2 Samuel 23:15–17; 1 Chronicles 11:17–19
A correspondent writes: “I cannot understand David’s action of pouring the water on the ground. He could have offered it to the three men who risked their lives to get it. How could he think that pouring the precious water on the ground, was an offering to the Lord? David could have prayed to Yahweh and offered his thanks and praise for these men’s devotion and their safe return.”

The scene is set in 2 Samuel 23:13–14: “…three of the thirty chief went down, and came to David in the harvest time unto the cave of Adullam: and the troop of the Philistines pitched in the valley of Rephaim. And David was then in an hold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem.” David had grown up nearby, drinking through his boyhood the sweet “water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” He could see it! He could taste it! And he expressed his longing to really taste of the water of that well.

For his three mighty men, David’s wish was their command. Unknown to him they made their way to Bethlehem, drew up the precious water, and brought it to David, a feat of daring to be doubtless re-told by the campfires of Israel for many a night to follow.

David is both horrified and overwhelmed by their love and courage. And as we read carefully we see that he did indeed pray to Yahweh, and fully express his love and admiration for these men. “He would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the Lord [and this publicly before the three, and all who were with him]. And he said [here is his prayer], Be it far from me, O Yahweh, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? Therefore he would not drink it” (v16,17).

Those men had surely gained their prize by stealth in the dead of night, unseen. David gives them honour in the light of day, in the presence of all who were with him, and involving a solemn prayer to his God. How this would have impressed all these rough, tough men. It was apparent that this young warrior-king to whom they had pledged their lives, was no ordinary man. When he likened that water to the blood of those men, whose blood could so easily have been forfeited in their bold enterprise, he made clear to all his followers that he would hold the blood of every one of them precious in the battles to come. And he further made it abundantly clear that the king of Israel was not David really. The power behind the throne was Yahweh, their God, and they were precious, not only to David but to Yahweh as well.

David, too, was learning from this episode. He was still very young, and every experience must be savoured and mulled over to draw lessons whose principles would give guidance for the years of kingship ahead. David had learned that even his idle wishes could spur men on to hazard their lives for his mere whim. He must learn to be circumspect then. He must not join in, as he might have before in idle chit chat. There must be henceforth a kingly restraint and demeanour.

And, if not then, perhaps in more mature years as he reflected on this episode he might have seen in it a shadow of a time to come, when blood would be shed, a ransom for many, like a well of water springing up into everlasting life – and from Bethlehem, of all places. So maybe this is not just a simple Bible story after all.

David, Uzzah and the ark of the covenant

2 Samuel 6:1–11; 1 Chronicles 13:1–13

A question, in the form of an opinion: “Poor Uzzah. He did what I think most people would have done to save the ark from falling. David would have known that only the Levites were permitted to handle the ark and therefore I think David was more responsible for its safe journey.”

In its proper setting, within the most holy place in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, the ark was simply invisible to the ordinary Israelite. They never saw it. But in the circumstances before us, this had changed. The folly of the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, and the elders of Israel, had seen the ark taken by the Philistines. Divine punishment on the Philistines led them to relinquish the ark and it finally came to Kirjath-jearim to the house of Abinadab, where it lay for many years (1 Sam 4:1–7:2).

The records of 2 Samuel 6:1–11 and 1 Chronicles 13:1–13 outline the preparations made to bring the ark to Jerusalem from the house of Abinadab. There was a new cart. The sons of Abinadab who had been custodians of the ark for many years guided the cart. There was rejoicing, singing, music; it was wonderful. But the oxen stumbled, the ark was in jeopardy. Uzzah put forth his hand to steady it, and he was instantly struck dead! And rejoicing turned to utter dismay.

Who was at fault? There was plenty of fault to go around. For Uzzah, familiarity breeds contempt, and though he was surely well-meaning it was absolutely wrong for him to touch the ark. David was at fault for not thoroughly seeking out the proper procedure for moving the ark. The priests and Levites were at fault for failing to take the initiative and approach the king to explain their role and the proper process to be followed under the Law.

It seems that David was indeed punished for his failing at this time. When Uzzah died, David was first angry then afraid of Yahweh. It seems that Psalm 30 reflects David’s mind at this time, when he appears to have been stricken with sickness so severe as to be life threatening (Psa 30:2,3,8,10,11). For more detail, refer to the notes on Psalm 30 in Volume 1 of the Psalms series published by the Christadelphian Scripture Study Service. The ark rested in the house of Obed-edom for three months (1 Chron 13:13–14). During this period, David recovered from his illness, thought of nothing else but successfully completing this project (Psa 132:3–5), and made appropriate plans to do so (1 Chron 15:1–24).

David clearly acknowledged his fault and failure in preparation on the first occasion: “For because ye [the priests and Levites] did it not at the first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order” (1 Chron 15:13).

So our correspondent is correct to this extent, that David was responsible, and it appears was directly punished for his failure. But we cannot question God’s judgment on Uzzah. He directly broke the Law, failed to recognise the holiness of Yahweh represented in the ark, and died for treating that object on which in the Most Holy Place the presence of God rested in Israel, without respect. The salutary lessons are as relevant for us today, as they were in the days of David.

“I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev 10:3).