David Moves the Ark (or: Why the Churches of Christ do not Use Mechanical Instruments of Music in Worship) – 1 Chronicles 13 & 15
David Moves the Ark of the Covenant
1 Chronicles 13 & 15
One of the most peculiar aspects of the churches of Christ, but not exclusive to the church of Christ, is our a cappella worship. When someone visits our worship service for the first time, especially if they have come from a denominational church that uses mechanical instruments of music in worship, our worship can seem quite low-key and bland.
Our study tonight is to show that the choice of the churches of Christ not to use mechanical instruments of music in worship is not a matter of tradition. It is not a matter of choice. It is not a matter of preference. It is a deep seated conviction that using mechanical instruments of music in worship is an offense to the holy God of heaven. It is sinful. It is an unauthorized act of worship and violates the right of Jesus Christ to regulate what we do in worship.
In order to illustrate the broader point - that you don’t do what God has not authorized you to do, especially in worship, let’s consider King David. Before we get to our chosen text, let’s begin in the book of Exodus. We need to get some regulations in front of us.
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT - Exodus 25:10-16:
In this text, we see that God instructed Moses to build the Ark with rings on each of the four corners and then create poles to fit through those rings so that the Ark could be carried on the shoulders.
The table of shewbread (Exo. 25:26-28), the altar for burnt offerings (27:5-7), and the altar of incense (30:4-5) were all carried on the shoulders with the use of poles slid through these rings.
Now let’s read Numbers 3:27-32… In this text, we see that the responsibility for carrying and maintaining the Ark of the covenant was given to the son of Aaron named Kohath. The Kohathites had responsibility for the Ark. Let’s look also at 4:15.
Now, one more passage before we get to 1 Chronicles 13… Numbers 7:1-9… In this text we see that God reminds Moses that when the Israelites donated the carts for use with the tabernacle, the Kohathites did not need the carts because the objects they carried were to be carried on their shoulders.
Do we have the picture now?
DAVID ASKS MAN FOR ADVICE - 1 Chronicles 13:1-4:
David has been anointed king over God’s people. Then David conquers Jerusalem to make that city his capital and he decides he wants to move the tabernacle into Jerusalem and, specifically, the Ark of the Covenant.
But they first mistake David makes is that he does not look at the Bible. Instead, he consults humans, his friends, his advisors. 13:1-4.
Family, I cannot overemphasize this point: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). It is eternally dangerous for mankind to say, in reference to what we think God thinks or feels, to say, “There can’t be anything wrong with it.” Family, if God wants us to do something, to approach Him in some particular way, He will tell us. And worship is one area that God has given specific instructions on what He wants from us. The second sin recorded among mankind was God rejecting Cain’s worship in Genesis 4. Just because man “worships” does not mean God accepts it.
David asked human beings for advice and it is going to prove catastrophic…
IGNORANCE IS NO EXCUSE - 1 Chronicles 13:5-8:
Notice in verse 7 that David carried the Ark of God on a new cart, driven along by Uzza and Ahio. Now, just because David made a lot of noise in celebration (verse 8) does not mean that God was pleased with his behavior.
Now, let me point out something here because one of the most used arguments for mechanical instruments of music in worship is that King David used them, as we see here. There are two simple responses to this argument. First, King David used mechanical instruments of music in worship at the command of Jehovah God! Look at 2 Chronicles 29:25-26.
Second, do you really want to use David as our source of authority in NT times? David had multiple wives. You know what, when you find the command or the principle that forbids a Christian from having multiple wives, I’ll show you the same principle that forbids mechanical instruments of music in worship.
God is going to show King David and all of humanity who have the humility to learn this lesson that ignorance is no excuse. in Acts 17:30, the apostle Paul says that God overlooked the times of ignorance but now He commands all men everywhere to repent. Jesus said the same thing, in Luke 12:47-48. The servant who knew His master’s will and did not act according to His master’s will will receive many lashes. But the servant who did not know His master’s will and still violated the master’s will? He will still get flogged, just not as much. Ignorance is no excuse and sincerity is not substitute for obedience.
GOD KILLS A MAN IN WORSHIP - 1 Chronicles 13:9-14:
King David was a godly man but King David did not look at the Bible to see what God wanted him to do. So when the ox pulling the cart reached the threshing floor of Chidden, the oxen stumbled and poor Uzza, in all sincerity of heart, put out his head to steady the cart.
But the anger of the Lord burned against Uzza because he put out his hand to steady the ark and God struck Uzza down. God killed Uzza, in the middle of worship, because the whole scenario was violating the law of God from beginning to end.
King David was afraid of God now. He was afraid now that he could not even bring the Ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (vs 12). What was he going to do? So, David set the Ark in the house of Obed-edom, for three months. It took David three months to finally get around to looking at what the Bible actually said.
LET’S LOOK AT WHAT THE BIBLE ACTUALLY SAYS - 1 Chronicles 15:1-10:
David built a place for the Ark of God to remain. Look at verse 2: “No one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for the Lord chose them to carry the ark of God and to minister to Him forever.” Great, David! If you had read the Bible earlier and not assumed you knew what was pleasing in God’s eyes, you would have saved a man from death!
Notice what David says in verse 13: “Because you did not carry it at the first, the Lord our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.” Observe here that David says God’s wrath burst out “on us.” David considered God’s wrath directed against the whole nation of Israel, not just Uzza who was actually killed.
Now notice verse 15: “The sons of the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles thereon, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord.”
Observe now verse 26: “Because God was helping the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord…” Why was God helping them? Because they were obeying God’s commands!
THE NEW TESTAMENT COMMANDS:
Now let’s take a look at the NT. Let’s go back to the argument for polygamy… Abraham had multiple wives. So did Jacob. So did King David and King Solomon. If you argue that we can use instruments of music in worship because David did, then I will argue that I can have multiple wives because David did. And God never said not to!
Why is polygamy wrong? Because Jesus did not authorize it; there is not commandment authorizing polygamy and related to that, in passages like Matthew 19, Jesus clearly identifies marriage as between one man and one woman. That’s the only argument you can make that polygamy is wrong. Jesus authorized monogamy and there is no authority for polygamy. His commandment implicitly forbids polygamy.
The word “lawlessness” means “without authority.” It is used 18 times in the NT. In 1 John 3:4, “lawlessness” is defined as sin. Look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23. These people were doing religious acts but in some way, they were not respecting Jesus’ authority and so He condemns them.
Anything done in worship without law is sin.
Mechanical instruments of music is without law.
Therefore, mechanical instruments of music in worship is sin.
Look at 1 Corinthians 4:6 - we are not to go beyond what is written.
Now, singing songs is authorized. Playing music is not authorized. In ten passages in the NT, singing is authorized, even commanded.
Jesus sang after they took the Lord’s supper (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26).
Paul & Silas sang in prison (Acts 16:25).
God accepts singing to glorify Him from the Gentiles (Rom. 15:9).
We are to sing with understanding (1 Cor. 14:15).
In Hebrews 2:12, we see that singing is to be evangelistic.
We are to sing if we are happy (James 5:13).
Let’s read the two primary texts which teach us what singing is for; it’s purpose:
“Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph. 5:18-21).
We observe a few things. First, Paul says “Don’t get drunk.” Instead, he commands “be filled with the Spirit.” This is the only time this idea is formed as a command. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit” and then, secondly, he tells us how to be filled with the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Notice that this idea is vocal. We are to speak to each other through the songs that we sing. Third, we observe that this speaking is to be reciprocal: “to one another.” That’s the reason why we don’t have choirs in the church of Christ. That’s not “to one another.” That idea shows that I am to speak to you while you are speaking to me.
Fourth, Paul says, “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” This is where we find out what instrument God has authorized. The verb translated “making melody” can be translated to “pluck.” But it doesn’t meant, necessarily, to pluck a musical instrument. It can mean to pluck a hair, to pluck a chalk-line. Here, it means to pluck the cords of your heart. And the way that we know the cords of our heart are plucked is because we sing.
Fifth, we are filled with the Spirit when we give thanks and we are filled with the Spirit when we submit ourselves to each other in the fear of Christ.
Now let’s take a look at the other major passage on the song-service of the church, Colossians 3:16-17: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Paul teaches in this text that the primary reason for our singing is indoctrination - teaching. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” We are to sing the word of God. We are to teach each other the word of God though the songs that we sing. It is not the major argument against mechanical instruments of music in worship but if the instruments are drowning out our singing so that we are not teaching each other, then the instruments are actually hindering worship, not helping worship.
This point also illustrates the idea that our song-service is not about me. The worship of the church is not about stirring up my emotions; it’s not about bringing tears to my eyes; it’s not about putting me on a spiritual high. Worship, and specifically singing, is about teaching. Teaching. Teaching. Teaching. Notice Paul says (seventh point), that we are to “teach and admonish one another” in our singing.
It is very clear:
1. We can’t do things in worship with Jesus’ authority.
2. Singing is authorized.
3. Playing instruments is not authorize.
4. Our singing is supposed to teach each other the word of God.
Finally, let me point out that the early Christians all understood NT worship exactly the same way I have just presented it. It is readily recognized that the Israelites under the leadership of David used horns, cymbals, lyres, and harps. Yet by the first century, there is no evidence that mechanical instruments of music were used in synagogue worship. Their worship was limited to Bible study, prayer, giving, and singing poems or hymns.
There is no evidence that Christians used mechanical instruments of music either. When they left paganism, they left the harps and flutes in their pagan religion. Christians worshipped a cappella until about 1000 A.D. or 1200 A.D. when the Roman Catholic Church brought in the organ.
In fact, when the Reformers left the Catholic Church and established Protestantism, they left the mechanical instruments of music sitting on the floor beside the pope. John Calvin, for example, wrote “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law” (Commentary on Thirty-Third Psalm).
Take home message: God authorizes us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in order to teach and encourage one another in our faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Let’s obey what God commands.