“12 It was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13 and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14 David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before theLord; and she despised him in her heart.
17 They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat,[a] and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.”
-2 Samuel 6:12-19
2 Samuel 6: 12-19
The Reverend Phillip Blackburn
November 8, 2015
So what’s the big deal with Jerusalem? I mean, we all know that it’s this really important place, but why is it so special? I remember when we went to Israel last winter. As we were making our way via bus to the Jerusalem, we went through a tunnel, and I noticed our guide, Ofer, fiddling with the bus’ sound system. As we went through the tunnel, this really theatrical version of the song, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” began playing and Ofer pointed out the left hand side of the bus and we could see the Temple Mount, many of us for the first time. It was a well staged moment on the part of our guide, and served to highlight the first moment that we, the pilgrims, could see David’s city. But still, why was Jerusalem such a big deal? I mean, it’s not like when we first crested the hill and looked down upon the Sea of Galilee for the first time, where much of Jesus’ ministry took place, that some song came over the loudspeakers, “Galilee, Galilee!” That’s an important place. So why Jerusalem? Why is it such a big deal?
Well, you may be saying in your head, that’s obvious. But is it? I mean, it’s old, but there a lots of old cities in the world. It’s built on a nice hill, but that’s not unusual either. People fight over it, but, again, that’s not a big deal. It has religious significance, that’s true, and more than most cities, but why does it have so much religious significance? I mean, why Jerusalem? What’s so special about it? In many ways the answer is this: Jerusalem is special because it is special. In some ways it’s like a Kardashian in the sense that it’s famous for being famous. Everybody wants a piece of Jerusalem but, as best as I can tell, it’s never been a great blessing for whichever faith controls it at a given time, they just get to say they have it.
And maybe that’s why David took it to begin with. He needed a place that was special and he decided that this place could be special. The Bible never mentions this, as far as I know, but Jewish tradition holds that Jerusalem is built upon the hill where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac. Maybe that makes it special enough, but there is no doubt that it is now special. And David was wise enough to see what it could be. And while it is called David’s city, he didn’t actually build it. There was a city there before him, controlled by the Jebusites, and David decided it would be nice to have, so he took it.
Once he had it, he decided it would be a nice place for a capital, so he made it one. He built for himself a big palace in Jerusalem, and he placed the seat of his government there, and Jerusalem became the place from which he would administer Israel. But something was missing. He had the politics right, but he didn’t have the religion. So he went to Abinadab’s house and he dug out the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark had been taken by the Philistines and about 20 years before David had been instrumental in getting it back, but then they had stuck it in Abinadab’s house, probably in his garage right next to the old sporting goods and muddy shoes, and there it sat for two decades until David needed it. David used the Ark for an important function; he used it to marry his political power to traditional Jewish religious power. He used it to underpin his power with religious authority. And so he grabbed the Ark and headed to Jerusalem. They got sidetracked for a while because somebody touched it, and that was a no-no, and that guy died, and they had to wait a while for it to be “safe” and then, finally, as we find them in today’s Scripture passage they are toting it into Jerusalem, and making quite a show.
And once there, they place it in, wait for it, a tent. That’s right. A tent. How’s that for anticlimactic? But nonetheless they get it there, and now Jerusalem is not only the seat of political power in Israel but also the seat of religious power. King David’s city is now a proper capital and well on its way to becoming an important religious symbol and spiritual home for the Jewish people. So you can see how David’s actions led to an important establishment for not only the Jewish people but also the world. In centralizing Jewish power, and in many ways Jewish existence, in a single city, David created not just a logistical central government but more significantly a symbol for God’s presence in the world and with his people, and the symbol is a city.
So you get it. Jerusalem is important. But what does that have to do with us today? We aren’t Jewish, and while important Christian events took place in Jerusalem, our symbol is a book, not a place. Well, here is the thing about what David did with Jerusalem that matters to us, and before I tell you what it is, I will tell you what it’s like. In the old days, fire was life. If you didn’t have fire, you had big, big troubles. So what the ancients would do is they would transport their embers. They made tools for this, but before all that, they would create a little cone, or horn, and they knew just how to do it. And they would take that horn and they would let in just enough air, and they would surround their ember with some fuel, but not too much, and then they could transport their fire with them. If they made the horn just right, then the fire would neither burn out nor would it burn too hot. And then, when they got to their campsite that evening they would gather some sticks, and voila. Fire.
There is a fairly succinct way to summarize what God is up to in this world, and the theologian NT Wright did it nicely. He said that all of human history, and religious history, is about fulfilling God’s saving plan through Jesus Christ. That’s the point of all this. And within that plan, David and Jerusalem play a key role. For centuries the Jewish people alone carried the embers of God’s plan, and they held it, through wars, plagues, famines, pestilence, drought, every possible adversity you could imagine, they kept it alive. And that mountain where David made his home was perhaps more instrumental than anything else in keeping the embers alive until they could spark into the fire that became the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And still today, as we await Jesus’ final return and the fulfillment of all God’s promises, and we carry within us some of that original fire, we naturally look to the place where it has always been kept, to Jerusalem. David made it the center of the faith, and for centuries people have been coming back to it. Temples have been built, destroyed, and rebuilt. It has been fought over and nearly destroyed. It has been built into a gleaming city on a hill, and it has been allowed to fall into ruin. It has been the host of kings, prophets, and one Messiah. And through all this, it has remained as a beacon in the world of one thing: God’s saving plan. And that beacon was established by this rogue Jewish king, who was really only good at one thing, and that was figuring out what God wanted him to do, then doing it as best as he was able.
King David wasn’t perfect, and Jerusalem’s history has been far from perfect. But it has served its purpose, and it has delivered through the ages a tangible reminder of God’s presence. And that is why the Bible ends the way it does, not with a new world, not with a new faith, not with a new church, but with a new Jerusalem, a city which will be redeemed and in whom all of God’s promises will come to fulfillment. The time is not yet, but it is nearer, and the plan is not fulfilled, but it started a long time ago. The embers are still in this world, waiting to catch fire again. Amen.