The Ox Cart of Our Day
Those not fully aware of the story of Uzzah in the Old Testament might want to read II Samuel 6:1-11 just for context. My objective is to share a leadership principle, perhaps a spiritual AHa! for Christ-followers in our community.
My focus will be on the design of the “box” known as the Ark; however, of necessity a little background given the Israelites use of a secular technology that seemed more efficient than what was originally prescribed by God. Like many a spiritual life lesson, alternative means to spiritual dynamics often fail to deliver the blessings promised, when a congregation hits a “pothole” in life’s journey. In fact, in this case, a well meaning servant, who responded “responsibly” when the ox cart began to tilt, was literally taken out because of this leadership decision. Leader decisions have consequences in the Kingdom.
The box itself was made of wood, rightfully representing humanity; wood even becomes more rigid as it ages! The oak box was then lined with gold, pure gold, both inside and out, a type of divinity, also illustrative of God’s covering. Pure gold, 24 carat is quite soft, and rather pliable, as well, one of the highest rated metals for conductivity and energy transference; think of that in spiritual terms.
Large rings were molded on its sides to accommodate poles that would prevent the need for others than the High Priest to touch this precious box. It was known as the Ark of the Covenant, a dwelling place for God’s Commandments. Note that the language of covenant implies more promise than had it been named the Ark of the commandments! In fact, eventually the Ark would be replaced by a body, the Ecclesia, the called out and His commandments would be written on those hearts of flesh, housed in human temples not made with hands. I think we may have allowed religion to taint the true message of God’s grace and available intimacy.
It seems that this most treasured religious symbol had been taken from the Israelites in a battle with their arch enemy the Philistines, and with its capture brought quite the discomfort. Large emerods, to be clear, rectal tumors had befalling its captors. In their pain, the brightest of the Philistines began to deduce that perhaps this was a sign from the Hebrew “god” that they had crossed some line in the sand.
Their remedy was to construct a cart on which they would place the ark; the cart then harnessed to a heifer with a new born calf, not likely that she would stray far from her calf’s stall. If the heifer did move toward the camp of Israel, that would be their sign that the Hebrew god was behind this. Sure enough, though lowing and hesitant, the heifer took the cart home to its rightful owners.
The original design for carrying the Ark had required a group of servant leaders, their lives called solely for the purpose of caring for the people of God. Reverently and respectfully, they would carry this ark each time the nation advanced, without ever touching this sacred box. However, the political and religious leadership of Israel had decided to employ a different means this time, the earlier technology used to return the Ark; perhaps, the new idea appeared more efficient?
At times, even we miss the deeper underlying messages contained in God’s instructions in equally diminishing ways as these early Hebrews. As I pondered several of the current issues facing the American Church, I had an interesting thought.
What if the wood could talk, by this time aged from its original construction, even contracting over time, now afloat inside its gold encasement? The metallic material remaining soft and pliable, though now more loosely adhered, provides perhaps a slight rub as the ark moved along. If so to the wooden box, like the shoe on one’s foot, as comfortable as it may be initially, at times almost abrasive during longer journeys. I sense a dynamic as it moves in rhythm with the gentle gate of those carrying the box on their shoulders. Here, humanity is rubbing against divinity, divinity against our humanity, the hard edges of the aged wood gradually rubbed away, similar to what water does to rock.
One always stands the risk of losing the message in the language, so here it is a second attempt at clarity. Was another part of the message in this story, a deeper visual image of an unseen dynamic that is critical to the Church? As the priesthood carries the ark, divinity shapes the wood, this friction being fundamental to the congregation? If so why do clergy so often feel the need to reduce friction, rather than simply walk the journey, supporting the Body, allowing the hard conversations that often rub us the “wrong way?”
Perhaps out of those sometimes tense moments come the on-going perfection so necessary to guide the providential decisions that bring His Kingdom to this Earth? In fact, doing more preaching about getting along, rather than reverently shouldering the congregation may be a detriment?
Congregation is mentioned only once in the New Testament in Acts 14:33, and means “to strive together,” implying a place of struggle.
Is the source of the American Church’s challenge, the fact that its leadership has focused more on conflict avoidance as a means of salvaging the corporate church, than truly pastoring people as they struggle forward together? Iron sharpens iron. Perhaps this struggle is by design and the constructive evidence of the work of divinity, as it rubs against our humanity, while we are carried forward on this long journey by those called and privileged to serve the Body of Christ?