In our text this morning, we read the account of King David returning the ark of the covenant to its rightful place at the center of Israel’s worship in Jerusalem.
What is fascinating about this passage is both David’s concern for the right worship of God – that is worshipping God in the ways in which He has commanded us to worship Him – and also the joy and high affections found throughout this worship.
Many in the church today pick and choose which churches they attend largely based on the “worship style” they prefer. Whether it is a charismatic worship service, with the lights dimmed low, and band on stage – or if it’s a high liturgy Roman Catholic Mass – men and women are prone to seek out that which makes them feel good, rather than first what conforms to God’s Word.
Another common false dichotomy in the church is a tension or divide between worship and mission, or worship and outreach. Those highly concerned with the church serving out in the world can sometimes downplay the importance and priority of Lord’s Day worship. And then there can be those who are so focused on Sunday mornings that the mission of bringing others in is truly neglected.
And from our text this morning, I want to contend that all these things go hand in hand. Faithful, biblical worship goes hand in hand with joyful worship that engages and touches our emotions. Additionally, worship itself is part of the mission of the church. What we do here every Lord’s Day is part of God’s salvific plan for the our city and for the nations.
So this morning I will be hitting three main points regarding our worship of God. First, worship is to be according to Scripture, not according to our desires or feelings.
Second, in the right worship of God, feelings and affections do follow. What I mean by this is that worshiping God according to His commands does not result in stiff and stuffy worship. But rather, it leads to joy and high praise.
And third, as we we worship God, one of the results in us is the desire to see others do the same. Our zeal for the Lord and our desire to see him honored will necessarily mean that we want to see people join in.
WORSHIP ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE
So first, the need for worship to be according to Scripture.
Our passage today begins with King David, on the heels of great victory against Israel’s enemies, returning the ark to its rightful place at the center of Israel’s worship. He is reestablishing biblical worship in His kingdom.
Remember the importance of the ark – it symbolized God’s presence in the midst of His people and it was the most precious liturgical object the Israelites had. Along with the return of the ark, in our passage David organizes and establishes this liturgical worship of God by appointing the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord.
So David desires for His people to worship God rightly, according to His commandments and in an orderly fashion. He also desires for God to be worshiped in the fullness of joy, as we will see in his psalm of thanksgiving.
EXAMPLE OF SAUL
In order to really see what is going on in this moment, its helpful to go over the narrative so far here in 1 Chronicles regarding worship and obedience.
We can begin back in 1 Chronicles 10 with the downfall of Saul, Israel’s first king and David’s predecessor. Why did the Lord allow the king of His people to be defeated and bring his reign to an end? We are told exactly why in 1 Chron. 10:13, “So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the Lord; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.”
Saul failed to obey the Lord, He did not keep the Lord’s commandments. And he did not give the Lord His due, He did not inquire of the Lord but turned elsewhere in His need. And do you recall the awful incident which led to the kingdom being removed from Saul by the Lord?
The details are recorded in 1 Samuel 13. In his third year as king, Saul is preparing to battle the Philistines and the people of Israel are scared and scattered. And so before the battle, Saul waited for Samuel to come to give offerings before the Lord. But when Samuel did not arrive after a week, Saul grew impatient and took matters into his own hands. He unlawfully began to minister before the Lord and gave the burnt offering himself. As he did this, Samuel finally arrived and was distraught over Saul’s disobedience.
While it was right of Saul to want to give a sacrifice to God before battle, his impatience and emotions led him to do so in a way that did not honor the Lord’s clear commands. He did it himself rather than waiting for Samuel. Saul’s sin is so great here that Samuel declares to him that his kingdom will end because he has not kept what the Lord commanded him.
So that is the first example in 1 Chronicles of what happens when God is not worshiped according to His commandments. When we do this, our attempt to honor Him fundamentally dishonors Him.
DAVID’S FIRST ATTEMPT
The second example is from King David himself. In our passage today we actually see David’s second attempt at returning the ark to Jerusalem. The first attempt was back in 1 Chronicles 13, and it did not go well for David. The reason it did not go well is because while David had the right desire and zeal to see the ark moved to Jerusalem, he irreverently neglected the commands of God regarding how it was to be treated and moved.
1 Chron. 13 David has just recently been anointed king and one of the first things he does is turn his attention to the ark of the Lord. He says to the Israelites, “Let us bring the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul” (1 Chron. 13:3). Saul did not lead Israel in seeking the presence of God by way of the ark. It sat 20 years in the house of a Levite as if it were a common thing before David came to it. And so the Lord has established David, crowning him and giving him victory in battle, and David now in return desires to give the Lord the honor he is due in the land. But while David’s intentions in seeking the ark are good, he does not yet fully move beyond the flaws of his predecessor. He sins against the Lord in his zeal and his mistakes halt this first attempt at bringing the ark into Jerusalem.
The first error of David was the mode of transportation he provided for the ark of the covenant.
The Law explicitly says that the ark is only to be carried by its poles on the shoulders of the Levites. And here David is placing it on a cart pulled by oxen – which just so happens to be the dishonorable way the Philistines moved the ark around. This neglect of God’s Law regarding the care of the ark demonstrated an irreverence for God and His awesome presence.
The second error was that of Uzzah. The ark had resided in his father’s house for 20 years, and perhaps he become too accustomed to its presence. For as Uzzah traveled with the ark at one point the oxen momentarily stumbled, and he reached his hand out to it in order to steady it. His action may have been well intended, but as a layman he was not to touch God’s holy ark. And so the Lord struck him down in anger, causing David to become angry and afraid of God, saying, “How can I bring the ark of God to me?”
DAVID’S SECOND ATTEMPT
Now David’s second attempt at returning the ark, which is completed in our chapter this morning, begins in 1 Chron. 15.
We can see this time that David had considered his previous errors. For now he tells the people that “No one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before Him forever” (v. 2). And then in verse 12 he also tells the heads of the houses of Levites to “sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel to the place I have prepared for it. For because you did not do it the first time, the Lord God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order.” At the end of 1 Chron. 16, David also organizes the worship at the Mosaic tabernacle elsewhere, and he does so “according to all that is written in the Law of the Lord which He commanded Israel.”
So David has learned from his sin and mistakes during the first attempt, as he reforms His worship according to God’s law. And here at King’s Cross we have this same desire of David to worship God rightly.
Throughout Scripture, God tells His people how He is to be worshiped. And He not only tells us what He desires, but He gives many examples of His hatred for false worship. Probably the most well known Old Testament example is in Leviticus with Nadab and Abihu.
In Leviticus 10 we read that the sons of Aaron offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And so the Lord consumed them with fire and said, “By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people, I must be glorified.”
This requirement from God continues in the New Testament. One example is where the Apostle Paul corrects the Colossians in their errant worship, calling what they are doing “will-worship,” that is, worship that is according to their own will rather than God’s – a self-made religion (Col. 2:23).
This commitment is known in the Reformed tradition as the regulative principle of worship. The simplest definition of the regulative principle is this: worship is to be according to Scripture. Now we know that Scripture does not give explicit instructions regarding every detail of Lord’s Day worship. There is not a bulletin located in its appendix and we have no mention of microphones. But God has made His overall desires for what true worship contains clear, both explicitly and implicitly in His Word.
As the Westminster Confession says, “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited to His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men… or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.” And so this is why we have a set liturgy each week with certain fixed elements in our worship. These elements include prayer, the reading of Scripture, sound preaching, the singing of psalms and hymns, and the administration of the sacraments.
Additionally, our worship is ordered according to a particular pattern every week. If you look in your bulletins, you will see the headers throughout the liturgy that say – Call / Confession / Consecration / Communion / and Commissioning. This pattern is not arbitrary, but rather is an attempt to mirror the patterns of worship in Scripture, particularly in Leviticus, where the three middle categories follow three distinct sacrifices – the guilt offering, the ascension offering, and the peace offering.
So the first thing I want you to see in this ark narrative in 1 Chronicles is this – that worship is to be done reverently in accordance to God’s commands.
THE ROLE OF AFFECTIONS
Our second point involves the role of emotions or feelings in worship.
We’ve established how God requires worship to be done according to His own word – not according to our word or how we feel he should be worshiped. Saul did not seek the Lord, or when he did, he took matters into his own hands and disobeyed in the process. And so Samuel tells him that to obey is better than sacrifice. David sought the Lord with zeal and a right desire, but he did not do it according to the law of the Lord, leading the Lord to anger. But we would be greatly mistaken to think that feelings do not matter to God, or that they are irrelevant in our worship.
This biblical, liturgical worship we desire and participate in is not meant to be a dead and lifeless thing – a simple matter of going through the motions. Biblical worship is not stuffy or boring, rather in our text it is quite the opposite. There is singing, stringed instruments and trumpets, dancing, and joy all over.
But what we must realize is that when we worship God, feelings do not lead. Obedience to His commands comes first, and then feelings follow. Affections are not absent, they are not meaningless, but they simply are not the driver of our worship. Our feelings do not guide our worship, but rather they attend it.
When God gives commands in Scripture regarding worship, they are commands to do something. Worship is action. It is obedience. The Lord says to offer me a sacrifice, and so we offer it. The Lord says to sing praises to My name, and so we sing them. And when we worship God rightly, when we do our duty and offer to God that which he is due, it then leads to high praise and joy. Obedient worship trains our affections and it changes our emotions. It gives usjoy before the Lord.
And so throughout this second processional of the ark, joy is all over. In 1 Chron. 15:25 it says that when David and his many men went to bring the ark of the Lord up from the house Obed-Edom, they did this with joy. David’s song here in our passage is a perfect example of this reality. When the ark is finally placed in the tabernacle, he can’t contain himself but bursts forth into a psalm of thanksgiving. His first attempt lacked reverent obedience. But he reforms his ways and in the climax of this second attempt to seek and worship the Lord through the ark, David can’t help but rejoice with song.
But this song is so interesting. It is full of joy and gladness, and yet it is also full of commands.
There is command after command to worship God. From verses 8–13, he tells the people of God to give thanks, to call upon His name, to make known His deeds, to sing to Him, to talk of all His wondrous works, to seek the Lord, and to remember His marvelous works. And in the midst of all the commands is the promise in verse 10, that the hearts of those who seek the Lord will rejoice.
This is exactly how the psalmist who penned Psalm 2 speaks of worship, when he says to “Worship the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2:11). Biblical worship is reverent… but it contains both rejoicing and trembling. Doing and feeling go hand in hand in worship, but we must keep the order right.
So when we gather on the Lord’s day, we gather foremost to offer God the obedience that He is due. We do not come primarily to seek out a certain feeling in ourselves. But throughout Scripture, joy and love toward God typically come alongside our doing.
Now some of you may be thinking – okay, this sounds good. But what about when the feelings don’t come? What about when week after week I come and I am seemingly unmoved? And my encouragement to you might seem simple, but I mean it earnestly – trust the Lord.
Do your part – obey His commands. Participate in the worship of God, pay attention to what we are saying and doing, to the best of your ability. When we sing, sing – don’t just stand there. And don’t just sing, but consider the truths you are proclaiming with your lips. Observe the goodness all around you, as You hear Scripture sung, preached, and prayed. Be engaged in the worship of God. Meditate on His goodness in this room. And after all that, trust the Lord with your emotions.
C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter regarding this topic of emotions in the Christian life. He wrote that “Obedience is the key to all doors.” And then he says, “feelings come (or don’t come) and go as God pleases. We can’t produce them at will and must not try.”
Lewis notes elsewhere that when we obey even when we don’t feel like it, the funny thing is at some point in that obedience we begin to feel it without noticing. He uses the example of when we come into contact with someone we really don’t like all that much, but we know how to be polite, and so we pretend to be kind. And the next thing you know, we’re actually meaning it –we’re actually being kind to them in our conversation.
So worship the Lord according to His Word, worship Him in the beauty of holiness and simplicity with all of God’s people here. And trust Him to bless it all.
MISSION: ARK OF ELOHIM
Our third and final point is this – as we worship God, we will then desire to see others join in on the praise.
We may think that this passage is only about good news for Israel, as the ark of the covenant is returned and as they praise their God. But this worship is good news for the nations. There are hints throughout the ark narrative here that point to it being an international affair — not something just for Israel but something that affects all the nations of the earth. For example, there are various Gentiles involved in the narrative supporting David, such as Obed-Edom who housed the ark after the first attempt and whose exact racial identity is unclear – but his name suggests he either was a Gentile or lived among them for a time.
Another major hint that can be easily overlooked is the name given to the ark here in 1 Chronicles. Typically the full name designated to the ark is this: the ark of the covenant, or, the ark of the covenant of Yahweh of Hosts. This designation shows that the ark is for God’s covenant people, with Yahweh being the covenant name of God. This is the most common name for it in Deuteronomy and Joshua. But in 1 Chronicles, it is repeatedly called simply the ark of God. The ark of Elohim, without reference to God’s covenant or His covenant name.
Elohim is another name for our God, and one that has a more universal designation. It is the first name of God in the Bible. Elohim created the heavens and the earth. The ark is God’s meeting place with His people, but it also considered in Psalm 132 as His footstool, the footstool of His heavenly throne. And so the ark-throne of Elohim, the God of all creation, is established here in Jerusalem and this affects all nations, it matters to both Jew and Gentile.
MISSION: DAVID’S PSALM
This theme continues in David’s song of praise and thanksgiving, which we will consider now. There is a rough outline to this psalm which has David expanding the praise of God outward from Jerusalem.
First, he begins speaking to the people of God, speaking to Israel. He tells them to remember the special work that God has done specifically for them. In verse 12–13, “Remember His marvelous works which He has done… O seed of Israel His servant, you children of Jacob, His chosen ones!” He continues to refer to their covenant status, in verses 15–19, “Remember His covenant forever, the Word He commanded for a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant…”
But throughout David’s commands to them to praise the Lord, He is telling them to make their praise public among the nations. Verses 24, “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.” What are these nations to hear? What do they need to learn? Verses 25–26 read, “For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is also above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.”
And so as David and all Israel praise the Lord, the psalm then turns to address the nations directly beginning in verse 28, “Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord the glory due His name…” And the nations are invited in to participate in the worship, David says, “Bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!”
After addressing the nations, all creation is summoned beginning in verse 31… “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns.’ Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; Let the field rejoice, and all that is in it. Then the trees of the woods shall rejoice before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth.”
All creation is meant to praise its Creator. When we see the glimmer of the golden hour sun, we see the glory of God. When we see the wind whisper through the green leaves of a tree, we see them clapping their hands for joy. When we hear the crashing waves of the sea roar, they are singing songs of praise to the Lord which sustains them.
That is the intended end of all creation. All creation is to glorify and bring honor to its Creator. And this is the scope of our worship – it covers the whole earth and all that it is in it.
AN INVITATION TO THE NATIONS
So what we do here every Lord’s Day is really not contained within these walls. We are participating in cosmic praise, all of creation is joining in, and throughout the nations of the earth God’s people are offering themselves as living sacrifices to Him.
And as we worship the Lord in the fullness of joy, our desires should be turned outward to see our family and friends, our neighbors and our whole town, to join in with us.
Our church is not an exclusive social club or a secret society. We are the people of God, we are those who worship the Creator of heaven and earth. We worship the one, true, and living God – and we do so publicly because we want our whole city to hear and see and be compelled to do the same.
Our zeal for the Lord and our desire to see him honored rightly will necessarily mean that we want to all people to honor Him. Why? For the Lord deserves the praises of their lips. And not only does He deserve their praise, He desires their praise.
That is the gospel.
All the way back to God’s covenant with Abraham, he promises this, he says, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In the next chapter of Chronicles, this promise is continued in God’s covenant with David. God through the prophet Nathan tells David that the Lord will build him a house. He says, “I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever.”
Who is the seed of Abraham and David? The One whom has an everlasting kingdom? It is our Lord Christ, the Son of David, the king of the nations.
And so in Acts 15 when the apostles are debating what to do with all the Gentiles turning to the Lord, they recall the words of God through the prophet Amos, foretelling of the salvation of the nations through the Jewish Messiah. As it is written, “‘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;So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name…’”
In conclusion, like King David we must seek the Lord, and seek Him rightly, and offer Him worship as He has commanded.
But this worship does not terminate here. It is meant to flow into our homes, into our neighborhoods, throughout our land, and throughout the earth.
With David, let us say to all with our words and with our actions, Come! Come, worship the Lord with us in the beauty of holiness!