“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Oh, I love that famous quote, by Winston Churchill, describing our family’s vacations….
OK, I’m sort of kidding, but I was pondering Churchill this morning, actually because of something else that he said. And then the aforementioned quote came to mind.
And why was I spending time pondering Sir Winston, you might ask?
Well, it all goes back to King David, who I was thinking about before Churchill.
Backtracking still more, here’s today’s psalm, Psalm 132. I’m only doing the first half of the psalm today for two reasons. First, that’s the way Beth Moore divided it up in her study that I’m working through right now, called “Stepping Up: a journey through the Psalms of Ascent”. Secondly, it’s because it really is a long psalm, with two major divisions, and so each half deserves separate (but equal!) attention.
O Lord, remember David
and all the hardships he endured.
He swore an oath to the Lord
and made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
“I will not enter my house
or go to my bed –
I will allow no sleep to my eyes,
no slumber to my eyelids,
till I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
We heard it in Ephrathah,
we came upon it in the fields of Jaar;
“Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool –
arise, O Lord, and come to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
May your priests be clothed with righteousness,
may your saints sing for joy.”
Context is everything, with this psalm. If you know the back story, the whole psalm becomes a whole lot more understandable and, therefore, applicable. So, let’s investigate a bit.
When David became king of Israel, Israel had one particular problem of which David was keenly aware, because his heart was so set on honoring God. The problem was that the Ark of the Covenant, the ark built at the command of God by Moses and the craftsmen he appointed, the ark that resided in the tabernacle, and represented the presence of God living among His people – that ark was MIA, so to speak. When Israel had been under the command of the judge Samuel, and Eli was the priest, Eli let his sons take the ark into battle, to kind of rally the troops. And this was a move that was NOT sanctioned by God, and as a result, God allowed the Philistines to capture it. The ark caused serious trouble for the Philistines, and they wanted to get rid of it, so they sent it packing. In I Sam. 7:1, we discover that it ended up at Abinadab’s house, in Kiriath Jearim (the fields of Jaar in today’s psalm). Saul became the first king of Israel, but apparently he never saw it as a priority to bring the ark back to its home in Shiloh.
Enter King David: when he became king, and conquered Jerusalem, and made it his royal city, he made bringing back the Ark of the Covenant a top priority. He realized that the Ark symbolized the presence of the Living God among His people, and more than anything else, He wanted the Lord enthroned in Jerusalem. So David organized a great big party: a festival celebration all around bringing back the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. II Samuel 6 tells the story of what happened next.
David’s big party for God started with 30,000 invitees. That’s a lot of port-a-potties, and a lot of food prep, if you ask me. He took all those men, and said, “C’mon, boys, we’re going to go bring back the presence of the Lord into my brand new capital city. Let’s go get Him and bring Him back where he belongs!!!!” (followed by loud huzzahs, and alleluias, undoubtedly!) They put the ark up on a new cart (which, coincidentally, is just how the Phillistines had transported it). David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might, scripture tells us, with songs, harps, lyres, tambourines, and cymbals. One of the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, and a fellow named Uzzah reached up and grabbed hold of the ark to keep it from falling off the cart, and God struck him dead, right there in the road.
What the ????????
Well, it turns out that while David’s heart really was in the right place, he didn’t involve his brain quite as much as he ought to have. God had some really clear guidelines in place for how His people were to handle His ark. Basically, His people WEREN’T to handle his ark. At all. Period.
The priests were to carry it in a prescribed way, on poles.
And if David had bothered to consult with the priests on how things should be done here, and if the priests had bothered to look it up in scripture and find out, they would have known this.
The ark was where the Presence of God was said to reside. It was where the priests applied blood to the cover, the Mercy Seat, for the atonement of the sins of the whole nation of Israel. So, it’s easy to understand why such an object needed to be treated with the highest reverence. God is seen in this psalm as being enthroned in heaven, with the earth below Him, and here, He props His feet up on His footstool – the Ark of the Covenant.
And so FINALLY we get to today’s psalm:
O LORD, remember David
and all the hardships he endured.
In verse 8 of II Samuel 6, it says that when Uzzah was struck down, David’s first response was anger. Well, yeah. God had kinda ruined the big party David was throwing in God’s honor. And the next verse says he was afraid. “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” he asks.
In David’s mind, God had not behaved the way David thought God ought to. And I think that in today’s psalm, when it refers to all the hardships David endured, I am betting that it is referring to David’s struggle with anger and fear after God had behaved in a way that David didn’t understand.
I’ve felt that way before. Have you?
I have watched innocent babies die. I have seen children die. I have had godly friends die of totally ungodly diseases. I’ve seen friends lose their spouses. I’ve watched children be born with debilitating birth defects. I’ve seen children with the best parents in the world wander away from the Lord. And I do. not. understand. I really don’t. Yes, I have been angry before at God, just like David was. And then I’ve felt fear, too. Like, “Well, if You let this happen, how can I ever trust you again???”
So, back, for a moment, to the story in II Samuel. Following this incident with Uzzah, King David left the ark for a time at the house of a guy named Obed-Edom. During the three months that the ark was left there, scripture tells us that the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and his entire household. Really blessed him. To the point that David found the courage to try again. Because somewhere deep inside himself, David must have firmly believed that one of the works that God had prepared in advance for him to do was to bring that ark back to Jerusalem. And he must have had those priests consult their owners manual, too, because, this time, when they try again, we find the ark is being carried in the prescribed manner. And David celebrates all the way home, knowing that at last, his desire to please the Lord, and to enthrone the ark in its proper place, in the center of the capital city, is going to be fulfilled.
When things happen in my life that shake me to the core, I wrestle, I struggle with God. But at some point, I always come back to Him. Because to be in relationship with Him is the sweetest thing I know. I truly would rather die than to live without Him. You know when lots of disciples are leaving Jesus because of some of his hard teachings, and Jesus looks at them and asks them if they are leaving, too? And Peter looks at Him and says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” That’s me. That’s how I feel. Even if it’s hard. Even if it doesn’t always make sense to me.
So, go back to the top, and read David’s version of the psalm again, with all the context that I’ve laid out for you in mind.
And here’s my reworking – a little too wordy, but these are the thoughts that came to my mind as I was rereading David’s words, and making it applicable to me.
Remember me and the pain I have endured,
and how I committed my life to you so many years ago.
I am determined, Lord, to faithfully do the works
that You have prepared in advance for me to do.
I want YOU, Lord, enthroned
as King in my heart –
that my heart might be Your dwelling place.
Be the strength of my life.
I am one of the members of your holy priesthood.
And as a garment, you have given me
the righteousness of Christ.
Now fill my heart with gladness
that I might shout for joy,
with the joy that comes from belonging to You.
Because I belong to Messiah Jesus,
the offspring of David,
do not reject me.
So, what, you might ask, does all this have to do with Winston Churchill????
In light of the fact that despite all David’s hardships, David never gave up, I’m remembering one of Churchill’s great speeches:
And hoping that you, too, will remember the love of the Father who drew you to Himself in the first place. And that you will never give in.