I discovered R.C. Sproul fairly recently– last year I read Chosen by God as the first book I had read by him, and I felt like I was reading an American CS Lewis. This week, thanks to my friend Mark Knight trying to consolidate his library, I started reading Sproul’s The Holiness of God. And it is a fantastic book.
Chapter Six is called “Holy Justice,” and it deals with the harsh stories of God’s judgment against Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10); Uzzah (1 Chronicles 13-15), the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Canaanite nations that were driven out before the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. As Sproul says in the opening paragraph, these are not stories for the faint or faint of heart.
It’s admittedly hard to square our “God is love” understanding from the New Testament with the God who put Nadab and Abihu to death for experimenting with the rituals of sacrifice. It’s even harder to think about Uzzah, whose only offense (if you could even call it an offense) was trying to keep the ark from falling into the mud when the oxen stumbled who were pulling the oxcart it was sitting on. But Sproul makes some great observations which help us understand this story:
- The ark should never have been on an oxcart in the first place. God’s law was clear that it was to be carried on poles inserted through rings (see Ex. 25:10-16).
- Uzzah should never have been in a position to touch the ark in the first place. Only the Levites were authorized to approach the ark, and even then, not all of them could. Sproul suggests that Uzzah might have been a Koathite, which would have allowed him to carry the ark in the prescribed manner (see the above point). But even if he was (and I think this is a big if. I’m not sure how Sproul comes to this conclusion); the Koathites absolutely couldn’t touch the holy things, or they would die (Numbers 4:17-20). David apparently learned from the mistake, because 1 Chronicles 15 is very clear that Obed Edom, who has been housing the ark, is among the Levites who ultimately transport the ark to the City of David.
- It was presumptuous for Uzzah to assume his hands were holier than the ground. Uzzah did what any devout Jew would do–he reflexively reached out to steady the ark. But who are we to believe our hands, attached to our bodies, which rebel against God time and time again, are holier than the God-created ground, which never disobeys God? Sproul writes “Uzzah assumed his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn’t the ground or the mud that would have polluted the ark; it was the touch of man” (Holiness of God, p. 108).
As I was journaling on this today, it came together in a poem. I wrote the last stanza several years ago, but this expands on that one stanza. You can kind of sort of sing it to “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Enjoy.
UZZAH WASN’T, WAS HE?
Look at God’s ark, on an ox-cart.
That’s a bad start, ain’t it?
Where’s the long poles that the priests hold
So their hands won’t taint it?
Oxen stumble, Uzzah fumbled,
Put out his hand and grabbed it.
The deadly lesson–don’t go messin’
With holy things, like Nadab did.
Why should we who are sinful all through
Think our hands are cleaner
Than the mud that blooms and buds at
God’s word, and earth made greener?
Obed-Edom, how we need him
To handle the ark safely
He’s a Levite; he’s got the right.
But Uzzah wasn’t, was he?