The Davidic Monarchy in Jerusalem (II): Bringing the Ark Up To Jerusalem (Part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Jerusalem in the Bible

THe Davidic monarchy in Jerusalem (II)

Bringing the Ark up to Jerusalem (part II)

Rav Yitzchak Levi



            In this shiur we wish to fill in some additional aspects of David's bringing the Ark up to Jerusalem. Some are connected to our understanding of the sin committed during the first attempt, while others are connected to the wider aspects of the story.




1. the failure to inquire of God


In last year's shiur regarding the selection of Jerusalem (Shiur no. 23: "The Selection of Jerusalem and the Temple" [I]), we noted that David did not inquire of God about bringing the Ark up to Jerusalem. This is quite astonishing, for inquiring of God in this situation would have been expected for several reasons: David's frequent practice of inquiring of God; the enormity of the event – returning the Ark to the public domain of the people of Israel after a twenty-year period of having been removed (all the days of Shaul and Shemuel, and the years of David in Hebron); and the great novelty of bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, rather than to the great altar in Giv'on.


According to our approach, David did not inquire of God because he wanted to engage in an independent course of action, one that does not depend on the revelation of God's will or His consent, and does not stem from total effacement before God, but rather reflects David's desire that he himself return the Ark to Him. David also did not inquire of God before his second attempt to bring the Ark up to Jerusalem, and nowhere do we find that Scripture explicitly criticizes him on this matter. It is possible that the repair comes in the next chapter (II Shemu'el 7), where David inquires of Natan the prophet whether he himself may build the Temple.




As we saw in the previous shiur, the changes that David made in his second attempt to bring the Ark up to Jerusalem are instructive regarding the nature of the sin committed during his first attempt. One of the striking differences between the two attempts relates to the matter of the sacrifices: Both in Shemuel and in Divrei Ha-yamim, Scripture makes no mention of sacrifices brought during the first attempt, whereas regarding the second attempt, it is stated: "And when they that bore the Ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling" (II Shemuel 6:13), and "And it came to pass, when God helped the Levites who bore the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, that they offered seven bullocks and seven rams" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 15:26).[1] What is the significance of this difference?


In many places in the Torah, great importance and significance is attached to the coupling of sacrifices with the possibility of God resting His Shekhina. A sacrifice is one of the means through which man may draw near to God; while preparing for the sacrifice and during the sacrifice itself, a person, as it were, elevates the world – himself included – toward God, and he thereby merits the resting of the Shekhina. During the first attempt to bring the Ark up to Jerusalem, David feels no need to preface or accompany the act with sacrifices. According to our approach, it may very well be that when David saw what he was doing essentially as a royal act, he did not find it right to offer sacrifices, which constitute a kind of preparation for the resting of the Shekhina. [2]


3) david girds himself with a linen Efod


            During the first attempt at bringing the Ark up to Jerusalem, no mention is made of David's clothing, whereas regarding the second attempt, it is stated: "And David leaped about before the Lord with all his might, and David was girded with a linen efod" (II Shemuel 6:14), and "And David was clothed with a robe of fine linen… David also had upon him an efod of linen" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 15:27). And the commentators, ad loc., say: "A linen efod – a garment made in the form of the efod worn by the High Priest and unique to people who seclude themselves in the service of God" (Metzudat David on Shemuel, ad loc.); "That garment was worn for glory" (Radak, ad loc.); "Like the efod of Aharon…" (Rashi on Divrei Ha-yamim, ad loc.). That is to say, a garment worn for glory, similar to the priestly garment of that name. It may be that to repair the sin, David made sure to wear an appropriate garment that would dignify the occasion.


4) THe expressions of Joy


            Regarding the first attempt, it is stated: "And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of cypress wood, on lyres, and on lutes, and on timbrels, and on rattles, and on cymbals" (II Shemuel 6:5). That is to say, with a variety of musical instruments. Regarding the second attempt, on the other hand, it says: "And David leaped about before the Lord with all his might… David dancing and leaping before the Lord" (II Shemuel 6:14-16). The dancing before God during the second attempt, as opposed to the joy expressed by way of the musical instruments during the first attempt, places greater emphasis on the expressions of humility and effacement before God in David's personality and self.


5) the blessing in the house of Oved-edom


            The blessing that rested upon the house of Oved-Edom when the Ark rested therein, in contrast to what had happened to Uzza, proved that it was not the Ark that was at fault, but rather the attitude towards the presence of the Shekhina. The ramifications of the nearness of God depend upon man's conduct, and do not follow from any inherent quality in the object itself. This was already noted by Midrash Tanchuma (Parashat Beshalach, 21):


This is one of three things that Israel complained about, saying that they are [sources of] calamity. They are as follows: the incense, the Ark, and the staff… Regarding the Ark, they said it was of sapphires, [3] it killed Uzza and the people of Bet-Shemesh, as it is stated: "And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzza; and God smote him there for his error: and there he died by the Ark of God" (II Shemuel 6:7). And it is written: "And he smote the men of Bet-Shemesh because they had looked into the Ark of the Lord, smiting fifty thousand and seventy men of the people" (I Shemuel 6:19). Therefore, He informed them that it is a blessing, as it is written: "And the Ark of the Lord continued in the house of Oved-Edom of Gat three months; and the Lord blessed Oved-Edom, and all his household" (II Shemuel 6:11).


            Indeed, it is this blessing that in the end brought David to continue his attempt to bring the Ark up to Jerusalem:


And it was told King David, saying, The Lord has blessed the house of Oved-Edom, and all that he has, because of the Ark of God. So David went and brought up the Ark of God from the house of Oved-Edom into the City of David with gladness. (II Shemuel 6:12)




The story ends with a piercing conversation between David and Mikhal:


Then David returned to bless his household. And Mikhal the daughter of Shaul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the King of Israel today, in that he uncovered himself today in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the low fellows shamelessly uncovers himself! And David said to Mikhal, It was before the Lord, who chose me before your father, and before all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore will I play before the Lord, and I will yet be more lightly esteemed than this, holding myself lowly; and of the maidservants of whom you have spoken, of them shall I be had in honor. And Mikhal the daughter of Shaul had no child to the day of her death. (II Shemuel 6:20-23)


            This argument between David, who is trying to repair the sin committed during the first attempt to bring the Ark up to Jerusalem, and Mikhal, daughter of Shaul, seems to revolve around a certain point that is directly connected to our discussion: the proper conduct of a human king as he stands, in the presence of his subjects, before the King of kings.


            David reveals himself in his ultimate lowliness (in the positive sense of the word) and humility. Together with the entire people he dances with joy, leaping and dancing before God. While standing before God, David, as it were, relinquishes his standing and rule, nullifying himself among his people, and this itself is his glory before God.


            Regarding this matter, Mikhal the daughter of Shaul reflects the position of her father, according to which a king enjoys an independent position of honor even before God. Quite interesting is the formulation found in Bamidbar Rabba (4, 20):


He said to her: Members of your father's house sought their own glory and forsook the glory of heaven. But I do not act in this manner, but rather I forsake my own glory and seek the glory of heaven. This is what is written: "And I will yet be more lightly esteemed than this." And you might say that I was lowly in the eyes of others, but not in my own eyes. Therefore it says: "Holding myself lowly."


            From this understanding followed Shaul's conception of the monarchy, expressing itself in his attitude toward the prophet and the word of God, in his attitude to the priesthood, and to inquiry of the Urim ve-Tumim, and also in Mikhal's attitude here. [4] The disagreement between David and Mikhal brings into much sharper focus David's absolute submission and self-effacement before God.


            This fundamental disagreement has additional significance. The split between David and Mikhal that followed from this difference of opinion made it impossible for the kingdom of the House of David to serve also as a continuation of the House of Shaul, and for there to be a unification of the two houses. In this context it is important to understand the order of events as described from the end of chapter 6 to the beginning of chapter 8 in II Shemuel. At the end of chapter 6, in the disagreement between David and Mikhal, it becomes clear that the Davidic monarchy will not achieve permanence by way of its connection with Mikhal. This fits in clearly and directly with the justification given to God's negative reply in chapter 7 to David's request to build the Temple: the building of the Temple is conditional upon the establishment of a permanent kingdom, a royal dynasty – which still does not exist. The description of the war against the Philistines at the beginning of chapter 8 also teaches – as it would appear, contrary to David's impression – that God has not yet granted Israel peace with the enemies that surround them, and this need to continue fighting is another factor that prevents David from building the Temple.


iii. THe threshing floor of Nakhon – the threshingfloor of Kidon – the threshing floor of Aravna?


The place where Uzza sends out his hand to touch the Ark is called in II Shemuel 6 "the threshing floor of Nakhon," and in I Divrei Ha-yamim 15:9, it is called "the threshing floor of Kidon." The Gemara took note of this discrepancy:


It is written "Kidon," and it is written "Nakhon." Rabbi Yochanan said: At first Kidon, and in the end Nakhon. (Sota 35b)


            As Rashi explains:


At first when the Ark arrived there, it was for them like a javelin ["kidon"] that kills, for it had killed Uzza. But in the end, after staying there for six months in the house of Oved-Edom, it became established ["nakhon"], for it established his house, as it is written: "And the Lord blessed Oved-Edom" (II Shemuel 6:11). Oved-Edom's wife and eight daughter-in-laws gave birth to sextuplets. This is what is written: "Pe'uletai the eighth; for God blessed him" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 26:5), after which it is written: "Were sixty-two of Oved-Edom" (Ibid, v. 8).


The Arukh writes: "At first Kidon, in the sense of din, judgment, but in the end Nakhon (correct, established)"


The Maharsha (ad loc.) writes: "When they acted improperly transporting it on the cart it was a javelin, but when the Levites carried it on their shoulders it was correct."


            Rashi, in the continuation, proposes an exceedingly novel idea:


I heard in the name of R. Menachem bar Chelbo: The threshing floor of Nakhon is the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi. If so, we should read as follows: "At first Nakhon and at the end Kidon, on account of the altar that at first was built but in the end was destroyed, Kidon denoting calamity and destruction, as in 'Let his eyes see his own destruction [kido]' (Iyyov 21:20)."


            This position draws a direct connection between the revelation and punishment of Uzza when he sent his hand out to the Ark and the plague and the revelation of the site of the Temple in the aftermath of the census. In both places we are talking about a similar sin – inappropriate drawing near to God, which blurs the clear boundaries between the kingdom of flesh and blood and the kingdom of God – and fundamentally about a similar punishment as well.[5] According to the plain sense of the text, it is impossible to identify the site of this threshing floor. The view brought by Rashi is certainly novel.




The fact that in Divrei Ha-yamim the campaign against the Philistines is sandwiched between the two attempts to bring the Ark up to Jerusalem appears to have additional significance as well. It seems that through the description of this battle, the prophet means to present, both in his wording and in the content, a repair of the sin of Uzza.


At the beginning of I Divrei Ha-yamim 13, David says to the entire congregation of Israel:


If it seem good to you, and that it be of the Lord our God, let us send abroad (nifretza) to our brethren everywhere, who are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levites who are in their cities that have pasture lands that they may gather themselves to us.[6]


            Scripture seems to be alluding to what is stated there in verse 11:


And David was vexed, because the Lord had broken out (paratz) upon Uzza; so that place is called Peretz-Uzza to this day.


            The linguistic similarity repeats itself in 14:11:


So they came up to Ba'al-Peratzim; and David smote them there. Then David said, God has broken (paratz) through my enemies by my hand like a bursting (ke-peretz) flood of waters: therefore they called the name of that place Ba'al-Peratzim.


            This victory at Ba'al-Peratzim was achieved in the wake of David's inquiry of God whether to go out to war and God's answer in the affirmative. David also inquired of God in the second battle with the Philistines, and there God commanded him to wait until he hears the sound of marching in the top of the bakha trees - "Then you shall go out to battle: for God has gone out before you to smite the camp of the Philistines" (Ibid. v. 15). Here, in the very midst of the battle, comes the most perfect repair of the smiting of Uzza. It is precisely during the battle – a clearly royal action, dictated for the most part by human considerations alone – that David waits, refrains from fighting, and subjugates his royal will in absolute manner to Divine decree.[7]




            In his book, Ha-Mikra Ve-hamesora (pp. 16ff.), Rav Reuven Margoliyot suggests that psalm 29 – "A psalm of David; Ascribe to the Lord, O you mighty" – was composed at the time that the Ark was brought up to Jerusalem. He bases his argument on the psalm's repetition of the word "glory"[8] and on the parallels between psalm 29 and psalm 24, which Chazal (Shabbat 30a) interpreted as referring to the bringing of the Ark into the Holy of Holies.[9] He also suggest that the psalm's heading in the Septuagint, "When the tent set forward," alludes to the tent that David pitched for the Ark in the City of David.[10] It is possible that the psalm expresses the desire to give glory to God by bringing up the Ark and recognizing His power and strength, which manifest themselves in the world in various ways, but only in His Temple does everyone speak of His glory, and does His kingdom become evident in the world, and only when the Ark reaches its resting place does the blessing of peace rest upon Israel.




            David's desire to do the will of God is not in doubt; there is also no doubt about Uzza's desire to prevent a desecration of God's name through the falling of the Ark. The moral of this story is similar to the moral of the incident involving Nadav and Avihu and the moral of the story of the census and the plague: nearness to God demands absolute self-effacement before His will.


            Another lesson relates to the place of a human king in relation to the King of kings, and the proper stance of human kingdom before God.


            The sin committed in connection with the Ark was repaired when the Ark was left in Jerusalem during the rebellion of Avshalom and when it was decided that the Ark should remain in the city with whichever king that is found there.


The process of repair was completed with Chazal's statement (Shabbat 30a, and many parallels) that bringing up the Ark from the City of David to the Temple and bringing it into the Holy of Holies, its final and permanent resting place, was made possible only by virtue of the loving-kindness of David, who began the process.


In the next shiur we shall deal with the reasons for which David was barred from building the Temple.




[1] The Gemara in Sota 35a discusses the relationship between these two verses.


[2] This may, however, stem from an outlook that sees the primary connection with God in the resting of His Shekhina, and less in the vessels and the preparations that are necessary for that process. This issue is connected to a broader issue in the life of David: the relationship between the altar and the Ark. We have already noted in the past David's intense connection to the Ark, as opposed to his weak connection to the great altar in Giv'on and to the offering of sacrifices on the altar. Rav Ariel devoted a chapter of his book, Oz Melekh – Iyyunim be-Sefer Shemuel, to this topic, and we will not expand upon it in this forum.


[3] There are those who read "pur'anut" – calamity – based on the Mekhilta.


[4] This is a very broad issue, requiring separate treatment that would take us beyond the parameters of this shiur.  I will note here only one instructive expression of this matter that I learned from my teacher, Rav Yoel Bin Nun. Shaul's house was located in Giv'at Shaul, which is identified with Tel Al Ful, west of Pisgat Ze'ev. The site of the Mishkan in the priestly city of Nov is identified, according to one important opinion, in Tel Shu'afat, which is situated topographically below Tel Al Ful. Shaul's house rules topographically over the site of the Mishkan, just as his kingdom rules over the priesthood (as was illustrated by the killing of the priests of Nov). David, in contrast, builds his house in the City of David, and Shelomo builds the house of the king at the foot of Mount Moriya, out of subjugation and effacement of the kingdom before the Temple.


[5] We shall expand on this topic in our shiur on the census.


[6] The Rishonim offer various explanations of the word "nifretza": strengthened (Metzudat David); was spread out to all sides (Radak); a fence that had theretofore stood, nobody having sought God, was breached (Rashi).


[7] The Midrash sees in this point a difference between Shaul and David: "And similarly you find that when Shemuel went to anoint David, the ministering angels hurled their charges against him before the Holy One, blessed be He, saying: Master of the Universe, why did You take the kingdom from Shaul and give it to David? He said to them: I will tell you the difference between Shaul and David. Shaul went and inquired of the Urim ve-Tumim; when he saw that the Philistines were coming upon him, he said to the priest, Withdraw your hand, and he did not wait until he completed the matter. As it is stated: 'And it came to pass, while Shaul talked to the priest… and Shaul said to the priest, Withdraw your hand' (I Shemuel 14:19). But when David saw that the Philistines were coming upon him in the valley of Refa'im, he immediately began to inquire of the Urim ve-Tumim. As it is stated: 'And the Philistines came up yet again, and spread themselves in the valley of Refa'im. And when David inquired of the Lord, He said, You shall not go up; but make a circuit behind them' (II Shemuel 5:22-23). You are not permitted to attack them, even if they are close to you, until you see the tops of the trees shaking. As it is stated: 'And let it be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the bakha trees' (Ibid. v. 24), and not behind them, 'Then you shall bestir yourself (techeratz)' (Ibid.), in the sense of cutting, as it is stated: 'Seeing his days are determined (charutzim)' (Iyyov 14:5)… Once the Philistines came, Israel saw them, and they were less than four cubits away. Israel said to David: Why are we standing? He said to them: I have already been commanded from heaven, not to attack them, until I see the tops of the trees shaking. If I attack them, we will die immediately, and if I do not attack them, they will immediately kill us. Better that we die righteous, and not guilty. Rather, let you and me turn our eyes to the Holy One, blessed be He. Immediately, all the trees moved, and immediately they attacked them. As it is stated: 'And David did so, as the Lord had commanded him; and smote the Philistines' (II Shemuel 5:25). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to the ministering angels: See the difference between David and Shaul. What brought about David's salvation? The word of the Holy One, blessed be He, which he fulfilled, and it illuminated for him. Thus it is stated: "Your word is a lamp to my feet" (Tehillim 119:105) (Midrash Tehilim, ed. Buber, psalm 27). The words of the Midrash complement what we have said regarding the difference between Shaul and David, and bring into sharper focus the qualities of inner strength, humility and lowliness that are required in order to refrain from entering into battle on account of God's will, even though militarily such fighting is possible.


[8] The connection between the word "glory" and the Ark is found in many places. The revelation of the Shekhina is called glory, and the Ark is the Shekhina's resting place in the Mishkan; see Shemot 40:34: "And the glory of God filled the Mishkan." See also I Shemuel 4:21: "And she named the child I-Khavod, saying, Glory is departed from Israel – because the Ark of God was taken, and because of her father-in-law and her husband."


[9] Rav Margoliyot notes the custom of reciting one of these two psalms whenever the Torah scroll is returned to the Ark.


[10] His argument that the next psalm, psalm 30, relates to David's census, fits in well with the chronological order: the bringing up of the Ark, followed by the revelation of the site of the Temple.


(Translated by David Strauss)