In 2 Samuel 6: 1–15 and its parallels in 1 Chronicles, King David brings the Ark of the Covenant triumphantly into his city of Jerusalem.
This fundamentally important artefact had been built by the Israelites (according to the detailed instructions in Exodus 25) to hold the tablets of the law given to Moses by the Lord on Mount Sinai. These instructions included the pledge that God would dwell among his people, speaking to them ‘from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony’ (Exodus 25:22).
Thus, the Ark was the locus, and the sign, of God’s presence. The Israelites carried the Ark with them during their wanderings in the desert, and whenever they camped it was placed in the sacred tent called the Tabernacle.
Later, after their settlement of the Promised Land, 1 Samuel 4 tells how the Israelites’ decision to bring the Ark to the battlefield resulted in its capture by the Philistines. Later still, it would be returned, but it was only when David was anointed king of Israel that it would come to its resting place in Jerusalem.
This was significant in several ways: it established the throne of David and his true kingship; it also made Jerusalem not just the political centre of Israel under David, but also the Holy City of God, the place in which the Israelites encountered the divine presence.
Thomas Aquinas, following patristic precedent, understood the tablets of the Law within the Ark as a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, the Word incarnate, God present on earth (Summa Theologica I-II. 102.4). This explains why the Ark’s entry into Jerusalem is depicted as it is in the Très Riches Heures. The illumination does not illustrate the psalm so much as place its words within a network of typological connections. The reference to ‘the King of Glory entering in’ (Psalm 24:7) is made to recall the entry of the Ark—as the throne of God’s presence—to Jerusalem. But the Ark in turn points to Christ’s later triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which the Christian Church celebrates on Palm Sunday.
The account of the bringing of the Ark to Jerusalem is more extended in 1 Chronicles than in 2 Samuel. 1 Chronicles 13 and 15 offer an elaborate treatment of the arrangements that David makes for the Ark’s transportation. And central to these arrangements is his command that the Ark should be carried into Jerusalem to the accompaniment of exuberant music (1 Chronicles 15:16–25). In 2 Samuel 6:5 we hear about the ‘songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals’. And in 1 Chronicles 13:8, we hear that ‘David and all Israel were making merry before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets’.
David was the harpist who could calm Saul’s restless soul when he played (1 Samuel 16:14–23) and is celebrated as the composer of the Psalms, so the centrality of music in this episode should perhaps be no surprise. Joyous noise was also a demonstration of the momentousness of the occasion.
In the same way, music accompanies important moments in the liturgy of the Christian Church. It is notable that Palm Sunday was one of the feasts treated with the most elaborate ceremonial, processions, and music in the whole of the Christian liturgy.
Each of the images shown here presents the ceremonial and the procession accompanying the Ark’s entry into Jerusalem as crucially important. They all also pay visual homage to music. In the two illuminations which depict the Ark’s entry in order to illustrate the Davidic narrative directly (from the Morgan Bible and the Vita Christi), the music-making is explicitly represented within the image. And although there is no direct representation of music in the Très Riches Heures, it is implied in the link made with the psalm used for Palm Sunday.
David’s story (like that remembered on Palm Sunday) reminds the viewers of these images that the right model of kingship and authority is one that is humble. It also reminds viewers that, in the presence of God, they should be jubilant.
6 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baʹale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. 3And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinʹadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahiʹo, the sons of Abinʹadab, were driving the new cart 4with the ark of God; and Ahiʹo went before the ark. 5And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. 8And David was angry because the Lord had broken forth upon Uzzah; and that place is called Peʹrez-uzʹzah, to this day. 9And David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” 10So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David; but David took it aside to the house of Oʹbed-eʹdom the Gittite. 11And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Oʹbed-eʹdom the Gittite three months; and the Lord blessed Oʹbed-eʹdom and all his household.
12 And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Oʹbed-eʹdom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Oʹbed-eʹdom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. 15So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the horn.
16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. 17And they brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent which David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. 18And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people departed, each to his house.
20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” 21And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father, and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will make merry before the Lord. 22I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 23And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
13 David consulted with the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with every leader. 2And David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you, and if it is the will of the Lord our God, let us send abroad to our brethren who remain in all the land of Israel, and with them to the priests and Levites in the cities that have pasture lands, that they may come together to us. 3Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us; for we neglected it in the days of Saul.” 4All the assembly agreed to do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.
5 So David assembled all Israel from the Shihor of Egypt to the entrance of Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kirʹiath-jeʹarim. 6And David and all Israel went up to Baʹalah, that is, to Kirʹiath-jeʹarim which belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord who sits enthroned above the cherubim. 7And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, from the house of Abinʹadab, and Uzzah and Ahiʹo were driving the cart. 8And David and all Israel were making merry before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.
9 And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. 10And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and he smote him because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there before God. 11And David was angry because the Lord had broken forth upon Uzzah; and that place is called Peʹrez-uzʹza to this day. 12And David was afraid of God that day; and he said, “How can I bring the ark of God home to me?” 13So David did not take the ark home into the city of David, but took it aside to the house of Oʹbed-eʹdom the Gittite. 14And the ark of God remained with the household of Oʹbed-eʹdom in his house three months; and the Lord blessed the household of Oʹbed-eʹdom and all that he had.
15 David built houses for himself in the city of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it. 2Then David said, “No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the Lord chose them to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister to him for ever.” 3And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the Lord to its place, which he had prepared for it. 4And David gathered together the sons of Aaron and the Levites: 5of the sons of Kohath, Uriʹel the chief, with a hundred and twenty of his brethren; 6of the sons of Merarʹi, Asaiʹah the chief, with two hundred and twenty of his brethren; 7of the sons of Gershom, Joʹel the chief, with a hundred and thirty of his brethren; 8of the sons of Eli-zaʹphan, Shemaiʹah the chief, with two hundred of his brethren; 9of the sons of Hebron, Eliʹel the chief, with eighty of his brethren; 10of the sons of Uzʹziel, Amminʹadab the chief, with a hundred and twelve of his brethren. 11Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiʹathar, and the Levites Uriʹel, Asaiʹah, Joʹel, Shemaiʹah, Eliʹel, and Amminʹadab, 12and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites; sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, so that you may bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. 13Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke forth upon us, because we did not care for it in the way that is ordained.” 14So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel. 15And the Levites carried the ark of God upon their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord.
16 David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brethren as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy. 17So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joʹel; and of his brethren Asaph the son of Berechiʹah; and of the sons of Merarʹi, their brethren, Ethan the son of Kushaʹiah; 18and with them their brethren of the second order, Zechariʹah, Ja-aʹziel, Shemiʹramoth, Jehiʹel, Unni, Eliʹab, Benaiʹah, Ma-aseiʹah, Mattithiʹah, Eliphʹelehu, and Mikneʹiah, and the gatekeepers Oʹbed-eʹdom and Je-iʹel. 19The singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were to sound bronze cymbals; 20Zechariʹah, Aʹzi-el, Shemiʹramoth, Jehiʹel, Unni, Eliʹab, Ma-aseiʹah, and Benaiʹah were to play harps according to Alʹamoth; 21but Mattithiʹah, Eliphʹelehu, Mikneʹiah, Oʹbed-eʹdom, Je-iʹel, and Azaziʹah were to lead with lyres according to the Shemʹinith. 22Chenaniʹah, leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it. 23Berechiʹah and Elkaʹnah were to be gatekeepers for the ark. 24Shebaniʹah, Joshʹaphat, Nethanʹel, Amaʹsai, Zechariʹah, Benaiʹah, and Elieʹzer, the priests, should blow the trumpets before the ark of God. Oʹbed-eʹdom and Jehiʹah also were to be gatekeepers for the ark.
25 So David and the elders of Israel, and the commanders of thousands, went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Oʹbed-eʹdom with rejoicing. 26And because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. 27David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers, and Chenaniʹah the leader of the music of the singers; and David wore a linen ephod. 28So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.
29 And as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David dancing and making merry; and she despised him in her heart.