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Ark on a Cart
By David A. DePra
And you shall put the staves into the rings by the sides of the ark, that the ark may be borne with them. The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it. (Ex. 25:14-15)
So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel. And the children of the Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the LORD. (1 Chr. 15:14-15)
And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the LORD of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. And David was displeased, because the LORD had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day. (2 Sam 6:2-8)
The pattern which God gave Moses for the tabernacle, and for everything having to do with it, was to be followed without compromise. The NT affirms this in Hebrews, where Paul states, "As Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle, "See," says He, "That you make all things according to the pattern showed to you in the mount." (Heb 8:5) The reason for God’s rigidness was that all of these things, "serve as an example and shadow of heavenly things." (Heb. 8:5) Thus, to depart from the pattern God gave was to depart from Truth. It was to misrepresent God and His redemptive purposes.
Incidentally, this ought to tell us that sound Biblical doctrine is an essential. It is serious business to teach error about God, or to misrepresent Him. Today, some are saying that doctrine doesn’t matter, but that all we need to do is preach Jesus. Well, if we are to preach Jesus, we are to preach doctrine, for doctrine is the objective declaration of what we believe about Jesus! Read the NT. Does it sound as if the apostle Paul, John, or Jesus Himself, cared about WHAT WAS TAUGHT? Absolutely.
Doctrine, as mentioned, is the objective statement of what we believe about Jesus Christ. But if you will notice, this is exactly what the tabernacle was – it was an outward, objective representation of the Truth about God. So really, the tabernacle, in some sense, corresponds to doctrine. And just as the pattern God gave for the tabernacle had to be followed in every detail – for the tabernacle represented Jesus Christ in His redemptive work – so must doctrine rightly represent God.
So when we come to the matter of the ark of the covenant, and the means by which is was to be carried about, we see the important of following the instructions of the Lord. The ark of the covenant was the place where God Himself came down. It symbolized the very presence of God. Indeed, this ark of the covenant was a type of Jesus Christ. Thus, EVERYTHING having to do with it was important – and with it there could be no compromise.
Christ in Us
The instructions God gave as to how to carry the ark of the covenant included three important points. First, the ark was to be carried by PRIESTS. Secondly, the ark was to be carried ON FOOT by these priests – there was no other provision given for carrying the ark. Thirdly, these priests were to bear the ark upon staves, as opposed to carrying it by touching and handing the ark itself.
Make no question, the ark of the covenant was the central item of the tabernacle. It was the most holy thing God had commanded. These instructions were not optional. For as we have seen, the ark represents the power and presence of Jesus Christ Himself.
Now, if we look at what is being pictured here, we see a wonderful type of the presence of Jesus Christ IN His people. You will notice that I said IN His people, rather than just AMONG His people. How so? Well, all believers today are all, "Kings and priests unto God and his Father." (Rev 1:6) So we are all typified by the priests who were to carry the ark. But note: The priests BORE the ark by their own person. In other words, THEY THEMSELVES were the means by which the ark moved about – THEY THEMSELVES carried the presence of God to where God directed. This is of vital significance.
What we see here is that God wants more than a MESSAGE that is carried about through radio, television, the internet, and other means of conveyance. He wants more than a ministry that is an IT. He wants more than a church that is a THING. It isn’t that those things are wrong, mind you, but that is not the primary means by which the presence of God is brought into the lives of others. The primary means is CHRIST IN US – in other words – through believers themselves. We – as earthen vessels that carry a treasure – are to carry the presence of God.
Notice, however, what we are to carry. We are not to carry merely a MESSAGE ABOUT JESUS – although that is included. Rather, we are to carry JESUS HIMSELF. We are to carry LIFE. God was picturing this when He gave Moses the instructions. He was picturing the fact that His very life through His Son was to be carried, not by organizations, ministries, or the methods of the world. No. It was to be carried by people in whom Jesus Christ was living and moving.
If there has been one Truth that the church has lost, distorted, and neglected, down through the centuries – it is this one. Instead of allowing God to deal with us, personally and individually, through the power of the Cross, so that the resurrection power of Jesus Christ might shine through us, we instead concentrate on ministry FOR Christ. Instead of BECOMING living witnesses of Christ in this world – and personally being the means by which Christ is carried to people – we would rather hand out pamphlets, build big churches, have television networks, and hold positions on the various boards in churches. Instead of allowing Christ to HAVE US FIRST, we concentrate on doing service for Him.
Yet just the mention of such distinctions anger many Christians. Especially those leaders who desire power, prestige, and occupy political positions in churches. Especially those leaders, who themselves, have sidestepped the personal work of the Cross in favor of ministry under the power of the flesh. The fact that few Christians have seen the difference between what God wants, and want we have handed Him, is a testimony to the blindness in the church. Yet here it is, illustrated as clear as day, in this passage from II Samuel.
Can we see the difference between carrying a message about Christ on A NEW CART – perhaps a ministry -- and carrying Christ Himself – IN US? Can we see the difference between having the power and life of Christ IN ME through the work of the Cross, and relieving myself of that burden by putting the whole thing on an IT, or a THING – oh yes, an IT or a THING I am doing for GOD?
If we read the account from II Samuel, we see that David had a big worship service around the thing they had created. They had directly disobeyed God, and were singing and dancing about it. It is always possible to have a joyous time over what I have done FOR GOD – yet every bit of it may be OUT OF GOD’S WILL!
Notice very carefully what people rejoice in. So many today are rejoicing over the big new cart which they have made for God, and over the fact that it appears to be well on it’s way to, "Jerusalem," under the strength of the oxen. "Glory to God, look at what He has done! He has opened new doors!"
Question any of this and you are indeed, "a party-pooper." But let’s question it. Let’s ask what the Bible says about God’s will and purpose for the preaching of the gospel, and for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Once we look into it, we find that God’s way is perfectly pictured in how He commanded the ark be transported. The presence of Jesus Christ is to be lived, and moved, and carried about – IN HIS PEOPLE.
Jesus told His disciples right before the ascension, "But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. " (Acts 1:8) Yes, the gospel was to be preached AS a witness. But the Body of Christ was to BE a witness. We are to BE the evidence of Jesus Christ.
This is what the apostle John taught:
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son: He that believeth on the Son of God has the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believes not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:9-11)
We are not to merely GIVE evidence to people about Jesus Christ. We are to BE the evidence. The church is to be that evidence, as our the individuals in the church. This is exactly what is pictured through God’s commands – that the priests were to bear the burden of the ark. That the priests were to carry it by their own person.
God does not want us to try to carry His presence to His destination through any other means than CHRIST IN US. Do that, and the message we carry, and the ministry we do, will be REAL. Neglect that, and everything else suffers. Side-step this one reality and there is no real life and no real witness. There is, at best, only dead religion about a living Christ. And in the end, it becomes an enemy of the Truth.
God wants to not only save us, but to FORM CHRIST IN US. But it is entirely possible to be saved, yet never have, "Christ formed in you." Paul said so. He said to the Galatians, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you." (Gal 4:19) These were saved people who had, "fallen from grace," and were focused on DOING, rather than BECOMING. They had fashioned for themselves a, "new cart," called, "the works of the law." They were using it to carry about the presence of God. But Christ had not been formed in them – personally.
To have Christ FORMED IN US means that we have come to the place where our lives and our ministry are about Christ, and not about us, or the thing, or the IT. It means that there has come a consciousness of a PERSON who is other than ourselves – and He governs all that we do. This requires the work of the Cross. That is why many never get to that place.
Carried on Foot
God ordained that the priests carry the ark of the covenant ON FOOT, holding onto the staves which were attached to the ark through golden rings. In this we see that there is a certain responsibility that we BEAR because we have Christ in us. We again see that it is through PEOPLE that God wants to make a witness for Himself in this world.
The idea that because we receive the grace of God through Christ means that there is no burden to bear as a Christian is utter nonsense. We cannot earn or merit grace. But once we receive the Holy Spirit, we are carrying a life that will turn our world upside down. We are carrying a life that is, in so many ways, utterly contrary to the natural man. There will be labor, warfare, suffering, and toil – not to earn anything from God – but in order to walk in freedom. Indeed, while there is no cost FOR grace, there is nevertheless a great cost to us BECAUSE of grace – yet the cost only of the old, dead, creation.
What did it cost the apostle Paul to bear about the presence and life of Jesus Christ? Plenty.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. (2 Cor. 4:7-12)
Can we see how easy it would have been for Paul lift off of himself the personal burden of Christ, and to fashion a new cart which might carry it? Sure. Carts come in all shapes and sizes. A new cart is anything which LOOKS GOOD, and which will relieve us of the responsibility of CHRIST IN US, and of carrying our Cross – but will appear to carry the presence of Christ to where it ought to go. The cart, in effect, then becomes, not just a bad idea, but a sin of the worst kind. The cart is a substitute for Christ in us. It is a distortion of Christianity at it’s root.
The stereotypical example of a person who has fallen into the error pictured in II Samuel is a Christian leader who serves at church on committees, who is involved in missions, or even someone who is a highly visible Christian televangelist. They think they are DOING much FOR God. They celebrate their ministry or church, and say that God is doing it. But the moment God wants to put His hand to THEM PERSONALLY, they will have none of it. The moment the oxen stumble, they steady the cart they have built. What you end up with is a church populated by many, even in leadership, who are experts in building new carts, and in driving them to Jerusalem. But even though these are saved people, they may not have Christ formed in them. They are not willing to bear the burden of the Cross. Rather, they have built a new cart to bear it for them.
And they set the ark of God upon a new cart…and David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD on all manner of instruments….and Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. (2 Sam 6:2-8)
David completely violated God’s instructions as to how to carry the ark. Instead of priests bearing the ark, David fashioned a new cart, pulled by oxen. Apparently David got this idea from the Philistines.
And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the LORD? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place….Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them: And take the ark of the LORD, and lay it upon the cart; (1 Sam 6:2, 7-8)
The Philistines always represent the WORLD. So here we have the people of God getting their ideas from the world as to how to carry the presence of God. Sound familiar? Look at the church today. Our music, our money, our churches, our practices at almost every level are Xerox copies of the world’s ways – with the name of Jesus pasted on them.
Now notice something: The world does not have the life of Christ in them. Yet here we have the people of God taking the methods of the world and using them to carry the life of Christ. Can we see that this, by definition, involves a neglect of CHRIST IN US? Sure, anytime you use the ways of the world THAT is neglected or rejected. Always.
Again – it isn’t as if all of those methods, of themselves, are evil. They become evil because they substitute for the real. God wants a living witness. He wants us to be the evidence. He want Christ in us to be the means by which He gives witness to the world, and the means by which we preach the gospel. But instead, we neglect that, and make a new cart. We get our ideas from the world as to how to promote Christ.
Jesus said, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself." We don’t believe Him. Instead of lifting up Christ, we lift up our ministries FOR Christ. Instead of lifting up Christ – which means to preach JESUS CHRIST CRUCIFIED – we lift up Jesus, the blessing machine. We do whatever we think will get people into church. And what you end up with are churches filled with people, and even LED by people, who have never come to the Cross. They don’t pick up the Cross and follow Jesus. The Cross is instead on a new cart – all to the, "glory of God."
Notice: David did not build the cart and attach it to oxen because he wanted to offend God. He thought he was helping God – and making it easier on the priests who would otherwise bear the burden of the ark. After all, the cart was better, easier, and faster. Lost in this reasoning was the fact that David was violating the holiness of God, and sinning against Him. God is not in our clever ideas. He simply wants us to believe and obey – to BECOME witnesses who, by our very lives, lift up Jesus Christ.
A witness for Jesus Christ is not someone who merely tells people about Christ. A witness for Christ is someone who is DEFINED by their relationship to Jesus Christ. Two characteristics of that relationship are DEPENDENCE and DEVOTION. Both are the outcome of the work of the Cross, and result in LIFE which ministers. Today the church has little dependence or devotion. Rather than personally be devoted to Jesus, we are devoted to our new cart. Rather than personally be dependent upon Christ, we are dependent upon our oxen. There is no possibility that God will ever bless such aberrations of His Truth.
God does not want us to build or buy Him a new cart. He wants us to surrender OURSELVES to Him. Until we get back to this basic essential, the church will continue lacking power, and certainly continue being blinded to the Truth.
The Oxen Stumble
The oxen – certainly a symbol of natural strength – were pulling the new cart. But they stumbled and shook the ark. Uzzah tried to steady it. It cost him his life.
The picture here is amazing. The efforts of religious people to get the presence of God to it’s destination -- using the strength of natural man -- will always stumble. Sure. God is not in it. But when these efforts do get shaky, and the oxen stumble, what do people do? Seek God? No. We try to, "right the ship." We try to keep the thing going!
We might think Uzzah meant well. David thought so. But by the time the oxen stumbled and the ark started to fall, David, Uzzah, and the rest of those involved, were already well down the road in unbelief and disobedience. Thus, it wasn’t merely the fact that Uzzah touched the ark that spelled his doom. No. The fact that the ark was on a cart to begin with had set the stage for the whole tragedy.
People often say that the sin of Uzzah was that he tried to help God get the ark to Jerusalem. But this misses the point. God was not trying to get the ark to Jerusalem. He wasn’t in any of this. Indeed, the sin was putting the ark on the cart to begin with. Uzzah perpetuated this sin by trying to keep the sin steady! He was trying to keep steady what had been an abomination from the start. When God tried to shake these efforts to the ground, Uzzah tried to prop them up.
Can we see this? It is one thing to disobey God. But it is worse to KEEP disobeying Him when He is trying to convict us, shake us out of our unbelief, and when He is trying to bring to nothing the efforts of our flesh. Thus, instead of blaming God for striking Uzzah, David should have been aware that God was merciful in letting things go along even that long.
This does not mean that every time there is a challenge in ministry that such a shaking proves that the ministry is not of God. No. The question is never that. The question is whether we are carrying the ministry in us, or whether it is on a cart we have fashioned to carry it. That which of God will never fall to the ground. God will see to that. That which is of man needs to fall to the ground, and the sooner the better. We need discernment, lest we try to steady what God wants to fall.
The priests themselves were not to touch the ark, but to carry it with staves. In this we see that we do not have the right to put our hand to the things of God – not even to the life of Christ in us. We do not belong to ourselves. Christ does not belong to us. We belong to Him.
Herein we see the need for reverence. We see the holiness of God. God has not handed over to us what belongs to Him, and told us to do the best we can with it. No. Rather, He wants us to hand ourselves over to Him, and so that He might form Christ in us. If we want to put our hand to the life of Christ, and fashion a better way – a religious way – there will be death everywhere.
The church is the bride of Christ. And if people put their hand to the bride of Christ, and use it for their own agenda – politics, power, money, and prestige – they are committing spiritual adultery. The end of such efforts is spiritual death. But we don’t believe this. We don’t take these things seriously. Those who are the most guilty of violating the holiness of God in this regard are leaders themselves. When is the last time you heard a message of about, "Christ in us," on Christian television? Or even in your church? What we usually hear is not about the Person of Christ, but about ministries and churches which promote Him.
The sad fact is, we often hear more about the new cart than about the One who has been put upon it. We hear about all the ways and means we use to preach the gospel, etc., but little about the PERSON. Of course, Jesus isn’t supposed to be on the cart to begin with, but even within the context of that sin, we don’t focus on Christ. Rather, we focus on the cart and hold a big party around it.
David had made a big IT – a new cart and oxen to pull it. And all FOR GOD. Then they had a worship service over what they had done for God. Then when it all started to fall to the ground, they even tried to steady it and keep it going.
The disciples never intended to start a church, let alone an IT or a THING. Jesus never told them to start a church. Or a ministry or a movement. What happened on the day of Pentecost was not that the disciples started a church. They BECAME the church. In this we see the distinction that has been lost today. The church is CHRIST IN US. It is not a THING or an IT.
Revival is NOT a matter of getting more people to join in the celebration of what we are doing for God. Revival is NOT a matter of getting more people to dance around the ark on a cart. Revival is CHRIST IN US – revival is Jesus Christ the Person being brought back into focus. But revival is only accomplished through repentance – BUT IN THE CHURCH FIRST. And then the church will be on the way to being the priests who bear of the presence of God.
The church today needs to return to the foundation of Christianity: Christ in us. God wants people who bear the presence of Jesus Christ. God wants a living witness – people who ARE the evidence of the risen Christ. He is seeking to shake all that would try to substitute for this reality. May the church start reading the Bible and begin turning to God with all our hearts. *
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