5.23 2 Samuel -- The Ark of the Covenant
During Saul's reign, the ark had stayed at the town of Kiriath Jearim, after its return from causing sickness among the Philistines (1 Sam 6). It stayed with Abinadab for 20 years, in obscurity, almost in exile. But David said,
"Let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we did not inquire of it during the reign of Saul" (1 Chron 13:3).
There is only one mention of the ark during Saul's reign, when he followed up Jonathan's attack on the Philistines (1 Sam 14). At that time, Saul had the ark brought up to the camp of the Israelites. Presumably, it was returned immediately after the battle to Kiriath Jearim. The inattention to the ark is indicative of Saul's character, particularly as contrasted with David. The ark was the symbol of the Presence of God among His people. Saul let it rest in obscurity, because he was not a worshipper, he wanted to rule Israel his own way, not as a vicegerent of God. On the other hand, David wanted to enthrone the Lord in his capital by bringing the ark into Jerusalem.
His first attempt to move the ark was a failure, because men are quick to forget who God is. David gathered 30,000 men in a great procession, and they made a tremendous noise as they accompanied it. But they violated the Lord's own commands and put the ark on an oxcart, instead of having it carried by priests with poles. When the oxen stumbled, Uzzah touched the ark to steady it, and the Lord struck him down. That put a quick damper on the festivities. David was both angry and afraid (2 Sam 6:8-9), and left the ark at the home of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark remained with him for three months,
"and the Lord blessed him and his entire household" (2 Sam 6:11).
Then David made a second expedition to bring the ark to Jerusalem. 1 Chron 15 gives a fuller account of the procession, including the names of the principal Levites. This time, they carried the ark on poles on the shoulders of the Levites (1 Chron 15:15), "as Moses had commanded." This was no sombre procession. King David was "leaping and dancing before the Lord" (2 Sam 6:16), conduct which Saul's daughter Michal found undignified and vulgar. Her contemptuous attitude was a form of dishonoring the Lord -- and God punished her by making her barren. This can also be seen as an extension of the judgment of God on Saul: not only was the male line exterminated (after the natural death of Mephibosheth), but even his daughter had no offspring.
It was David's plan to build a temple to contain the ark, but God sent the prophet Nathan to tell him He did not require this:
"Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, 'Why have you not built me a house of cedar?'" (2 Sam 7:7)
So, instead of being lodged in a temple, the ark was placed in a new tent (2 Sam 6:17).