"And David consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds, and with every leader. And David said unto all the congregation of Israel, If it seem good unto you, and that it be of the LORD our God, let us send abroad unto our brethren every where, that are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levites which are in their cities and suburbs, that they may gather themselves unto us: and let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we enquired not at it in the days of Saul. And all the congregation said that they would do so: for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people. So David gathered all Israel together, from Shihor of Egypt even unto the entering of Hemath, to bring the ark of God from Kirjathjearim. And David went up, and all Israel, to Baalah, that is, to Kirjathjearim, which belonged to Judah, to bring up thence the ark of God the LORD, that dwelleth between the cherubims, whose name is called on it. And they carried the ark of God in a new cart out of the house of Abinadab: and Uzza and Ahio drave the cart. And David and all Israel played before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets. And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God. And David was displeased, because the LORD had made a breach upon Uzza: wherefore that place is called Perezuzza to this day. And David was afraid of God that day, saying, How shall I bring the ark of God home to me? So David brought not the ark home to himself to the city of David, but carried it aside into the house of Obededom the Gittite. And the ark of God remained with the family of Obededom in his house three months. And the LORD blessed the house of Obededom, and all that he had." 1 Chron. 13.
"Then David said, None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the LORD chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever... And said unto them, Ye are the chief of the fathers of the Levites: sanctify yourselves, both ye and your brethren, that ye may bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel unto the place that I have prepared for it. For because ye did it not at the first, the LORD our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order." 1 Chron. 15:2,12-13.
The whole of this incident, with all its meaning, has as its pivot the fragment in verse 6 of chapter 13: “...the ark of God Jehovah, that sitteth above the cherubim, that is called by the Name”. That last clause is the pivotal point of the whole matter. The margin gives a slightly different rendering, but whether it should read “that is called by the Name” or as the margin has it “where the Name is called on”, the practical issue is not in the least affected. What is meant is that it is the place where the Name is in supreme control, where the Name is the supreme factor. It is because of the Name having its seat there, because it is there that the Name of Jehovah is found, that everything converges at that point, and it becomes the pivotal point of the whole incident.
The ark and the mercy-seat, combining as they do the symbols of the human and the divine, set forth Jesus Christ as the meeting-place of God and man. We know what this ark was made of, and how it was made, and its constituents. We know of the shittim wood, which is always a type of humanity, manhood; overlaid with gold, which is always a type of Divinity; and the plate of gold resting upon it, which was the mercy-seat with its crown of gold. These are symbols of the human and the divine brought together in one object, and there the Name of the Lord is found.
Quite clearly it is one of God’s many pictures, illustrations, object-lessons by which in a symbolic way He has set forth His great truths and realities. The Old Testament abounds with these types, and symbols, and illustrations of great New Testament realities, and the ark, which I think we shall not be wrong in regarding as the supreme type and symbol of the Old Testament, brings Christ clearly before us. On the one side there is His humanity, on the other side His Deity, and these are joined in one. Then, as we have seen in the Word, upon Him the Name of Jehovah rests: “...has given unto him the name which is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, things on earth and things under the earth”.
This little clause, bringing the ark into view, and the mercy-seat, and the covering cherubim, says to us that where the Name is called upon, where the Name is, the Name is there in virtue of the blood of the atonement. You will remember that once every year the high priest went in within the veil to the place where the ark and the mercy-seat were, with blood of atonement for the sins of the people, and sprinkled this blood upon the mercy-seat, and there God communed with him from above the mercy-seat.
The precious blood shed and sprinkled is the basis of the operation, the effective working; the mighty power of the Name of the Lord resting upon His Son, Jesus Christ. The Name functions by reason of the blood. The blood gives the Name its meaning and its value. Here God is found. We meet God in Christ on the ground of the atoning work of Christ, on the ground of the efficacy and virtue of the blood of Jesus Christ, and if we meet God in Christ as sinners, penitent, confessing our sin and sinfulness, we meet God in mercy. It becomes to us the place of mercy. It is the mercy-seat.
But there is another fact. You remember that there was a time when the Philistines captured the ark, and they put it in the temple of their god, Dagon. They looked into the ark to see what was in it. Here is fleshly curiosity, and approach, and interference with the things of God; not the approach of a penitent sinner, not the approach of a worshipper, not the approach of those who recognise the meaning and value of the blood of Jesus Christ, but simply the approach to this which represented Christ on the ground of no sense of sin, no confession of sin, no acknowledgment of the fact of cleansing by the precious blood. To those Philistines who so approached the ark it meant judgement: they were smitten with plagues, and their god Dagon came crashing down to the ground, broken to pieces in the presence of this ark.
The Lord Jesus is thus in type set forth as having a twofold effect according to our attitude towards Him. If our attitude towards Him is that of sinners recognising the value of His blood for our salvation and our cleansing, penitent, confessing, then we meet God and all the power of the Name of God in mercy, it is to us a mercy-seat where we find grace to help in time of need. But if our attitude toward Christ is that which is marked by an absence of the sense of sin, and need of salvation and cleansing, then Christ must mean judgement and destruction to us sooner or later, for He must be effective. God will see to it that, having sent His Son, He will be effective and sooner or later He will be our Advocate or our Judge.
You will probably have heard the story of a great English judge, Sir Monier Williams. There was a time when he was one of the most clever advocates of the British Bar. A man who was in serious trouble came to him when he was advocate, and asked him to take up his case. Sir Monier Williams took up his case, though it was a desperate one, fought the case in the courts and got him through. Some years afterwards the advocate had been exalted to the place of a judge, and the same man got into trouble again and went to him and said, Sir Monier Williams, you remember me, and how years ago when I was in trouble you took up my case and got me clear. I am in trouble again, and I have come to you to do the same thing again. But Sir Monier Williams turned to him and said, My friend, in those days I was an advocate, today I am a judge, and that makes all the difference. I cannot take up your case now: I have passed beyond the stage of an advocate, I have come to be a judge.
You see, the Lord Jesus now is our Advocate with God, He that lives to make intercession for us in virtue of His precious blood. Today it may be grace, it may be mercy; the day is coming when He will be judge. It will be too late then for an Advocate, He will stand to judge in that day. You see there are two facts dependent upon our attitude toward the Lord Jesus as set forth as the ark and the mercy-seat, where God and man are brought together in oneness.
Having said that word concerning salvation, we pass on to the fuller meaning and value of that which is before us in relation to the Name and the testimony of Jesus. This testimony of Jesus in the power of the Name is deposited in the church; that is, the Lord’s people according to His intention are meant to be the repository, the vessel, in which this testimony to the Name of the Lord is placed. Just as the ark was placed right at the centre of the whole multitude of Israel, and everything was focused upon that ark and concentrated there so the testimony of Jesus in the power of the Name of the Lord is committed, is deposited in the midst of the Lord’s people, and is intended by the Lord to be an effective, a vital thing. There is all the difference between the truths about the Lord Jesus, both as to His person; that is, as to the union of humanity and deity in His person, and all other things about Him as to His work, His atonement, His blood, His Name; as teachings, as parts of a Christian doctrine and creed held by Christian people; and the fact of the living Christ in the power of the supreme, the transcendent Name operating actively in the midst of the Lord’s people. These are two different things.
The Lord never intended just to deposit so many truths with His people, so that they should recite them, and say they believe this, and that, and something else, though they may all be quite true, and all relative to Christ and to God. What He intended was that the living, vital, active, energetic testimony of the Lord Jesus should be in the midst of His people, that there should be this thing in power, so that any Philistine approaching should meet the impact of God in the church, and penitent sinners coming should find mercy, salvation, deliverance. God has deposited the testimony of Jesus in the power of the Name with His people, and His intention is that His people should be the vessel in which the power of the truth should be found: an active thing, an energetic thing, a thing which registers something of influence and effectiveness amongst the people of God.
Having said that we are able to look again at this story, and understand it, and allow its message of warning to come to our hearts.
First of all note David’s mistake. David’s mistake has been the mistake of Christendom, and is the mistake of so many of the Lord’s people at different times. What was David’s mistake? David’s mistake was this, that he proceeded as though the testimony of the Lord was an organised movement to be carried forward by natural energies. He started with a consultation with men. They agreed, and then they made a new cart. They put the ark of the testimony thereon, and two men to drive it. The illustration is a perfect one. It is quite obvious as to what the mistake was. The cart was a contrivance of man to carry that which was of the Lord. Men are constantly seeking new carts for the things of the Lord; that is, a new method, a new piece of machinery, a new movement, a new organisation, a new enterprise, into which, or upon which to place the things of God, and it is a provision made by man for the things of God. That was David’s mistake, and that is our mistake very often, and that has been the mistake of Christendom. That danger is an abiding danger, never very far from the things of God. There is no doubt that the Lord would have the ark brought into its right place. There is no question of the Lord’s will for having His testimony where it ought to be, placed and not displaced. In other words, there is no doubt about it that He would have His Son, Jesus Christ, in all the power of the Name established at the heart of the life of His people. That is all right, but so often running very close to what is really a divine desire, a divine purpose, the will of God, there is this peril of bringing it about by man’s means, in man’s ways, according to man’s ideas, as though it were something that man could really arrange and organise, just as they arranged that cart. They put it together, they brought its parts into an organised whole, and that is how we have been mistaken, and that is the danger which is always near a true work of God. It is just arranging it, that is all, just planning it, just organising it, just providing something out of our own minds, our own thinking, our own counselling, our own judgement for the carrying of this thing of God, this testimony of the Lord, something ordered and put together by man.
There is no question regarding the zeal, the motive, but does it not strike you very, very forcibly, does it not pull you up with a start as you read that David played before the Lord with all his might? With all their might they played and sang before the Lord in this movement, and then the Lord smote the whole thing.
We may be tremendously energetic, we may be putting ourselves with all our might into something for the Lord, but that does not justify our own method, and that does not mean that the Lord overlooks a violation of principle. Oh, surely if we mean well and if we put ourselves with all our heart into the thing for the Lord, that is all the Lord wants, we are bound to get the blessing of the Lord! Not at all. The Lord is very jealous about His principles, because God’s principles are not just arbitrary laws. He does not stick to a thing simply because He has laid it down, and will not move for anything or anybody. No! There lies behind every point that the Lord has marked some great spiritual meaning, something which is eternal. It is not just a profession for the moment, but there is some great spiritual divine factor there, to violate which would mean to upset the whole order of God. We shall see that in a moment. Zeal, and passion, and doing something for God with all your might, is not a guarantee that the Lord will bless it, and that it will be successful and go right through triumphantly. David and the men of Israel played and danced before the Lord with all their might, and not long afterward the whole thing was brought to a standstill, under arrest, death had entered in violent contradiction, death even in the presence of this zeal for God. It is terrible, it is startling.
This was all the fruit of zeal, of impulse for the Lord. It was the fruit of consultation with men. David consulted. Yes, and David discovered that he had started in a wrong way. In chapter 15 he makes it perfectly clear as to where his mistake was, where he went wrong: “For because ye bare it not at the first, Jehovah our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not according to the ordinance” (verse 13). We did not seek Him according to His ordinance. What then did we do? We consulted together. There is all the difference between seeking the Lord according to His ordinance, and consulting together as to how we may serve the Lord’s interests. There is the difference of life and death. The one is life, the other is death. Surely that is a big enough difference to make us pause and ask a question, not as to whether we are zealous for the Lord, not as to whether we have right motives, not as to whether we have seen that we must do it with all our might, but are we sure we are on the right lines. Are we sure that we are doing it according to God’s ordinance? Are we sure that it is God’s method? Not just that it is God’s desire, but God’s way of reaching His desire. That is always a peril which is near to anything that is of God.
When men consult together about the things of the Lord and the work of the Lord, it will not be long before they will need a cart to carry out the result of their consultation, and the cart may be any one of a thousand things that men employ — a committee, a movement, or an institution; something that men bring together for the carrying out of all their own counsels, their own judgements for God, when all the time God has His method and His means settled, only waiting to be consulted.
This peril is very often something that creeps in unconsciously, comes in and operates unwontedly. It is not always just as this story would seem to make it appear. Things seem to be so deliberate here, so clear-cut, it was almost like an act, it was done. Very often it comes in unperceived, it gradually works in to something which is of God, and it comes in quite contrary to the wish and desire of those responsible. They find that almost without knowing it, and certainly without desiring it, they have become involved in a way of doing things in an order which was not God’s, and is not what they intended, but there they are, they are in it, it has come about. And inasmuch as that is so, whether it is in an act or whether it is in a process, it is a movement away from the power of the Name. It means that the testimony works rather against than for such who are in that responsibility, that they are rather broken by it than established, lifted, energised by it. It is just possible that the testimony of the Lord may break those who carry it, because they have got on to wrong lines, because they have departed from the Lord’s way of bearing His testimony.
We have to watch not only that we start well, but that we keep things clean all the way through, from man, from man’s judgements, man’s ideas, man’s ways, by much prayer that the principle of the Philistine cart does not creep in and take the place of God’s way. The things of God in this case meant death, because God’s method was not followed or employed.
God’s Instrument of Testimony
What is God’s instrument of testimony? David came back to it: “Then David said, None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath Jehovah chosen to carry the ark of God and to minister unto him for ever” (verse 2). God chooses men, spiritual men, living men. God is never found looking for things, for machines, for organisations; God is always looking for living men, spiritual men. The Levites were those who represented God’s thought for His people. We know that the tribe of Levi was chosen to take the place of the firstborn of Israel, and they became the firstborn tribe, so that the firstborn of every family in Israel, which represented before God the whole family, was gathered up in a representative tribe, and in the Levites it is as though all Israel were before the Lord in spiritual ministry.
That is God’s thought for His people, a people in touch with Him, ministering to Him, a living people, a spiritual people, separated unto God, in intelligent cooperation with God. These are the Levites. That is God’s method, God’s means, to have men in living fellowship with God, spiritual men. That is the church according to God’s thought, to bear the testimony. As the writer to the Hebrews says: “The church of the firstborn ones, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). The living church, born from above, in living union with God, is to be the vessel of the testimony of the Name, the mighty, the Almighty Name, of the Lord. That is God’s means.
Now that is very testing, very searching. It means this, that you and I, to bear the testimony of Jesus in the power of God, in all the value and virtue of the Name, only have to be in living union with God, only have to be spiritual men and women. We cannot bear this testimony by being associated with some Christian organisation, whether we call it the church or anything else, by being attached to something of an organised character here on this earth called “Christianity”. That is not the way. So many people think that to have a living ministry they have to belong to this or that or something else, be in a certain movement. God’s way is living union with Himself, spiritual men and women, and when that obtains, when that is the case, then His testimony is there.
It is spontaneous. Read the book of the Acts again, and you will find nothing whatever about a constituted movement, an organised campaign, a church ordered by men. What you find is men and women brought into living union with God in Christ, and then the mighty power of the Name at work in a spontaneous way. That is the Lord’s method, and that is very simple, and quite enough. For men and women to be in living, spiritual fellowship with God, that is God’s way, God’s means of expressing the power of the Name, of maintaining the testimony of Jesus, such as have come to spiritual and intelligent fellowship with God. That is the essential, the indispensable means of God for His testimony.
How we have departed from God’s simple basis—and because of that what has happened? We are discovering, and Christendom is discovering, that God is jealous. When God smote Uzzah it was God showing His jealousy for His Name, His jealousy for His testimony. First of all God’s jealousy for His testimony is shown by His refusal to take responsibility for anything that is not according to His own mind and order. You produce your mission, your cart, your organisation, and you begin to take up the things of God. Very well, you have taken responsibility; you will have to provide the two men to drive it; and you may take it that you are involved in a very responsible business, and will have to carry that responsibility, because God will not do it. God did not prevent the oxen from stumbling, He did not prevent this thing from getting into a precarious situation, He did not step in to save the thing from collapse. They had provided the cart, and they had to take responsibility. God does not do it. Mark you, there is bound to be a point where things reach a crisis, and where man has to seek to save the whole situation which he has created. God will see to that. I do not think it is a mere incident, a mere hap, a mere chance that the oxen stumbled. God’s sovereignty is behind a good many of the crises that arise, and in the long run we thank God for those crises. We thank God that our oxen did stumble; we learn the big lesson of our lives.
Here it is, a thing which man has tried to do for God by his own means and methods, in his own way, and it is bound to reach a crisis, and is bound to come to the place where everything becomes very precarious for his undertaking, and God is not there to protect, to save; it is discovered that God is not taking responsibility for it.
But more than that. When that crisis comes, when that situation arises, and man tries to save the things of God, he finds that he meets God, and God shows him there and then that he cannot handle the things of God in this way, to run them, and to preserve them; and God smote Uzzah there, and Uzzah died “before the Lord”. This is death coming in on the whole project, the whole thing coming under death. Dare we again think back? They were singing, playing, dancing before the Lord, with all their might, and God smote the whole business with death. It is hardly realisable. If it were not in the Word of God we should hardly dare to say this. This is God’s jealousy for spiritual principles. Living men and women; that is, men and women who know the Lord in a living way, and are in living fellowship with Him, should be His instrument of testimony; not dead, cold things made by man, not things driven by natural energies, represented by the oxen and the men who drove them, but spirituality, life; these are the basic factors in God’s way.
This incident has some deep and strong lessons for us all. I know quite well that the Lord is speaking to all our hearts on this matter, and it is for us to safeguard in these days. You cannot make something to carry the testimony of the Lord. You cannot make people carry the testimony of the Lord. You cannot gather them into Bible institutions and make them vessels of testimony. Only God can make spiritual men and women, living men and women, men wrought for this purpose. We must take our hands off one another, and leave them to the Lord. If it were something else we could get together and take counsel together, and we could arrange a scheme, an enterprise, and get beautifully organised, and launch it, and carry it on; but that is like a Philistine cart, and in the testimony of Jesus that cannot be done with the guarantee that God will sponsor it and take responsibility for it. God must constitute us a vessel on the basis of life and knowledge of Himself, and no man can do that, no man can make that sort of thing, only God.
So we stand back from one another and let the Lord do it. Much as we would like to help we can do very little; we have to let the Lord do it, and make men and make women, and when the Lord has made them there is the power of the Name. You cannot fit men to bear the Name, only God can fit men for that. It is a matter of the testimony of the Name in mighty energy and power being borne by men and women who are alive unto the Lord, and in intelligent fellowship with Him. Anything other is bound to break down, to go wrong, and what is more to come under the judgement of God sooner or later.
May the Lord save us from that tragedy, and keep us in that close touch with Him where, not consulting together, but enquiring of the Lord, we are made vessels of the testimony according to His order.