
Has the ark become bad luck?
Nope. The Bible says that everything connected with Obed-Edom is blessed for the next three months, the same amount of time the ark is holed up at his house, 1 Ch 13:14.
So what’s the deal? Is God bi-polar—one minute striking terror and the next, bringing blessing? This isn’t the first time I’ve wondered.
Uzza was doing a good deed, even doing what the king asked. David was trying to honor God as the only God of Israel. And somebody dies for that? God sounds ridiculously persnickety here.
I can’t help but notice that in all of David’s planning of this event–asking around what folks think, inviting his entire kingdom, lining up the music and entertainment, finding the best route–the one person he didn’t ask is God.
It’s the same trick that Saul pulled, to put what God’s said out-of-sight and out-of-mind. When Saul needed help against the Philistines, he didn’t turn to God but to an outlawed witch in Israel, who got in touch, seance style, with the prophet Samuel, who’d already died, 1 Sa 28:3-25.
At the end of 1 Chronicles 10, just three chapters before this one about David and the oxcart, it says that Saul was disobedient to God’s word and wouldn’t pray and that he consulted a witch instead of consulting God, which is why he died and lost the kingdom to David, 1 Ch 10:13-14.
Like Saul, David hasn’t consulted God, either. He hasn’t bothered to educate himself on how God commanded the ark to be moved. The law of Moses said it was to be carried by Levite men with poles, and anybody who touched it was toast. It wasn’t a secret. In a later chapter, David’s gotten the word, and he says God was angry the first time because they didn’t follow instructions, 1 Ch 15:13; Ex 25:12-15; Nu 4:15.
Being enthusiastic for God wasn’t enough to please him, either. David is dancing before God for all he’s worth and so is everybody else, but God comes along as a grouchy Debbie-Downer and puts Uzza’s lights out. Simply feeling good about God—and even worshipping him with your tribe—isn’t necessarily good enough, either.
It takes Uzza’s death to get David’s attention and remind him who God is, and that how a thing is done matters to him, particularly when that thing has been explained in his word, particularly when it’s regarding something sacred, like the ark that represents his presence. Being ignorant was no excuse; David could’ve asked around and found out what God said if he wanted to.
In the next chapter, the Philistines get wind that David’s united all the tribes of Israel, and they raid a nearby valley to see what he’s made of. David asks God what to do, and God says he’ll hand them over, which he does, twice in a row, 1 Ch 14:8-16.
David’s learned his lesson about checking in with God. But tucked in the verses above these about the Philistines are two about the many new wives David married when he moved into Jerusalem, which God had forbidden, because “…his heart will be led astray,” De 17:17.
David also took many concubines while in Jerusalem, and though he already had a lot of children, even more would’ve come from those relationships. He follows the practices of his culture and doesn’t bother to ask God about planning his royal family, 2 Sam 5:13; 1 Ch 14:3-4.
It’s not hard to find the consequences. Much of the suffering David endures later comes directly from these kids: a baby son dies because of the sin of his parents; one of David’s sons rapes David’s daughter; another son murders the rapist; two sons betray David and try to kill him to take the throne, and one of these sons kills the other; another son has a thousand wives and concubines, loses his mind with idolatry, and eventually loses the kingdom.
At best, David is a mixed bag. I keep feeling surprised when I read he’s favored by God. You’d think that messing up as a family man this much alone would disqualify him as God’s pick for being “the man after my own heart…,” Ac 13:22.
Why does David make the cut?
Well, it can’t be because David is especially good. It can’t be because he’s a faithful husband or devoted father. With all those wives and concubines, he had to have had more than 50 children. Who’s got the time to do a good job with even one wife and just five kids?
Besides, he had Uriah murdered to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba. And then there’s his responsibility for Uzza, who followed his orders and died. There’s plenty of other stuff I could point out, but I think you get it. It’s not because of godliness that David gets picked.
Apparently, God isn’t looking for perfect human beings–or even especially good ones. He gives us freedom to choose, and when we choose badly, he lets us suffer the consequences. But those bad choices don’t disqualify us from being beloved sons and daughters. They didn’t disqualify David.
This truth surprises me every time I find it in the Bible. God says eight times in 1 Kings alone that David does what’s right in his eyes, except for Uriah, 1 Ki 3:14, 9:4, 11:4, 34, 38, 14:8, 15:3-5, 11. Either God’s memory is slipping or grace is deeper and wider than any of us can imagine.
What God is after are human beings who keep coming to him, because this is his heart. This is what he does. He’s the Father who keeps coming to us, who watches and waits and welcomes us with open arms, every single time we turn and head home to him, Lk 15.
The secret to pleasing God isn’t trying so hard to be good like he is. The secret is looking to him and leaning on his goodness. This is what faith and trust are all about. It’s saying, “I don’t have what it takes. I need help. I need a rescue.”
And just that quick, we’ve got one. God’s got more restarts and do-overs stacked up for you and me than we’ll ever use up.
Over and over, David keeps coming to God. He keeps repenting. He keeps trusting. He doesn’t let guilt or shame, anger or ignorance, victory or defeat, pride or despair, enemies or friends keep him away. He brings it all to God; we have his psalms that prove it.
God said that David “will do everything I want him to do” as the reason he’s a man after his heart, Ac 13:22. After what I’ve read, this can’t mean that God was pleased with everything David did. But it could refer to the fact that David never stopped coming to God, even in his old age, because that was the “everything” God most wanted, 1 Ki 1:47-48; Ps 71.
David kept connecting with the God who was always connecting with him first.
Paul says in Romans what David’s life shows us: that it’s not the goody-goody who gets rescued. It’s the one who trusts in God. It’s the power of God in the gospel that brings “salvation to everyone who believes,” not the power in one’s self and one’s good works, Ro 1:16.
Being a goody-goody is really all about proving how you don’t need God, how you can be good without his help, how you can be your own Jesus. This is the way the Pharisees lived, who were condemned by him, Lk 18:9-14.
Paul said it like this, “For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…” Our goodness in the Christian life doesn’t come by bootstrap pulling, by trying-harder-to-do-better. It comes by faith in Jesus. Paul said, “obedience comes by faith,” and that’s how the righteous live, Ro 1:5, 17, emphasis added.
And the righteousness begun in faith continues by faith until the end–it’s a goodness “by faith from first to last.” It’s not about beginning our Christian lives by trusting in Jesus and then taking over in our own strength and “making good for God,” sanctifying ourselves.
Who can do that anyway?
Which brings me to where I started—the mistakes in my last post:
What I wrote was generally true: Paul does write some of his letters while he’s locked up, and the believers in Rome were encouraged by his presence. The palace guards hear the gospel because they take turns being chained to Paul, so they could’ve started a church in Caesar’s basement, Php 1:13 (Guzik, http://enduringword.com, Acts 28 notes).
But what I specifically wrote wasn’t true, and I should’ve checked my Bible and commentary before posting it. And I didn’t. Like David, I thought I knew.
Lord, have mercy.
When I stop handling God’s words as if they’re sacred, I need to stop writing. When I stop being careful to check that what I write about them is true, you’ll want to stop reading. I assumed that writing about the Bible was good enough, that I didn’t need to actually see what it said about every little thing. But that was lazy and irresponsible, and I hope you’ll forgive me.
I’m glad for this passage in Romans that tells me my goodness will grow as my faith in Jesus deepens. lf David’s sin didn’t keep him from being beloved, mine won’t either.
Gotta love a God who lets mixed bags like us know that.
1 Chronicles 13-14 and Romans 1:1-17 are selected for today in The One Year Bible.