7 They moved the ark of God from Abinadab’s house on a new cart, with Uzzah and Ahio guiding it. 8 David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets.9 When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. 10 The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God. (1 Chron. 13:7-9)
Let’s face it. The Bible isn’t easy. In the chronological read through we are doing, we go from yesterday’s meditation on God’s covenant love (see Day 123: My Favorite Hebrew Word (Psalm 106-107) to one of the most brutal stories of Gods wrath in today’s reading.
It’s admittedly hard to square the “slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love” portrait with the God who put Nadab and Abihu to death for their strange fire (see Leviticus 10). 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.
In his book The Holiness of God, RC 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. But even if he was 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?
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.R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, p. 108
These thoughts from Sproul came together for me in a poem a few years ago. You can sort of, almost, kind of sing it to the tune of “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 stumbled, Uzzah fumbled,
Put out his hand to grab it
Learned a 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?