TODAY’S READING: 1 Chronicles 13–16
Anger is a secondary emotion. We don’t become angry without some stimulus, and in the case of David and the ark of God that stimulus was fear. David was angry because he “was afraid of God that day” (1 Chr. 13:11–12). Even in the best of times, when we are sanctified and have done all things according to the good pleasure of God, we still can’t contain Him. God was not a genie bottled up in the ark of the covenant. God can’t be contained in one ideological box or in one city or by one people. God will always break out against anything or anyone that tries to restrain Him.
The trouble started when David wanted to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The idea wasn’t wrong, but the process was. David didn’t carefully follow God’s instructions to have Levites who were sanctified fulfil the task (as in 15:11–12). Further, Uzza unthinkingly assumed God needed help and for his assumption he was killed. No one gets to disrespect God, not even those who serve Him—especially those who serve Him. In their sincerity, David and all Israel played music and sang with all their might (13:8), and Uzza was still killed. Shockingly, sincerity is not enough in the heart of worshipers if God is not honored by their praise. For too long we in the church have hidden behind “sincerity” as a justification for worship that is actually ignorant and unpleasant to God. We might be jumping around, working up a sweat, and singing at the top of our lungs, but if it only feels good to us while burning a few calories and yet still ignites the anger of the Lord (v. 10), then eventually someone will die.
What if our sincere worship in song and music is offensive to God because it’s not specific enough? A church of sincere worshipers sang four songs one Sunday. Three of the four songs never specifically mentioned God. The first song was about freedom and could have been sung at a rally for civil rights or democratic reform. The second song was about rivers and creation and could have been easily sung by a Hindu, a secular environmentalist, or a Native American shaman. The fourth song was so generic that a Muslim could have sung it completely in line with Koranic teaching. None of the words were bad—they were just general. The tunes were catchy, the drums were loud, the leaders bounced around the stage, and a couple people bowed at the altars—everybody was sincere. But I wonder if God (who is so gracious) would have been more pleased if there were specific lyrics that glorified the uniqueness of the God of the Bible and the unique person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ? There was a second noticeable absence from the mouths of these sincere worshipers: There was nothing sung about the glory of God among all peoples, and it was a missions service. If the worship in our churches is disconnected in its lyrics from the heart of God for unreached peoples and the lost globally, no matter how much smoke we blow or how many lights we flash, is He really pleased?
David was shocked that the sincerity of Israel’s corporate worship didn’t make up for their absent theology. He recalibrated, got sanctification and scope corrected, and brought the ark to Jerusalem. He didn’t lay down sincerity, though. He danced with all his might and the music soared again, but listen to the words that he sang when, as 1 Chronicles 16:7 records, “on that day David first delivered this psalm”:
Oh, give thanks to the Lord [Jehovah]! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples… He is Lord [Jehovah] our God; His judgments are in all the earth. Remember His covenant forever… The covenant He made with Abraham… Sing to the Lord, all the earth… Declare His glory among the nations… Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples… Tremble before Him, all the earth… Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; and let them say among the nations, “The Lord [Jehovah] reigns.” (vv. 8, 14–16, 23–24, 28, 30, 31)
David twirled into Jerusalem in both sincerity and sanctification. He was specific in his terminology about which God he worshiped and he was serious about singing out the missionary heart of God. I am not much of a dancer myself, but I don’t mind if you are when you worship with all your might—as long as you press beyond sincerity to specifically praising the God of the Bible (Father, Son, and Spirit) and you include in your enthusiasm God’s great missionary heart for all the nations of the world.