2 Samuel 6:1-11 and Related
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God's Example of Uzzah
With Jerusalem now the royal city of Israel, it is finally time to bring "church and state" together in this centralized location. So David calls for the Ark of the Covenant to be moved to Jerusalem from Kirjath Jearim, approximately 10 miles west of Jerusalem. The ark has been situated here since the Philistines relinquished it to the Israelites (1 Samuel 6:21).
Now we come to a very important lesson that David and all Israel had to relearn. Let's review some of the specific instructions that God previously gave for Israel to follow.
The ark of God was an extremely holy object, representing His presence (see Exodus 25:21-22). It had to be handled with the utmost regard to strict regulation in the Law of Moses, which mandated that the care of the most holy things was entrusted to the Levitical sons of Kohath (Numbers 3:29-31). Yet even these caretakers were not to touch the holy articles or so much as look casually upon them "lest they die" (Numbers 4:15, 20). The Kohathites were instructed to carry the ark on their shoulders by poles passing through rings on the ark's corners to keep them from touching it (Numbers 4:1-16; Exodus 25:14-15). It was not to be transported by cart or any other vehicle (Numbers 7:6-9). David, however, was using the same transport method the Philistines had used (compare 1 Samuel 6:7-8).
Yet God says, "Therefore you shall be careful to do as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left" (Deuteronomy 5:32). And: "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you" (4:2). Also: "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (12:32).
We are never to reason against, or attempt to change, God's commands. A king was not to be ignorant of God's instruction: "Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes,that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel" (17:18-20). Thus, God requires much of a leader He chooses.
Though Uzzah's violation is apparently unintentional, God makes a powerful example of him. It is possible, of course, that Uzzah was more involved in what happened than we know. As one given the great honor of walking so closely to the ark, it may be that he was instrumental in the decision to use the cart. Perhaps it was his cart or oxen being employed. And, in any case, he is the one who actually touched the ark. Still, it appears he meant well.
When Uzzah is struck down, then, David becomes angry—and not, it should be pointed out, at his own carelessness. Evidently, David still doesn't understand important aspects of what has gone wrong. That he has either forgotten or is ignorant of God's specific instructions regarding the transport of the ark is apparent from 1 Chronicles 13:12: "David was afraid of God that day; saying, 'How can I bring the ark of God to me?'" (compare 2 Samuel 6:9). He doesn't know.
So his anger, then, is at God—for what He has done to Uzzah. His death seems so unjust and unnecessarily harsh, as it does, no doubt, to many today. After all, Uzzah was trying to protect the ark, and David, who had made the decision about transporting it, was zealous to restore God's prescribed tabernacle worship to the nation. But he should have looked more closely at exactly what God had prescribed.
Moreover, there were other Levites who probably knew of God's instructions and should have made His will known to David. Ignorance and forgetfulness do not negate God's specific commands. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," God will later proclaim (Hosea 4:6). In other words, what you don't know can hurt you! Because of such neglect, Uzzah was killed by God. So what began as a joyous time of celebration has turned into a very sad and sobering moment.
God is sending a warning signal here to all people of all times that He is not a God to be trifled with. We must approach Him with the proper awe and respect. And David does receive a dose of healthy fear of God, which undoubtedly sends him to the Scriptures or to the priests to determine what ought to be done—as should have been done in the first place. Let this, then, serve as a lesson for all of us too. From the point of view of leadership, the decisions a leader makes brings consequences—either good or bad—on the lives of those he leads.
As for Uzzah, he will stand in the general resurrection of the dead after Christ's millennial reign (compare Revelation 20:5, Revelation 20:11-12) with all those of mankind who have not yet been given an opportunity for salvation—and he will then be able to choose whether to truly serve the Lord. God is ultimately fair. Indeed, Uzzah will awake in a world far better than the one he has left behind.
For the next three months, the ark is left at the home of Obed-Edom, a Levite of the line of Korah who will later be one of the doorkeepers for the ark (1 Chronicles 15:18, 1 Chronicles 15:24; 1 Chronicles 26:4-8). He is also called a Gittite (2 Samuel 6:11) because he is from the Levitical city of Gath Rimmon (compare Joshua 21:24).