Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book 1 Chronicles: Rejoice and Tremble at His Presence

God is here. Right now and in every moment and in every place, the Lord of all is
present. No one is outside of his reach or his sight. Nothing happens apart from his knowledge
and permissive will. God is here. Not only is present in all places in a general sense, his people
have the privilege of his special and abiding presence, to be near him and have him near to us in
a unique way. What kind of feelings should this truth produce in us? What should our response
be to God’s presence? Should we rejoice with singing and gladness? Or should we tremble in
The glory of God’s presence among his people is one of the themes emphasized in the
book of 1 Chronicles, which recounts the life of David through a different perspective than the
account of 1 and 2 Samuel. In addition to highlighting the ark of the covenant, the priesthood,
and the Messianic line, the preparation of the building of the temple is of great import for the
writer of Chronicles. In the book, we read of David’s desire to build a magnificent temple for the
ark of God to dwell in to be a sign of God’s special presence among his people. When David
tells of his grand designs to build a house for God, the Lord responds by telling David that it is
actually he who will build an unshakeable house for David, meaning he would establish David’s
kingly line forever. Nevertheless, the Lord allows David to begin preparations for his son
Solomon to eventually build the temple, which would a powerful reminder of God’s presence.
This begins a time of joy and excitement at this new project designed to honor the God of Israel.
Throughout 1 Chronicles, though, there are sobering reminders of the seriousness and
gravity of God’s holy presence. Take for instance, the tragic occurrence of 1 Chronicles 13:7-11:

“And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and
Ahiowere driving the cart. And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their
might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets. And when they
came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the
oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him
down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God. And David was
angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzza to
this day.”

The ark of the covenant served as the symbol of the seat of God’s presence in the
tabernacle and later in the temple. As it is being moved to the city of Jerusalem, David ensures
the ark moves with great fanfare and rejoicing, with songs and instruments and shouting. Yet,
this happy moment is shockingly interrupted when the ark begins to fall and Uzzah puts out his
hand to steady it. Immediately, the Lord is angry, and he strikes Uzzah dead in an instant. This is
a seemingly innocent act, isn’t it? Why would God do such a thing? Why is the Lord so angry at
a simple touch of the ark? Even David, who was rejoicing just moments before, is upset with
God and no longer wants the ark in Jerusalem.
Certainly, God is being neither vindictive or unjust. Rather, he is demonstrating the great
worth and the great danger of his holiness and presence. David eventually comes around on this
point, and he realizes his mistake a few chapters later when he attempts once again to transport
the ark:

“Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel,
Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of
the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of
the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it
the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to
the rule.” So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD,
the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as
Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 15:11-15).

What had been the problem? Although they had previously rejoiced at God’s presence,
they had not taken care to transport the ark according to the word of the Lord. The ark was
carried by the wrong people and in the wrong fashion. In so doing, they had treated God’s
presence as a trivial thing, neglecting his careful instructions. The second time, the priests were
rightly told to consecrate themselves to prepare for the task. They were a holy people set apart
and prepared to do the serious work that God called them to do. God’s presence is no frivolity. It
is the most serious thing imaginable because God is pure and righteous and holy, and no one may
presume that they may come into the Lord’s presence with unclean hands. Thus, God’s judgment
on Uzzah is a sign and reminder of the awe and reverence that all must have for God and his
commands. When we neglect to do so, we do not honor the greatness and the righteousness of
God; we treat the Lord of glory as common and unspectacular and profane.
Even so, God’s presence is not only cause for fear but for great praise and happiness.
David’s song of thanks to God in 1 Chronicles 16 gives insight into this dual emotional response
that we ought to have:

“Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place. Ascribe to the Lord, O
families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due
his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Let the
heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among nations, “The Lord reigns!”

The Lord is a God of joy but also a God of terrifying strength and power. He is glorious
and good. That’s why in this passage trembling is placed right alongside rejoicing. God’s
presence reminds us of how small we are but also of how thankful we should be that God loves
us and draws near to us. To know that the almighty God seeks my good and cares about our lives
should create in our hearts a fearful desire to do what is right and an abundant joy in the God
who watches over us. Notice the charge that David gives to his young son Solomon as he is
encouraging him to ready himself to do the work of building the temple:

“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and
with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If
you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. Be
careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it”
(1 Chronicles 28:9-10).

We cannot hide our hearts, thoughts, or intentions from the all-knowing and omnipresent
God. He searches each of us. But the amazing truth is that if we seek him, he is near to us and he

desires to know us and help us. We see this throughout the whole story of the Bible; even as sin
separates, God is seeking to be present with his people. The holy Son of God even came to
unholy sinners in order to make them clean so they could re-enter the presence of God. That’s
cause for rejoicing and trembling.
The New Testament makes the radical declaration that God dwells in Christians by his
Spirit. The Church is his new temple. This should cause us to shout for joy but also tremble in
fear. Because God is with us and in us, our lives take on much greater significance because we
are representatives of God’s character and holiness. This vastly elevates the seriousness of every
choice we make and how we interact with others, but it also increases our happiness and our
joyful motivation to do what is right. The presence of God in us by his Spirit is no small thing; it
is no trifle. It is the most frightening and happy truth the world has ever known. As C.S. Lewis
put it his Chronicles of Narnia, God is not safe, but he is good. That is exceedingly good news
for the saved children of God. God is with us; let us tremble. God is with us; let us rejoice.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but
much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God
who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).