Theme: A Psalm of David
From this week’s lessons, we learn what virtues to practice and vices to reject in order to be the kind of godly leaders and servants God has called us to be.
Scripture: Psalm 101:1-8
It has been some time since we have come across a psalm attributed to David. The last one was Psalm 86, and this is the first in book four of the Psalter, though there is also one yet to come (Psalm 103).
Many scholars reject the ascription of the psalm to David. However, it reads like a psalm of David, and it is an appropriate psalm for David as an anointed king of Israel to have written. In this psalm David extols the standards by which he intends to run his kingdom, and he commits himself to those standards. We know that he did not live up to these high standards completely. We are all sinners and therefore fail to live up to whatever moral standards we acknowledge. Nevertheless, David did pretty well, and the standards themselves are of abiding value. They are valuable for anyone in a place of authority in government, business, the church or the home.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote rightly, “This is just such a psalm as the man after God’s own heart would compose when he was about to become king in Israel. It is David all over, straightforward, resolute, devout; there is no trace of policy or vacillation—the Lord has appointed him to be king, and he knows it; therefore he purposes in all things to behave as becomes a monarch whom the Lord himself has chosen. If we call this the Psalm of Pious Resolutions, we shall perhaps remember it all the more readily.”1
Any early period of David’s rule would form an appropriate setting for this psalm, but there may be a clue in verse 2 that will help us narrow it down further. In the middle of that verse, in a phrase that seems to break the flow of thought and even be a bit inappropriate at that point, David suddenly asks the question: “When will you come to me?” When we read words like that we think of the coming of the Holy Spirit or of some special times in our lives when God seems to make himself unusually close to us. But that is a New Testament way of thinking and not something that we find very much in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, particularly in the psalms, the saints speak of going up to God, by which they mean going to worship God at the temple in Jerusalem. But they do not speak of God coming to them.
What does this question refer to, then? Well, in 2 Samuel 6:1-11 we are told of an attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. It had been at Kiriath Jearim. But David had it brought up from the house of a man named Abinadab, placing it on a new cart drawn by oxen. David was accompanying the ark along with thirty thousand of the men of Israel, all of whom were singing songs and making loud music with harps, lyres, tambourines and cymbals, when suddenly something terrible happened. The oxen stumbled, shaking the ark, and a man named Uzzah, one of the sons of Abinadab, reached out his hand to touch the ark to steady it. It was an apparently innocent and well-meaning act. But we are told, “The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God” (v. 7). Needless to say, the singing and instrumental music stopped. The party was over. The king was angry and embarrassed, and the ark was not moved forward any further. For a long time it was left in the house of Obed-Edom.
But here is the important thing, and it is why I retell the story. David said in his distress, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me” (v. 9)? For David, the presence of the ark and the presence of the Lord were very nearly the same thing. That is why he wanted the ark in Jerusalem where he lived. Here God had shown himself to be an unbendingly holy God. David had mismanaged the attempt to move the ark. God had said that the ark was to be carried by priests in a certain way and was never to be touched, even by the priests. When Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, however well intentioned he may have been, he violated God’s law and contaminated what must never be contaminated and was therefore struck down. It seemed a little thing. But God took it seriously, as he does all sin. If God took that seriously, so seriously that he punished Uzzah with death, how could David ever hope to have a life and rule so blameless that God, in the presence of the ark, could dwell with him?
I suggest that it is this incident that lies behind the question, “When will you come to me?” in Psalm 101:2, and that it is why David is so anxious to lay out the pattern for an upright administration in these verses.
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 239.
What qualities of this psalm reflect the characteristics of David?
What is meant by David’s question about the Lord coming to him?
Explain what the ark represents.
Reflection: How does God dwell with you today?
Application: Do you take sin seriously, as God does? What areas in your life do you need to work on?
Prayer: If you are a Christian, you are a leader. Ask God to show you ways to apply the lessons this week to your circumstances of leadership.
For Further Study: To learn more about godly leadership—whether in the church, community, or home—download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Leader and God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)