Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
Verse 1. - And David gathered together. The long subjection to the Philistines was at an end, and David's first care is to bring the ark of Jehovah from Kirjath-jearim to Jerusalem. In this he had a twofold object. For, first, it was an act of piety, testifying David's gratitude to God, who had so quickly raised him from the condition of a despairing fugitive hiding away in the cave of Adullam to that of a victorious king reigning over an independent and free people. But David had also a political purpose. The weakness of Israel in the past was the result of its divisions, he would heal this by giving it a capital, whither the tribes would come up for worship, and where they would feel that they formed one nation. David had seen the evils of a divided sovereignty, when he and Ishbosheth were wasting the strength of Israel in civil war. For more than half a century he remedied this, but before there had been time for the union of the tribes to be cemented by the gradual influence of religion. Solomon's oppressive levies of unpaid workmen, forced to labour in his costly buildings, and the despotic stupidity of Rehoboam, broke up united Israel into two feeble states, which henceforward had to struggle hard for a mere existence. The condition of Israel was very similar to that of the United States of North America before their great civil war; except that their president, elected by all the people, and their Congress at Washington, were far stronger bonds of union than any that were possessed by the Israelites. But when there was danger of even these failing to keep them together as one people, the statesmen of the north put forth their utmost powers, and spared neither life nor treasure, because they saw clearly that the victory of the south meant the breaking up of their empire into a multitude of feeble governments, which, by their mutual jealousies, would paralyze and thwart one another. With equal discernment David endeavoured to counteract the jealousy and separate action of the tribes, which was bringing about the disintegration of Israel, by giving them a point of union. Had he gone further north for his capital, he might, perhaps, have overawed the stubborn tribe of Ephraim, which was always the most unmanageable of the sections of Israel. But the situation of Jerusalem upon the borders of Benjamin and Judah, on a hill-top which neither had really possessed, and which was marked out for noble use by its wonderful natural conformation, fully justified David's choice; and it has had the assent of mankind ever since. David then made this unrivalled spot his capital, and placed there, first of all, his royal residence, whereby it became the centre of all public business and of the administration of law; and, secondly, as a matter of still higher importance, he made it the headquarters of their national religion and the abode oF their God. We see the weight of this religious influence in the anxiety of Jeroboam to counteract it, and in the strength given to Rehoboam by the migration into Judah of those who valued the temple services more than their worldly prosperity. Even Saul had valued the national religion, and had established its headquarters at Nob; but, giving way to the ungoverned anger of a despot, he had destroyed his own work. It was left to one who to the bravery of a soldier added the discernment of a statesman to consolidate the tribes into a nation by establishing their religion upon a sure and influential basis. For this reason also he made their services full of delight and enjoyment by the institution of choral chants and the use of instruments of music; while the psalms which his singers recited were so spiritual and ennobling that we to this day use them in our solemn worship. Granting that there are expressions in them harsher and more intolerant than a disciple of the loving Jesus would now apply to any earthly enemy, yet, as a whole, the Psalms, written in these rough far off times, still form our best book of devotion! In the parallel place in the First Book of Chronicles we have the narrative of this re-establishment of the Mosaic Law given as looked at on the Levitical side, and with many interesting additions. Here the narrator looks at it with the eye of a statesman. We must not, however, suppose that the history there given is arranged in chronological order, as, if so, the two victories in the Valley of Rephaim would have both taken place in the three months during which the ark was resting in the house of Obed-Edom. If this were so, then David would first have had more than three hundred and forty thousand warriors with him at Hebron to anoint him, and with their aid would have captured Jerusalem. lie would next have assembled thirty thousand picked men to bring the ark up to Zion; and yet would have had only his body guard of "mighty men" wherewith to fight Israel's battles and win its independence. Most probably the order, both here and in Chronicles, is not chronological, and the course of events was as follows. With the help of the men gathered at Hebron David captures Jerusalem. As soon as it is made safe they withdraw, and leave him occupied with planning out and building his city. Alarmed at the vast concourse at Hebron, and made angry by David's seizure of a strong fortress, the Philistines hastily pounce upon him in numbers too vast for him to resist. He escapes, leaving but a few men to defend Jerusalem, and hides in his old fastness. Encouraged there by finding three of his mighties more than a match for the garrison at Bethlehem, he gathers the mere valiant spirits, and makes a sudden attack upon the Philistines, who were engaged in ravaging the country as a punishment for its rebellion. They are defeated, but with no great loss; and so with uubroken strength they again invade the country, and march up once more to Jerusalem, prepared to fight a pitched battle, and seize that fortress as the prize of victory. Again, David, with far larger forces, surprises them, and, driving them from ridge to ridge, so utterly vanquishes them that the power of Philistia was destroyed forever. It was after this double victory that Hiram, King of Tyre, whose dominions bordered upon the Philistines, and who had found them disagreeable neighbours, made a close alliance with David; and so at length, free from all fear at home, and honoured abroad, he was able to turn his thoughts to the consolidation of his kingdom and the establishment of Jehovah's worship. And in the Book of Chronicles we have the details of that spiritual service of psalmody which David added to the Levitical routine of sacrifice, and which bears the significant name of "prophecy," as being the expression of the moral and spiritual side of the Mosaic Law (1 Chronicles 25:1). Instead of "Again David gathered," the words of the Hebrew are" And David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel." The first gathering was at Hebron (2 Samuel 5:1), and before they came David must have given his consent to their wishes, and invited their presence at his anointing. They soon gather together a second time to endow their new kingdom with the safeguards necessary for their spiritual welfare, and the maintenance among them of morality and virtue and the fear of God. Chosen men. This usually means picked men fit for war. But doubtless on this occasion the eiders and all good men possessed of power and influence would be present to strengthen the king's hand. Thirty thousand. A large number, but not too large. David probably chose one of the great feasts for the occasion, and by the presence of a large number of warriors, and the display of much military pomp, he would impress upon the minds of the people the value of religion. They would thus learn also to respect their new capital as being the place where was the presence of their Deity, and where they were to come to worship him.
And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the LORD of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims.
Verse 2. - From Baale of Judah. We learn from Joshua 15:9, 60 that Baalah, or Kirjath-Baal, "the city of Baal," was the old Canaanite name of Kirjath-jearim, the "city of woods." It lay about eight miles westward from Jerusalem (see 1 Samuel 6:21; 1 Samuel 7:1, 2). The preposition "from" is very startling, as really David went to Baale. Yet all the versions have it, but they put on Baale an incorrect meaning. Baal means "lord," "master," and they render, "David went with all the people that were with him from [or, of] the citizens of Judah," understanding by "master" a householder, one who was master of a family. The real explanation probably is that the narrator wrote according to the sense, and not according to the grammar. The thought in his mind was the bringing up of the ark from its long resting place, and not the prior physical necessity of going down to the place where it was. With all the people. David had consulted with "the captains of thousands and hundreds, and every leader" (1 Chronicles 13:1), and it was with their good will that he drew the ark of God out of its long concealment. A select body of these nobles, or sheiks, would accompany the king, while the rest, with their attendants, would be posted along the eight miles of road. Whose name is called by the name. In the Hebrew, the word "name" is twice repeated, the words literally being, the ark of Elohim, whereon is called the Name, the Name of Jehovah of Sabaoth. Most of the versions omit the second Name, and the translators of the Authorized Version also felt it to be a difficulty, which they have tried to escape by inserting words between the two. Really it is a most interesting sign of the existence at this early date of a special reverence for the name "with four consonants" which we call "Jehovah." Subsequently it was never pronounced, but the word "Lord" was read instead, in the Revised Version, the importance of the passage is well brought out by the first Name being written with a capital, of the use of which the Revisers are very chary. With their usual inconsecutiveness, they retain Lord for Jehovah, though this is "the Name," and though they have restored the word Jehovah in several less important places.
And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart.
Verse 3. - And they set the ark of God (Hebrew, made it ride) upon a new cart. This was contrary to the Levitical Law, which required that only Levites should bear the ark, and that it should be veiled even from their eyes (Numbers 4:15). But this mistake is not surprising. It is easy enough for us to turn to our Bibles, and see what the exact letter of a command was. But such reference was no easy matter when the Law was contained in manuscripts which were rare and costly. We cannot imagine that David or even Abiathar carried a manuscript about with them in their wanderings. David very probably had a considerable knowledge of the Pentateuch, gained in Samuel's schools, and stored up in his memory, as was the custom in old days when books were scarce. But this knowledge would be chiefly of its narratives and doctrines, and would comprise such portions as Samuel thought most fitting to influence the lives of his scholars. Abiathar probably added to this a knowledge of all such ritual as was in daily use in the sanctuary at Nob. He had fled thence in terror, escaping alone from the cruel destruction of the priests by Saul's decree; but even there the restoration of the Levitical services had been too recent to have given time for much study of the old Law. We can quite believe that the murder of the priests at Nob, following upon the catastrophe at Shiloh, had reduced the knowledge of the priests to a very low ebb. Now, the exact way of bearing the ark was a matter that had long been dismissed from their memories, but they would call to mind that it had been brought to Abinadab's house in a new cart drawn by oxen; and they would take this as a precedent, which would justify them in acting in the same manner a second time. But in so solemn a matter the priests ought to have made diligent search, and have gone for instruction to the copies which they possessed of the Divine Law. David did so subsequently (1 Chronicles 15:2), but possibly there was no such copy at present in Jerusalem, and they would have to go to Ramah, where Samuel would deposit whatever records he had saved from the ruin of Shiloh, and where the great work of the prophets was to study the sacred books, and even copy them. But this want of inquiry and easy assumption, that as the ark was brought in a cart to Abinadab's house, so in a cart it should be carried away, was an act of great irreverence, and all the guilty were punished. The heaviest blow fell on the house of Abinadab, which lost a dear son. Entrusted for seventy years with the care of so sacred a symbol of Jehovah's presence, Abinadab and his family ought to have made a special study of the taws concerning it. Apparently they left it very much to itself; for it is never said that God blessed them for their care of it as he did Obed-Edom. And David also was in fault; for he ought to have commanded the priests to make diligent search. His punishment was the breaking out of the Divine wrath, terrifying the people, and turning the joy of the day to mourning. The house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah; really, that was upon the hill. Uzzah and Able, the sons of Abinadab. "Sons" in Hebrew is used in a large sense, and these two men were probably the grandsons of Eleazar, the son of Abinadab, who had been set apart to keep the ark. For seventy years, as it seems, lind passed since the ark was hurriedly put in Abinadab's house, namely, twenty during the Philistine supremacy up to the battle of Ebenezer, forty during the reign of Saul, and about ten since. As Eleazar must have been thirty years of age for his consecration to be legal, he must have died long ago, and his sons would be old and decrepit men. His grandsons would be in the prime of life.
And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark.
Verse 4. - Accompanying (Hebrew, with) the ark. The verse is evidently corrupt, and we have no aid from the parallel place in Chronicles, except the fact that it is omitted there. The most probable explanation is that the first half of the verse has been repeated from ver. 3 by the error of some copyist, and that the original words were "Uzzah and Ahio drove the new cart with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark." While Uzzah walked at the side, Ahio went before the oxen to guide and manage them, as the Basques may be seen at the present day doing in the south of France.
And David and all the house of Israel played before the LORD on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals.
Verse 5. - Played. The word does not mean "played on a musical instrument," but "danced and rejoiced." On all manner... of fir wood. The Hebrew literally is, with all cypress woods. In 1 Chronicles 13:8 we find "with all their might, even with songs," etc. Gesenius, in his 'History of the Hebrew Language,' describes this as a mere guess at a misunderstood text, and Maurer ridicules it as a stupid emendation. More sensibly Thenius regards it as the right reading, and the words here as a corruption of it, caused by some scribe misspelling the words, which are nearly identical. In our version the ambiguous meaning of the word "played" makes the passage less startling. For "they danced with all cypress woods" is unintelligible. The musical instruments mentioned here are the harp, Hebrew chinnor, a guitar; the psaltery, Hebrew nebel, a kind of harp of a triangular shape, with the point downwards; the timbrel, Hebrew tof, a tambourine or small drum; the cornet, Hebrew mena'na', a bar on which were a number of loose metal rings, which were shaken in time to the music, but others think that "castanets" are meant, which are pieces of wood beaten in time. The Revised Version adopts this rendering. And finally cymbals. For "cornets" we find in the parallel place "trumpets," whence the translators of the Authorized Version took their rendering; but the Hebrew word means "things to shake."
And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.
Verse 6. - Nachon's threshing floor. In the parallel place (1 Chronicles 13:9) we find "the threshing floor of Chidon," and "Chidon" is proved to have been a proper name by the feebleness of the attempts made to find for it a meaning. We therefore gather that "Nachou" is also a proper name, but otherwise we should certainly have translated it "a fixed threshing floor." The people did indeed thresh or trample out their corn often on summer threshing floors (Daniel 2:35), that is, on fitting spots in the fields themselves. But as a large quantity of earth was sure in this cash to be mixed with the corn, they preferred to use places with solid floors or pavements, which lasted for many generations, and often became well-known spots (Genesis 50:10). Even if "Nachon" be a proper name, this would be a permanent floor, paved with stones, the approaches to which would be worn and made rough by the tracks of the carts bringing the corn. Here the oxen shook it; Hebrew, stumbled, and so the Revised Version. Nothing is said of the ark being in danger. Uzzah's act was one of precaution. The ground was rough, the oxen stumbled, and he put forth his hand to hold the ark till the cart had reached level ground. If the threshing floor was formed in the natural rock, those who have been in Spain, and seen how the tracks in the Pyrenees are worn by the native carts into deep ruts in the solid stone, can well understand that the neighbourhood of this much-frequented spot would need very careful driving.
And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.
Verse 7. - Error. The word so translated is one quite unknown, and Ewald renders it "unexpectedly." The Revised Version puts "rashness" in the margin. But all three alike are mere guesses, of which "error" is that approved by Keil and others. The Syriac has the same reading here as that found in 1 Chronicles 13:10, namely, "because he put his hand to the ark." This would require the insertion of four or five letters in the Hebrew. By the ark. The word translated "accompanying the ark" in ver. 4.
And David was displeased, because the LORD had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day.
Verse 8. - David was displeased; Hebrew, David was angry. Neither David nor his people had intended any disrespect, and so severe a punishment for what was at most a thoughtless act seemed to him unjust. Uzzah's death was probably caused by apoplexy, and the sudden effort of stretching forth his hand and seizing the ark had been its immediate cause. So tragic an event spoiled the happiness of the day, filled all present with disappointment, made them break off in haste from the grand ceremonial, and placed David before his subjects in the position of a malefactor. He had prepared a great religious festival, and Jehovah had broken in upon them as an enemy. In his first burst of displeasure he called the place Perez-Uzzah, the word "Perez," or "Breach," conveying to the Hebrews the idea of a great calamity (Judges 21:15) or of a sudden attack upon a foe (2 Samuel 5:20). The historian adds that the place bore this name unto his day; but we cannot tell whether these are the words of the original compiler of the Book of Samuel, or, as is more probably the case, those of some subsequent editor or scribe. Many such remarks are supposed to have been inserted by Ezra and the men of the great synagogue.
And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and said, How shall the ark of the LORD come to me?
Verse 9. - David was afraid. This was his next feeling. Neither he nor Uzzah had offended wilfully, and so severe a punishment for an "error" made him dread the presence of so dangerous a thing as the ark seemed to be. Instead, therefore, of taking it into "the city of David," he turns aside and leaves it in the house of the nearest Levite. In both his anger and his dread David manifests himself to us as one whose ideas about God were somewhat childish. He regards Jehovah as a powerful and capricious Being, who must be appeased. He had attained to juster views in Psalm 16. and other such trustful hymns.
So David would not remove the ark of the LORD unto him into the city of David: but David carried it aside into the house of Obededom the Gittite.
Verse 10. - Obed-Edom. We find two Levites of this name among David's officials - one belonging to the family of Merari, a singer and doorkeeper for the ark (1 Chronicles 15:18, 21, 24); the other of the family of Korah (1 Chronicles 26:4, 5). And as it is there said that "God blessed him," he probably it was into whose house the ark was taken. He is called a Gittite, because he belonged to Gath-Rimmon, a Levitical city in the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:45; Joshua 21:24).
And the ark of the LORD continued in the house of Obededom the Gittite three months: and the LORD blessed Obededom, and all his household.
Verse 11. - Jehovah blessed Obed-Edom. So far from there being anything unlucky in the ark, its presence brings with it a manifest blessing, and thus David's fears are allayed. But before he returns to his purpose, he commands that proper inquiry be made. The priests must examine the holy book, and, having learned from it where his former conduct was wrong, he assembles the people once again to carry the ark to its home (1 Chronicles 15:2, 12-15).
And it was told king David, saying, The LORD hath blessed the house of Obededom, and all that pertaineth unto him, because of the ark of God. So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obededom into the city of David with gladness.
Verse 12. - With gladness. The words mean, "in a joyful procession with music and dancing."
And it was so, that when they that bare the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed oxen and fatlings.
Verse 13. - When they that bare the ark of Jehovah had gone six, paces, he sacrificed oxen and fatlings; Hebrew, an ox and a fatling. Many suppose that David sacrificed an ox and a fatling every six paces along the whole way from the house of Obed-Edom, which was probably near or even in Jerusalem, unto the tent prepared for the ark in Zion. "Evidently the way to the holy city was a way of blood. The stained streets of Zion, the rivers of blood, the slaughtered heaps and the blaze of altar fires formed a strange contrast to the dancing, the singing, and the harping of the multitudes who crowded the city" (Sime, 'Kingdom of All Israel,' p. 288). It is not necessary to suppose, with some objectors, that the ark waited till each sacrifice was completed, or that the road thus lined with victims was many miles in length. The ark did not remain at Perez-Uzzah, but was carried in silent awe to the house of a Levite; and such a house probably was not to be found until they were inside the city walls. There were no country houses in a region lately twice ravaged by the Philistines. But there is an objection to this view, namely, that it is not the sense of the Hebrew. What is there said is that at starting, after stepping six paces, David sacrificed an ox and a fatling (by the hands, of course, of the priests), to ask a blessing upon the removal of the ark, and avert all misfortune. In Chronicles we read nothing of this, but of a sacrifice of seven bullocks and seven rams, offered by the Levites. The one was David's offering made at the beginning, to consecrate the removal; the other was made at the end, and was a thank offering of the Levites, because they had carried the ark safely (1 Chronicles 15:26). The Vulgate has a remarkable addition to ver. 12, taken doubtless by Jerome from manuscripts which existed in his day. It is as follows: "There were with David seven choruses and a calf as victim." The fact is not in itself improbable, and means that the musicians and dancers were divided into bands which mutually relieved one another. And as a sacrifice was also a feast, each band had a calf provided for it. The LXX. omits the thirteenth verse altogether, and substitutes for it, "And seven choruses accompanied him. bearing the ark, and a calf and Iambs as a sacrifice."
And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.
Verse 14. - And David danced. The word used means the springing round in half circles to the sound of music. Conder has given a very interesting account of the dancing of the Malawiyeh, which consisted in turning round in whole circles, resting on the heel of the left foot ('Herb and Moab,' p. 65, etc.). As David danced with all his might, he was evidently strongly excited with religious fervour. We have the expression of his feelings in the psalm composed for this occasion (1 Chronicles 16:7-36); subsequently it seems to have been rearranged for the temple service, as it is broken up into Psalm 96. and Psalms 105:1-15. Dancing was usually the office of the women (Exodus 15:20; Judges 11:35; Judges 21:21; 1 Samuel 18:6); but men may also have often taken part in it, as Michal's objection was that it was unbefitting a king. David was girded with a linen ephod. David wore this as a tightly fitting garment, which left him free to exert himself in the dance. So far from the use of it being an assumption of the priestly office, it was regarded by Michal as an act of humiliation, as it was a dress worn even by a child when admitted to service in a priest's family (1 Samuel 2:18). Probably David did mean to rank himself for the time among the inferior servitors of the ark. He might have claimed more. In the theocracy he was the representative of Jehovah, and his anointing was a solemn consecration to a religious office. To have burned incense or offered sacrifice would have been to invade the priestly office, an office parallel to "the administration of the Word and the sacraments," denied, in the Thirty-Seventh Article of the Church of England, to princes. To wear the garb of a servitor was to do honour both to Jehovah and to his priests.
So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul's daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.
Verse 16. - Michal Saul's daughter. Possibly these words are merely to identify Michal, but they suggest the thought that, as a king's daughter, she valued her royal dignity. The procession evidently passed near David's palace, and his wives and children would be eager spectators.
And they brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in his place, in the midst of the tabernacle that David had pitched for it: and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.
Verse 17. - In the midst of the tabernacle (i.e. tent). This tent would he arranged as nearly as possible like that erected by Moses in the wilderness. The ark would be placed in the holy of holies, a shrine probably of cedar-wood, and the burnt offerings and peace offerings would then be offered and would consecrate the whole. When it is said that David offered them, it means that the sacrifices were at his cost and by his command.
And as soon as David had made an end of offering burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts.
Verse 18. - David... blessed the people in the name of Jehovah of hosts. Blessing the people was an important priestly function, for which a special formula was provided (Numbers 6:22-26). But this did not deprive the king, who was Jehovah's anointed representative, of the right of also blessing them, and Solomon, at the consecration of the temple, followed his father's example in a very solemn manner (2 Chronicles 6:3).
And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the women as men, to every one a cake of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine. So all the people departed every one to his house.
Verse 19. - A cake of bread, and a good piece... and a flagon. Of the first of the three gifts there is no doubt. It was the round dough cake baked for sacrificial meals (Leviticus 8:26). So, too, there is no doubt of the third; it means "a cake of raisins" (see Song of Solomon 2:5; Hosea 3:1, in which latter place raisins, or dried grapes, are expressly mentioned, boldly rendered in the Authorized Version "wine"). The Revised Version has given the correct rendering of the passage. The second word occurs only here, but the rendering of the Authorized Version is that of the Jews; and as it is some common domestic term not likely to be found in literature, but well known in every kitchen, they are most probably right. On the same sort of local authority Jerome renders it in the Vulgate "a piece of beef for roasting." As it is coupled with the bread and the raisin cake, we may feel sure that it was a portion of the flesh of the animals which had been killed in Sacrifice, and which the people were now permitted to take to their homes.
Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!
Verse 20. - To bless his household. David, in the midst of his public duties, was not forgetful of the nearer claims of his own family. Doubtless there also a joyful feast would be prepared, and all be gathered together to praise God and rejoice with one con sent. Who uncovered himself ... as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself! David's offence in the eyes of Michal was, not his dancing, but his divesting himself of his royal robes, and appearing before his subjects clad in the dress of an inferior class. The Levites were to occupy a humble social position (see Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 26:12), and Michal's words are a proof that such was in David's time the case. The language of Michal is that of a woman vexed and irritated. After reminding David of his high office as "King of Israel," she reproaches him for appearing on a grand public occasion without the upper and becoming robe in which an Oriental enwraps himself. And this he had done before the female slaves of his own servants, with no more self-respect than that shown by the "vain fellows." "Vain" is the "raca" of Matthew 5:22, and means "empty," void of virtue, void of reputation, and void of worldly means. The Hebrews, when expressing the greatest possible contempt for a man, called him an "empty," and no word could be found better conveying the meaning of thorough worthlessness.
And David said unto Michal, It was before the LORD, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel: therefore will I play before the LORD.
Verse 21. - It was before the Lord. The Hebrew is much more forcible than the confused rendering of our version. "Before Jehovah, who chose me above thy father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over Jehovah's people, over Israel, yea, before Jehovah I have rejoiced" (Authorized Version, "played;" but see notes on ver. 5). The preference of David over Saul was proof that that king's affectation of royal state, and his self-importance, were not pleasing in God's eyes.
And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.
Verse 22. - And of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour. These words have been variously interpreted, but their simplest meaning is also the best; that even the most uneducated women, though surprised at first at David's want of stateliness, would, on reflection, be led to a right understanding of the greatness of God; and would then feel that even a king was right in owning himself to be nothing in God's presence.
Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.
Verse 23. - Therefore Michal. The Hebrew is, and Michal had no child, Michal's barrenness was long antecedent to this outburst of pride, and was not a punishment for it. It is noticed as a proof that the blessing of God did not rest upon her; and as such it was regarded by the people, and doubtless it lessened David's affection for her. We must not, however, suppose that he imposed upon her any punishment further than this verbal reproof. Nor does the interest lie in Michal's conduct, but in the glimpse which the narrative gives us of David's tender piety towards God, so exactly in agreement with the feelings which animate very many of the psalms. To unite with this a harsh bitterness to the woman who was his first love, who had so protected him in old time, and whom he had summoned back at the first opportunity because of his affection for her, is a thing abhorrent in itself, and contrary to David's character. His fault in domestic matters rather was that he was over fond, not that he was unfeeling. A little more sternness towards Amnon and Absalom would have saved him much sorrow. As for Michal, the story sets her before us as earing a great deal for David, and not much for Jehovah. She could not have approved of such a number of rivals in David's household, but she had not lost her love for him. And the narrative represents her as not having Jehovah's blessing in a matter so greatly thought of by Hebrew women, and as valuing too highly royal state, and forgetting that above the king was God. But she did David no great wrong, and received from him nothing worse than a scolding. In the parallel place (1 Chronicles 15:29) the matter is very lightly passed over; and the reason why it holds an important place in this book is that we have here a history of David's piety, of his sin and his punishment. In itself a slight matter, it yet makes us clearly understand the nature of David's feelings towards Jehovah. It is also most interesting in itself. For David is the type of a noble character under the influence of grace. Michal, too, is a noble character, but she lacked one thing, and that was "the one thing needful." The removal of the ark is a matter so important as to call for careful consideration. For the time it established two centres of worship - one with the ark at Zion, the other at Gibeon. The ark in Saul's days had been forgotten (1 Chronicles 13:3). It had long lain in the house of a simple Levite in the city of woods, and Saul's religious ideas were too feeble for him to be capable of undemanding the importance of establishing a national religion. Still, such as they were, they made him summon Ahiah, the grandson of Eli, to be his domestic priest (1 Samuel 14:3); and subsequently he even set up at Nob the tabernacle with its table of shewbread, and other holy furniture, saved somehow from the ruin of Shiloh, with Ahimelech as high priest (1 Samuel 21:1). But when in a fit of senseless jealousy he destroyed his own work, the nation was left for a time without an established religion. Gradually, however, this primary necessity for good government and national morality was supplied - how we know not; but we find a tabernacle at Gibeon, with the altar of burnt offerings, and the morning and evening sacrifice, and apparently the same service as that erewhile set up at Nob; only Zadok of the line of Eleazar is high priest (1 Chronicles 16:39, 40). He thus belonged to the senior line, while the last survivor of the race of Ithamar, Abiathar, Eli's great-grandson, was with David. Gibeon was in the centre of the tribe of Benjamin, some few miles from Jerusalem, with Nob lying halfway between; and probably Saul had permitted this restoration of Jehovah's worship at Gibeon, both because he half repented of his deed, and because the worship there was ministered by priests not allied to Ahimelech and Abiathar. But now the ark, which was Jehovah's throne, had been brought out of its obscurity, and solemnly placed in a tabernacle in Zion, with Abiathar, David's friend, the representative of the junior line, as high priest; and probably the only difference in the service was that David's psalms were sung to music at Zion, while the Mosaic ritual, with no additions, was closely followed at Gibeon. There was thus the spectacle of two high priests (2 Samuel 8:17), and two rival services, and yet no thought of schism. Zadok had been one of those foremost in making David king of all Israel (1 Chronicles 12:28); he and Abiathar were the two who moved Judah to bring David back after Absalom's revolt (2 Samuel 19:11). The whole matter had grown out of historical facts, and probably David always intended that Zion should absorb Gibeon, and be the one centre required by the Levitical Law. But he was content to wait. Had he acted otherwise a conflict would necessarily have arisen between the rival lines of the priesthood, and between Abiathar and Zadok, the two men who represented them, and who were both his true friends. We find even Solomon doing great honour to the tabernacle at Gibeon (2 Chronicles 1:3, etc.), but after the temple was built it passed away; and the race of Ithamar, weakened by the calamity at Shiloh, and still more by the cutting off of so many of its leading members at Nob, never recovered itself after Abiathar was set aside by Solomon for taking part with Adonijah. The line continued to exist, for members of it returned from Babylon (Ezra 8:2); but though it produced a prophet, Jeremiah, it never again produced a high priest, and therefore only the line of Eleazar, to which Ezra himself belonged, is given in 1 Chronicles 6. Thus Abiathar's misconduct and the growing fame of Jerusalem put an end to all fear of schism. We easily trace in the Psalms the increase of the nation's regard for Zion. In Psalm 24, written probably by David to celebrate the entry of the ark thither, it is simply "the hill of Jehovah... his holy place." In Psalm 9. it is "his dwelling," but in Psalm 20. a higher note is struck. Zion is "the sanctuary" whence Jehovah sends "help" and "strength;" and in Psalm 48, written at a later date, Zion is found installed in the very heart of the people's love. Thus the Divine blessing rested fully upon David's work. To Jehovah's worship he gave a grand and noble centre, which from his day has had no rival, unless it be in some respects Rome. The city of David's choice has been, and continues to this hour to be, the most holy spot upon earth alike to the Jew and to the Christian, though to the latter it is so because of David's Son. At Zion, moreover, David's spiritual addition to the Mosaic ritual has given the Church its best book of devotion and the brightest part of its services; forevery hymn sung to God's glory, and every instrument of music played in God's house, is but the continuance of the prophesying with harp, psaltery, and cymbal (1 Chronicles 25:1), first instituted by David, though, like all that was best in David personally and in his institutions, it grew out of Samuel's influence and the practices of his schools (1 Samuel 19:20). Finally, the temple services were doing much to weld the discordant tribes into one nation, and would have succeeded in so doing but for the unhappy degeneracy of Solomon's latter years, and the obstinacy of his son. Yet even so, Jerusalem remains forever a memorial of the genius and piety of this extraordinary man, and the symbol of "Jerusalem the golden, the home of God's elect."
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