1 Then David again gathered all the elite troops in Israel, 30,000 in all. 2 He led them to Baalah of Judah to bring back the Ark of God, which bears the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. 3 They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house, which was on a hill. Uzzah and Ahio, Abinadab’s sons, were guiding the cart 4 that carried the Ark of God. Ahio walked in front of the Ark. 5 David and all the people of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals.
6 But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. 7 Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God.
8 David was angry because the Lord’s anger had burst out against Uzzah. He named that place Perez-uzzah (which means “to burst out against Uzzah”), as it is still called today.
9 David was now afraid of the Lord, and he asked, “How can I ever bring the Ark of the Lord back into my care?” 10 So David decided not to move the Ark of the Lord into the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom of Gath. 11 The Ark of the Lord remained there in Obed-edom’s house for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his entire household.
12 Then King David was told, “The Lord has blessed Obed-edom’s household and everything he has because of the Ark of God.” So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration.—2 Samuel 6.1-12
How do sin-stained humans approach a Holy and morally perfect God, a God whose holiness can tolerate not one hint of evil or imperfection in his direct Presence? Very carefully if we are to believe the old and new testaments. Take today’s story for example. King David had decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant, the very place where God chose to dwell with God’s people, the very place ancient Israel believed heaven and earth intersected, to Jerusalem even though no ark could contain God. Touching the Ark meant entering the Presence of a Holy God. God had given Moses very specific instructions on how to handle and transport this Ark. Only Levites were authorized to carry the Ark and handle it. You can read about that in Numbers 1.50-51 if you’re interested.
Now here we are with David leading the procession to bring the Ark of God to Jerusalem. But the oxen pulling the cart with the Ark stumbled and the Ark was about to be thrown off. One of men guiding the Ark instinctively reached to catch it before it fell. Surely he did so with the best intentions. And what happened? In great understatement the writer tells us that this act aroused God’s anger and God struck him dead. Talk about the ultimate buzz-kill to spoil a perfectly good party!
God’s seemingly heartless and merciless action made David angry, and why wouldn’t it? At first blush it would make anyone angry. Isn’t God supposed to be kind and merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? What kind of cruel God would strike someone dead over a seemingly innocent behavior like this?
God is indeed loving and merciful and gracious, but God is first and foremost a holy God, separate and apart from creation and God’s creatures, and God in his holiness can brook no act of disobedience or sin or evil. Nothing but good can dwell in God’s presence and that is for our ultimate good if we ever hope to live with him throughout eternity. Who wants to live forever with evil or brokenness or sickness or incompleteness?
So why did God strike this man dead? The answer is straightforward. Uzzah was not a Levite. Obed-edom was (we learn that from 1 Chronicles 15.14-18). David and Uzzah did not follow God’s strict instructions to his people about how to handle the Ark of his Presence and awful consequences ensued. But when David finally followed God’s instructions, God’s blessing ensued. God blessed Obed-edom and his household.
If all the above is true, how can sinful mortals like you and me ever hope to live in God’s holy Presence forever, the same Presence that can tolerate nothing but perfection? Even the best of us are far from morally perfect as this story powerfully and frighteningly shows! No wonder David was angry and afraid. Who in his or her right mind wouldn’t be afraid if this is true? It would seem none of us will get to go to heaven or live in God’s direct Presence forever in the new heavens and earth. And this isn’t the only story of its kind in Scripture. Any time sinful mortals approach God’s holy Presence in ways not prescribed by God, it never turns out well for us. What to do?
Some will dismiss this story as pure fiction. It’s too terrifying to actually believe. But there is a better, life-giving way. Thankfully God has given us a way to approach him without fear. Enter the Cross of Jesus Christ. The only way we can approach God’s Presence is through Christ’s Death. In Christ’s holy Death, God took away our deserved punishment for our sins and made us spotless and without blemish in God’s sight. We aren’t told how this all works, only that it does. And those who put their faith in Christ and act accordingly can have every expectation and confidence that their present and future are with God, not separated from him. We have God’s very word on that contained in the NT and the tradition of the Church. God did not have to do that for us. In the Cross of Christ, in becoming human and dying our death and suffering God’s terrible separation on our behalf, God found a most unexpected way to make us holy and acceptable in God’s sight while satisfying God’s sense of real justice so that we could not only approach God but also get to live with God forever, God be thanked and praised!
This is the God we worship. This is the God we are called to love. Resolve today to stop serving the ways and gods of this broken and sinful world with its destructive and death-dealing systems and beliefs and give yourself entirely to this God who loves you so much he became human (or as the Church has traditionally stated, sent his only Son, Christ) to die for you to make you holy so you are worthy to stand in God’s Presence forever. This is the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is what real love is always all about. Real love never enables sin and brokenness or anything else that dehumanizes us and therefore is not always easy to give or be recognized because the world loves its sin and brokenness. Real love shows us the way to receive real healing, real hope, real mercy, the kind that only God the Father can give us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Real love always shows us Jesus, the only Way to the Father.