What should we ourselves make out of the story we are studying for Sunday, September 12, the story of David bringing the Ark of God up to Jerusalem (in 2 Samuel 6)? The story describes dramatic events that happen long ago, far away, and that center on a powerfully sacred object that no longer exists. Our first task might be to try to understand how we ought to relate ourselves to this story – to think of the various ways it might, or does, concern us. [A few notes on the text are here; some notes on the related texts of 1 Chronicles 13 and 1 Chronicles 15 are on the site, too.] Here are some questions we might want to ask ourselves in that process:
Where does the story take place? What makes that setting important? Does it have any symbolic meaning(s) for us, besides the obvious importance of the place in the story? And for that matter, what is the obvious importance of the place in the story?
Are there similar kinds of places in our own world? Does thinking about those places help us understand anything more, or else, about what is happening in the story? [For instance, does thinking of Jerusalem as “the capital city” give us any ideas? Does thinking of it as a city that isn’t yet, but will become, a religious center give us any ideas?]
What is the Ark of God, and what do we know about it? [We might want to look at some of the other texts that mention the Ark, like Exodus 25:10-22, Numbers 3 (especially vv27-32) and Numbers 4:1-15, Leviticus 10, Joshua 4, Joshua 6, 1 Samuel 4]
How is the Ark similar to anything in our own world? How is it different? Can we think of any advantages to having something in the world like the Ark of God? Any disadvantages?
One thing the Ark represents is the presence of God, the HOLY ONE of Israel. Several verses describe people’s behavior “before the Ark” as behavior offered to God – that is, essentially as worship. Does this worship seem to offer us a model of worship we can use today? How? How not? Why?
If we focus on the character of David for a moment – can we tell from the text why David does what he does, says what he says, and feels what he feels? How?
If we can’t tell all that from the text, but think we know why, how do we think we know that? [Does that tell us anything about the way we read the Bible? What? How comfortable are we with that? Why?]
I confess, I have a lot of issues with a lot of the things professional Bible readers say about this text. For some reason, this text really seems to hook people’s desire to assign psychology to the Biblical characters, and then draw out incredibly clear moral lessons from that psychology, in a human situation that seems, to me at least, decidedly murky. I keep noticing how little we really know about what’s “really going on” in this story – whether the religion, the politics, the interpersonal dynamics, any of it.
The safest thing seems to be to focus on the way the Ark represents the presence of God. But then, even that brings some ambiguity with it. How positive do we think it is to hitch the presence of God to a box, even a really powerful and sacred one, and then to begin thinking that because we have that box parked just down the road from us we’re all good? As a matter of fact, if we keep reading the larger story, we will probably be led to think that wasn’t the Israelites’ best idea. [See e.g., Jeremiah 7:4]
Beyond that, it might make sense to think of what might or could be going on in this story, and work on thinking of the various alternatives. We might even explore what we wish were going on, and why we wish that – what does that tell us about our selves and our theology? What makes us resist adjusting it in light of what we read in Scripture? I suspect that might be more fruitful than trying to identify the one and only one thing that MUST be going on in this text – according to our logic. Which – just extrapolating – may not work any better than our psychology here.
Image: “Conversation,” Camille Pissaro, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.