One of the most troubling texts of Scripture regarding the holiness of God is the story of Uzzah. It is found in 2 Samuel 6:1-13. The text is as follows.
“David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. 3 And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, 4 with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.
5 And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. 9 And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” 10 So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 11 And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
12 And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. 13 And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. (2 Samuel 6:1-13).
Before we begin to examine this text in detail, let me refer you to Exodus 25:12-15, Numbers 4:15; and 7:9. Take notice as to what these passages of Scripture have to say.
- Exodus 25:12-15. “12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.
- Numbers 4:15. “And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry.”
- Numbers 7:9. “But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder.”
There are several observations we may make in light of this narrative. First, Uzzah and Ahio were sons of Abinadab and not descendants or sons of Kohath who were the ones God commanded to carry the Ark.
Second, the Ark was placed on a new cart. It was not being carried by the poles God had determined to use for such a purpose. The Philistines had used a cart to transport the ark (1 Sam. 6:7). The Jews chose to do so as well. But the OT law required that the sacred ark be carried by the sons of Kohath (Num. 3:30–31; 4:15; 7:9), using the poles prescribed (Ex. 25:12–15).
Thirdly, when the Ark arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled and Uzzah put out his hand in order to keep the Ark from falling on the ground. However, in doing so Uzzah disobeyed the command not to touch the Ark. To do so would result in death (Numbers 4:15). That is exactly what happened.
The story of Uzzah is an example of one who lacked regard for the Lord. This is evident in that the ark was being carried on a cart instead of the priests’ shoulders, which utilized the poles crafted for the holy vessel’s transport (Ex. 37:1–5; 1 Chron. 15:1–15). Furthermore, while Uzzah’s motivations perhaps were “good” in that he probably did not want the ark to get dirty, he foolishly presumed his sinful hands were cleaner than the ground.
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “The mystery is not that God pours out His wrath on sinners. The mystery is that our holy Father puts up with transgressors at all. It is a wonder that the Lord is long-suffering, since to Adam he only promised wrath (Gen. 2:16–17). God cannot, and will not, comprise His holiness, but He can mercifully substitute Christ’s righteousness, which His people so desperately need. May we never believe our Holy Lord owes us this grace (Rom. 9:15), for if we were to get what we deserve, His wrath would fall immediately on our heads.”
God demonstrating His holy wrath is not just an Old Testament concept and doctrine. When next we meet, we will examine two examples from the New Testament.
Soli deo Gloria!