I’m a zealot. With the exception of a season or two into which I lapsed into a domesticated and politically correct Christianity I’ve been this way since I met Jesus. Given his reality and love it’s the only way that makes sense to me. They used to call us “Jesus Freaks,” a label I wore like a badge of honor. When I say zealot I don’t of the same ilk as the first century sect of Jews that worked for the overthrow of the Roman domination of Israel by whatever means necessary. My zealotry is of a different sort, not the violent or political sort. I’m a simple lover-of-Jesus sort.
Someone said, “Zeal without knowledge is the sister of folly.” I have to admit that in my zealotry, has gotten me in a lot of trouble. I’ve been hurt and I’ve hurt others along my passionate path. Recently someone I deeply love told me that sometimes the way I manage my zeal does him more harm than good. Though it hurt to hear it, in time I came to understand his heart and apologized for my often less than edifying approach to his discipleship.
In light of that conversation, the introspection that it inspired, and the musing I’ve done from a scene in King David’s life I’d like to offer both a confession and some counsel.
I figure I’m in good company if my zeal is anywhere in the universe as David’s. There’s a particular story in 2 Samuel 6 and 1Chronicles 15 wherein you’ll find two scenes. The first shows how David’s sincere, but ill-advised passion for God led to an impulsive mistake that cost a man his life. The second scene shows him zealously doing the right thing and being rejected by his own wife for it.
David had just established Jerusalem as the center of the Jewish kingdom and he wanted God in the center of the center. Makes sense, right? It’s not good when we relegate the true Center of his own universe to the margins of ours. God is the Center of everything and should be given center stage in every part of our lives, individually and corporately.
For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Romans 10:2
David, the “man after God’s heart” was as much of a Jehovah-zealot as there ever was. His passion didn’t make him free of sin or immune to stress. A quick scan of his lyrical diary (the Psalms) reveals more angst, anger, and fear than you might not feel comfortable revealing about your own experience. His radical spirituality got him into more trouble than it got him out of. And some of that trouble was on him. He brought it on himself, not just by sinning but by soaring. His spiritual audacity cost him (and those around him) nearly as much as his iniquity.
It was his relentless passion for God that motivated him to bring the Ark of the Covenant, the epicenter of his presence to his capital city. It was a holy desire inspired by the Holy Spirit. God wanted it he wanted it with all his heart. Thus far, it sounds like a prescription for success, right? When we want the same thing that God wants what could go wrong?
Well, a lot of things, actually. In this case, David was excited about doing a right thing, he neglected to do it in the right way. Instead of carrying the Ark by staves on the shoulders of priests, on impulse, he made a spectacle of it and had an ox-drawn cart specially built for the journey. He knew better than this. He knew the Bible and knew exactly how God prescribed the Ark to be transported. But he got carried away with himself and made the trip into a star spangled parade, with the Ark atop a manmade vehicle instead of on the shoulders of God-made priests.
The only time the Ark had been carried on a cart was when the Philistines frantically sent it back after absconding it from the Jews in battle. It appears that David reasoned: They used an ox-drawn cart, so why shouldn’t we? Why carry it on foot when we can truck it? Let’s give our priests a rest and let oxen do the work. Plus, it’ll be more impressive to roll the Ark into the city on a fancy new cart. Those Philistines had a good idea. Let’s do it their way!
Not usually a good idea to take your cues on how to handle the glory of God from idolaters! I don’t think he was being consciously rebellious, but in his zeal he got carried away with how to carry the Ark.
He put together a remarkable national parade complete with orchestra and fireworks! Okay, there were no fireworks, but it was quite a spectacle. Who doesn’t like a parade, especially one with professionally performed worship songs? At first, no problems.
Things were rolling along quite well (pun intended) until the oxen stumbled and the cart began to list. Ironic, isn’t it, that two strong oxen and a cart were less steady than God-filled humans on sandaled feet would’ve been! Then, the unthinkable occurred; one of the attendants reached out to steady it and he fell down dead on the spot! Nothing like a corpse to put a damper on a good worship service!
I could digress and talk about what this implies about our modern model of ministry that relies more on flash than the Father, but I won’t. I won’t take the time to say that God doesn’t need us to protect his glory from tipping, and if we’ll carry it in simple prescribed ways, both the glory and its shippers will survive the journey. If we do it his way, he will increase and we will decrease. But like I said, I won’t digress…
Suffice to say, David’s recklessly managed zeal turned disastrous. A guy died because of the king’s rash decision to do the right thing in the wrong way. It made sense to him at the time, but others suffered for his mistake. I believe he did what he did in good conscience at the time, but regretted it later. He became so distraught about the outcome of his ill-advised action that he gave up on moving the Ark altogether. Instead he shipped it to the closest house he could find and washed his hands of it indefinitely.
In Part 2 I’ll be more specific about my own confession of mismanaged passion. See you then…
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