1 Chronicles 13:7-8
And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were 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.
Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Chapter 13 begins the saga of returning the ark to Jerusalem. This act was significant because all Israel agreed to it (continuing the theme from chapters 10-12 of David unifying the nation), and it was an act of spiritual renewal. By bringing the symbol of God’s holy presence back into the assembly of the people, David was acting as both their military and spiritual leader.
The idea was great, but, unfortunately, the execution was poor… David did not ensure the ark was carried according to Mosaic law – that is – carried by the Levites via poles. Instead the ark was transported on a cart – similarly to the way the Philistines transported the ark when it was in their possession.
This was a costly oversight. When the oxen stumbled and the layman, Uzzah, reached out his hand to protect the ark, Uzzah was killed instantly by God.
This has always been a difficult passage for me. Why would God execute such severe judgment for an unintentional breach of the law when it seems He offers grace for far worse offenses? This is a difficult question, but looking at the context for this and other similar instances can shed some light…
- In the case of Aaron’s sons, the tabernacle had just been built, and Aaron’s first sacrifice had just been accepted. On the same day, his sons “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord” and they were killed instantly. God would not let the impure actions of Aaron’s sons pollute the sacrificial system that had just been established.
- In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, the church was in its infant stages. The Holy Spirit was working mightily among the people, and God would not tolerate the lies of this couple polluting his earliest congregation.
Similarly, the context of Uzzah’s death was during an essential “establishment period.” David was bringing the ark into his city to be the centerpiece of worship, attempting to unify the people around the Mosaic law. God would not tolerate impurity. Especially not in the beginning stages of re-establishing His people under the rule of David.
Finding a pattern to make sense of God’s actions might be helpful, but I think the bigger issue lies within my own heart. When I react to God’s actions in a toddler-type fashion, (i.e. “That’s not fair!”), I know that my perspective is askew. God has every right in his holiness to kill any of us in our sinfulness at any time. But because he is gracious and doesn’t do it very often, I can slip into an attitude of entitlement.
I need to be more like Paul… His perspective is more in line with reality. He knew he had no claim on his life (Acts 21:13)…that his life belonged totally to Jesus. Why has God granted us the privilege of life? To bring him glory in all that we do! Our lives were bought with the precious blood of the Lamb. Who am I to clutch my life tightly as if it were mine to lose? The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.