Most of us have had the experience of doing something out of good intentions only to have it backfire and take an unexpected turn for the worse. Such was the case with an Old Testament character by the name of Uzzah. What we might consider to be a good thing and a needed thing, actually cost him is life. His story is found in 2 Samuel 6.
The background of this story is found in 1 Samuel 4 and 5 where the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant, Israel’s sacred gold chest that was normally housed in the Tabernacle. The Ark, which served as a symbol of God’s presence, had been carried into battle by the Israelites as a guarantee of God’s favor in the skirmish. Unfortunately, Israel lost the battle and the Ark was carried into Philistine territory where it remained for a length of time wreaking all sorts of havoc (see 1 Samuel 5).
After the Ark was returned by the Philistines, it was housed in a private house for a period of time, until King David made the decision to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. In a great processional of celebration and rejoicing, the process of moving the ark began.
2 Samuel 6:3-4 (NLT) – “They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house, which was on a hill. Uzzah and Ahio, Abinadab’s sons, were guiding the cart as it left the house, 4 carrying the Ark of God. Ahio walked in front of the Ark.”
2 Samuel 6:6-7 (NLT) – “But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. 7 Then the LORD’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God.”
Uzzah had all sorts of good intentions. Afterall, he was just seeking to prevent the Ark from crashing to the ground where it would be defiled. He was trying to do a good thing and it seems God arbitrarily struck Him dead.
We might read that and come away with a view that the God of the Old Testament is an angry God and nothing like the God of love of the New Testament. But that is not an accurate assessment. Remember, God, above everything else, is holy. As a holy God, He will bring judgment. Scripture records God’s declaration that “the soul who sins will die” (Ezek. 18:4, NASB). We should not be surprised that a holy and righteous God would exercise judgment. But what we ought to be surprised about is more on this line: why doesn’t this holy and righteous God, for generation after generation, tolerate rebellion on the part of His creatures who are committing treason against His authority?
Consider this: the Law of Moses contains some 30 different crimes for which the death penalty is prescribed. But this listing of capital crimes is not cruel and unusual; rather, this listing really represents a massive reduction in the number of offenses for which God could punish us by death. Again, the soul who sins will die.
Therefore, all sin is a capital offense before God. And yet, here is the Creator God, out of sheer mercy creates mankind and blesses him with all sorts of blessings. And then that created one audaciously rebels against God and challenges His authority. Which one of us would convict that holy, perfectly righteous Creator for bringing judgment on sinful mankind? Remember, sin is mankind saying that our will has rights that are higher than the rights of God. Sin is treason before God. And treason is a punishable offense.
But here’s the key element. Instead of swiftly executing justice the moment we rebel, God extends mercy to us. Instead of justice, God gives grace. The history of the Old Testament is repeated episodes of rebellion against God, and God repeatedly showing His gracious mercy and forbearance toward wayward people who disobey Him day in and day out.
Any outbreak of God’s wrath that we see in the Old Testament then, is simply a reminder of God’s justice and holiness. But most frequently God is exercising forbearance toward mankind. It is forbearance with a design:
Romans 2:4 (NLT) – “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”
The problem is that we often take God’s normal pattern of grace and mercy for granted. We begin to assume that God will always respond to sin like that. In fact, we demand it of God, and when it doesn’t occur, we think that God is irrational and arbitrary; that God’s wrath is a character defect. And we reject the God of the Old Testament as somebody that is less that the God of love that the New Testament portrays.
What is needed is a deeper understanding of the difference between justice and mercy. The God of creation is never obligated to be merciful to rebellious mankind. In fact, He told Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose” (Ex. 33:19, NLT). God is sovereign and responds to us as He chooses. We must also realize that God is both holy and just, but never unjust. There is never an occasion in any page of the Bible where God ever punishes an innocent person!
Look back at Uzzah. Uzzah was from the Kohathite family from the tribe of Levi. In Numbers 4, God gave the responsibility for the care and transportation of the sacred things of the tabernacle to the Kohathite families. Again, God’s instructions to them were very precise. No one was to touch the Ark of the Covenant as it was the symbol of God’s presence with Israel and in many ways the very throne of God’s presence. This regulation was drummed into the Kohathites over and over again. “They must not touch the sacred objects, or they will die” (Num 4:15b, NLT). In addition, God stated emphatically that the Ark was always to be carried. It had been constructed with rings along the sides so that poles could be inserted to carry the Ark without human hands touching it.
As a Kohathite, Uzzah knew these things. And yet, he and others in his family allowed the Ark to be transported on a wagon — following the same pattern that the pagan Philistines had used to return the Ark to Israel. If the Ark had not been on the cart, if there had been obedience in the first place, the oxen would not have stumbled, and Uzzah would not have died.
God’s holiness must be taken extremely seriously. And when people ignore God’s holiness, He has every right to bring swift judgment. And the fact is, that often His judgment doesn’t come immediately. This, in turn, points to the wonder of God’s mercy and grace. God is never unjust, but He is frequently merciful. Never take His mercy for granted. After all, His chief characteristic is holiness. This is a truth we must never forget.
(Adapted from my book, Clearing the Fog. Go here to order your copy: https://secure.mybookorders.com/mbo_index.php?Orderpage=4041