And so it was, that when the bearers of the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.
When your waist-deep in spiritual burn-out or discouragement or depression of some kind, everything in the heart feels like a vacuum, an empty void, a desolate planet. It’s not uncommon for people to question their salvation because their inner spiritual life feels so empty and abandoned.
But Christ has not revoked your salvation. You can’t rely on your emotions to determine that. The Word of God is the foundation. But, nonetheless, that does not discount the fact that your awareness of Christ’s presence, of His sweet nearness, of His wonderful glory, has vanished from your life.
And it’s heart-breaking.
But you’re not the only one who has lost the Presence of God -- while still retaining his position and acceptance before the eyes of God -- and had to work hard to get it back into his life. You don’t have to flip too far in the Bible to find who I’m talking about. We’ll get to him in a moment.
Yes, everything we have, even our faith, is a gift of grace from God, but there are times -- even at our lowest points -- when God challenges us to work hard for something, to fix something that went wrong. Finding spiritual rejuvenation when you’re discouraged or burnt out isn’t always a passive experience where you just sit back and let the Lord figure everything out and magically make you feel better. His grace does do that sometimes, don’t get me wrong.
But other times we have to sweat.
For example, let’s cut back to that guy I was mentioning who also lost God’s Presence -- not only in his life, but in the life of the nation that he ruled!
I’m, of course, referring to King David.
For too long, the Presence of God had been lost. The Lord no longer inhabited the temple. He was not with His people. Why? Because the Ark of the Covenant, which was the only place where He allowed His Manifest Presence to rest among the people of Israel, had been taken by the Philistines.
However, King David -- with God’s help -- had gotten the Ark back from his enemies. But then they failed to read the Ark’s instruction book -- i.e. the Bible (or, for them, the Law) -- to see if God had given specific commands on how to transport the Ark. Instead, they just tossed the Ark on a cart pulled by an animal and headed back to Jerusalem.
God had given a command -- not a polite suggestion -- that the Ark could only be carried on the shoulders of the priests using the long poles that fit through rings on each side. At some point the animal stumbled on the road. The cart tipped over. A guy named Uzzah placed his hand on the Ark -- an act that was absolutely forbidden -- to stop it from falling over. Uzzah died immediately.
This scared the living daylights out of David. He stopped their expedition to Jerusalem and left the Ark in the house of a guy named Obed-Edom.
Imagine sitting in your living room one day when a king randomly knocks on your door and asks, “Uh, hi! Hey, is it okay if I drop off the most holy object in all of Israel and the one place on earth where the visible glory of God rests and store it in your garage for a while? Oh, and don’t touch it. It just killed one of my guys. No worries, bro, thanks! Be back in a few months!”
But that’s what happened -- more or less.
And then reports started to reach David’s ears. Obed-Edom’s house was being blessed. Big time. The Bible doesn’t say in great detail how, but ol’ Obed’s house was experiencing such a level of blessing, prosperity, and favor that the word was getting around. This motivated David to figure out the puzzle of the Ark and get it back to Jerusalem ASAP into the temple. He wanted the blessing back where it belonged: in the center of Jewish life in Jerusalem!
So, finally, David consults the Law. When he discovers where he went wrong, he immediately goes with his troops to get the Ark and bring it back -- this time on the shoulders of the priests.
In a stunning scene depicted in great detail in the Bible, King David is seen rejoicing before the Ark as it slowly makes its way back to Jerusalem. It was such a big deal that they were sacrificing an animal EVERY SIX PACES. Now, granted, Obed-Edom’s house was around eight to nine miles away from Jerusalem, but that is a very long distance when you’re stopping EVERY SIX PACES to slaughter an animal and present a sacrifice to God.
It was hard work. Incredibly hard work. But it was worth it because David knew what it meant: the very Presence of God was returning to the heart of the nation and its capitol. The glorious Presence of the Almighty would once again be at the center of Israel’s life. It would -- as long as David ruled -- be the epicenter for all decisions and wisdom for the nation. God’s very Presence would be the wellspring for Israel.
This whole scene provides a telling illustration. Apprehending Christ and making His nearness and heart-to-heart communion the center of our activities -- the very wellspring of our lives -- is something we must do with seriousness and sincerity without looking for shortcuts. There’s no easy way out. We shouldn’t be looking for a cart. Some things might take some serious work and time. Instead of looking for a cart in those moments -- perhaps an earthly comfort like comfort food or some fleshly pleasure that takes our minds off the pain -- we should bear the burden on our shoulders and walk with faith that God will give us the strength to “carry His Presence.” He makes us able to bear the burden.
Don’t give up in your pursuit of God, in other words. It might mean sacrificing an ox every six paces for several miles, but it will be worth all of the sweat and blood (and tears).
And at least we don’t literally have to sacrifice an ox every six paces! Imagine the mess! (And the smell!)
Abba, thank You that through Jesus we have direct access to Your Presence. Thank You for the privilege of being “kings and priests” along with Christ through His grace. Forgive me for when I get lazy or try to take short cuts. Help me to rejoice with abandon as David did and not shy away from the hard work of making Your Presence the center of all I do. In Jesus’ Name, amen.