Uzzah, The Ark, and the Value of Doing Things the Right Way
1 Chronicles 13, 15-17
Shortcuts are a mixed bag. When we’re driving, a shortcut is often a great thing! If there’s a quicker way someplace, I want to take that route. However, in other areas short cuts are not appreciated. You don’t want your home builder taking shortcuts in framing, plumbing, electrical, etc., because those shortcuts will cause huge problems down the road. When it came to David, Uzzah, and the people, this was a lesson they had to learn the hard way. And the consequences of their shortcuts had deadly results.
Let Us Bring Back the Ark:
We read in 1 Chronicles 13:1-3 that “David consulted with the captains of the thousands and the hundreds, and with every leader… “If it seems good to you, and if it is from the Lord our God… and let us bring back the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” Shortly after David had ascended to the throne of Israel and consolidated his rule over the nation, he wanted to bring back the Ark of the Covenant. David being a godly man, wanted to restore the ark to the Tabernacle and thus restore true worship in Israel. But why are we in this situation in the first place?
Let’s go back to the rule of Samuel as Judge and Prophet over Israel. We read in 1 Samuel 3:21 that God had appeared again to the people at Shiloh. This is a great thing! Israel has a leader appointed by God. God, Himself has returned to the people. Things are going great, or so it seemed. We read in 1 Samuel 4:1-2 that Israel goes out to fight the Philistines and are defeated. “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the Ark of the covenant of the LORD, that it may come among us and delivers us from the power of our enemies” (1 Samuel 4:3). In short order, they go to battle again against the Philistines, and they lose! But this time, the ark is taken.
The Philistines are struck with tumors because of the ark (1 Samuel 5:1-6). They quickly seek to return the ark (1 Samuel 6:1-2), so they ask their priest and diviners how to do it. They said for them to send it back on a cart. The philistines do so, and we read that the ark then comes to the house of Aminadab where it would stay until David comes to return it to the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 7:1-2).
Israel treated the ark like a good luck charm, like it was a superweapon that if they had it, no one could stand before them. Their trust was in the ark and not in God. They had no concern for their conduct or standing before Him. This is supported by the fact that after Israel loses the Ark, Samuel calls the nation to repentance because they were worshiping foreign gods such as the Ashtaroth and Baal (1 Samuel 7:3-4).
Shortcuts Were Taken:
Going back to 1 Chronicles 13:5-8, we see that many shortcuts were taken to move the Ark. And these shortcuts added up and resulted in Uzzah’s death. We often focus on Uzzah, but the truth of the matter everyone involved, just about, was taking a shortcut. There is plenty of blame to go around in this episode in David’s life. What are the shortcuts?
- The ark was visible to all. The ark is so connected with the presence of God that not only could they not touch it, but they weren’t even supposed to look at it. Note Numbers 4:5 where Aaron and the priest are to take down the veil and cover the ark with it before transportation. Also, the priest was to prepare the ark for the Kohathites, so they do not “see the holy objects even for a moment, or they will die” (Numbers 4:20). The ark and the objects were to be covered so that no one would directly touch them because that would also result in death (Numbers 4:15). They didn’t take the time to cover the ark.
- In 1 Chronicles 13:7, we read that the ark was being carried on “a new cart.” Israel had been abundantly taught how to carry the ark of the covenant (see Exo. 25:14-15; 37:4-5; Num. 4:15; 7:9; Deut. 31:9; John. 3:3, 8, 13-15, 17). Exodus 25:14-15 clearly states that they “shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; thy shall not be removed from it.” One cannot help but draw a connection between this new cart and the one the Philistines sent the ark back on (1 Samuel 6:11). Perhaps, like what we have seen elsewhere in Israel’s history, they thought, “you know those Philistines had a pretty good idea.” They did want to carry the ark as the law stated. This was easier.
Bob Waldron made a great observation about this whole situation that I think is helpful. He said that “The entire population carrying the ark was committing a serious breach of divine law in what they were doing. If a group of men were wiring a house, and they all knew they were taking shortcuts and not doing the work properly, they would all be wrong, but the one man who touched the wire that was not properly grounded is the one whom the mistake would impact directly. Nevertheless, the accident would be a rebuke to all who took part in the endeavor” (Waldron 2011, 711).
David understandably becomes shaken, angry, and afraid (1 Chronicles 13:11-12). So, the whole assembly drops off the ark at the house of Obed-edom. And we are told that “The LORD blessed the family of Obed-edom with all that he had” (v.14). Interestingly, we have a little bit of a turning of tables here. Because of their irreverence and lack of fear of God, the Philistines were smitten by God for possessing the Ark. David and his men showed a similar irreverence and also suffered God’s wrath. But here we have Obed-edom, who gets the ark dropped on his doorstep, and he is blessed for having had it (cf. 1 Chronicles 26:5). The fact of the blessing indicates that Obed-edom had not shown the same irreverence.
The Ark Arrives at Jerusalem:
Time passes, and during this period, David comes to an understanding of what went wrong. When David speaks to the priest, he says, “Because you did not carry it at the first, the LORD our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance” (1 Chronicles 15:13). In verse two, David had told the people that no one was to carry the ark except the Levites. Once this is learned, there are no problems in bringing the Ark to Jerusalem to the Tabernacle. Once it is there, David wants to build a temple for God, God makes a covenant with David, and David responds in a prayer of thanksgiving (1 Chronicles 15-17).
What are the lessons to be learned from this record? Why did God include this in the Scriptures?
- First, the contextual lesson. The lesson the original audience of 1 Chronicles may have learned. God is not a good luck charm that we may use and discard as we please. He demands fierce covenant loyalty from those who serve Him. Because He is nothing less than fiercely holy. Do we approach God on our terms, or are we seeking Him on His terms?
- Second, a New Testament application. Uzzah’s death was 100% preventable. That is, if the priest, the king, and the people were all doing their jobs, Uzzah very well could have lived. How many souls today can be saved if we do our jobs as God’s priests today (1 Peter. 2:9-10)?
- Thirdly, how do we respond when we find out we’ve been wrong in our understanding? David did not get accusatory, didn’t throw in the towel, or claim God was too “dogmatic” or “legalistic.” He sought the answers from the Word. And He found them, obeyed them, and had fellowship with God.