Hope all is going well with you! Okay... I had a question regarding II Samuel, Chapter 6, which writes about the move of the Ark of the Covenant. I was wondering why Uzzah was struck down dead for trying to keep the ark from falling to the ground. When I read the scriptures it just says that the oxen shook the cart and Uzzah reached forth his hand to grab hold. I would think that would be a natural reaction if you didn't want something precious to fall or a normal reflex. Later, in the same chapter it mentions that David was displeased because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah. Do you have any Bible commentaries you can share or maybe reference other scriptures so I can get a better understanding? Any help you can provide will be very appreciated! Thanks in advance!
You have submitted a very good question that speaks to the heart of our trust in what God says, and as well as our literally obeying His will inspite of our emotional circumstances. The passage you refer to reads as follows:
6. And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.
7. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.
8. And David became angry because of the Lord's outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah to this day.
This passage is referring to King David’s first attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to its proper resting place in the city of Jerusalem. This odyssey began with the Ark being captured more than twenty years prior during a battle with the Philistine army.
After having lost nearly four thousand men in a previous battle with the Philistines, the elders of Israel, instead of seeking the direction of Almighty God, decided instead amongst themselves to have the Ark of the Covenant removed from its proper place at Shiloh, and carried, like a “good luck charm,” into a later battle with the Philistines, (I Sam 4:3-6), and this at a time when the nation of Israel had been lavishing for years in a state of spiritual, moral, and civil decline. (Judg 21:25; I Sam 2:27-36; 3:11-14) The Philistines again defeated the army of Israel, this time slaying thirty thousand men. They also captured the Ark of the Covenant, providing Israel with decisive military and spiritual defeats. (I Sam 4:7-10)
The Philistines then took the Ark to the city of Ashdod, where they placed it in the temple their god Dagon, that is until this idol god was mysteriously toppled, and their people were struck with tumors. In fear, the Philistines sent the Ark away to Goliath’s hometown of Gath, where it stayed briefly before causing the people there to also be stricken with tumors. (I Sam 5:1-8) It was then sent to the city of Ekron. (I Sam 5:9-10) After a brief stop at Ekron, where it caused more disease and death, the Ark was sent on an unmanned cart back to the Israelites. (I Sam 5:10-612)
The Ark was taken to the city of Kirjath Jearim, where it remained for twenty years until David, having been confirmed as King of Israel for a third time, and having won a decisive victory over the Philistines, finally brought it back to its proper place in Jerusalem. It is at this point of the Ark’s odyssey that Uzzah is struck down for touching the Ark.
While embarking on this final leg of its journey “home,” the Ark is placed on a "new cart" pulled by an ox, and is accompanied by two sons of Abinadab; Uzzah and Ahio. In their joyousness, David and all the house of Israel played music before the Lord on all kinds of instruments as they went their way. This joy lasted until they attempted to cross a hardened ground plot used to separate wheat from chaff during the harvest called a “threshing floor.” Here the oxen guided by Ahio stumbled. Fearing that the Ark may fall, Uzzah reached out in an attempt to steady this precious cargo with his hands. Because he laid his hands upon the Ark, an angry God struck him dead on the spot. This act both confused and angered King David. Why would God do such a thing? Why would He slay a man who only sought to keep His precious Ark from possibly falling to the ground? Why would God not honor the noble intentions of David, who only sought to take His Ark back to its appointed resting place? Weren’t these intentions the will of God? The answer, quite simply, is; “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov 14:12) Let me explain:
In the book of Exodus, after God had given Moses directions on the construction of the Ark, He instructed Moses to:
“…cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners; two rings shall be on one side, and two rings on the other side. And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them. The poles shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.” (Verses 12-15; also see Exo 30:4))
It is clear when reading this text that the only proper way that the Ark was permitted to be moved was to be lifted by its poles, and carried by members of the priestly tribe, the Levites. This is why the poles weren’t permitted to be removed from the Ark.
Further, the responsibility for the care and transportation of the temple “holy things,” the Ark included, fell to the descendents of the Levite “Kohath.” (Numbers 3:29-31) It was they, and only they that were allow to transport the Ark, never by cart, but always by its poles. This can be seen in the distribution of carts by Moses in Numbers chapter 7:
“So Moses took the carts and oxen and gave them to the Levites. He gave two carts and four oxen to the Gershonites, as their work required, and he gave four carts and eight oxen to the Merarites, as their work required. They were all under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest. But Moses did not give any to the Kohathites, because they were to carry on their shoulders the holy things, for which they were responsible.” (Verses 6-9)
Also, not even those charged with the care and transportation of the temple "holy things," (the Arc included), were permitted to touch them in any way, shape, or form at any time. The penalty for violating this mandate was death. (Num 4:15)
This brings us back to the account of David and his attempt to restore the Ark to Jerusalem.
From the start David erred in his methodology of returning the Ark to its proper place. It mattered little that the cart that David sat the Ark on was “new.” It never should have been placed on a cart in the first place. David, in his joyful exuberance, had neglected to follow the specific mandate of Almighty God; and Uzzah paid for it with his life. This is true in that had the Ark been carried, as it properly should have been, then the oxen would not have stumbled. Had the oxen not stumbled, then Uzzah would not have reached out to steady it. Had Uzzah not reached out to steady it, he would not have been struck dead. Thus it was David’s disobedience that set this terrible chain of events in motion.
David was both angry, and afraid of the Lord because of the death of Uzzah, asking the question; "How can the ark of the Lord come to me?'' (I Sam 6:9) It is clear, however, that either David came to his senses, or someone close to him reproved him of his method for moving the Ark. This can be seen in that, when David went back for the Ark at the house of Obed-Edom, it was hand carried, not carted, as it should have been the first time. (I Sam 6:12, 13)
In conclusion, while this account has been seen by many as depicting God as being less than compassionate to one of His servants than the circumstances merited; what it reveals in reality is a God who can be trusted to keep His word in any circumstance, in blessing or in discipline. It is we who determine which. May we all, like David, have the integrity to correct our errors once they are made known to us. Thanx Gwen!!