(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
Getting it wrong
30th August 2014
There are several places in scripture where God's judgment is more-or-less immediate, such as when He punished Nadab and Abihu for offering unauthorised fire before the Lord (Leviticus 10v1) when he sent poisonous snakes among the people for speaking against God and against Moses (Numbers 21v4) or when Ananias and Sapphira died because they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5v1-10) but this week's passage seems to me to be different, because the person who was punished intended to do good and not harm:
1 Chronicles 13v1-13
David had an idea. It was a good idea. He would bring back the Ark of the Covenant that had been captured by the Philistines many years ago. It had returned to Israelite territory but was still at Kiriath Jearim. David would bring it to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. He was humble, as a good leader should be, and asked first the leaders and then all the people if they agreed that this was the right thing to do. They agreed.
David and a representative group of the Israelite people promptly went to retrieve the Ark. They put it on a new cart and began the journey back to Jerusalem. They were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals and trumpets. They were sure they were doing what God wanted them to do, and they were full of joy and praise.
But When they came to the threshing-floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The LORDís anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.
Uzzah was probably a reasonably good man, a God-fearing man, so far as any of us are. He was willing to get involved and work for God's glory. He saw there was a problem and he tried to help. He didn't want the Ark of God to fall off the cart onto the ground. He meant well, and now he was dead.
Then David was angry because the LORDís wrath had broken out against Uzzah. I don't think David was angry with God - he was too wise for that. And I don't think he was angry with Uzzah, or with the oxen, or with anybody in particular. I think he was just angry. Sometimes, we try to do the right thing, we invest time and energy, we get the agreement of our friends, or our church, and it all goes wrong! And we wish we hadn't tried. We wonder why we bother. Sometimes we just want to scream because it can be hard to accept that our efforts seem to have done more harm than good.
David and the others must have been heartbroken and bewildered. They were doing a good thing. They were honouring God. And Uzzah meant well. Why did God punish him so severely?
I'm sure we don't want to accuse Almighty God of being unreasonable, so we have to accept that the punishment was just. The answer to Abraham's rhetorical question "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18v25b) is, of course, "Yes He will - always!" So the question for us is, "Why was Uzzah's sin so serious?"
Later, David thought about what had happened, and came to understand at least part of the answer:
1 Chronicles 15v1-4, 12-15
David realised, too late, that when we're handling the holy things of God, it's not enough to mean well. We must handle God's holiness in the prescribed way. The Ark of the Covenant was God's throne on earth (Leviticus 16v2b, Numbers 7v89, 1 Samuel 4v4, 2 Samuel 6v2). If you're going to move God's throne, you'd better do it God's way.
If we think God over-reacted, then we need to repent of daring to judge our Creator, Lord, Judge and Redeemer. If we accept that God is always right, but we're bewildered by this act of God, or another, then that indicates that we don't fully appreciate how holy God really is.
Today, the holiest things on earth are the Bible - the God-breathed written word of God - and the church. The church is (or, rather, we are) the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3v16-17). He dwells among us (Matthew 18v20). You tamper with the Bible or the church at your peril. What happens in the church - what is sung, what is prayed, what is prophesied, and particularly what is taught, must be done in the prescribed way. That is, they must be done in accordance with the Bible, not according to the traditions or bright ideas, or prevailing political thought of men.
There are people today who want to ignore or even change some scriptural teaching. Like David and Uzzah, they probably mean well. But they won't escape judgment.