When Israel wandered in the desert and made the special tent to serve as a temple and to meet God in, they also made a special box. Israel saved different items in the box that served as mementos, souvenirs, of different things God did for Israel. When Israel looked to the tent and the box, they were reminded of what it means for God to be present in their midst.
There were rules about the proper care and transport of the box. Following the rules kept the box safe from damage, but it also served to remind Israel what was a proper attitude and lifestyle to maintain in relation to God.
David tried to honor God by restoring the tent, and putting it and the box in a better place. But they did not follow the rules when moving the box. They had become lax, without proper seriousness in their relationship with God. They ignored fundamental truths. And disaster happened.
It made David stop, take a step back and investigate. The people refocused their hearts and attitudes concerning their relationship with God. They did not assume they knew the best way to relate with God.
There was a renewal in heart, mind and attitude. There was a renewal in knowing what was important to God and seeking to practice it. These renewals of heart and practice refreshed Israel’s relationship with God. Which made God’s presence more real and brought joy to the people.
God has given followers of Jesus rules to obey and live by. These rules have much freedom in practice, so they can be easily applied in a multitude of social and cultural environments. But, they have the same function as the rules given to Israel. They give people a correct focus on their relationship with God. They give people a proper way to relate and respond to God and to people. And when all these things are in balance, there is joy in the relationships and in living.
NOTE: Many people respond negatively to the word “rule” when thinking in relationship to God, especially in relationship to Jesus. They think of needing to follow rules to have a right relationship with God. I am thinking of rules or laws that define what is true about something. “Gravity” is a rule or a law about the universe. It requires a person to behave in a certain way. These are the same.
NOTE: I just finished a chapter in Neil Cole’s book Ordinary Hero. In the book, Neil describes “Inhaling” and “Exhaling” as spiritual rules. I will not pursue a detailed discussion of them, but inhaling and exhaling are fundamental spiritual practices that lead to personal transformation. I bring them up here to compare this “breathing” with Israel’s practices. Israel knew the proper way to carry the box. Disaster did not need to happen. Because the box had not moved for a long time, Israel was not familiar with that part of God’s rules. One reason Neil uses this breathing metaphor is to describe a “right now” aspect of these practices. Breathing is not very profitable if it is not done regularly and “right now”. It is the “right now” aspect of following these rules of relationship that reinforces their reality and renews God’s nearness. It becomes a part of joy.