After King David set up his residency in Jerusalem, he decided to move the ark of the covenant there. Eventually, he was successful in doing so. But, his first attempt was a disaster. A man by the name of Uzzah lost his life in the process. What happened? Here is the Bible’s record in 2 Samuel 6:3-9:
(3) So they set 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, drove the new cart. (4) And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill, accompanying the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark. (5) Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals. (6) And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. (7) Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. (8) And David became angry because of the LORD’S outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah to this day. (9) David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD come to me?’
There are a number of lessons that we can learn from this tragic incident. First of all, not everything that begins with enthusiasm and good intentions turns out well. Before going to fetch the ark, David said to an assembly of Israelites, “And let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we have not inquired at it since the days of Saul” (1 Chronicles 13:3). The entire assembly “said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people” (13:4). So, with the support of the people, David confirmed the plan to go get the ark. They had good intentions. And, along the way there was excitement in the air as they played on instruments (2 Samuel 6:5). It sounded like a festive occasion. Yet, their mission was a failure: God was displeased, Uzzah died, and the ark did not make it to Jerusalem.
Second, the proper procedure was not followed. What method did Israel use to transport the ark? Someone made a new cart, they set the ark on the cart, then Uzzah and his brother drove the cart (2 Samuel 6:3). Do you know what is interesting about this? The Israelites, whether consciously or unintentionally, imitated what the Philistines (Gentiles) had done on a previous occasion – they made a new cart, set the ark on it, and transported it
on that cart (1 Samuel 6:7-10). Here is the problem with Israel’s decision to move the ark on a cart: that was not the way the Lord instructed them to do it. God’s instruction was, “You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them” (Exodus 25:14). The holy things of God were to be carried on the shoulders of the Kohathites (Numbers 7:9). When humans do things their way instead of God’s, they are messing up.
Uzzah committed an error, and he paid a great price for it. The Bible says, “God struck him there for his error” (2 Samuel 6:7), which was putting forth his hand to touch and take hold of the ark (6:6). When Uzzah made his mistake, he was surrounded by God’s people. He was acting under the direction of the king. He was doing something connected with a sacred object, the ark of the covenant. And yet, his personal action violated the will of God and he was held accountable for it. What is the big deal, you ask? God gave strict instructions for those Levites who moved the objects of the tabernacle: “. . . they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die” (Numbers 4:15). We can speculate all day long about what Uzzah was thinking before he touched the ark, but the bottom line is, his action violated what God had commanded.
God’s wisdom and actions are not open to debate. We simply mean that humans do not have the right to question the instructions and choices of the great Sovereign of the universe. The Lord, whose wisdom is infinite (Psalm 147:5), has the right to be pleased or displeased, as well as the right to bless or punish humans. So, yes, a thousand times, yes, Jehovah had the right to be angry with and punish Uzzah in the fashion that He deemed appropriate. If I have a problem with that, then I have a problem, period.
We need to learn from our mistakes. David did in this instance. After the passing of some time, David and Israel successfully moved the ark to Jerusalem. Before doing so, he admitted to the priests and Levites, “For because you did not do it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order” (1 Chronicles 15:13). The second time around, what did they do? “. . . the Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders, by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD” (15:15). Such makes us wonder, “David, why did you not do it according to God’s command the first time around?!”
Good things happen to God’s people when they do things His way. David, Uzzah, and Israel paid a price when they disregarded God’s word. Are we listening?
— Roger D. Campbell