“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. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, ‘How can the ark of the Lord come to me?'” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Have you ever set out to do what you were convinced was the right thing only to have it blow up in your face? Odds are, if you’ve experienced this, it only served to feed your willingness to buy into the truth of the cynical proverb, “No good deed goes unpunished.” In this moment, David would have understood how you felt.
Here he was trying to move the ark of the Lord to a safe and secure location close to the capital city of his kingdom. Along the way they hit one little pothole, one of the men tending the cart the ark was riding on reaches out to keep it from hitting the ground, and he suddenly drops dead on the spot.
Given that he had just touched the ark of the Lord there’s really no question who was responsible for his death. David’s first reaction was anger. Why would the Lord do something like this? The whole purpose of this venture was to honor Him. Uzzah only reached out to touch the ark because of His deep reverence for it and his unwillingness to see it debased by falling off the cart and into the dirt. And as thanks for this concern, God smites him on the spot. What gives?
Now, the reason for Uzzah’s swift departure from this life is most likely the fact that while it’s good they wanted the ark in a more permanent and established home, they weren’t doing it the right way. God had been explicitly clear in the Law how the ark was to be moved. They had the Law available to them, but didn’t bother to read it before they went after the ark. They were essentially treating it like the people did when they carried it into battle against the Philistines which resulted in it being where it was in the first place. It wasn’t a symbol of the holy presence of God so much as a talisman to bring the power of God. Well, God wasn’t going to be treated like a trinket and it was vital that they understood the weight of His holiness or they were going to run the risk of making the same errors in belief and behavior that made the era of the Judges such a disaster. For now, though, I want to stay focused on the emotions of this tragedy.
David’s second reaction is fear. While the anger is bubbling up in his heart, another thought begins to process. The seriousness with which God takes this ark thing obviously goes well beyond what I thought it did. If this thing is this powerful that even touching it can result in an instant death sentence, do I even want it close to me? How could I possibly be worthy enough to have it near my house? Do I even want that?
And I’ve got to say, it’s comforting to see David react like this. These are the same reactions we would likely have if a similar sort of thing happened to us. When we had that attempt to do the right thing blow up in our face we probably went through a similar series of emotions.
One of the great things about the Scriptures is that they so consistently show real people going through real issues and dealing with real emotions as they do. It doesn’t sugarcoat things to make them seem all neat and tidy. It just presents them as they are, warts and all. And God is still faithful through all of it. If He was then, He will still be now in our own messes. Even when we make a mess of trying to do the right thing, He’ll still bear with us. There may very well be consequences for getting Him wrong, but He won’t leave us or forsake us along the way.