Loving God Who Dwells Within Your Neighbor
2 Samuel 6:1-7
Maybe you have been there. You open up your Bible, welcoming the Holy Spirit, dwelling within you, to speak to you through it’s pages.
Then the story you encounter stops you in your tracks. It’s hard. It’s messy. It’s not perfectly tied up with a bow and an absolute moral truth.
You find yourself asking, “What, God? What are you saying to me in this moment?”
That is where I found myself, as I read the account of Uzzah and the Ark of the Covenant.
Seeking the Ark
2 Samuel 6 is the story of David’s mission to bring the Ark of the Covenant (Ark of God) back to glory. The Ark was extremely important to the Israelite people- the presence of the Lord dwelled within it. God cannot be constrained to a box, and yet, for the benefit of His people, He intentionally put Himself there. The Ark of the Covenant was created to be an object where the presence and power of the Lord would dwell, and this gave the Israelite people comfort, peace and assurance. They KNEW that if they had the Ark, they had God’s presence. They knew being near the Ark meant they could be near the Lord.
There were very specific instructions given regarding the care and handling of the Ark. Following and honoring these instructions allowed the Israelites to honor and respect the presence of God within the Ark. It wasn’t about “following the rules,” so much as displaying honor and respect for God’s presence.
For a long time, the Israelites honored the presence of God within the Ark…until they didn’t. When David set out to recover it, it had been tucked away in the home of a priest, Abinadab, for thirty years. As a priest, he would have been a Levite- one of those tasked with, and fully informed regarding the care and handling instructions for the Ark. As his son, Uzzah would have also been a Levite. He would have been held accountable by God for honoring and respecting these instructions. He’d have been expected to honor God’s presence within the Ark.
Those instructions included the Ark being covered prior to transport, being transported by certain people using poles (not on a cart pulled by oxen) and it not be touched.
None of these instructions were honored. The presence of God was not treated with deference and respect that day. The men were in a rush to get the Ark relocated, and they did not give the presence of God the level of reverence that was due. The Ark went uncovered. It was loaded onto a cart and pulled by oxen- not carried by the correct men using the correct poles to its new location.
“David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God, and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
When they came to threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he had reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.” (2 Samuel 6: 1-7)
All of this seems very procedural to us. It seems like elevating the importance of an object- the Ark- above the importance of a person- Uzzah. But as I processed the passage, I realized that it was never about the object. It was about “Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
The object was the earthly vessel carrying God’s presence and power. Uzzah treated it with disrespect, disregard and dishonor.
In Light of the New Covenant
What does this mean for us, today?
How do we “honor and respect the presence of God” when God no longer dwells in the Ark? The presence and power of God is not found in objects. There is no “Ark”. God does not dwell in the church building, nor is his presence bound up in the pages of our Bibles. God dwells within us. He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, which dwells within US. WE are His temple. WE are his Ark.
When Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, he said, “… You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:17b NRSV)
“…love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
You see, these two commandments are intrinsically linked, because the Spirit no longer dwells within the Ark. The Spirit dwells within us- God dwells within your neighbor.
Because of this, and because of the example of Uzzah, we also see how seriously God takes injustice. When we harm our neighbors- when we hurt, disrespect and dishonor our neighbors, God takes this affront very seriously. When we disrespect our neighbors, we, like Uzzah, disrespect the Ark. When we dishonor people in whom the presence of God dwells, like Uzzah, we dishonor the presence of God himself.
The way we treat one another matters significantly. God does not take this lightly.
Repenting of Ignorance
As a white woman, I have not always seen the dishonor, disrespect and pain that has been inflicted upon my brothers and sisters of color. I have lived in a bubble, where I have not seen or experienced the things they have. My experiences with race have rarely, if ever, been harmful.
In my quest to be “colorblind,” I have invalidated the experiences of my brothers and sisters. In my efforts to pursue equality, I have inadvertently dismissed or minimized the experiences of those not-like me. I have not “loved my neighbor as myself,” well. You see, I would not have considered it loving if my life-shaping, adversity-overcoming experiences had been dismissed because “we shouldn’t see poverty” and “we are all the same.”
Honoring God within me means honoring all that poverty, for example, contributed to the reflection of God I carry today. The same is true of my brothers and sisters of color. They are unique reflections of God, and the experiences they have had because of their skin color are a part of that reflection. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in them in spite of those experiences, but rather shines through them. They reflect the presence of God. We cannot ignore. We must give honor.
I was in a hurry to “solve the problem” and I missed the opportunity to honor the presence of God.
David did the same thing. He just wanted to GET THE ARK RELOCATED. He didn’t pause to go about it the right way. He didn’t take the time, or the effort, or the investment to learn what was required to honor the presence of God within the Ark. It cost Uzzah his life.
How many lives will it cost before we put in the time, effort and investment to honor the presence of God in those who are different from us? Even if it makes us uncomfortable, or makes the journey longer, or more intensive?
After Uzzah’s death, David was angry. He was afraid. It didn’t make sense to him. How could God respond this way? He was trying to restore the Ark, after all.
David was trying to make it right, but he went about it all wrong. In the aftermath of Uzzah’s death, David had to press pause. Something went horribly wrong.
Something has gone horribly wrong.
Let’s learn together
For three months, the ark stayed put in the home of Obed-Edom. (2 Samuel 6:10, NRSV)
After three months, David returned. He had recognized the lack of respect and honor he had displayed the first time around, and he set it right. He utilized priests, sacrifice, special poles and Levites. He took his time. He learned and he changed his approach to ensure the Ark was treated with the reverence it was due. This time? No death.
Instead there was dancing. Celebration.
Can we take the time to learn? Are we willing to, like David, drop our pride and take the position of the learner? To recognize the presence of God within our brothers and sisters, listening as they instruct us on what THEY need in order to experience honor and respect? Are we willing to “love our neighbor as ourselves” while also “loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind,” knowing that the Lord dwells within our neighbor?
This applies to so many areas of life. It applies to the racial tension that exists as we reflect on the unjust deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. It applies to our church families, our families of origin, our marriages and parenting relationships. It applies to friendship and employment policies; to politics and social justice.
When we recognize the presence of God in our neighbor, and we love our neighbor as ourselves… when we love the Lord (dwelling within our neighbor) with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds… THEN we bring Heaven to Earth.
And then, there will be dancing. Celebration.
Lord, help me be more aware of your presence within the people around me. Help me remember that I give you honor and respect when I treat your image bearers with respect. Remind me that when your Spirit dwells within someone, you take disrespect and dishonor very seriously. Whenever I am tempted to respond without thinking, to take the quick and easy route, and to disrespect those in whom you dwell…remind me of Uzzah. Help me see you in the people around me. Give me your eyes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.