David Learns He Needs God’s Guidance How to Do His Work (1 Chronicles 13)
In 1 Chronicles 13, David confronts a challenge in his work as king, and gets off to a good start in solving it. He believes that the ark of God should be brought back from Kiriath-jearim where it had been left under Saul’s reign. Nonetheless, rather than strike out on his own, he confers with all his leaders and gains their concurrence. Together they pray to God for wisdom and conclude that they do indeed need to bring back the ark. It is easy for a leader to make the mistake of going out alone, without counsel from God or from others. David does well to recognize the need for both human and divine counsel. He receives a clear “go” for his project.
But disaster strikes. Uzzah, who is helping transport the ark, puts hand on it to steady it, and God strikes him dead (1 Chron. 13:9-10). This makes David both angry at (1 Chron. 13:9-11) and afraid of God (1 Chron. 13:12), which leads David to abandon the project. What begins as a confirmation from God and trusted colleagues to carry out a project suddenly turns into a dramatic failure. The same happens today. Eventually, almost all of us experience a painful setback in our work. It can be deeply discouraging, even tempting us to abandon the work that God has called us to do.
In what seems like a parenthesis, David carries out two successful battles. He inquires of the Lord in each case whether to go ahead, and God sends him out successfully both times. But God’s guidance for the second mission contains a peculiar instruction. God says, “You shall not go up after them; go around and come on them opposite the balsam trees.” God wanted David to go, but he wanted him to go in a particular way.
After these successes, David reflects on this experience and orders that no one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, because the Lord had chosen them for the task (1 Chron. 15:2). This was written in the book of the Law (Numbers 4:15), but had been forgotten or neglected. After David assembles the Levites to complete the job of moving the ark, he says of the previous failure “Because you [priests and Levites] did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God burst out against us, because we did not give it proper care”(1 Chronicles 15:13). The second time, because they followed the procedure prescribed by the Law, the ark was successfully moved.
This story is a reminder to us in our own work. It is important to inquire of God and gain counsel from trusted people about what we are to do. But that is not enough. God also cares about how we do the work. As David’s failed campaign when neglecting Numbers 4:15 shows, doing things God’s way requires a working knowledge of Scripture.