I’ve never experience a celebration like the one described in 2 Samuel 6. David and the people of God have eventually got their hands on the ark of God and they’re having a party!
The ark of God (also known as Ark of the Covenant, the Ark of the LORD, and the Ark of the Testimony) was crafted according to specific directions given to Moses by God and contained sacred items such as the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments, scrolls of the Law, manna, the rod of Aaron and it served as a symbol of God’s presence, guiding His people across the desert and into the promised land. Hence, it was a disaster when the Israelites lost possession of the Ark when they tried to use it like a lucky charm to defeat the Philistines – who won the battle and captured the Ark.
Hopefully all of that helps you to understand the significance of this celebration. If it doesn’t, let me put it another way…it’s like if Ireland won Euro 2016! Can you imagine! The celebrations, the open top bus tour with the trophy and team through Dublin, the music, the dancing and… the drinking. The whole country would fail to turn up to work the next day.
All the stops have been pulled out. The ark of God has been set onto a brand new cart and is being pulled by some oxen. David and his people are celebrating with wonder and passion, the moment they had dreamed of has arrived. But then…a moment of horror. The oxen stumble. Is the ark of God going to fall from this cart into the mud? Surely if it fell it could be damaged, the contents could be thrown out!
Standing nearby is a man named Uzzah, perhaps instinctively he tries to steady it by putting out his hand and he promptly dies.
Just to be clear, in case you are thinking this is just an awkward coincidence, this what you will read in scripture.
‘Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.’2 Samuel 6:7
That’s very clear then; God definitely killed him because he touched the ark of God to stop it falling off a cart. Does God then explain himself to David and the rest of the people? Nope. Not really. He just kills him.
How does that make you feel? Angry? Afraid?
You wouldn’t be alone there. We read that David is at first angry at God for spoiling the party and then afraid of God – what can he do with a God who kills people for touching boxes (albeit a special box). I can identify with David’s anger. I don’t like it when someone doing good is killed, especially if that person is killed by the very people he or she is trying to help. It appears to be a senseless death.
I said earlier that God didn’t explain his actions to David and the people and he didn’t because in a sense he already had. In the book of Numbers, he had given Israel the ‘manual’ on how to move all the tabernacle furniture including how to move the ark of God. You can check them out here. Basically though, the instructions were: no touch; no look; no cart. The ark was to be carried, not carted and no Levite on the carrying crew was to touch it. If God gave precise guidelines on moving the furniture, how come no one thought to consult them? Was it because David just wanted a big party that reflected well on him? Is God at fault because he was faithful to what he had already said?
I’m sure I haven’t fully convinced you though, because I haven’t fully convinced myself! Still protests flood my mind. Uzzah was only trying to help! Why so harsh, so abrupt, so final? Why no room for error, or failure or instinct? The only answer I can come up with is…I don’t know and I’d be willing to bet that you won’t find out either.
I say this because I don’t think the text itself is interested in giving you that answer. You want an explanation; the text wants you to see a holy God. You can complain about it or you can stand in awe and tremble before a mighty God who holds our lives in his hand. I’d like to suggest that standing in awe and tremble is the better option but you must go ahead and make your own choice.
This passage of scripture gives us a problem – God has acted in a way that we wish he had not. God has done what most people in Ignite (I hope) would not do. Was he being unjust? No – not if you take Numbers 4 into account. Was he harsh? Yes, perhaps, but if he is righteously harsh have we any right to complaint? We might claim that we would have been more forgiving … but then a question should haunt us:
Is the Lord deficient in understanding forgiveness…. or am I deficient in understanding holiness?