I can remember the scene vividly… I was standing in front of the glass display cabinets at Target staring at my video game choices and trying to make a decision that may very well have changed the course of my life. On one hand, there was this game with an interesting sounding name and a slick-looking cover that many of my friends told me would be all the awesomeness I could handle. It’s name? Syphon Filter. It’s entirely possible you have never heard of it since this was way back in the PlayStation One days, but at the time it was a bit of a big deal. And in the next showcase over sat a game that I knew nothing about, with a nondescript simple white cover bearing red letters that simply read, “Metal Gear Solid”. As I was torn between the two choices I decided to try the interactive demo conveniently located in the store to make my final choice. As fate would have it, Metal Gear Solid was available in the unit for a trial and I launched into it with reckless abandon.
It was not love at first sight. The unique nature of the controls of this Japanese developed game meant that the button I would typically use to confirm something (X) was reversed with a different button (O). This was critically reflected in my gameplay as I would see an enemy guard and attempt to attack him, but when I pressed the button that in most games would be used for an attack my character would lay down in front of the guard and crawl on his belly instead. Believe it or not, this was not as fatal to the guard as I had hoped it would be. As I valiantly attempted to crouch and crawl my adversary to death, I died embarrassingly multiple times as those who were walking by stopped their shopping to watch my pitiful efforts. It was not the best of times. I can imagine the patrolling guards in the game talking to each other during their next coffee break… “Man, this guy had the drop on me and could have totally choked me out, but then he just started crawling around on the ground in front of me. It got pretty weird and uncomfortable. Then he put a cardboard box over himself and tried to climb into the back of a truck. What could I do? I put him out of his misery… what a poor misguided soul.”
Believe it or not, my initial failures did not deter me from making the correct purchase that day. I kept playing that demo until I finally taught myself the controller inputs and was able to sneak, crawl, and knock guards unconscious with ease. And once I had finally turned the corner and achieved a modicum of success I realized that this was the game for me. Sure, Syphon Filter looked like a pile of big dumb fun that I would be able to excel in and have a good time with, but the challenge of Metal Gear drew me in and all these years later it has still never let go. Nestled comfortably next to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Super Tecmo Bowl in my personal top games of all time list, the original MGS complete with all of its over-the-top characters and one of the most compelling protagonists in all of gaming is still etched into my memory as one of my seminal gaming experiences.
The choice between these two titles was not necessarily an earth-shaking decision, but it is certainly reflective of choices we make each and every day. My temptation was to lean into a genre I was familiar with and fully capable of achieving success on without too much difficulty, or to choose the path that was more challenging and demanding. This second choice involved a good bit more embarrassment and struggle, but also carried with it a much richer reward at the end. And as the subject of our study will find out, it is the less traveled path of obedience to God that may seem less flashy and more constricting that is the only path we should consider. The consequences of mission failure on this one turned out to be much higher.
In 2 Samuel 6 we find King David in pretty high spirits. He has just claimed the unified throne of Israel after a tough period of civil war, and immediately after that he scores a military victory and conquers the city of Jerusalem, making it his new capital by defeating the Jebusites who occupied it. Not enough? After these two major wins in his column, he faces down his old adversaries, the Philistine army, who immediately amassed their forces to test the new king only to taste a massive defeat as David and his forces routed them twice and sent them back home in shame. What an epic trifecta… after years of struggling, running, hiding, and barely surviving David finally reaps the rewards from his season of suffering by gaining his promised crown, taking the city that would house his throne and carry his name, and defeating his life-long enemies. Life was finally looking good for King David, and in celebration of all the promises of God that had finally come true David decided this was the perfect time to return the ark of God to prominence by bringing it home to Jerusalem.
The ark had been nestled away in the home of a man named Abinadab, where it had been stored after its capture and subsequent relinquishment by the Philistines many years prior. The ark of God (also referred to as the ark of the covenant) had its origins back in Moses’s day, in which it occupied a consecrated place as the centerpiece of the tabernacle of God where the nation would come to serve and worship the Lord. The ark was placed in the most sacred area of the tabernacle named the “holy of holies”, and it was so special that only the high priest himself was permitted to enter the area where the ark was contained. And through a crazy series of events this physical token of God’s covenant with the nation of Israel was about to leave it’s private resting place and become reacquainted with the well-meaning but ill-advised people on the other side of that covenant. It would be an entrance that nobody would ever forget.
David setup an epic celebration to provide this momentous occasion with the pomp and circumstance it deserved. Over thirty thousand people all turned out to attend this invitation-only soirée, and live music was provided by none other than the shepherd king himself. The music was happening, everyone was singing and shouting, and the parade was rolling. There was only one small problem. See, God had some pretty particular rules regarding the care and transport of the ark. He designed it specifically with large rings in all four corners so it could be carried via two long poles by four men, each holding one end of one pole that was threaded through the rings. And these could not simply be any random person… only the Levites, the tribe of the priesthood were permitted to interact with this sacred object which contained the original tablets of the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and the rod of Aaron the first high priest.
David did not appear to have performed the requisite background reading that would have informed him of the rules and requirements of the transportation of the ark, or at least he did not bother himself with following them. Whether he deliberately disobeyed God’s command or simply permitted his excitement and enthusiasm to over-shadow the protocols, the result remains the same. By choosing to have two men lead the ark on a cart rather than have the Levites carry it on poles per the requirement, he created a situation in which a disaster could strike, and boy, did it strike. As the oxen were pulling the cart one of them stumbled and caused the ark to tip. One of the men guiding the cart reached out to steady the ark and prevent it from falling, but upon placing his hand on the sacred ark of the covenant the man fell down dead. Now that will end your party real quick. The parade came to an immediate halt and the ark was remanded to the nearest local residence while David processed what just went down.
So now to the questions that deal with us. We all have areas of our life that the Lord has called us to obedience in… our “ark” or “cross” to carry. But how we carry it is just as important as choosing to carry it. David chose the easy path, making the oxen do the heavy lifting to pull an ark that was meant to be shouldered by the people of God. He neglected to provide the proper environment for the successful transfer of the ark and opted to do it his way, dong the right job but using the wrong people and the wrong tools to do it the wrong way. His intentions were good, and his passion for God was undeniable. But he did not read God’s Word and realize that loving God is not something that can be done with ignorance of God’s will.
Like the rich young ruler in Mark 10 who came to Jesus with an honest desire to achieve eternal life, we are all presented with a choice. And like my gaming choice at the beginning of this study, one path will typically require an extended period of struggle, sacrifice, and change. The easier path is low risk but also low reward, and in the case of the rich young ruler he opted for the “Syphon Filter path” because the answer he received from Christ was more than he was willing to pay. In his case, his “ark” to carry was to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and come follow Jesus. He was offered eternal life in exchange for the temporary life he currently possessed. Sadly, he balked at the cost.
Interestingly, he was the only documented person that Jesus made this specific command to. We each have different arks to carry and unique crosses to bear. That’s why we can’t compare our Christian walk or the sacrifices we must make to anyone else’s path. When the demoniac man in Mark 5 asked specifically to leave everything behind and follow Christ, Jesus informed him that was not his ark. He was instructed to go back home and minister to those from his hometown about his deliverance. Your ark is different from mine, but we both have one. And there is only one way to carry it… by following God’s individual plan for each of us as well as obeying the written Word of God as His instructions for our lives.
King David setup one more ark delivery attempt, and this time he followed the instructions of the Lord to the letter. And because of his obedience the ark was safely brought to Jerusalem without any fatalities this time, which is really the optimal mortality rate if you are operating an ark delivery service. As Scripture says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death”. There are serious and potentially fatal consequences for disobedience, even when we are attempting to do the will of God. As we wrap up, I would like to leave you with the positive image of David dancing along the road to Jerusalem as the ark is CARRIED, not pulled, to its resting place in the City of David. His heart was right with God and his method of service aligned with God’s will as defined in the Word of God… both of these are equally important in serving the Lord. The easiest path is rarely the correct one, and obedience may be less convenient but it is walking this path that leads to the both rewards in the present as well as in eternity.