The Old Staves And The New Cart

(Exodus 25:13-14; 1 Sam.6:7-18; 1 Chron. 13:7).

God was most explicit in His instructions as to the carrying of the Ark. “And thou shalt make staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. And thou shalt put the staves into the rings by the side of the Ark, that it may be borne with them.” Later on in the wilderness the princes gave six wagons and twelve oxen for the service of the Tabernacle, and Moses divided them between the Gershonites and Merarites. To the first he gave two wagons and four oxen, and to the second he gave four wagons and eight oxen, as their loads were heavier, being the boards, bars, pillars, sockets, etc. But it is most significant in the light of after history, that it reads here; “But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none; because the service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they should bear upon their shoulders.”

When David came to the throne, he sought to carry out a purpose formed in his early years in Bethlehem, and that was to find a place for the Ark. For many long years, including the reign of Saul, no priest stood before it to learn the mind of God, and it was away down in Kirjath-jearim, practically forgotten. So in 1 Chron. 13 he consults the people as to bringing it back, and they are one with him in the matter.

All this was as it should be, but right here David made the great mistake of taking his own way in carrying the Ark, and not keeping to the way which God had commanded. David’s way was not original with him. Some years before, Israel were fighting with their enemies, the Philistines, and God allowed them to be defeated, and instead of asking why, and seeking to judge the sin which has caused this defeat, they say, “Let us fetch the Ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.” 1 Sam. 4:3. They brought it and again they were defeated, the two sons of Eli who carried it were slain, and the Ark captured, and taken down to the land of the Philistines. No army, having taken the general, the staff, guns and standards of their enemy, were as elated as were the Philistines that day. But little do they know what a troublesome trophy they have on their hands, and that they will soon wish they had left it with Israel.

Israel has failed, but God can and will look after His own glory, and all the time that the Ark was in the land of the Philistines, it was judgment right and left. God could dwell in Israel in spite of their sins, on the ground of redemption, and sprinkled blood, but in the midst of the Philistines He can only be a God of judgment.

In abject terror, they ask their priests and wise men what is to be done? They are told to get a new cart and yoke two milch kine to it, and having put an offering beside the Ark, send it back to Israel. So they took the kine and tied their calves up at home and sent them off, and without a driver, they took the way straight to Beth-shemesh, lowing all the way. They halted by a big stone in the field of a man called Joshua, and the men of the place, did the right thing, they broke up the cart and offered the kine as a burnt offering. That should have been the last of the new cart.

Now this incident would be well known to David, and how successfully it worked, and the idea struck him as good. He forgot that he was in a totally different relationship to God from the Philistines, and that he was responsible to carry out the Word of God, which God did not expect from the Philistines. So he has a new cart made, which in his eyes looked so much more dignified and up-to-date than the old fashioned staves. Doubtless the most would agree with him that it was a vast improvement over men trudging along with the Ark on their shoulders. Was not God a great God, and should he not be worshipped in a first-class way?

To judge by the noise they made, singing and playing instruments, they must have thought that God was pleased with this departure from His way. But though David instead of kine, has oxen, animals accustomed to the yoke, and again, he has two men to drive them, yet with all this care, the oxen stumbled, and Uzza fearful that the Ark, which was safe among its enemies, would come to grief among its friends, put forth his hand to steady it, and was smitten in death by God.

The bottom drops out of the whole thing, the music stopped, and David in a sulky mood, carries the Ark to the house of Obed-edom, where it remained for three months, the Lord blessing his house and all that he had because of the Ark.

After three months David once more sets about bringing the Ark to the place he had prepared for it. But he has now learnt that he must go according to the Word of God, for he says in 1 Chron. 15:2, “None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the Ark of God, and to minister unto Him for ever.” Another thing he makes very clear, and that is, the judgment was on account of departure from God’s way, though the point at which God interfered, was when Uzza put his hand to the ark. “The Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought Him not after the due order.” ver. 13.

The new cart is thrown aside and David goes back to the old fashioned way again. “And the children of the Levites bare the Ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the Lord.” Ver. 15.

That God caused this incident to be written for our learning, (Rom. 15:4), we most surely believe, and we wish to notice just two or three of the many new carts, which man has made, in connection with both worship and service. Now it may sound strange to speak of new carts in regard to worship, but alas they are in evidence there.

Take an assembly or church in the Acts. It does not require a very great knowledge of the Word to visualise just what it looked like, and the order of worship. It was a company of Christians, coming together on the first day of the week to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. That was the object of their gathering, but the Lord in His care might minister to them through some of His gifts if they were present, but they did not come to hear them, they came to break bread, as we see in Acts 20:7. A sample of the popular ideas which are held in regard to this meeting was furnished by a S.S. Lesson sheet. In an American city a friend took up one, brought home by a child from the Sunday School. Looking it over, he saw that the lesson for the day was “Paul at Troas.” The question was asked, “Why did the disciples come together at Troas?” The answer given in that lesson sheet was most amusing, it was, “To bid Paul goodbye.”

When gathered, they owned no name but that of Him to Whom they were gathered. They had no man to preside, they left themselves free to be guided by the Holy Spirit in worship. They set up no order that in any way would hinder carrying out the order the Holy Spirit has given in 1 Cor. 14:23-40.

What has man substituted for this simple gathering of those who are saved? A mixed congregation, who come to hear a sermon, which often has nothing in it to do good to saint or sinner. A New Cart.

As to service, it is just the same, discarding the staves for the new cart. In the Acts God’s servants went forth in dependence on Him not only for their material support, but for guidance as to their field. No society, mission or congregation hired them and gave them their orders where to go and how long to stay. No congregation hired a man whom they called “the minister,” claimed a monopoly of his service, and when he no longer gave satisfaction, dismissed him. No, each company might have a number, who sought to help and guide and minister as the Lord gave them ability.

In the prosecution of the work of evangelizing the world, the early preachers went forth with the gospel, and preached it, counting God to carry it home by the Holy Spirit. There was a blessed simplicity about their mode of operations, that reminds us of the old staves of the ark. No society existed to gather funds for such and such mission. No advance publicity agent went ahead to organize committees to work the district. They did not take along a band. They had not soloists to attract the people. They knew nothing of the modern methods of getting men and women to decide for Christ, by holding up the hand, signing a card, or shaking hands with the preacher. These new carts they did not know. We fear very much that these things are resorted to, to supply the lack of Holy Spirit power.

Thank God, many like David, have not been ashamed to discard the new carts, and go back to the staves. And like David, they have found real blessing in so doing. We read the results of his restoration in chap. 15:25-28, and in chap. 16. God got praise and Israel got blessing, and there was an atmosphere of joy wholly unknown when they were occupied with the new cart.