David’s disastrous attempt to transport the ark to Jerusalem on an oxcart sends a sobering warning to the contemporary church. The ark represented the dwelling seat of God’s presence and David wanted God’s presence placed in Jerusalem, so he concocted an innovative plan to use a new oxcart to carry it. Though he borrowed the idea of transporting the Ark on an oxcart from the Philistines he saw it as a progressive step forward in moving the presence of God.
Even though the Philistines had moved the ark back to Israel on an oxcart after experiencing a series of devastating punishments, David felt that the Philistines had actually come up with a pretty clever idea and no doubt felt that he could use the same innovative method to move the ark because he would be doing it in the name of God. Transporting the ark by oxcart seemed far more efficient and “user-friendly” than the old biblical way which instructed the priests to bear the weight of the ark upon their shoulders. The problem was that David’s innovative idea had nothing to do with God and ended in a dismal failure. Despite all of the emotional hype and rousing worship accompanying the event David’s innovative plan was a product of his own understanding rather than the clear teachings of God’s word.
On the bottom line, David thought that he had a better way of doing the work of God. Instead of simply following the word of God he sought to lean to his own creativity and understanding. Not only did the entire episode reek of “David”, but one of the ark’s escorts was struck dead when he presumptuously put his hand on the ark to steady it.
His actions also showed a flagrant disregard for God’s previous instructions. They also underscore a much larger lesson for the church – “Keep Your Hands Off of the Ark!” In effect, God’s punishment sends a message to all of us that He doesn’t need our helping hand to steady the presence of God or our creative tampering with His word to make things run more smoothly. What’s more, He doesn’t want or need anyone borrowing from the wisdom and values of this world for the Spirit of God to build His church or move it forward. This is precisely what Churchianity has been guilty of for centuries - Their dirty handprints are all over the church that man has made.
This story has served as a timeless warning to the church – especially today when so many innovative arks are being constructed in the name of God. It speaks to those, especially those in leadership, who insist upon leaning to their own creativity and understanding rather than simply following God’s Word. It warns of God's displeasure with those who are driving the ark on their dynamic church oxcarts, ambitious agendas, cutting-edge ideas, progressive thinking, ambitious “know how” and culturally correct theology. It speaks to those who have sought to improve upon the gospel to make it more appealing, tolerant and seeker sensitive. It speaks to the church growth strategists with their man-made formulas, the marketing strategies, demographic studies and enticing programs for church growth.
Over the last 50 years I have seen many innovative oxcart builders. How many “cutting edge” oxcarts have been the product of human ingenuity, ambitious innovators, “purpose driven” visionaries and even those with good intentions who felt they had a more innovative way of doing church, a more enlightened way of improving the gospel, a more appealing way of attracting churchgoers, a more sensational way of doing Christianity, a better way of doing God’s will or a more effective way of helping God carry the load? How many oxcart programs, ministries, movements, churches, spiritual posturing, formulas, church growth strategies and spiritual visions have been carried forward because someone came up with a novel new way of doing things apart from His word or His counsel? And how many will inevitably face the judgement of God as David did even though they also did it all in the name of God?