David’s Fallen Tent

I need to press the pause button for a moment on the series called The Final Kingdom. I need to revisit a topic which I have covered, in part, before. The subject of David’s Tent has been on my heart for a great many years. It wasn’t until a little over a year ago that I started to understand the significance of it. It is pertinent to the coming Kingdom of God, and so, I have felt inclined to continue the themes first explored in A Tale of Two Tents, parts one and two.

I have felt, for a long while, that I have been just treading water – not moving in any direction but just floating, with my head above the water…just. When I wrote the two articles on A Tale of Two Tents, as is so often the case, what I was writing was a reflection of the events that were taking place in our own lives. However, what I have written over the past year or so has lacked that personal dimension, and been more general observations about the state of the church. That was a natural evolution, rather than a deliberate change of direction – there was simply nothing to write about, especially regarding Cornerstone. But all that is about to change.

When God speaks to me, it is invariably through His word. The account of David moving the Ark of the Covenant spoke so loudly that it actually caused me to draw in breath very sharply, such was the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I was faced with the fact that, whilst we had done the right thing with all good intention, it wasn’t the way in which God had prescribed us to do it. Of course, David was faced with a similar fact when moving the Ark in a way in which God hadn’t prescribed. I have to tell you, that from that point of conviction, I have struggled to see the purpose of God in buying the Cornerstone building at all. And the process of ceasing all work there has led us both to a place where we freely gave it up to God to decide its fate.

Whilst the decision about the future of Cornerstone was still in our hands, any revelation I had from God lacked a personal aspect. However, once we gave it up and allowed God to have His way with it, I found that the personal side of His revelation has returned.

I find it useful to keep a journal. Useful because it is easy to forget or twist those things which you feel God has said or you have felt about certain situations. But it also provides a tide mark, if you like, on your walk with God. Another helpful method of establishing how my own walk with God is going, I find, is to re-read a book that had some effect upon me when I first read it. Out of boredom and complete disinterest of almost every book upon my shelf, I turned to a book which someone gave me almost exactly two years ago. The book is extracts from the journals of George Muller during his time caring for orphans in Bristol. As I read it, I sensed a growing conviction in me that what I read about two years ago, which at the time seemed completely out of my grasp, were now part of my everyday life. The faith that Muller exercised, which I thought I would never attain to, I now find to be as natural as breathing in, such is the change in me. And it was in that moment of sweet realisation that I felt the Holy Spirit remind me once again about David and the Ark.

As my mind filled with the story, I stopped and prayed. I asked God not to allow me to get too carried away with myself – to not let me get over-inspired by either David or George Muller, such has been my way in the past. I asked Him to let the idea that was growing in my mind to die if it were not of Him. I didn’t want to waste anymore time chasing after things that I want. I only want to pursue the things of God. It has taken me many years to even understand that there is a difference between the two, let alone how to discern them.

To my suprise, the idea hasn’t dissipated, even after a week or so. And so, with the words in my head, I return to writing what the Cornerstone blog was designed to be – an honest appraisal of following God’s lead. But first, let’s talk about David and his fallen tent.

Now, there is simply a mountain of ideas and theories out there in internet land which claim to understand and have the answer regarding what David’s fallen tent is all about. Some of them are a little wacky; some are readable; and the rest seem to come from a generation of frustrated believers whom have had some revelation and decided to share it with the world. For the main, I have no issue with any of these approaches, except to say, that just because God speaks to you, it doesn’t mean you need to share it with everyone else. That is why I prefer to personalise what God shows me, to learn from Him what He wants me to understand before I offer it as advice for others to take. I’m not here trying to give anyone advice – more that I wish to share our personal experiences for anyone who finds themselves in a similar position to ourselves.

Neither am I here to attack and discredit what others had written regarding David’s tent. I am simply writing this to show how God has used the story to speak to me, and how, after I had applied the lessons contained within the account, I started to see the wider meaning of the tent.

The account of David moving the Ark to Jerusalem can be found in two places – 2nd Samuel 6 and 1st Chronicles 13, 15 & 16. I want to pick out a few observations from the accounts of the two attempts that David made at getting the Ark into the tent he had erected upon Mount Zion. There is heaps of symbolism in the accounts which are easily missed if not read carefully. Here’s what I have seen when I read the accounts:

David spent the first seven and a half years of his reign as king based at Hebron, and the last thirty-three years at Jerusalem. Once he had taken Jerusalem, he was very keen to get the Ark of the Covenant to the city. The Ark had been resting at Kirjath Jearim ever since the Philistines had returned it to Isra’el. The Philistines had captured it under Saul’s reign and placed it in the temple of their false god, Dagon. The presence of the Ark caused the statue of Dagon to fall down in front of it, so the Philistines decided to give it back.

Clearly, the Ark had been on David’s mind. We see in 1st Chronicles 13 that he consulted all the leaders of Isra’el and they agreed to send out to all the people and the priests and the Levites who were scattered in the land. Now, it is important to mention that, at that time, the Tabernacle of Moses – the tent in which the Ark once resided during the forty years in the wilderness, was standing on a high place at Gibeon with a full contingent of priests and Levites ministering before it. God had already prescribed several things regarding the Ark, and in particular, the way in which it should be moved. It was clearly the job of the Levites to move it. But God had also said at length regarding the Ark once the Hebrews had settled in the land of Canaan that a more permanent home would be found. It is clear that the Levites chose to ignore God’s commandments on this occasion. Perhaps they felt that the Ark should come to them at Gibeon, after all it was the traditions that they were upholding by which the Ark was ministered to. Whatever their thinking, it was clear that they didn’t come to Kirjath Jearim because David was forced to place the Ark on a brand new cart, presumably built for the purpose.

Just a quick note upon the Ark itself. It is easy to see the Ark as the historical relic which we see portrayed in the likes of Indiana Jones’ movies. This unfortunate frame of reference does little for a correct understanding of what this gold covered box actually is. Many today see it as simply the box in which the tablets of stone upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed were stored, but it is so much more than that. Here’s what it says in 1st Chronicles:

“And David and all Isra’el went up to Baalah, to Kirjath Jearim, which belonged to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of Yehovah God, who dwells between the cherubim, where His name is proclaimed.” [1st Chronicles 13:6]

And in 2nd Samuel:

“And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the Name, Yehovah of Hosts, who dwells between the cherubim.” [2nd Samuel 6:2]

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Ark, it was a box covered completely in gold which was designed to be carried by four priests by way of long poles inserted into gold hoops at each corner. Its lid, also made of wood and covered with gold, was also a seat, known as the Mercy Seat, which was flanked at either end by two gold cherubim, or angels, their wings spread out over the top of the Ark.

But here we see clearly that it was so much more than a box covered in gold. The Ark was known by God’s most Holy and unique name, Yehovah, and He resided between the two cherubim. It was the very presence of Yehovah Himself. No wonder David was keen to have it with Him in Jerusalem.

So, what went wrong?

Well, at the first time of moving, for whatever reasons, no Levites were present, and it was placed upon a brand new cart. At one point on the journey, one of the cattle pulling the cart stumbled and one of the men walking alongside the cart, Uzzah, reached out to steady the Ark. He died straight away, such was the presence of God on the Ark.

This sent David into a real spin. He was looking to consolidate his kingdom with the Ark. It had taken many years of standing in Saul’s shadow and then several tough battles with his own men to take the throne. By taking Jerusalem, he had successfully united the north and south of Isra’el. But, having the Ark in the City of David with him would have made sure that the people knew God was with him…quite literally.

We don’t know exactly how David reacted. We know that he was angry (2nd Samuel 6:8 , 1st Chronicles 13:11), but not at who that anger was directed. My guess is that he was angry at himself. He may well have started to question whether God was actually with him. Think about it. It is easy to think that God isn’t with us if what we are doing in His name goes wrong. I suspect David, after setting the Ark down at the home of Obed-Edom, just decided that he was wrong about bringing the Ark to the City of David. We question ourselves when things go wrong. The easiest thing to do is to doubt God is ‘in it’ with us. And it seems that David let it go. Perhaps he gave up on the whole idea. That is, until he heard that the household of Obed-Edom was being blessed as a result of the Ark being at his house. This would have made David think again.

We know from the text that Obed-Edom was a Gittite. He wasn’t even a Hebrew, and God was blessing His household. Perhaps David, up until that point, had believed that God had broken out in anger at David not being clean enough. But now, that couldn’t be the problem because Obed-Edom wasn’t even of the nation of Isra’el. Maybe the penny dropped at that point. Maybe it wasn’t what David had done. Maybe it was the way he had done it.

God had already prescribed the way in which the Ark was to be moved. David had clearly sent for the Levites but their absence tells us something about their view of the Ark going to Jerusalem, and not to the Tabernacle at Gibeon. It wasn’t David against whom God’s anger had broken out. It was the Levites.

When David heard that the blessing of Yehovah was upon Obed-Edom and his household, he knew that he was fine to move the Ark. God was still with him. The priests and the Levites must have got to hear about the entire episode and realised their error because when David called them this time, they came. Here’s what David had to say to them:

“And David called for Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and for the Levites: for Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab. He said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites; sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of Yehovah, God of Isra’el to the place I have prepared for it. For because you did not do it the first time, Yehovah our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order.” ” [1st Chronicles 15:11-13]

This time, the Levites did as they had been ordered. The Ark arrived safely at the tent David had prepared for it upon Mount Zion, in the City of David. This time the anger of God did not break out against them because they had done the right thing in the right way.

Now, here’s where the account found in 1st Chronicles gets really interesting. We know that God was very particular about the way in which He wanted the Ark to be moved. But why didn’t He seem as particular about where the Ark resided? Surely if He was so particular about the Levites carrying the Ark, He would be inclined to take the Ark to the Tabernacle of Moses, and not David’s new tent?

Well, for the answer to that, we need to look back at exactly what Moses had said to the people of Isra’el before they entered the Promised Land. The book of Deuteronomy, the second giving of the Law, contains all of the instructions for what they Hebrews should and shouldn’t do once in Canaan. Not everything that had applied whilst they were in the wilderness would also apply in Canaan; including where the Ark would reside.

In Deuteronomy chapter 12 we see this clearly. Moses tells the Hebrews that they must not worship where the pagans worship; that they must destroy their high places and wooden images. Then he says this:

“But you shall seek the place where Yehovah your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go.” [Deuteronomy 12:5]

The thing is, the place at Gibeon, where Zadok and the other priests had the Tabernacle of Moses was, in fact, a pagan high place. They should never have been there to start with. However, it is likely that they were there because of what happened when the Gibeonites tricked Joshua into making a pact with them (see Joshua 9). They may have been there as protection for the Gibeonites. Whatever the reason, it was contrary to what God had already said through His servant Moses. I think David understood this. I think David was a ‘man after God’s own heart’ because he understood this.

When David took Jerusalem from the Jebusites it was not only a shrewd political move which established him as the true king of Isra’el and centralised power in the kingdom, but it was what God wanted. All the accounts of David being established in Jerusalem as king show that God was with him and blessed him greatly in every way. Although it is not recorded anywhere that I can find, I think it is right to assume that God instructed David to set the Ark in a tent on Mount Zion. He wouldn’t have done it otherwise. David consulted God on everything he did, that much is clear. Until the Ark was set in Jerusalem, the place which God had decided to put His Name, there was a real problem.

What was going on at Gibeon under the control of the chief priest Zadok was a continuation of priestly tradition. Moses had been clear that this wasn’t to continue in the way it had. That old system was for the times in the desert only. What God had ordained for the Promised Land was a new way of doing things. Until David took the Ark to Jerusalem, the priesthood and the Levites were the only ones who could minister before God and approach the Ark. But the Ark had been captured and was no longer at the Tabernacle of Moses. This didn’t stop Zadok and the Levites going through the motions. But, see it for what it had become, it was empty traditional acts of worship without the presence of God. It is not too hard to draw a comparison with much of today’s church. If you read on in Deuteronomy chapter 12 we see that Moses continued like this:

“There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before Yehovah your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and you households, in which Yehovah your God has blessed you.” [Deuteronomy 12:6-7]

This would have upset the priests and the Levites – only they could eat before Yehovah under the old system. No wonder they didn’t want to help David take the Ark to Jerusalem. It meant that their job was over. Only the priests and the Levites could eat from the offerings, burnt or otherwise. Only the priests and Levites could take from the tithes and the firstborn of the flocks and herds. What Moses told the nation of Isra’el is that after they went into Canaan, things would be different. And, just as the traditionalists would today, the priesthood fought the changes.

But David understood what God wanted. He had clearly read what Moses had said and decided that, now God was with him in Jerusalem, that it was also the place where His Name should dwell too. Here’s the account of David, (successfully) bringing the Ark to Mount Zion:

“So David, the elders of Isra’el, and the captains over thousands went to bring up the Ark of the Covenant of Yehovah from the house of Obed-Edom with joy. And so it was, God helped the Levites who bore the Ark of the Covenant of Yehovah, that they offered seven bulls and seven rams.

David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who bore the Ark, the singers and Chenaniah the music master with the singers. David also wore a linen ephod.

Thus all Isra’el brought up the Ark of the Covenant of Yehovah with shouting and with the sound of the horn, with shofars and with cymbals, making music with stringed instruments and harps.” [1st Chronicles 15:25-28]

Quite an event then! It is easy to miss the significance of one line in that text. The text doesn’t tell us that it was significant, but, if you were to understand a little of Levitical law, you would spot that David was dressed as a priest and wore the ephod which was designated for the High Priest. Why is this significant? Because it reveals what God really wanted. He didn’t want only the priests and the Levites to minister to Him. He wanted everyone to come before Him. He wanted to end the traditions and elitism of the priesthood. Remember what God says to Moses about the nation of Isra’el in the book of the Exodus:

“And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” [Exodus 19:6a]

Even today we struggle to shake of the traditions of priests and pastors being spiritually superior, and therefore, closer to God. Right from the time on top of Mount Sinai, God was telling Moses that He didn’t want that. He always wanted that all people should be as priests and holy in His Kingdom. David clearly grasped this because, not only did he assume the role of priest, which would have been a real suprise to all those people present that day, but he included everyone present as priests by giving out the items from the offerings which were reserved only for the priesthood under the law given in the wilderness.

“So they brought the Ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of Yehovah. Then he distributed to everyone of Isra’el, both man and woman, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins.” [1st Chronicles 16:1-3]

By giving the offerings to everyone, men and women, he effectively made them all into priests, despite them not being from the tribe of Levi. He was telling them all that the old system was over. He had placed the Ark, the very presence of God, in a tent which could be accessed by all of them, instead of only the High Priest, three times a year, through the veil of the Holy of Holies. David implemented exactly what Moses had instructed when he had told all of Isra’el that they should eat and worship before God. But David recognised that this new way would be rejected by the Levites. And he dealt with them accordingly:

“So he left Asaph and his brothers there before the Ark of the Covenant of Yehovah to minister before the Ark regularly, as every day’s work required; and Obed-Edom with his sixty-eight brethren, including Obed-Edom the son of Jeduthun, and Hosah, to be gatekeepers; and Zadok the priest and his brethren the priests, before the tabernacle of Yehovah at the high place that was at Gibeon to offer burnt offerings to Yehovah on the altar of burnt offerings regularly morning and evening, and to do according to all that is written in the Law of Yehovah which He commanded Isra’el.” [1st Chronicles 16:37-40]

Again, the significance of this will be lost upon anyone without good knowledge of the book of Leviticus. Only those from the tribe of Levi could minister before God or even keep the gates around the tabernacle area. Here David gives that job to people not from the tribe of Levi. Obed-Edom, with whom the Ark had rested for three months, wasn’t even a Hebrew! And what of the priests? Well, he sent them all back to Gibeon to continue with what the Law and their traditions demanded, despite the fact that the presence of God was in Jerusalem.

Two tents. Two ways of worshipping Yehovah. Which do you think God was more pleased with?

We will come back to the tent shortly, but first let me explain how all this relates to our own personal experience.

A little over a year ago, when we realised what we had done wrong, God used the account of David’s first attempt at moving the Ark to show us that we had done the right thing but in the wrong way. Such was our eagerness to please God that we didn’t do it His way. We did it our way. As a result, God’s blessing was not upon us.

When I sat down to start re-reading the George Muller book I mentioned earlier, I found myself reminded of the account of David moving the Ark. As I sat and thought about it, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit that I was focussing only on part of the story. Then I saw it.

It was true, I had only been considering the first half of the story – the bit where David got it wrong. And it is also true that God spoke to us both through that. Such was the conviction of the Holy Spirit that we immediately stopped everything we were doing with regard to Cornerstone. It has taken a while, but when we truly came to the place where we were truly happy to put the whole project down, God spoke again. He reminded me that David did successfully move the Ark, when, and only when, he did it according to God’s instruction. He also showed me something else.

When we first started Cornerstone, we wrote to the leadership of twelve local churches about what we were planning and asked if any of them or their congregation would be interested in getting involved. We only had one response, which was rude and discouraging. This was very similar to what happened to David. When he sent for the Levites, they didn’t like the idea of David doing something out of the ordinary and not in line with the Law and their traditions.

I believe that what God is showing me now, is that providing we follow His lead, we will get the help from the churches we will need.

We had to let it go first. The seed needed to fall to the ground and die. Which it has. Cornerstone is as dead as it could ever be right now. But, I do believe that God will lead us on from here. His way. Not ours. Not according to tradition or any legalistic modern church approach. But according to His ways.

It may be that Cornerstone will never open. That doesn’t matter. All that matters is that, like David, we get to a place where we know that God is with us.

Now, all of this talk of David’s tent brings me to something that has long been on my heart. The Bible contains two references to David’s fallen tent – one in the book of Amos, and one in the book of Acts. We cannot ignore these prophecies any longer.

Whilst David clearly got it right and introduced the type of worship God had prescribed, it didn’t last long. Once his son, Solomon, had built the Temple and Zadok had been brought back from Gibeon, it all returned to what it had been in the desert. This explains why Amos described a time in the future when the Messiah would rebuild and repair David’s fallen tent. We can see that the rebuilding work started with the early church. But then James, the brother of Yeshua, prophesied the same words again for the future. I believe that he was talking about a time that is yet to come; a time in which His Kingdom will be seen in its fullness. If that is true, then it clearly implies that what we have now is fallen, and not fit for purpose. This will be as hard for some in today’s church to accept as I am sure it was to accept in Solomon’s day.

The important lesson we have learned is that it is God who must do the work at Cornerstone, whatever He decides for it. That same lesson needs to be accepted by the entire church – it will be Yeshua who rebuilds His church. There is nothing that we can do, except to get in, or out of, His way.

“On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in days of old.” [Amos 9:11]

“After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up.” [Acts 15:16]

It is clear from both prophecies that it will be Yeshua doing the work. We need not attempt to do anything in His name. He will do it. All He needs is people with hearts like David – willing to consult Him and then be obedient to all He says.

Shalom

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