“So they set the ark of God on a new cart” - 2 Samuel 6:3
Why is it that Christians think that living like the world is acceptable to God? The church at large blatantly ministers in worldly ways. Throughout the Bible God repeatedly expressed His desire that His people would be distinct from the world. God’s people are to be holy. Why is this so critical to God? It’s important to God because His children are living epistles, a letter for the lost of the world to read and see Christ (2 Cor. 3:2-4). Before unsaved people read God’s Word, they usually read His people. The unsaved are drawn by what they see or read in God’s people. God uses the beauty of holiness to attract the lost (Ps. 29:2; 96:9).
When I speak of “holiness,” I’m not talking about maintaining a set of rules. Holiness is loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving your neighbor as you already love yourself (Mark 12:29-31). Holiness is a way of life; it is life lived for the Lord in His love. Such love is the product of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Remember, the fruit of the Spirit is love. There is a beauty to that love that attracts the lost. The beauty of holiness in a child of God communicates otherworldliness. It manifests love’s joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It proclaims liberation to the one shackled in the sins of this world.
When a Christian or the church lives or ministers in a worldly way, it’s like spray-painting graffiti on a Picasso. You can’t love the world’s system and love God at the same time. Loving the things of the world is diametrically opposed to the love of God (1 John 2:15-17). The worldlier you are the less in love with Jesus you are. Even the unsaved sense the contradiction between Christianity and worldliness. Worldly ways are unacceptable to God.
The answer to all these questions is illustrated in the Old Testament history of a Philistine cart. One of the lowest points in the history of Israel occurred when Eli was the high priest. He served in the tabernacle of God with his two sons Hophni and Phinehas. So low had the nation sunk spiritually that the sons of Eli were openly pilfering the sacrifices of God and having sex with women at the threshold of the tabernacle. When all of this was happening Eli offered only a weak rebuke to his sons (1 Sam. 2:12-26). Because of these conditions God raised up the judge, priest and prophet named Samuel. Samuel was born in answer to his mother Hannah’s prayers (1 Samuel 1). She promised that if God would answer her prayer for a son that she would dedicate the child to God for the rest of his life. God answered Hannah’s prayer, and Samuel was born. The anointing of God was on Samuel. From a young age he ministered before the Lord with a heart wholly dedicated to God (1 Sam. 2:18-21; 3).
Before Samuel could succeed Eli and his two sons God brought judgment on the corrupt priestly family. The perennial opponents of Israel were the Philistines. Toward the end of Eli’s life Israel went out and fought against the Philistines. The Philistines soundly defeated Israel. When the people returned the elders asked, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines?” (1 Sam. 4:3). Without praying for an answer they simply presumed the reason for their defeat. They believed it was because they hadn’t brought the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle. Nothing good ever comes from proceeding without prayer.
The Ark of the Covenant was a rectangular gold-plated box that contained holy artifacts from God’s miraculous works of the past (Heb. 9:4). It was more than just a pretty piece of furniture. The Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God among His people. That’s a good thing. And because it was associated with God’s presence it was also associated with God’s power. But the prayerlessness of the people demonstrated they had come to see the ark as something magical rather than something holy. To the people the Ark was merely a religious formula for success. Bring the ark into battle and you will be victorious. They weren’t thinking about the presence of the Lord at all. If they had been thinking of the presence of the LORD they would have sought His direction in prayer. They were only interested in the bottom line—winning.
We do the same thing today. We are consumed with a lust to succeed. And that success is usually defined and pursued from a worldly perspective. We proceed prayerlessly. We try to formulate victory. But you can’t reduce ministry and life as a Christian to religious formulas. A life pleasing to God flows out of our relationship with Him and by walking in the Spirit. The Bible teaches us that God works in various ways that are higher than ours (Isa. 55:9-11). His work can’t be accomplished by humanly deduced formulations. Humanly deduced formulations don’t work.
We haven’t gotten to the Philistine cart yet but we need to drive home a point before we do. Observing the church today it’s pretty easy to deduce that the church is on the ropes. We have our own modern versions of Eli and his two sons. There are some deep troubles and divisions in the church today. Prayer meetings, if even held, are sparsely attended. The church is not reaching out to the lost as it should. The church is not building up believers into disciples. Souls aren’t being saved, and disciples aren’t being made. We’re off track.
The same is true of the individual in the church. Christian lifestyles aren’t very different from that of the unsaved in the world. In fact, Christians are looking more and more to the world for answers! Most Christians rarely if ever share their faith. Even when they do they are generally ineffective. This is because they really aren’t interested in doing so. This is appalling when one takes into account the eternal destiny of the unsaved. They are rationalizing and excusing sin instead of killing it off on the cross of Christ. There is little or no victorious Christian living. (Do we even know what “victorious Christian life” is anymore?) You may object to these assertions, but they’re true. Christians starving for victory and blessing in their lives are lowering God’s scriptural standards. They then glory in a diminished definition of what victory in Jesus really is.
The Bible has been cast aside by much of the church. This discard of God’s Word came gradually. It began with laziness. We casually trusted in the preachers without confirming what they were saying. We neglected our responsibility to be Bereans (Acts 17:10-11). This disconnect from God’s Word increased as commentaries became a substitute for the direct personal study of God’s Word. (Commentaries can be a valuable tool, but they are no substitute for your own study of God’s Word.) Slowly but surely our focus shifted from personal study to relying on the words of “Christian celebrities.” Soon a weakened church didn’t have the heart or time to sit and take in a balanced meal of God’s Word. We were drawn away from the table of the Lord to live on quick TV-sermonette dinners, Christian-lite cotton candy and junk-food religion. Christians living on this unhealthy spiritual diet became confused with what true Christianity really is. They began looking outside the church for answers. Eventually the church opened its doors to all kinds of practices. These methods of “ministry” were not based on prayerful processing or scriptural assessment but on fleshly profits. This set the stage for the introduction and reliance upon what I refer to as The Philistine Cart.
Things are not always what they appear to be on the surface. Sometimes what seems alive and powerful is dead within. There are times when Christians are deceived by smoke and mirrors. Right now much of the church is all about style and woefully lacking in spiritual substance. That is why the church mimics the world and its ways. Its methods and styles are eagerly welcomed and adopted. This is a serious problem because it exposes a lack of spiritual depth. The closer a person or church is to the world the farther away they are from God and His love (cf. 1 John 2:15-17).
The ark was brought from the tabernacle and into the camp and we are told, “Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook” (1 Sam. 4:5). It was pretty impressive. The Philistines thought so. The Philistines thought “God has come into the camp! . . . Woe is us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods?” (1 Sam. 4:7-8). Reading the passage it looks as though the Philistines were resigned to defeat. But if they were going to die they would die “like men.” They would go down fighting (1 Sam. 4:9). Even those in the world can have honorable attitudes.
Well, the Philistines didn’t die. In fact when they went out to battle the Israelites (who had the ark of God) they won again, and the soldiers of Israel fled away (1 Sam. 4:10). The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died in the battle. Some may have interpreted that as good. But something unprecedented and devastating happened in this battle. The ark was captured by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:11). This had a devastating impact on God’s people.
Hearing of the loss of her unfaithful husband was bad enough, but when Phinehas’s pregnant wife heard the ark was captured, she gave birth prematurely. And then she named her son Ichabod. Ichabod means “the glory has departed.”
Eli’s heart had trembled in fear for the ark of God when it was taken into battle (1 Sam. 4:13). Even he saw that actions based on prayerless impulse never bring good outcomes. Eli withstood news of the death of his two sons. But when old Eli heard that the ark was lost in the battle he fell over backward, broke his neck, and died (1 Sam. 4:18).
The consequence of prayerless actions is always death even if we have the best of intentions. When we act separately from God and His Word we are acting on our own; in our own strength. That is a dangerous thing to do. We may be able to fight off a foe or have a measure of victory in our own strength, but it won’t last for long. And God will actually allow us to experience defeat to teach us our need to depend on Him.
The ark eventually was returned to Israel. God brought plagues upon the pagan Philistines because they had His ark (1 Samuel 5 and 6). They decided it wasn’t worth it or safe to have God’s ark in their possession. But here we have an important part in the account. We need to take note of how the Philistines returned the ark. The way they sent the ark back left a lasting impression on God’s people. They made a “new cart” to transport the ark back to Israel (1 Sam. 6:7). It must have been an impressive new cart. You’ll see why this is important as we continue.
The joy of the ark’s return was short-lived. There needs to be reverence in worshipful celebration to the LORD. The men of Beth Shemesh treated the ark without the holy respect and reverence an object belonging to God deserves. God struck down around fifty thousand men as a consequence. This led the survivors of Beth Shemesh to respond, “Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God” (1 Sam. 6:20). They sought for someone to take the ark off their hands. The word went out, and the people of Kirjath Jearim welcomed the ark.
When the ark returned the people in Kirjath Jearim were moved by the holiness of God. They repented and a revival broke out under the leadership of Samuel. When the Philistines came up against Israel again Israel turned to the LORD for help. This is what they should have done in the first place. This time the LORD fought for Israel and defeated the Philistines. Samuel then set up a rock between Mizpah and Shen and called it “Ebenezer,” meaning the stone of help. They remembered the source of their help and victory. From that point on the people of Israel regained the land previously lost to the Philistines and “the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel” (1 Samuel 7).
True revival comes when His people sense the holiness of God. That sense of God’s holines moves His people to repent. That is the true and substantial basis for revival. The closer we come to God the more clearly we see our sin (cf. Isaiah 6). Coming close to God shatters our pride and humbles us. And while God opposes the proud, He gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5-6). If you want power over sin and victory in your life you have to come closer to the Lord (1 John 3:6). That can be convicting, challenging, even painful. It definitely will be humbling. But it is the only way to experience true revival.
Where is the awareness of God’s holiness today? Do we see it in the church? Do we see it in the Christian? Is it in the chaos of the flesh and worldliness we see in counterfeit revivals today? Look at what is masquerading as revival. Ask yourself, Is this the holiness of God? Does this humble me? Does this bring me to my knees in repentance? Does it lead to real and lasting life changes? Does it lead to holy living? We have settled for bells and whistles when we should be seeking the humbling presence of God. We need to return to our own Kirjath Jearim and discover the holy presence of God. We need to get back on course; the course of the true gospel of God that is based on the sound doctrine of His Word.
When genuine revivals occur future generations may misinterpret them. Those who look back at revivals of the past sometimes draw wrong conclusions about what caused the revival. That is what happened with David. He looked back at the revival of holiness at Kirjath Jearim and associated it more with the ark of God than the impact of the holiness of God on His people. This led to some serious problems for the nation.
About fifty years after the revival at Kirjath Jearim (1 Samuel 7) the great psalmist David became king of Israel. Sometime after King David ascended to the throne he was moved to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the City of David (2 Sam. 6:1-11; 1 Chron. 13:1-4). He was chosen by God because he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:13-14). But David was going to learn a terrible lesson. How God’s work is done is just as important to God as the end result. You can’t compromise in the way you do something just to get it done. For God the ends do not necessarily justify the means. To God the means are just as important as the end itself. David had it in his heart to bring up the ark of God to Jerusalem. The ark represented the holy presence of God among His people (Exod. 25:21-22). David wanted to be close to God. He wanted the symbol of that close presence of God with him. This was right and good. This idea came from the outflow of the close relationship between God and David. But David went about this in the wrong way; a worldly way.
The account of David’s unsuccessful attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the city is given in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13. Both accounts mention a “new cart”: “So they set the ark of God on a new cart” (2 Sam. 6:3) and “so they carried the ark of God on a new cart” (1 Chron. 13:7). David used the “new cart” way of the pagan Philistines to transport God’s Holy Ark. What’s the big deal about that? Why is that significant at all? In Deuteronomy 17:18-20 God gave the requirements for the king of Israel. He was to write his own copy of God’s law. He was to keep it with him. He was to read it all the days of his life so that he would honor and obey God. David, therefore, was without excuse. He had either overlooked, forgotten, or disregarded the clearly prescribed instructions God had given about how His holy ark was to be transported. The ark was not merely a piece of common furniture to be carried about in any old or “new” way. No, God’s instructions were precise. The ark should be handled with reverence (Num. 4:1-15). But David shortsightedly settled for the “new” secular, worldly way of the Philistines.
Like David we are without excuse when we overlook, forget, or disregard the clearly prescribed instructions available to us in God’s inspired Word. Today God’s Word is available to us in unprecedented ways. God’s written Word is printed and available to more people than ever before in history. Through technology we can hear it on radio, IPhones and IPads, memory sticks and CDs, we can watch it on TV and DVD, we can hear and watch it on the Internet, we can search and study it on computer in incredible ways. We have the ability to get the Word from almost any place on the planet by way of satellite. We’ve sent God’s Word into outer space. We can put the entire Bible on the head of a pin! God has increased human knowledge in these last days (Daniel 12:4). He has increased the capabilities of humanity in exponential ways. Humanity doesn’t always choose to use that increased knowledge in a righteous way; but the potential is there. God has spoken and He wants us to hear Him. God has made His Word available to just about everyone on planet earth. Yet too often the inspired revelation of God’s Word is set aside and even willfully excluded from our lives. The results have been spiritually catastrophic.
It was the Philistines who introduced the “new cart” pulled by oxen as a means of transporting the ark (1 Sam. 6:7-8). The Philistines were pagan worldlings. Worldly ways are not appropriate for those seeking to live worshipfully before God. Worldliness puts us out of sync with God. David tried to create a time of holy worship with abundant music around the “new cart.” The oxen stumbled. The cart tilted. And a man named Uzza reached out and touched the ark in an attempt to steady it and keep it from falling. The consequence was death. The Bible says, “The anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before God” (1 Chron. 13:10). The LORD is holy. There is none like Him. We need to approach Him in accordance with who He is, not in haphazard common ways.
David had lost sight of the holiness of God. How did he respond to what happened to Uzza? He reacted with anger and then fear; twin killers of spirituality. His proud heart was angry because his way of doing things was disrupted. But then he felt fear because he recognized his way was not acceptable to God. David felt distant from the LORD as evidenced by his saying, “How can I bring the ark of God to me?” (1 Chron. 13:12). Instead, he put the ark aside, in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite.
It is unacceptable to the LORD to live or minister in ways not prescribed by Him. David had gotten off the course ordained by God. David’s actions showed spiritual shallowness. He didn’t care to seek guidance in God’s Word. His flesh, his sinful nature, was exposed when his parade was brought to a sudden halt. It was exposed by his angry reaction. The fear David felt was not reverential fear. He was “afraid of God” (1 Chron. 13:12). He was afraid of further consequences from God. This fear built up a wall between David and God. Failing to serve the LORD in ways the LORD had instructed led to a distancing of David from God. This is illustrated in the distance he kept the ark from his city. When you attempt to do things for God in worldly ways the result is a host of spiritually deadening effects.
Do you see any parallels between this account and what is going on in the church and many Christian lives today? The church is using all kinds of worldly methods in an attempt to do the work of God. The church is off the course ordained by God in His Word. We have become so seeker friendly that unsaved “seekers” are ruling the church! The answer to what plagues the church is not more demographic studies, marketing research, surveys, etc.; it is, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). How many church leaders and Christians will read that verse and pooh-pooh it away as the ranting of a “narrow-minded” writer? Well, before they make light of that verse, they should remember that those words are inspired by God. They were delivered to us through one of the greatest men of all times, the apostle Paul. And those words still apply today. The Holy Bible is still holy. There is no other book like it. The Bible is not out of date or out of touch. The Bible is God’s Word for today. That is true every day in history as long as God permits us time to share it. The answer to our ills is God’s true gospel, not the “gospel” “according to man” (Gal. 1:11).
Christian, shut off Dr. Phil and Oprah. Turn off Judge Hatchet and Judge Judy. Lay down the newest self-help book. Cast aside the latest cotton-candy fluff book from those who shy away from anything that might offend anyone. Our standard should be the whole truth of God and nothing but the whole truth of God. Unhook your Philistine cart and stop wandering aimlessly. Go directly to God’s Word; do not stop. Follow His road map to life for life. God’s Word brings us to Jesus. It is only there at His feet that you will find what you are looking for. You need the true gospel based on the sound doctrine of God’s Word. We need God ordained experiences with Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
Today we are pulling a host of Philistine carts. Whenever we compromise and adopt worldly ways into our lives and ministries we are pulling a Philistine cart. The deadly results will be same for us as they were with David. As we seek to fit in with the world and do things like the world, using worldly ways, human ways, we distance ourselves from God. Holiness is defined as separate, distinct, and unique. Holiness is to be separated to God, or unto God, in order to be used by Him. The power of God will never be released in and through us until we set aside the ways of the world. We must turn to Him and His Word. It was the worldly Philistines who lived by chance and relegated themselves to die. It was the Philistines who thought up the “new cart” way to transport the ark of God. It was easier, and safer to put the ark on a cart and send it off pulled by cattle. But these “new” ways were no good as far as God was concerned. They were unholy and common. They had not been ordained by Him.
The point here is not to equate anything new with worldliness. Technology is new, but it is not necessarily worldly. The Philistine cart was not a bad idea because it was a piece of modern technology in that day. There is nothing biblically wrong with using technology to spread the Word of God. In fact, modern technology can be a great asset to ministry. (You’re reading this computer generated teaching online!) Then what was the sin of David?
David’s sin began when he failed to respect God by not consulting His Word. It was irreverence. In this particular case God’s Word had very specific instructions on how the ark was to be transported. David did not obey. He neglected God’s Word. He disregarded it. God’s holy Word should have been the first place he looked for instruction. In 1 Chronicles 13:1, “David consulted with . . . every leader” before he moved the ark. It seems the entire nation was ignorant concerning this issue or at least did not speak out. In planning the “parade,” David and his leaders apparently were more concerned with the music than God’s Word. Isn’t that like the church today? Music is important in worshipping God but it should never take priority over the Word of God.
David treated the ark of God in a common, secular way instead of a holy way. He settled for the secular when he should have sought out the holy. At this point in time God’s Word was apparently not a priority in David’s life. That was sinful. That is exactly what Christians and much of the church is doing today. When we neglect to check God’s Word and proceed in our own wisdom, understanding, and worldly ways, we pull a Philistine cart.
Today it’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish Christians and the church from the world. Christians are in a frenzy to keep up with the fads and trends of the day. The church is carnal to its core. The fellowship of believers is so very fleshly. Churches package their messages in sharp-looking promotions based more on marketing than the holy manuscripts of God. We are so caught up in the package that we are forgetting the gift inside. Ministry has become more profane and common in its communication. We justify coarse language and methods that border on irreverence by saying we are just seeking to be relevant. But are we faithful to God and His Word? If we are living epistles what is the world reading in us and hearing from us? Do they see anything substantially different, distinct, and holy? Or do they simply see something that can’t be distinguished from the world? People in the world can smell a lukewarm Laodicean a mile away. When they look at you, are they seeing part of a parade line of Philistine carts?
The New Testament tells us that when we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord we are bought by God. We become “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). So let me ask you, what are you doing at the threshold of your temple? Are you following in the footsteps of Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas and committing spiritual adultery with the world at the door of your temple? When the world reads your life, is it cheap, common graffiti tattooed on the temple of the Holy Spirit? Or does the world see the Word of God lived out in your life? Have you given any thought or prayer to how the lost will read you? Have you gone to God’s Word for direction? Are you too weak to say or do anything? What about the Philistine carts in your life and in the lives of those around you? Have you superficially settled for the ways of this world? When was the last time you ministered with just a Bible in your hand? Are you casually pulling a Philistine cart? If so, death is working in you.
The account of the Philistine cart should cause us to consider our ways. Are you moving forward or backward in your relationship with the LORD? Are you moving closer or farther away from the LORD? Are you on or off course with the LORD? How do you tell which way you are moving? If you are moving closer to the world you are moving away from the LORD. If you are more concerned with the things of the world than the things of God you are moving away from the LORD. If you settle for using the ways of the world without consulting the LORD and His Word you are moving away from the LORD. If you are moving away from the LORD you are backsliding. But if you are moving away from the world and care more about the way God has instructed us to do things, then you are moving forward. You are moving onward and upward. You are moving closer to the LORD. Which way are you going? Are you pulling a Philistine cart?
If you want to move in the right direction, you’ll have to take some decisive action. The remedy for Philistine carts in our lives is to bust them up, burn them up, and don’t build them up again (1 Sam. 6:14; 2 Sam. 6:3). The remedy is to get back on course and stay the course of God’s true gospel based on His Word. Go back and study the passages mentioned above. Study them prayerfully. Study them in context. Then ask the Spirit to search out any Philistine carts in your life. Ask God to apply His Word to your life.
David didn’t give up on bringing the ark of God to the City of David. He learned the hard lesson of trying to do the right thing for God but in the wrong way. David built up his city and “prepared a place for the ark of God” (1 Chron. 15:1). But this time He would stay on course. This time the Levites would carry the ark. David told the priests, “Sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel to the place I have prepared for it” (1 Chron. 15:12). Why this change in how the ark would be transported? David explains, “For because you did not do it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order” (1 Chron. 15:13). David went back to God’s Word, “and the children of the Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders, by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD” (1 Chron. 15:15). The key here is the phrase, “according to the word of the LORD.” Like David, we have to get back to God’s Word as our first and only guide for our lives and ministries.
Why is it that Christians and the church at large so casually think that living or doing ministry in worldly ways is acceptable to God? It is because they are pulling Philistine carts. And that is wrong. So what should you do? Get before the Lord and ask Him to search your heart and help you identify any Philistine carts in your life. Then ask Him to help you bust them up and burn them up and purpose to never build them up again. Get before the LORD and humbly ask Him to show you when and where you have gotten off course with Him and His Word. Then repent and make a personal commitment to stay the course and stick with the true gospel in the power of His Spirit. God help us in this task.