The Wrong (and Right) Way to Worship

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve liked the story found in 2 Samuel 6. In the Bible I had at the time (the King James Version, of course), the heading of this section was “David Dances Naked Before the Lord”—what’s not intriguing about that? Especially when the author of 1 and 2 Samuel, with a flair for the macabre and risqué, has led with stories of people getting hacked to pieces, David getting trapped in a cave while Saul pooped, and Samuel’s ghost visiting to tell Saul that he’s going to be beheaded and eaten by vultures.

To those who say the Bible’s boring, I ask, how?

This story’s no different. It starts out with David retrieving the Ark of the Covenant (yes, like Raiders of the Lost Ark) from Abinadab’s house where it had been resting for 20 years (see 1 Samuel 5). Uzzah, Abinadab’s son, helps to carry the ark to its new home on a cart, and while he’s doing so, reaches out to steady it when the oxen stumble. God’s response? To strike down Uzzah because of his irreverence for God’s presence.

This made David angry. David felt, as many of us do, that God was being too harsh. The punishment didn’t fit the crime.

Except that it did. The whole point of this story is that the punishment was not more severe than the crime. God had given specific instructions on how to transport the ark in Exodus 25, including that it was to be carried on poles designed to avoid contact with the ark and not on a “new cart” as the Israelites chose to use. The “new cart” was how the Philistines had been hauling the ark around, which seemed to God’s people like a decent enough method. But whether something seems fine to us makes very little difference if God has spoken otherwise. Israel wasn’t supposed to treat the ark the way the Philistines did; they were supposed to treat the ark the way God said.


More than that, Uzzah’s downfall reveals his own blindness; blatantly unaware of his own sinfulness, Uzzah instinctively thought that the ground was more filthy than his hand. He was “worshiping” God by doing him a favor. But God wouldn’t have it.

However, as is usually the case with God, the ark doesn’t just present a problem; it gives God’s answer. After three months of the ark staying put in Obed-Edom’s home, things start happening. David hears that the house of Obed-Edom has been experiencing unusual blessing by the Lord because of its presence. God was sending a message that his intention with this ark (i.e., with his presence) was always first and foremost to bless, not to curse. This reminder rekindled David’s faith and prepared him to move the ark once again.

Only this time, it was the proper way.

Just as the ark got moving, literally six steps after they began, David called a halt. He then sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal (2 Samuel 6:13). God had provided a way for his people to be in his presence safely—through sacrifice—just as Jesus would one day come like one of these animals and die the death of Uzzah, but this time, once for all. Jesus was struck down for humanity’s irreverence. On the cross, all the wrath of God directed at sin was absorbed into his body.

And then, my favorite part. Verse 14 says that David danced before the Lord in a linen ephod (read: nearly naked). When he returned to his house, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him to tell him he was a fool for acting this way. Peasants dance like wild people, David, not kings. To which David says, “Michal, God chose me when I was nothing. Now that I’m something, I’m going to show everyone that it’s not because of my being special; it’s because of the special thing God has done for me.”

This is the essence of worship—seeing the blessing of God’s presence, then responding by putting the worthiness of God on display. Even if it’s costly. Even if it means looking foolish. God’s presence can’t leave you unchanged.