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Revering & rejoicing (1)

2 Samuel 6 is instructive at a number of levels.  We’re drawn to two events in the chapter because of the extreme reactions they evoke from God and man (actually woman).  The first incident concerns a man named Uzzah reaching out to keep the ark of the covenant from falling off a cart (v. 6), and the second has to do with David as he dances before the Lord (v. 16ff).   Uzzah is struck dead by the Lord, while Michal, David’s wife, strongly rebukes the king. 

As with all of the Scripture, isolating either of these incidents from their context is exegetical suicide.  Some, using a cut-and-paste approach to slice these stories from their setting, have ended up with conclusions that generate more heat than light.  If we keep things in context, there is much to be learned in what is essentially a narrative embracing three people.

Uzzah:  He and his brother, Ahio, are identified as sons of Abinadab (v. 4).  The ark had been at the house of Abinadab since the Philistines returned it to Israel (1 Samuel 6:1-7:1), before the reign of Saul.  Saul ignored the ark (1 Chronicles 13:3), and David wanted to correct that by bringing it to Jerusalem.  He assembled thirty thousand men to escort the ark.  It must have been quite a scene as we're told that “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals,” (v. 5).  The ark was on a cart and the oxen pulling the cart stumbled (v. 6).  Uzzah reached out to steady the ark and was struck dead by God (v. 6-7). 

As I mentioned, this gets our attention.  Why is Uzzah struck down when all he was trying to do is prevent the ark from falling?  His being chastised at all is disturbing, but receiving such an ultimate punishment seems totally out of place.   Where is God’s mercy?” we want to know. 

The answer is:  it’s all over the place.

To appreciate the gravity of Uzzah's disobedience, we need a little background on the ark of the covenant.  Part of the reason we struggle to understand this episode is because we don’t have an understanding of the significance of the ark to Israel.  

It was called the “ark of the covenant” (Deuteronomy) and the “ark of the testimony” (Exodus), according to the different emphases of each book.  It was a chest that was almost four feet long and a little over two feet wide and high.  It was topped by an atonement cover on which were two angelic figures (cherubim).  The cherubim were located at the opposite ends of the cover, but faced each other with their heads down and wings spread in such a way as “overshadowing the cover,” (Exodus 25:20).  Inside the ark were the two tablets of stone that contained the ten commandments (Exodus 25:16).  At times, the ark also contained a jar of manna along with the rod of Aaron that had sprouted (Hebrews 9:4).  Primarily though, as its name suggests, the ark was the receptacle of the covenant/testimony from God to Israel.

Not only did contain the testimony of God, it signified the presence of God!  He told Israel that between the two cherubim, “I will meet you,” (Exodus 25:22).  In 1 Samuel 4:4, we are told that God “is enthroned between the cherubim.”  All of this explains why the Israelites were so upset when the Philistines captured the ark (1 Samuel 4), and why David is so eager to bring it to Jerusalem. 

As part of its design, the ark was fitted with four gold rings (Exodus 25:26).  Specially made poles were inserted through these rings (25:14,27-28, 37:1-5).  When the ark needed to be transported, men from the tribe of Levi (1 Chronicles 14:2), were to move it using the poles.  Yet even at this, they were warned not touch the ark itself on the punishment of death (Numbers 4:15,17-19). 

God had made it abundantly clear --- to disrespect the ark was to disrespect Him!  Seventy men from Beth Shemesh were struck down by God when their actions with the ark dishonored Him (1 Samuel 6:19-20).  Since this became the reason the ark was taken to Abinadab's house (6:21-7:1), it borders on the absurd to believe that Uzzah and Ahio never heard about this incident from their father and from others.  They had no reason to believe they had God's approval to be directly involved in transporting the ark. 

The text says, "The Lord's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died beside the ark of God,"  (6:7).  Uzzah presumed upon God and paid for it with his life.  He became casual with God and ended up a casualty.  (I think there's lots for us to think about here).

Imagine a friend who visited your home and upon finding out you had some sort of major electrial problem, he volunteered to fix it.  The next thing you knew, he was lying on the floor dead having been electrocuted.  You felt absolutely terrible about what has happened because your friend was just trying to help you.  Then you find out that your firend knew next to nothing about electrical work.  He did not have an electrician's license, nor had he ever worked with a licensed electrician.  He had just read some stuff on the internet.  While on one level he might have been a "nice guy just trying to help you out," at another level he was foolish to presume to work with something he understood nothing about.  This was the case with Uzzah touching the ark.     

Yet it's important for us to see that this was hardly a case of one man violating God's law.  David and his men were also guilty of ignoring God's commands relative to the ark!  Rather than use the rings and poles, they placed the ark on a new cart (v. 3).  Rather than use Levites, they used Ahio and Uzzah to oversee the transporting of the ark (v. 3-4).  The entire group was culpable in these matters.  The last straw came when Uzzah touched the ark.  He paid for his transgression with his life, but the larger truth is, they were all deserving of death.  God did not treat them as their sins deserved (Psalm 103:10).  One man died, but all deserved death. 

There's lots of mercy here if we'll just look.
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