Day 127: Gimme Six Steps (2 Samuel 6)

Read Through the Bible Plan: 2 Samuel 6-7; 1 Chronicles 17

James J. Tissot, ‘David Dances before the Ark’ (1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.
12 ...So David went and had the ark of God brought up from Obed-edom’s house to the city of David with rejoicing. 13 When those carrying the ark of the Lord advanced six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened calf. (2 Samuel 6:12-13)

Today was another rabbit chasing day. I noticed for the first time that when David brought the ark back to Jerusalem, he stopped after six steps and made a sacrifice. And I wondered why.

The text does not give a reason, so as Tara-Leigh often says, we hold this with an open hand. But there’s at least two possibilities.

One is that David was acting out of fear. Remember that this was right after Uzzah got struck dead on the spot for reaching out and touching the ark (see Day 124: Wazzup With Uzzah?). And the text explicitly says that David was afraid, and wan’t willing to move the ark any further for three months after that (see verses 9-11). So when David finally did muster up the courage to move the ark, maybe these first six steps were tentative, waiting to see if anything would happen.

Another possibility is that David was acting out of reverence for the Sabbath. Remember the creation account. After six days, God rested. So if the ark was the visible representation of God’s Presence, then it is possible that David stopped after six steps to give the ark a Sabbath.

Which leads to another question. Did David stop and make a sacrifice every six steps, or only after the first six steps? Again, the text is not clear one way or the other. Scholars have interpreted the Hebrew both ways. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament suggests that “repeated sacrifices in relation to processions accompanying the transfer and installation of gods” are common in non-bliblical ancient near East literature.  

However, others argue that stopping every six steps to make a sacrifice would not have been practical for the distance between Obed-Edom’s house and Jerusalem. One blogger notes that it was about 12-15 kilometers to Mt. Zion from Obed-Edom’s house. That would be about 30,000 steps. Would David have really stopped to make 5,000 sacrifices? And if it was an ox and a fattened calf each time, that would be 10,000 sacrifices!

No pun intended, but holy cow.

This sounded extreme to me, until I looked ahead and saw that a generation later when Solomon dedicated the Temple, he sacrificed 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats (see 1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chron. 7:5)! So perhaps 10,000 oxen and calves isn’t so extreme after all.

A blogger named Gareth Lowe offers this amazing insight on his blog The Diamond Tree:

Imagine how David felt as he went through this bloody routine over, and over, and over again. As Rick Joyner says, “From Obed-edom’s house to Mount Zion, the procession left in its wake a trail of blood and guts as far as the eye could see. It was not a pretty picture. No wonder David was dancing with all his might when they finally made it through the gates!”

Gareth Lowe, Sacrificing Every Six Steps

If David really did stop every six steps to make a sacrifice, then this provides an unbelievable contrast to the finished work of Christ on the cross. You see, our sins have required a sacrifice from the moment God made skins from animals to cover the shame of Adam and Eve in the Garden. In Lowe’s words, the history of humankind has been one long trail of blood and guts, as far as the eye can see, stretching from Eden to Zion. Because the blood of bulls and goats could never freely, fully, and finally atone for our sins (Hebrews 10:4-6).

But then came Jesus as the final sacrifice. On Calvary, Jesus shed His blood once and for all. At Calvary, the bloody trail came to an end. Hebrews 10:12-14 puts it this way:

12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Oh, my God. In the face of such a sacrifice, how can we not dance like David?

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