The ark of God in 2 Samuel 15

The placement of the meeting of David with the priests carrying the ark of God in 2 Samuel 15 and the language ‘of sight’ are some of the most intriguing aspects of this chapter. Here are my conclusions from the sermon I preached on 2 Samuel 15:18-29.

The ark of God – 15:24-29

It is at this lowest point…the crossing of the Kidron that the ark of the covenant of God is brought to David by the priests.

This encounter presents David with his most challenging decision, …here is where the king’s relinquishing of power finds its ultimate expression. The ark represents the very presence of God, it is the power of God with him.[1]Despite this belief, David chooses to let the ark remain behind in Jerusalem: 

‘Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, `I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.”’        (15:25-26)

The ark of God will not pass.

What is David doing here? Why does he not take the ark with him? 

Some commentators answer by saying that ‘David knows that his future does not depend on furniture, but on the favour of God’ (Tim Chester who echoes Dale Davis) – that is, they argue that this is to emphasise that David’s not superstitious. I don’t agree. That is not the reason – for it is to completely miss the significance of the ark of God in Samuel. David had brought the ark of God to the city, after much drama, in great triumph to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6).

The ark of God speaks of life and power.

Now, as he flees the city, David is convinced that the ark of God does not belong in the place of exile; its presence and power bespeak life not death.[2] It’s home is the city of Jerusalem.

David’s response to Zadok is a deep expression of faith – recall 2 Samuel 14:14

“But God…devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.”

This decision to return the ark after the crossing of the Kidron Valley demonstrates David’s complete confidence in the judgment of Yahweh. He places himself completely in God’s hands, relying solely upon the verdict of the divine King of Israel.[3]

Here is David’s heart – his faith. David’s trust is expressed by his submission to banishment without any signs of power and authority; a trust expressed most visibly by this decision to return the ark of God to Jerusalem. 

David’s parting with the ark is the definitive and final sign that he entrusts his own destiny into the Lord’s hands. In this decision he explicitly acknowledges that the kingship and the future of Jerusalem are not for him to determine.[4]

David may be the anointed one but he remains a humble servant who does not grasp equality with the LORD, the King of Israel. The return of the ark now means that David will no longer see it, other than by faith. 

The language of this meeting is filled with verbs of seeing. As well, the reference to the eyes of the Lord also draws attention to this faculty of the senses: 

25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. 26 But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems [Hebrew: ‘in his eyes’] good to him.” 27 The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Go back to the city in peace, with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. 28 See… (2 Samuel 15:25-27). 

But David can only see a future for himself should the Lord look with favour upon him. David’s longing is only that he be seen through the eyes of the LORD, and he believes that if those eyes are not pleased with what they see, then David accepts that it is best to accept the verdict of those eyes (15:26).[5] It is a remarkable expression of confidence in the goodness of the LORD’s judgment and letting go of the very symbol of power which had been the centerpiece of the authority of the king of Israel.[6]

[1] Compare Brueggemann, 248, ‘The ark articulates and embodies for old Israel the holy rule of Yahweh.’

[2] One fact is clear. David’s attitude is a stark contrast to the panic and desperate attempt to cling on to power of David’s predecessor, King Saul, whose desperation culminated in visiting and dining at the table of the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28). David does not use his authority as king of Israel to hold on to the power which lies before him in the ark of God. David is quite explicit that his choice is the sign that he is submitting to the Lord’s own judgment as to whether he will reign in that city again. 

[3] ‘David has no desire to manipulate God. He is prepared to entrust himself to God’s good way and to take the outcome that is willed from him.’ Brueggemann, 303.

[4] Wharton, 347. Wharton observes that the Lord is the decisive actor in all these human machinations.

[5] This passage has many parallels with 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 in which Paul expands upon the themes of sight, faith, dwelling place and judgment using the imagery of a tent. The ark of God, of course, resided within a tent prior to the building of the temple.

[6] The fact that it had been no little matter for the ark of God to come to Jerusalem in the first place (2 Samuel 6) would no doubt have made David very wary of removing the ark from the city. 

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