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The day had begun with packing a cart, with a wooden piece of art covered in gold, rocking side to side with the intermitted bumps on the road from rocks and divots in the dirt. Its golden design shimmered in the sunlight, the cherubs remained stiff in their modeled positions on the lid. The roadways were boisterous, filled with various sounds from wooden instruments made of conifer trees: various toots, thumps, plucks, and harmonies in ecstatic rhythm into the air. The king’s entourage was almost home, making it to Chidon, to a threshing floor (or a place used to separate grain). (1 Chron. 13:8-9) What could possibly go wrong?

Uzzah, one of the drivers, was dead. 

Then the king looked upon his musical convoy. Silence filled the hillside once again. A man laid before the Ark of God, motionless. With peeled-back eyes, they looked in the direction of the sudden thud, the other driver’s dead brother, Uzzah. (2 Samuel 6:7 KJV) 1

How did we get here?

Ark des Verbonds in de tempel van Dagon / Terugkeer van de Ark des Verbonds (1698) by Jan Luyken || Courtesy of Wikimedia

“When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel: So that he forsook the tabernacle of

Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men; And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand.” (Psalm 78:59-61)

Before this accident, even before Saul was anointed King near 1000 BCE, the people of Israel had charged into warfare against the Philistines, but were quickly defeated. (1 Samuel 4:2-7)2 So, the people tried another technique: hauling the Ark of the Lord into battle to ensure victory, as they had done in the victorious capture of Jericho in the early days of the Promised Land. (Joshua 6:6-7)

The Philistines were nervous, hearing the triumphant shouts from the opposite party, because the courageous shouts of the Israelites were indicative of one thing. Now, the Ark of the Lord was among them. They fell into a panic again because of the previous feats of the God of Israel, especially that of Egypt in the Exodus. Their fear quickly dissipated after a pep talk from the commander, with some light threats and the rallying of troops, allowing them to defeat Israel again. The Lord had allowed the defeat to come to pass. (1 Samuel 4:6-11) Great mourning filled the land of Israel.

So the Philistines took the Ark of the Lord to their home territory in Ashdod and treated the chest as a trophy, setting it next to their god and idol, Dagon. Coming back into the temple in the early morning, the people of Ashdod noticed that their statue was knocked over on its face. Without making much fuss initially, they picked it back up. (1 Samuel 5:1-3)

Once again, the following morning, the statue was outside its normal placement in the temple. This time, Dagon’s hands and head were chopped off, leaving only the torso of their god to stand. The rest of the pieces were along the “threshold” floor, making everyone viciously afraid. Their deity was dismantled and cast into pieces before their very eyes. Soon after, the Lord’s hand was “heavy upon them of Ashdod” and afflicted them with tumors, even smiting the people along the coast nearby. (1 Samuel 5:5-6)

They gathered their leaders and cast their grievances on them. (1 Samuel 5:7-8) Their ultimate decision was to move the Ark to Gath inland (only to strike the civilians with tumors as well), then to Ekron in the north, where they quickly panicked and demanded the chest be delivered back to the Israelites. (1 Samuel 5:10-11)

After seven months of trembling and planning, the leaders and diviners of the land collected jewels and treasures. Along with these, they gave a Trespass Offering of golden mice and images of their tumors to the Lord, constructing a new cart to take to Beth-Shemesh further inland. Then a group took it even further inland, closer to the Dead Sea. (1 Samuel 6:1-12, 7:1)

Twenty years passed and the Ark was left to collect dust in Kirjathjearim in the house of Abinadab. Whereas it once showed wrath towards the Philistines and symbolized meetings with God, the chest was now inactive. It was the voice of the prophet, Samuel, who stood in front of the people of Israel and gave instruction: “If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. “(1 Samuel 7:1-3)

The people of Israel cooperated with the command and gathered at Mizpeh, just north of Kirjathjearim, after further instruction from the prophet. There, the Philistines decided to come after them, causing Israel to tremble at the thought of an approaching adversary. But with the roar of thunder greater than any storm, the Lord answered the sacrifice given by Samuel at Mizpeh. With great power, the God of Israel scattered the Philistines, and the territory taken by them was restored to the Israelites. Peace was given to them as well. (1 Samuel 7:3-14)

They won the battle, but the Ark remained dormant. Why was it taken at all? Perhaps it was a warning for Babylon.3

Back to Present

Uzzah, one of the drivers, was dead. The driver had irreverently touched the Ark because of the sudden jolt of the oxen.4

King David’s face contorted in displeasure. He was angry because of what happened to the cart-driver. He declared the name of the area “Perez-Uzzah,” or “The Breach of Uzzah.” (2 Samuel 6:8) His convoy remained frozen in place. The king found himself in a new predicament, but this anger subsided quickly. Turning into trembling, silence likely remained the loudest sound in the country. No one could touch the Ark without proper protocol; a driver was suddenly discharged, and they still had much land to traverse southward to Jerusalem.

How shall the Ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9)

With a palm to his mouth in thought, he decided not to take the Ark home to Jerusalem. Instead, he led everyone aside and took it to a nearby house that belonged to the Gittite, Obededom. (2 Samuel 6:10) There, the Ark allowed some rest from the trauma of the sudden-death experience, and it blessed the household of the proprietor for the three months it remained inside.

David, meanwhile, was contemplating the response to the earlier question he had about moving the sacred chest. He still desired to bring it home, but the fear still gripped him from earlier, and maybe some sadness because he loved the Lord. (Psalm 18:1) He just didn’t know how to fulfill the task…yet. Then someone came with a message for the king involving the sacred chest:

“…The Lord hath blessed the house of Obededom, and all that pertaineth unto him, because of the Ark of God.” (2 Samuel 6:12)

Who Handled the Ark?

​​Image from page 529 of “The art Bible, comprising the Old and new Testaments : with numerous illustrations” (1896)​ || Courtesy from Flickr

In the early days of the wilderness, when Moses led the Israelites into the desert, there was a group selected by God that was tasked with the responsibility of working in the original Tabernacle of the Lord. These were the priests. (Exodus 28:1) They were separated to perform offerings on behalf of the people of Israel when they remained in the wilderness. (Leviticus 3:2) This sacrificial practice would later be mishandled about four hundred years later by the sons of the high priest, Phineas and Hophni: the priests who had some involvement with the Ark’s forced departure from Shiloh, being near the chest in the midst of the battle. (1 Samuel 4:4, 1 Samuel 2:13-14)

Aaron was selected as the High Priest of the Tabernacle (who was born into the Tribe of Levi via his and Moses’ father, Amram). (Exodus 6:16, 20; Numbers 3:10). He was the leader of the rest of the priests who would be selected under him.

The high priest was required to wear special garments. The garments included a breastplate, a coat, a belt, and a robe, along with some linen trousers, and the significant and symbolic colors of blue, gold, scarlet, and purple for the ephod, or sleeveless garment, of linen. (Exodus 28:2-42) These choices were crucial and mandatory.

The Levites, meanwhile, had a different task. They were assistants of the priests – Aaron, brother of Moses, and his sons included. (Numbers 3:9-10) Later, after the Babylonian exile, all Levites are referred to as priests.5

They were not numbered as part of the original census of the tribes (Numbers 1:50) and their jobs included putting up and taking down the Tabernacle while the pillar of fire or cloud moved at any given moment of the day or night. They were also to care for the furnishings of the Tabernacle and the curtains. Moses was given instruction over the course of one month to the Levitical priesthood through the book of Leviticus, or the third book of the Pentateuch, along with these duties within the Tabernacle of the Testimony. (Numbers 1:50)

It was until these protocols were established that the Levites were tasked to bear the Ark upon their shoulders and their inheritance was not in land, but in the Lord God of Israel. (Deuteronomy 10:8-9) They were called to remain close to the Tabernacle as well. (Numbers 1:53)

Based on further research, the Levites were the title for the Tribe, the body of consecrated servants in the Tabernacle, the priests themselves, or the assistants of the priests. But this title was mostly directed to the body of servants. (Deuteronomy 31:9, Numbers 1:47, Numbers 8:19, Exodus 6:25)

One of the most significant instances of the Ark and the Priests coming together for duty and battle comes in the story of Joshua, Moses’ servant (Exodus 33:11), and the conquering of Jericho. When entering the Promised Land, the Lord had given Jericho to the Israelites. Through thorough instruction, the priests paraded the Ark around the city’s walls. (Joshua 6:1-6)

So, the task of carrying the Ark was restricted to Levitical priests, but the ephod, and other priestly clothes, were not limited to the priests.6 They were to be purified and consecrated before any interaction with the Tabernacle.

Now it all makes sense…

Back to Present

Before leaving, King David created a tent to keep the Ark in Jerusalem. He commanded that the Levites would come and bear the Ark from then on, and they would solely carry the Ark back home on this trip. They were to purify themselves after learning the lesson of Uzzah. (1 Chronicles 15:1-2,12-13) He assembled the children of Aaron and the Levites. (1 Chron. 15:4-11)

The King had returned for the Ark with a big smile on his face. It was time to continue after the accident, but this time, David knew what to do. (2 Samuel 6:12)

Girded in white linen, his body was covered in standardized measurements. He had brought sacrifice offerings, every sixth pace, before the Lord: this would begin the entry into Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 6:13-14, 1 Chronicles 15:25-28)

Soon, the house of Israel filled the air with praise and worship; people lined the street with shouts of joy and awe. Sounds of instruments, specifically the shofar—a ram’s horn, typically—bellowed into the atmosphere and hugged the surrounding land with relief and crying. It had been too long since the Ark had been in the home of the covenant people. (2 Samuel 6:15)

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

David danced with all his might, and he leaped like a deer from place to place. His feet synced with the rhythm of the drum and his hands were raised in worship, spinning around like a whirlwind. (2 Samuel 6:16)7 David showed his passion for the God of Israel through intense dance, possibly an exuberant variation of acrobatics and jumping as described in Scripture. This, and spinning in a circle.8 Not only this, but his decision was an emphasis of his love. It is not clear whether Saul showed concern for the ark like David, but his piety was displayed in fullness when he made the Ark’s home at the capital of Jerusalem.9 The Psalmist remembered when he was with his sheep as a young man up until this point. (1 Samuel 16:11, 18)

This second round of travel was encompassed with even more intensity, as shown by David’s implied decision to lead, in the form of a priest. This display, as stated by David P. Wright, was compensation for the house of Abinadab, where the Ark was dormant, and the priests were discharged.10 Contrasting again, the death of Uzzah was caused by touch, while David and his people drew the attention of the other four senses of the God of Israel: taste and smell by sacrificing bullocks and calves; sight and sound by worship and praise.11 This is especially evident, considering Levites and Priests were to be ceremonially cleaned and purified before any interaction with the Lord.

Before David

​​Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. From Givat Mordechai Etz Yosef synagogue facade, Ha Rav Gold street, in Jerusalem. Top row, right to left: Reuben, Judah, Dan, Asher Middle: Simeon, Issachar, Naphtali, Joseph || Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Israel was made up of twelve tribes, representing the sons of Jacob, or Israel. The land inheritance of the descendants was a blessing before the prophet Moses died. (Genesis 32:28, Deut. 33) The Tribes consisted of Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Manasseh, and Ephraim. Levi was part of the original twelve but otherwise consecrated to inherit the Lord rather than land, and Joseph was split between his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. (Numbers 13:11, Joshua 17:17)

Before having a king, Israel was appointed Judges; these men and women were to make decisions both administrative and judicial. These individuals were reared up by God after the Israelites had turned away from the Lord and lived among the Canaanites. With this, they adopted their customs and deities. (Judges 2) The period of Judges could best be described with: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

After the Ark was placed in its place of dormancy, Samuel was appointed as a Judge. In his old age, he charged his sons as Judges, too, but they failed at the task such as the sons of Eli. (1 Samuel 2:12-17, 7:15, 8:1-4) So the elders gathered with him and said:

“…Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.” (1 Samuel 8:5-6)

The first anointed King of Israel by Samuel the prophet, after being commanded by the masses and allowed by God, was Saul, Son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin. (1 Samuel 9:1-3)

He’s one of the few within scripture to be introduced via fair countenance (attractive), emphasizing that he looked like a king from the beginning. (1 Samuel 9:2, 1 Samuel 16:6-7) One day, his father sent him and his servant to find their lost donkeys and after a moment of searching, the servant gave him hope through the availability of the Lord’s prophet. (1 Samuel 9:3-8) Upon meeting Samuel, the donkey issue was resolved quickly—instantly—and the Benjamite was anointed and proclaimed king later in Gilgal. (1 Samuel 9:20, 10:1, 11:15)

He was disfavored by God due to his compliance with the voices of the people to keep the spoils of the Amalekites and disobedience in destroying everything. (1 Samuel 15:10-11, 24-26)

His behavior became erroneous after the slaying of Goliath by a young David, and the praises of the masses for David over himself were enough to kickstart a large series of sly conspiracies and blatant hostility against this newcomer. (1 Samuel 18:7-10, 1 Samuel 19)

This would cease after two attempted murders, both of which were pacified by David refusing to harm the anointed king of God. (1 Samuel 24:3-4,16-17; 1 Samuel 26:16-17,21)

As different as these two were, Saul and David paralleled each other on the basis of their anointings, musical association, and being kings of the United Kingdom of Israel.12

Some scholars believe that this movement from Kirjathjearim to Jerusalem, the newfound capital at the time, was symbolic of the unification of people, as well as the ancient tradition and new. Specifically, the chest was believed to be a premonarchic symbol of unity among the twelve tribes.13 This was because the tribes were in contest over tribal tradition and the (at the time) contemporary establishment of a monarchial state during the old age of Samuel. Their demand for a king was only fueled by temporary alliances between groups.14

Back to Present

“David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod”; 2 Samuel 6:14; watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot || Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy.” (Psalm 132:9)

Up from a high place, Michal, daughter of ex-king Saul, was attracted to snoop around at what the noise was about. She had loved David before he became king, and under the discrete, ill-intended command of her father to collect one-hundred foreskins from the Philistines, she ended up marrying David when the young man delivered double the required quantity. (1 Samuel 18:24-28) David had later married Abigail and Ahinoam of Jezreel as wives, and Saul gave Michal away to a man named Phalti. (1 Samuel 25:44)

The celebration penetrated the air with a potent cry of joy and clamoring singing, prompting the woman to approach the window. There, she was able to look down at her husband, who was spinning wildly and jumping before the Ark as the Levites carried the chest in rhythm to the worship. (2 Samuel 6:16) Shock made her face pale, then her blood boiled, and she grew full of disdain towards him; so, she marched downstairs to meet the crowd. (2 Samuel 6:16)

David, meanwhile, took the time to bless all of Israel after the placement of the Ark in the tent he had made (1 Chronicles 16:1-2), every single one of his subjects had a bit of food and drink before they returned home. He sang a new Psalm to the Lord God of Israel and left the Levites to their newfound, and reestablished, positions. (1 Chronicles 16:7-36,43) Everyone was full of joy, except the daughter of Saul. After watching the crowds dissipate, he turned to meet the seething face of his wife, hands probably carrying pieces of her skirt to run downstairs and meet him. (2 Samuel 6:18-20)

“…How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!” She shouted. (2 Samuel 6:20)

The dance that made Michal so upset had to have been very specific to encourage such a reaction. One of the verb roots in the original script, as studied by Wright, is pi’el. This simply means the nature of the dance is energetic, as used in celebration or comparing the movements to that of animals, like the locust in Joel 2:5, throughout scripture.15 By nature of region of the time, dances consisted of  “acrobatics”: dances that included crossed legs, bouncing, and other various jumping activities.16

He only replied: “It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel: therefore will I play before the Lord. And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.” (2 Samuel 6:21-22)

And Michal’s womb was barren from that day forward. (2 Samuel 6:23)

One day, the King remained in his house, pondering again. The task was finished. The Ark was in Jerusalem. He looked around at the wooden and stone walls, made of cedar and brick, and it disturbed him more. He turned to his prophet, a man named Nathan, beside himself and shared what troubled him deeply.

See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the Ark of God dwelleth within curtains.” (2 Samuel 7:1-2, 1 Chronicles 17:1)

And Nathan shared the words of the Lord to David, Who gave permission to the construction project, but only on the condition that it would be built by his descendant, his son, who was not a man of war. This would be the wisest man alive, King Solomon. (2 Samuel 7:3-1, 1 Chronicles 17:11, 1 Chronicles 28:2-4, 5)

View of Jerusalem with the Temple of Solomon, Drawing (17th century) || Courtesy of Wikimedia
  1. A. Graeme Auld, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Louisville, UNITED STATES: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 405.
  2. Michael Lesley and Bernd U. Schipper, “Chapter 2 – The Origins of Israel and Its Early History (1208-926 to 925 BCE),” in A Concise History of Ancient Israel: From the Beginnings Through the Hellenistic Era (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2019): 21,
  3. A. Graeme Auld, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Louisville, UNITED STATES: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 83.
  4. A. Graeme Auld, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Louisville, UNITED STATES: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 413.
  5. George R. Berry, “Priests and Levites,” Journal of Biblical Literature 42, no. 3/4 (1923): 230,
  6. Karel van der Toorn and Cees Houtman, “David and the Ark.,” Journal of Biblical Literature 113 (June 1, 1994): 214.
  7. A. Graeme Auld, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Louisville, UNITED STATES: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 406.
  8. David P. Wright, “Music and Dance in 2 Samuel 6,” Journal of Biblical Literature 121, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 221,
  9. Karel van der Toorn and Cees Houtman, “David and the Ark,” Journal of Biblical Literature 113 (June 1, 1994): 228; David P. Wright, “Music and Dance in 2 Samuel 6,” Journal of Biblical Literature 121, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 223.
  10. David P. Wright, “Music and Dance in 2 Samuel 6,” Journal of Biblical Literature 121, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 201,
  11. David P. Wright, “Music and Dance in 2 Samuel 6,” Journal of Biblical Literature 121, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 225,
  12.  A. Graeme Auld, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Louisville, UNITED STATES: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 96.
  13. Karel van der Toorn and Cees Houtman, “David and the Ark,” Journal of Biblical Literature 113 (June 1, 1994): 209, 228,
  14. Caetano Minette de Tillesse, “The Conquest of Power: Analysis of David and Solomon’s Accession Histories,” The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 1 (December 31, 1997): 2,; Michael Lesley and Bernd U. Schipper, “Chapter 2 – The Origins of Israel and Its Early History (1208-926 to 925 BCE),” in A Concise History of Ancient Israel: From the Beginnings Through the Hellenistic Era (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2019): 21,
  15. David P. Wright, “Music and Dance in 2 Samuel 6.,” Journal of Biblical Literature 121, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 217-218,
  16. David P. Wright, “Music and Dance in 2 Samuel 6.,” Journal of Biblical Literature 121, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 221,

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