Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 6 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/24/2016 in Novato, CA.
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2 Samuel 6
“David Was Wearing a Linen Ephod”
This is a great passage. So much in here. I thought it warranted spending a second week here. Last week we used this passage to talk about the presence of God. We talked about how good God’s presence is, if and only if, you are in a right relationship with the LORD. But of course, how is it that someone can be in a right relationship with the LORD? And even then, how is it that someone even has access to the presence of the Almighty God, the maker of the heavens and the earth? Well, those questions bring us to the concept of a priest. The role of a priest is one that seeks to provide a way for someone to be made right with God, and for them to have access to God in some way. And so we are going to talk about priests today from this passage. And we are especially going to be talking about King David in connection with the priesthood.
Let’s begin then with a little background on priests. In the Old Testament, the primary order of priests that we see is the Levitical priesthood. The Israelite people had twelve tribes, and one of those tribes was the tribe of Levi. God had set that tribe apart for special priestly service unto him. And so God gave various duties for all the Levites to do in serving in the Tabernacle, to promote the worship of God. But of these Levites, God particularly set apart the sons of Aaron to serve as priests for the people. And so these Levitical priests were responsible for performing the various sacrifices at the Tabernacle on behalf of all of God’s people. God would use then to make atonement on behalf of the people, through these sacrifices. This was especially seen in the annual Day of Atonement ceremony, when the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant was, and would intercede on behalf of the people, offering sacrifices for their atonement. But there were also many other kinds of sacrifices that the priests would facilitate. Some of the sacrifices, known as peace offerings, would also involve a communal meal, and the priests would help facilitate those offerings as well (Leviticus 7:11-34). In other words, the people making the offering, would give portions of the offering to God and to the priests, and then the rest of the meat from the sacrifice could be for their family to enjoy together in a meal.
God would also use the Levitical priests to bless the people in his name. Remember the Aaronic benediction. That’s found in Numbers 6:24-27, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” That was something God instructed the sons of Aaron to do as part of the Levitical priesthood.
And so I could spend a lot more time talking about all the duties of the Levitical priesthood, but I wanted to just give a flavor for now. But let me then precede to say that the Levitical priesthood is not the only people serving as priests in the Old Testament. For example, prior to the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, you see a number of individuals performing priestly duties. Think of Abel and his sacrifices to God. Think of Abraham and his priestly duties for his family, especially seen in the incident when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Job is also another good example; he would regularly offer sacrifices for his children in case they had sinned. And then of course you have the mysterious Melchizedek of Genesis 14, who was a priest that Abraham gave a tithe to, and from whom Abraham received a blessing from God, and shared bread and wine with, apparently in some religious communal type of meal.
But what is arguably the most special bible verse in the Old Testament about priests is in Exodus 19:6. There God says to the people of Israel, that his desire for them is that they all would be a kingdom of priests. And so how wonderful that is. We see in the Old Testament various priests, especially the Levitical priesthood, and yet there is this sentiment that God would have all the people be priests. That’s what God tells the people as they start out as a nation under the Mosaic Covenant. The interesting thing is that it’s the Mosaic covenant that so legislates and restricts certainly priestly actions to the Levites. Yet, it is in that very same covenant where God expresses this desire for them all to be priests. The sense you get then in hearing that, is that he had some way in which he wanted the Levites to uniquely serve as priests, but some way in which he wanted all the people to be priests of some sort.
So, that’s some very quick background on priests in the Old Testament. Keep that in mind as we now to turn and think about David and the priesthood here in this passage. You see, David is the king. And he is of the tribe of Judah. But he is not of the tribe of Levi. In other words, he is not a priest of the Levitical priesthood. And yet, he is clearly doing some things here that look pretty priestly. Notice them with me here. Verse 14 says he was wearing a linen ephod as he danced before the LORD. Besides the fact that the language of doing something “before the LORD” is inherently priestly language, this clothing is what especially draws our attention. An ephod was some sort of outer garment, probably apron-like, and was the typical attire of a priest. This wasn’t everyday wear for people. You know I wear a suit, but that alone doesn’t quite distinguish me as a pastor, because lots of people wear suits. But ephods weren’t common things to wear. It’s like think of what a high school graduate wears. They have a graduation robe and cap, and so if you see someone wearing something like that, you know right away that they must be a graduate. So, for David to be wearing this attire typical of priests communicates something.
Less clear is verse 17. It says that David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. It very well may be that he’s the one actually performing those offerings. Some have suggested that this might imply that David commanded the priests to do the offerings, and thus it attributes the action to him. That’s possible, but would be less likely given the circumstances of this passage. And then notice verse 18. David then blesses the people in the name of the LORD. Again, we’ve mentioned that such blessings were particularly priestly functions, because such blessings are done in the name of the Lord, and so as a priest, you are acting as God’s spokesman to the people in conveying that blessing from God. Lastly, notice verse 19. He then precedes to give the people bread, meat, and a cake. This sure sounds like some kind of communal fellowship meal that a priest would administer after all these sacrifices, especially the peace offerings.
So, David acts very priestly here, even though he was not of the Levitical Priesthood. Though he is not a Levitical Priest, I believe we can clearly refer to him as a priest of some sort here. That is the role he is playing. And so the question that comes up, is how is that possible? How can David take on such a role? Well, let me answer that a few ways. First, let me state, David doesn’t appear to be violating God’s law by doing things that only the Levitical priests were allowed to do. God’s law specifically gave certain things for them and them alone to do. For example, in the parallel passage of 1 Chronicles 15, David makes it clear that only the Levites were allowed to carry the Ark here, per God’s instructions. Similarly, a later descendant of David would learn this lesson the hard way. In 2 Chronicles 26, we see King Uzziah go into the temple and try to offer the burnt incense on the altar of incense, and God strikes him with leprosy. The priests tried to stop Uzziah saying that he wasn’t a son of Aaron. And similarly, when we read the law of Moses, we see that the Levitical priesthood’s sacrifices were especially concerning the sacrifices offered on the altar in the Tabernacle. But actually at this point, the tabernacle is not actually in Jerusalem. 1 Chronicles 16 explains that David setup a new tent specifically for the ark in Jerusalem, but that the actual tabernacle of the Lord was still at Gibeon at that time, where Zadok the high priest, a Levitical priest, offered the regular sacrifices as commanded by God in the Law. And so my point is that nothing in this passage would have to be read as saying that David did something that was the special prerogative of the Levitical priests. In fact, the record shows that David was concerned to preserve the special prerogative of the Levitical priests.
A second thing to note, is that Psalm 110 might shed some light on this for us. What I’m about to say is a bit of interpretation with some speculation, so please understand that. But I think it is worth some reflection. You see David wrote Psalm 110, and there he prophesies about the future Messiah that would come. David says that God has declared this Messiah would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. If you’ve studied that Psalm before, maybe you’ve felt at times that the line there about the priesthood can almost seem a bit out of place. The rest of the psalm is about how the Messiah is going to be this awesome and powerful king. It speaks of his military might and great kingly authority. Yet in the middle it talks about him also being a priest. But not only that, a specific order of priest. Not of the Levitical priesthood. But from the Melchizedekian order of priests.
I mean who even knew that there was such an order of priests? In the Bible this is the first time you here about Melchizedek since the brief reference in Genesis 14. Yet, David here talks about his future descendent being a priest in that order. How does that thought even come up? Well, here’s where the informed speculation comes in. If you remember back to Genesis 14, Melchizedek was both a king and a priest. And he was king of Salem. And in case you don’t know, Salem was the old name for Jerusalem. So, at one point, Salem has Melchizedek as both its king and priest. Then later that same place becomes under the authority of the Jebusites. Then David conquers it and made the place his own. And so some scholars have suggested that by David conquering Jerusalem, he essentially is stepping into this ancient office that Melchizedek held there; this office which was both king and priest. Don’t forget that when David conquers the place, he immediately names it the City of David. He places a claim upon it that’s rather personal, to use his name like that. And so it’s quite possible that David saw himself taking on then the heritage of Melchizedek when he acquired that ancient city previously known as Salem. In other words, David may have seen even himself as a priest in the order of Melchizedek. That would make sense then why David in Psalm 110 would see his future descendant also serving in that priestly order of Melchizedek.
To further make the point, there are both ancient Jewish rabbinical commentary and contemporary Jewish commentary that believe Psalm 110 refers to David. The points about the connection to Melchizedek that I just made can be found in those commentaries. So, this actually isn’t my own personal speculation, but it stems from many scholars’ past study of Psalm 110. But of course what those Jewish commentaries have missed, is that Psalm 110 is most specifically about Jesus. But we can understand more why Jesus would be a priest in the order of Melchizedek in light of what we’ve talked about today.
And so it’s hard to be dogmatic here about this proposed idea that David sees himself as a priest now in the order of Melchizedek. But regardless of that, what is abundantly clear is that David acts here as some kind of priest. And God evidently does not disapprove of this, because of how he handles David’s argument with Michal. David essentially justifies these priestly actions to Michal. And God responds by closing her womb, which is basically God agreeing with David here over Michal.
And the people are blessed here by David’s service. We see the joy in how the people brought up the Ark. Like in verse 15 how it talks of them bringing up the Ark with shouting and the sound of trumpet. And of course they were blessed by David and received this nice meal. But most of all, the presence of God was brought near to them by bringing the Ark into the capital of their country. Remember, we said that was a big thing priests did. They would bring people into connection with God’s presences. In these sacrifices, and in following God’s instructions for how to move the Ark, he is able to succeed in bringing the Ark to the capital of Jerusalem. And as we said last week, for God’s people to have his presence in their lives, that is a wonderful thing.
And so in our third point, I want to bring our attention now to Jesus Christ. As we already mentioned, in whatever way David served as a priest in the order of Melchizedek, Jesus does so even more. And yet in David’s priesthood that we see here, we’ve if anything suggested that it was looked like something less than the Levitical Priesthood. That might at least be a presumption we might be inclined to make when we read this passage. And yet the New Testament sees something different, particularly when it comes to Jesus. Hebrew 5-7 says Jesus came as an eternal High Priest in this order of Melchizedek. And his point is that this is a greater priesthood than the Levitical priesthood. His reasoning in part is because Abraham offered a tithe to Melchizedek while the Levites were yet unborn, still in the loins of Abraham. And so he says it’s like the Levites are giving a tithe to Melchizedek, through Abraham. And as Hebrews 7:7 says, “Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.” In other words, if the Levites through Abraham give a tithe to Melchizedek, and receive his priestly services, then that means the Levite’s priestly service is functionally inferior to the Melchizedekian priestly service.
And the author of Hebrews goes on to talk in other ways about how much better of a priest Jesus is. Since Jesus was without sin, he didn’t have to first atone for his own sins before being able to serve the people as priest. And since Jesus lives forever, we won’t need next generations of priests to replace those who die in office. And Jesus didn’t have to keep offering sacrifices year after year, because his one sacrifice was all that was needed. It was a one-time atonement that is sufficient for all our sins.
And so then as our priest, our Lord Jesus Christ blesses us, Ephesians 1:3. He brings us to the fellowship of God’s presence, by sending the Holy Spirit to us. And he even gives us a meal, even the Lord’s Supper, by which we feast together in remembrance of his one sacrifice for us.
In thinking about all this, I love verse 22. David tells Michal that he will be even more undignified than this. He’s talking about his humility in serving in this priestly way, with all this dancing before the LORD. He sees it as an important act of worship, one that the people will recognize and honor. And yet, we don’t get told of any more undignified action of David than this. But we do learn of it with Jesus. Jesus humbled himself even more than David. He lay hanging there on the cross, having had his clothes taken from him, in the height of his priestly service. He offered himself to bear the wrath of the holy God for our sake. And having paid for all our sin, he rose again the third day, ascended up into heaven, and poured out the Spirit of the Living God upon all who call upon his name in faith.
Saints of God, this is how we are made right with God. This is how we now can have access to him. And so, brothers and sister, we have all the more everything that the Ark coming to Jerusalem meant. King David in 1 Chronicles 28:2 calls the Ark God’s footstool. It’s like God’s presence is up in heaven, seated in his heavenly throne room, but he rested his feet on the Ark. Well, in light of what Jesus has done as our high priest, God’s footstool is now our hearts. God by the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in the heart of every believer. We now know Christ’s divine blessings, and fellowship, and communion. This is what we celebrate together when we receive the Lord’s Supper. What joy it is to know God’s presence in our lives because of Christ our High Priest, and because of his sacrifice.
How wonderful, how glorious, it was when the Ark made it finally to Jerusalem. How more wonderful, how more glorious, do we have it now. And how wonderful for them that they had such a godly King and Priest in David. And how even more wonderful that we have such a godly King and Priest in Jesus. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. High Priest forever. Trust this. Be encouraged in this. And remember that now because of the work of our High Priest, we all are as Christians a kingdom of priests. For we all now in the access we have to God can go and speak to him directly, in the name of Christ. Use that privilege of prayer. Don’t neglect such a wonderful gift. We will need that gift of prayer, while we live in this world, doing the Lord’s work, and waiting for his return. Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.