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. 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. (2 Samuel 6:6-7 ESV)
And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. (Exodus 25:14 ESV)
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 4:15 ESV)
There is probably no story in the Bible that I have found harder to wrap my mind around than the story of the death of Uzzah. It is a display of the holiness of God that leaves us stunned and even terrified. Even though it is a story from which we may be tempted to quickly avert out eyes, it may do us good to look intently at this display of the wrath and justice of God, because in it we find important lessons for life and ministry.
The first lesson that I want us to see applies to Christian ministry. The message that sounded loud and clear from Uzzah’s lifeless form was that God’s word stands and any deviation from it, however well-intentioned, is inviting wrath and disaster. From our perspective, and apparently from David’s as well[i], this reaction of the Lord to Uzzah’s attempt to steady the Ark was a little excessive! Doesn’t God see the heart? The answer is that God does see the heart and what he saw beneath all of that good-intention in Uzzah was someone who had a cheap enough view of His holiness to regard his commandments as being open to exception.
When we hear preachers taking liberties with the Gospel many times we will defend or at least excuse them by saying say, “I think their heart is in the right place.” I can appreciate that humility and we certainly need to have grace, while also recognizing with trembling but God doesn’t see it that way. As I have meditated on Uzzah I have trembled. As someone who regularly stands in a pulpit and handles the sacred word of God, I am reminded at how much care I must take and am painfully reminded of the times when with quite good intentions I have been less than careful with God’s word.
Now, I want to recognize that we are under a new covenant now. One where in Christ we have bold access into the holy presence of God[ii], but this entrance into his presence through Christ’s blood does not diminish his holiness, but rather makes it more clear. The cross of Jesus gained us access into God’s presence, his perfect righteousness shields us from the blaze of his glory, but God himself does not change. Our right standing before God does not give us license to take less care with the Word of the Lord, rather the Gospel unfolds with greater clarity the holiness of the One to whom we as Gospel ministers will give an account.
This leads to the second and more positive thing we see in Uzzah’s execution in light of the cross. If the slightest disregard for the glory of God, the smallest deviation from the commandment, incited such wrath, how much more so our daily disobedience and defamation of God? As good-intentioned as Uzzah was, he disobeyed the Lord. He deserved judgment, just as we do. But there was one who did not deserve to be struck down – that was God himself, united to flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He always brought glory to God and always obeyed -perfectly. Yet, such was God’s love for us that he poured out his judgment on Christ – a judgment much worse that Uzzah’s. If the holiness of God seen in the story of Uzzah is severe, much more severe is the holiness seen at the cross where the sinless Son suffered for us. But if the holiness of God in the execution of Uzzah is terrifying, the holiness of God in the execution of Christ is beautiful, for it shows the depth of love he had for his people, that though we deserved the death of Uzzah, God himself satisfied the demands of his holy justice. Uzzah’s execution highlights the glory of the cross.
Therefore, in Christian ministry we should see in the cross a holiness that is even more severe than that which was seen on the threshing floor at Nacon. And it should leave us trembling as we handle the holy things of God, lest in our good intentions to see fruit or to be “successful”, or to labor well for the Lord, we be found tampering with sacred material. The execution of Uzzah should drive us to our knees and deeper into the Scriptures, taking great care in preaching and teaching, lest we treat the holy Word of God as being open to exception and manipulation.
There is never a good enough reason to tamper with or disregard the Word of the living God.
[i] 2 Samuel 6:8
[ii] Eph. 3:12, Heb 10:19-22