Have you ever read the bible story where King David organises the moving of the ark of the Testimony and a man called Uzza ends up dead?
It’s one of those shocking stories that can leave you feeling particularly puzzled if you don’t read onto the following chapters or have forgotten the bible stories about the transportation of the ark of the covenant (or testimony) from earlier books of the Bible. I happened to read it recently and want to tell you what I have discovered.
This story crops up in two places in the Bible; it can be found in both 2 Samuel 6 and also in 1 Chronicles 13. The story is basically that now Saul is dead, and David has been made the king, David wants to honour God by bringing the ark of the Testimony out of obscurity (where it has been for the past twenty years under Saul’s rule) into a public place, the place where he now was living, in Jerusalem. This seemed like a good idea. So he consulted with both the leaders and the people, and they were all happy to go ahead with this plan.
Ooops, the only trouble was that they appeared to have forgotten God’s instructions, or commands, of how He wanted this holy important item to be handled or moved!
“So they carried the ark of God on a new cart
from the house of Abinadab,
and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart.”
1 Chronicles 13:7
OK, so what’s wrong with putting it on a cart, you may wonder? It was once before moved on a cart by the Philistines when they had captured it but wanted to send it back to its rightful owners, and no Israelites died then, right?
Wrong! That was a whole different scenario, of God providentially guiding some cows to pull the ark on a cart back from the Philistines (who had been dying of tumours during the seven months they had kept the ark) to the Israelites where it belonged. Even then, it was Levites who lifted it off the cart. And in fact, a shocking amount of people died in that story too regarding wrong handling of the ark and disobeying God’s commands regarding not looking at or into this ark.
“Then He struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord.” 1 Samuel 16:19
Ordinarily the rules for handling or moving the ark were strictly laid out in the Law as given by God Himself to Moses and written down in the old testament for all to read and heed.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the children of Levi…
And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is set to go, then
the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them;
but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.”
Numbers 4:1 & 15 (also in Deut 10:8)
That seems fairly clear that the Levite tribe of Kohath were to carry but not touch the ark. It clearly states if the ark is touched they would die. That is why the ark was made with four fixed rings, one on each corner and two poles permanently through them. The poles were to be used for people to carry the ark.
“The poles shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you.” Exodus 25:15-16
However, it seems that the folks of those times were not quite so awash with Bibles, or copies of the Law, as we are today in the Western world, at least. It seems that they had forgotten the specific rules of how the Lord God wanted His Holy ark to be handled, which sure put a sudden stop to their “Praise party that day”!
“Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets.” 1 Chron 13:8
“And when they came to Chidon’s threshing floor,
Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark,
for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark;
and he died there before God.” 1 Chron 13:9-10
Gosh! Sudden death during a religious praise march! What a shock! What a show stopper! How can we get our heads around God being the same today, yesterday and forever, when we dip into our Bibles and read such a story?
And then the next sentence tells us that the venerable King David’s response wasn’t one of immediate contrite humility and repentance but one of anger and fear.
“And David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzza;
therefore that place is called Perez Uzza to this day.
David was afraid of God that day, saying, “How can I bring the ark of God to me?” 1 Chron 13:11-12
Looking Deeper into Strange Death
I decided to dig deeper into my Bible to investigate this strange cause of death. I read on a little, then went back into the beginning design of this ark that the Lord gave to Moses and even read a bit from the end of the story in Revelation. All in all, it has been a great Bible study and one I highly recommend to you. I have just read the letter of Hebrews today with so much more depth of thankfulness and understanding about the ark, the Holy of Holies, and the Lord Jesus Christ opening the way for us into the presence of God. Let me tell you more…
How To Pack Up Properly
I found out that Aaron and his sons were consecrated to minister as priests and it was they who were to pack up the ark of the covenant each time the Israelites were required to continue on their travels. They had to cover the ark with a layer of fine, woven linen cloth (the colourful covering veil) and badger skins and another layer of blue material, so that the rest of the people wouldn’t look at God’s holiness and die. Then I discovered, as I have already mentioned, that it was the Kohathites, of the tribe of Levi, who were to do the carrying of the ark. Each tribe had different job roles and if they did as required it all worked out well.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “Do not cut off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites; but do this in regard to them,
that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy things:
Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint each of them to his service and his task. But they shall not go in to watch while the holy things are being covered, lest they die.”
You may also remember that two of Aaron’s own sons died for their own disobedience in their initial role as priests.
“Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, saying:
“By those who come near Me
I must be regarded as holy;
And before all the people
I must be glorified.”
This appears to be the crux of the matter. God is Holy, and He requires us to likewise be Holy and reverent in all our dealings with Him. We need to know that though we are not like the Israelites trembling with fear at the foot of the mountain that is on fire and shaking with the power of God we are still to be reverent and obedient servants. But I jump ahead of myself here, as I would like to tell you a little more about this ark of the covenant now.
The Ark – Inside and Out
It was a wooden box covered in gold on the inside and outside. Within it Moses was told to put the two tablets of stone on which God had written the 10 commandments. Also, he was told to put inside Aaron’s rod that budded and a golden pot of manna. (Hebrews 9:4) The ark was to be kept behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle (and later in the Temple) which was called the Holy of Holies or Holiest of All. It was this place, that only the High Priest could enter once a year and that was with blood shed and applied for the forgiveness of his own and all the people’s sins.
So inside the ark was the Law, (Commandments, Testimony or Covenant).
Then on top of the ark was a solid gold cover, called the Mercy Seat.
Over this mercy seat were two cherubs with wings that covered the whole box.
And God said to Moses that He would meet with him there.
“And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.” Exodus 25:22
Moses was told to keep a copy of the whole book of the laws given to him by God next to the ark also. (Later Samuel instructs that all Israel’s kings ought to write a copy of the full law, that they would know it to guide them and their people.)
“And you shall hang the veil from the clasps. Then you shall bring the ark of the Testimony in there, behind the veil. The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy. You shall put the mercy seat upon the ark of the Testimony in the Most Holy.” Exodus 26:33-34
So, here we have the picture of the Law covered by God’s mercy that was obtained through the shedding of blood. Mercy was always available to the penitent sinner, both in those days and now. The ark was God’s design to teach how sinful people could approach a Holy God.
So what went wrong for Uzza?
Well obviously, he shouldn’t have touched the ark of the covenant! But I also think that we can learn more from the later chapter in 1 Chronicles 15:12-13. This tells us that David called the priests and Levites together and instructs them as follows:
“He said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites; sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel to the place I have prepared for it. For because you did not do it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order.”
So, they were perhaps all culpable to a certain extent, in that the leaders ought to have known the correct way to handle the things of God. Because they did not obey God, a man died that day. Yes, later they do it correctly and even all the proper musicians are in place and there is joy in bringing the ark of the covenant to its new place in Jerusalem.
Ignorance, Laxity, Presumption or Disobedience?
Matthew Henry says:
“Let the sin of Uzza warn us all to take heed of presumption, rashness and irreverence, in dealing with holy things; and not to think that a good intention will justify a bad action.
In our communion with God, we must carefully watch over our own hearts, lest familiarity breed contempt, and we think God is in any way beholden to us…
God is still a Jealous God. … Some people are made examples, that others may be made exemplary and very cautious.”
Ultimately, the deaths of Aaron’s two sons and the death of Uzza, acted as a tremendous motivation towards caution and obedience to following God’s ways and rules. I feel that this caution is most needful in today’s world where ignorance, laxity, presumption and disobedience to the Bible’s teachings appear to be running rampant within the world of Christianity or Churchianity.
I have really enjoyed reading the letter to the Hebrews, as it explains how Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant by His shed blood, which has opened up the way for repentant sinners to draw close to the Lord God Almighty in His holy of holies. If you remember, at the point of His death on the cross the curtain of the temple tore from the top to the bottom, signifying God opening the way for you and me to come into His very presence through the blood of the Lamb.
Now mercy is freely available via a humble and contrite heart simply asking for forgiveness of sin directly to Jesus Christ, the living God.
“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever …” Hebrews 6:19-20
I just love that phrase, “an anchor of the soul” – I praise the Lord indeed for this truth.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken,
let us have grace, by which we may
serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
For our God is a consuming fire.“
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord…”
“As He who called you is holy,
you also be holy
in all your conduct,
because it is written,
“Be holy, for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:15-16
And they do not rest day or night, saying:
Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”
I have learnt from this study the following points:-
We need to really know what the Bible says – that is read and study it for ourselves.
We need to obey the relevant commands that apply to us with prayerful, humble hearts (using correct, in context exegesis, of course). Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me”. John 14:21
We need to be aware that we cannot always trust leaders to lead correctly, hence the need to know the Bible more thoroughly for ourselves (remembering wolves in sheep’s clothing as well as possible Biblical illiteracy amongst leaders, as in this story).
We need to be aware that warning and correcting other believers of disobedience to the Bible’s teaching, is in fact, an act of true love and kindness. It could have saved Uzza’s death. “Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:20
We need to seek the Lord in prayer to ask how He wants us to worship Him, rather than being presumptuous about this matter. Ask Him if you are really worshiping in Spirit and Truth or if there is anything He wants you to do differently. Remember Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24
Be thankful for the way that Jesus has made for us to draw near to God under the New and better covenant. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Amen and Hallelujah! What do you say?
You can read more about this at Herescope – The Uzzah Syndrome
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