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David Reigns and the Ark Returns

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 2 Samuel 5–6; 1 Chronicles 11:1–9; 12–16

Like anyone who enters a position of leadership, David had to deal wisely with pressing needs and the expectations of others. But David also understood that true success, personally and for Israel, would come through following the Lord and making him central to all of life.


I did a little research online and found that over one thousand books are published every year on the subject of leadership. I typically don’t buy any of them because they have little to do with the biblical definition of effective leadership.

And as we dive again into the biography of King David, we are going to discover some leadership traits that, frankly, are overlooked. Leadership qualities like humility, patience, and faithfulness are not going to be featured at leadership seminars today.

As we arrive now at 2 Samuel chapter 5, Ish-bosheth, Israel’s king, has died. And this creates the perfect opportunity for David to step in and assume the throne. But he patiently waits. 

Eventually, the leaders from the northern tribes of Israel approach David, acknowledging his past military success under Saul. They also acknowledge something else in verse 2, saying, “The LORD said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and . . . prince over Israel.’” They finally realize that David is God’s man to be their shepherd-king. 

So, we read in verse 3:

“King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel.” Verse 4 informs us that David is thirty years old at this time. He has reigned in Hebron for seven and a half years over Judah, and now he will reign over the united kingdom for another thirty-three years. 

Just think about the fact that Samuel had anointed David some fifteen years earlier. This is a good reminder for us that God has His own timetable. David was wise in refusing to run ahead of God and waiting for the Lord to determine the time and place to make him king. 

Now, as Israel’s new king, David chooses Jerusalem as his new capital city. This walled city was centrally located, but it was occupied by the Jebusites; and going clear back to the days of Joshua (Joshua 15:63), the Israelites had been unable to conquer Jerusalem. The Jebusites are so confident that they inform David that “the blind and the lame” within their city could hold off the Israelites (verse 6).

In the parallel text in 1 Chronicles 11:6, David tells his men, “Whoever strikes the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander.” And we’re told that Joab “went up first, so he became chief.” In 2 Samuel chapter 5, verse 8 indicates that Joab got into the city through a “water shaft,” a tunnel that brought water into the city from an outside source. 

With this victory, David built up the city, including his own royal palace. And verse 10 tells us David “became greater and greater, for the LORD … was with him.” Verse 12 adds: 

David knew that the LORD had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel. 

David knew that God alone deserved the credit!

Now I have to tell you that David’s spiritual discernment did not seem to spill over into family matters. In fact, he followed the practice of other ancient kings by multiplying wives and fathering “more sons and daughters” (verse 13). And they are going to cause a trainload of trouble down the road.

The rest of chapter 5 tells us that the Philistines are not happy about David becoming king over all Israel, and they decide to overthrow him. Twice here David ends up defeating them in battle, bringing stability to his people. And don’t miss the fact that in verse 19 and then again in verse 23, David asks the Lord for direction before engaging in battle.

Now in order to lead the nation spiritually, David has a major issue to deal with. The ark of the covenant—that little golden box containing the law—which represented God’s presence among His people, is still in Kiriath-jearim. It’s been there since the days of Eli, the priest (1 Samuel 7:1).

David is determined to bring it to Jerusalem. In 1 Chronicles 13 he talks it over with the elders of Israel, and they all agree. 

For some reason, none of them went back to the law of Moses to find out how to transport the ark. The instructions in Exodus 25 and Numbers 4 clearly spelled out that the ark was to be carried by Levites. But here in 2 Samuel 6:3, they are putting the ark on a cart. 

They are all singing and rejoicing, but the celebration is interrupted by the actions a man named Uzzah:

Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. (verses 6-7)

Verse 8 tells us that David gets upset with the Lord about this. After all, what did this fellow do to deserve judgment?

The problem is that the details of God’s instructions were ignored. No matter how sincere everybody was, God’s presence was associated with this ark, and it was never to be treated like some ordinary piece of furniture.

This is a sad but important lesson for David and the people. The Lord is not to be taken for granted. The details of His Word are not to be ignored, no matter how good you feel about what you are doing.

Verse 9 says, “David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD come to me?’” So, he leaves the ark at the house of Obed-edom. It remains there three months, and verse 11 records, “The Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.”

Well, David learns his lesson. He returns after three months, and 1 Chronicles 15:2 tells us, “David said that no one but the Levites may carry the ark of God.” David has finally read the instruction manual. And with that, the ark comes to Jerusalem with much rejoicing.

We read here in 2 Samuel 6:16 that David led the way, “leaping and dancing before the LORD.” The ark is set inside a tent David had set up for it, and sacrifices are offered. Over in 1 Chronicles 16 we are given the lyrics to David’s song of thanksgiving on this grand occasion. 

Not everybody is celebrating, however. David’s first wife, Michal, the daughter of King Saul, despises David’s love for the Lord and the significance of the ark. She accuses him of making a fool of himself, and David replies in 2 Samuel 6:21: 

“It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the LORD—and I will celebrate before the LORD.”

Verse 23 records that Michal “had no child to the day of her death.” Her lack of respect for David and the God he loved guaranteed she would not bear David the heir to his throne.

Apart from this sad encounter, this was really a time of great joy. David is off to an amazing start as the leader and king of the nation of Israel—military victory, a new capital city, national unity, and the return of the ark to God’s chosen people. 

And through all of this, David realized that effective leadership—true leadership—involves allegiance to the Lord, surrender to the detailed instructions of God’s Word, and a public testimony of joyfully worshiping the Lord. Let me tell you, that will make anyone a leader worth following.

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