Read 2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 45, and Mark 9.
This devotional is about 2 Samuel 6.
In 2 Samuel 5 David became king of all Israel (vv. 1-5) and established Jerusalem as his capital city (vv. 6-10). Having accomplished these things, he then desired to make Jerusalem the religious capital as well as being the political capital of Israel. That goal required him to move the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
Moving the Tabernacle was no big deal; it was a tent that was designed to be taken down and moved. The Ark of the Covenant was designed to be moved, too. It was built so that poles could be inserted into it. Those poles would allow it to be carried without any human hand touching it.
When the Philistines captured the ark in 1 Samuel, they returned it to Israel on a cart carried by oxen. Apparently this seemed like a good idea to David and the others because they followed the same strategy for moving the ark from Abinadab’s house to Jerusalem (v. 3). The poles that were designed to carry the ark must have still been around; the men probably used them to move the ark onto the cart. But it must have seemed easier to use oxen and the cart than to have two men carry the ark using the poles.
Although God’s people were technically disobedient by using the cart instead of the poles, God was merciful to them and allowed them to start the move using the carts. But when the oxen stumbled and the cart began to fall, Uzzah touched the ark in an attempt to keep it from being destroyed (v. 6).
Verse 3 tells us that Uzzah and the other guy escorting the cart, Ahio, were “sons of Abinadab.” Abinadab was the man who took the ark into his home to protect it when the Philistines returned it in 1 Samuel 7. So Ahio and Uzzah grew up with the ark in their home. They cared for it and watched over it as a family. It was a special responsibility that they took seriously. When David decided to move the ark, these two men wanted to personally escort it.
So when Uzzah touched the ark in verse 6, he was trying to do something good. He was trying to save the ark from accidental damage or destruction. He was trying to do what his family had done for 20 years, which was to watch over and protect the physical symbol of God’s presence in Israel. Yet verse 7 tells us that God was quick to punish Uzzah when he touched the ark, taking his life immediately for “his irreverent act” (v. 7).
Why would God do this, especially given that Uzzah was trying to save the ark, to protect it? He was not trying to defy the Lord or do something forbidden and get away with it. He was trying to help God out and watch over the ark for him.
My phrase there “help God out” describes why Uzzah died. God did not judge him or his brother (or David) for moving the ark improperly using a cart instead of the poles. God could have judged them for this, but he did not.
Yet their choice to put the ark on the cart in the first place exposed the ark to risk. God was merciful when the ark was moved improperly, but his mercy ran out when Uzzah disobeyed the Lord by touching the ark. His act was “irreverent’ (v. 7) not because he was leaning against it casually or sitting on it, or using it like a step-stool. His act of touching the ark was irreverent because the whole process was done carelessly, irreverently.
Instead of consulting God’s laws to see how the ark was to be moved, the people assumed that it would be OK to move it the same way the Philistines had moved it. When their method of moving it put the ark at risk, Uzzah did not trust the Lord to protect the ark himself; he instinctively felt it would be better to sin by touching the ark than to let the unthinkable happen and see the ark fall. But God wanted his people to learn to be careful in their worship through obedience.
David did learn the right lesson from Uzzah’s death, In verse 13 we see a reference to ‘those who were carrying the ark.” The word “carrying” indicates they were using the poles that God had commanded them to use.
This passage is difficult to apply directly to our lives because there is nothing like the ark of the covenant in our worship. That object was chosen by God to visually and physically portray his presence. There is no object similar to that in our New Testament worship.
But there are times in which we are irreverent toward God. When we do what seems right to us without consulting his word, we are acting a bit like Uzzah. Even if our motives are good and we desire to honor God, if we disobey God’s commands, God is not honored, he is disrespected.
It is dishonoring to the Lord because it relies on human ingenuity (like the cart or a steadying human hand) rather than seeking to understand and obey what God’s word said and trusting him.
Whenever we try to make it easier to become a Christian or to follow the Lord or to worship him, we ought to be very careful. While God does not often judge as immediately and severely as he did Uzzah, he wants us to understand how important it is to reverence Him and treat him as holy.