God is graciously pleased to reveal Himself in different ways and at different times. He formerly made Himself known by prophets, but in these last times He has manifested Himself in His Son; and in whatever way He has chosen to reveal Himself, He has been rejected in them all.
For instance, the ark was the sign of the presence of Jehovah in the midst of His people. Well, the ark was abandoned (1 Sam. 7:2); just as today the Holy Spirit, by which God is in the midst of His people, is despised. God was then present by the ark as He is today by the Holy Ghost, and as He was rejected by the abandonment of the ark, He is rejected today in as far as the Spirit is not honoured.
But although the people might thus have forgotten and despised Jehovah, David could have no joy nor rest until the ark was brought back, and the presence of the Lord recognised. He knew that peace and blessing are only to be had where God is, and longed ardently for His presence. We have the cry of David's soul in Psalm 63. "And let us bring again the ark of our God to us; for we inquired not at it in the days of Saul," 1 Chr. 13:3.
The king's great occupation was to seek how he could accomplish that which he had in his heart; and we see in verses 1 and 4 that he consulted all the people, and that they agreed to his proposal. But although it was a holy desire in David and in Israel for the return of the ark, it ought only to have been accomplished according to the will of God, who alone could teach them how they ought to set about it in order that His name might be glorified. But David's having consulted the people, instead of consulting the Lord, caused the ark of God to be brought upon a new cart from the house of Abinadab, "and Uzza and Ahio drave the cart," v. 7.
All this was bad, for it was against the commandment of the Lord, and God could neither recognise nor bless this act. He had said that the ark ought to be borne by the children of Kohath, that is to say, by the Levites (Num. 4:15); and if David had consulted the Lord, he would have been taught about this, and the ark would have been neither placed on a cart nor conducted by Uzza and Ahio. But David took counsel with the people and they executed their holy desire according to their own thoughts, and not according to God's. Uzza acted also on the same principle; he was not led by the Lord to hold the ark, but by his own judgment. He was not a man who felt his weakness and who allowed himself to be ruled and guided by the Lord; and consequently he put forth his hand and touched the ark. Thus every child of God who puts his hand to the Lord's work, presuming that he is able to act in his own strength, resembles Uzza. It is God alone who is to be glorified, and it is He alone who can say how He wishes to be glorified; and if David had inquired of Him, he would have learnt that God would glorify Himself.
11 We see in verse 10 what were the sad consequences of Uzza's conduct, and in verse 11 we see that David was greatly afflicted at the breach the Lord made upon Uzza; but it was needful for him in this way to learn, that we have to wait and let the Lord do His work in His own way. May we also keep this instruction, of which we all have need, and not act in our own strength! Let us remember that Uzza drew upon himself the wrath of God by putting his hand to the ark. All the work was spoilt by his folly: the ark instead of being brought in triumph was put aside and placed in the house of Obed-edom; and all this because in the first place David had not consulted the Lord, and secondly Uzza acted himself instead of letting the Lord act. These circumstances were calculated to humble David greatly: he was first afflicted, then afraid of God (v. 11, 12); but all that happened taught him wherein he had failed.
Thus we see in the following chapter (1 Chronicles 14) that he acted very differently. The Philistines having spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim (v. 9), did David assemble all his army and prepare immediately for battle? No, he consulted God, saying, "Shall I shew myself against the Philistines, and wilt thou deliver them into my hand?" Now it is no more the people that David consults, it is the Lord; thus the consequence is very different from that of the first circumstance. In 1 Chronicles 13:11 the breach is made in the midst of David's people; but here it is made in the midst of his enemies, for God acts for him (1 Chr. 14:11).
We may be very zealous for the glory of God; but the greater our zeal is, the more harm it will do if it is not according to knowledge; we shall spoil everything, like David in chapter 13, if we do not understand our incapacity and dependence; and we can only acquire the knowledge that we need, in order that our zeal be not destructive, by consulting the Lord.
12 A remarkable thing is, that trials and chastisement are always needed to bring us back to God's order: it was in the midst of much affliction that David learned God's intention, and these afflictions served to make the lesson he had received penetrate deeply into his soul. In 1 Chronicles 14:13-14, we see that, the Philistines having again returned, David again consults the Lord. This time the Lord does not tell David to go up to the Philistines and that he will have the victory, for God wished to prove him still more. God told him not to go up to his enemies, but to wait for a noise in the tops of the mulberry-trees. What had the mulberry-trees to do with the battle? Nothing, but God wanted to be recognised: this was the lesson that David further learnt. He obeyed the Lord; and we see the consequence was, that the Lord was glorified and David's reputation spread abroad. David having owned the Lord, the Lord could everywhere own David.
What magnificent instruction is found in these chapters? May we keep it and be led by it every day in order that God may be glorified in us. Let us remember to leave God to do His own work, and if He wish to use us for something, what we have to do is to consult Him about it, and not so-and-so. Thus, instead of putting obstacles in the way of His work, we shall be blessed in that which He will do through us.
In 1 Chronicles 15:2 David says, "None ought to carry the ark of the Lord but the Levites." He remembers his fall, and the lesson is learned; he applies himself now to act according to God's intention. Thus we see, the work of man no longer spoils that of God, and God is glorified, the people are joyful, the ark of the Lord has again taken its place in their midst, and the blessing is so great that the psalms which they sing are those which will be sung in the millennium, when the Lord will return to Israel (v. 25-29). In 1 Chronicles 16:8-22 they sing Psalm 105 and from verses 23 to 33 they sing Psalm 96. How different are the results which we find in chapter 13, where David acts by himself without consulting the Lord, and he and all his people are plunged into affliction! But, here, where it is God who acts, the blessing is so great that David and all his people call on the heavens and earth to rejoice at it.
13 In 1 Chronicles 17 we again see a holy desire in David: he wished to build a house for the ark, but was this the will of God? Nathan told David to do all that was in his heart (v. 2). Ah, Nathan had not learned the lesson, for he answered without learning from Jehovah His intention, and in the same night God charged him to go and tell David, "Thou shalt not build me an house to dwell in." David wished to give something to Jehovah, but Jehovah was going to give to him. David wanted to build a house for Jehovah, but Jehovah was going to build one for David (v. 10). "For it is more blessed to give than to receive," Acts 20:35, and giving is God's part. This is another lesson that David learnt. The Lord does not need us to bless Him, but He is pleased to bless us: what He asks of us is to sit at Jesus' feet and receive the abundant grace He bestows on us. From verse 16 to 21 one sees that David has understood this lesson; his thoughts are no more, as at the beginning of the chapter, occupied with the construction of a house, but with God Himself (v. 20); and he is humble and grateful before Jehovah. All that he says in these verses shews that he has learnt of God he thinks n more of himself, nor his zeal, nor his projects, he has forgotten all that is of himself in thinking of Jehovah. Oh let us imitate David in this! May our thoughts centre in God and we shall no longer be occupied with ourselves, nor with what we wish to do (v. 5, 6-8).
Let us remark another very touching truth in these verses. So long as Jehovah's people crossed the desert and had enemies to fight, Jehovah had no resting-place on the earth, and journeyed in the tabernacle with His people, "In all their affliction he was afflicted," Isa. 63:9. And it was only then His people could rest that God allowed them to build Him a house wherein He might rest.