Have you read that story from 2 Samuel 6? You know the one where King David attempts to move the ark from the house of Abinadab. So I opened my bible the other day and that just happened to be the story I opened to. I started to read it and of course as is usual with the way my brain works I began to ask questions. What did Uzza do wrong? What did David do wrong? Why was God so angry with Uzza for touching the Ark, I mean he was only trying to keep it from tipping off the cart wasnt he? Growing up my dad taught me always to ask the question the “why” and to continue to ask it until I got an answer. So I began to look at this text more closely and making observations, meditating on it then followed up by getting perspectives from commentaries all the while asking God to give me some insight into it. I was surprised by His answer: David was playing fast and loose with God.
THE BACK STORY
In order for us to get a sense of the magnitude of the mess that David made here we need to jump into the back story just a little bit. Our starting point for this back story goes back to the days of Moses and the time of the giving of the Law. Now where I am going to start might seem a little obscure, but I want to make a point. Consider the story of Moses’ first meeting with Yahweh for a moment:
Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father- in- law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, ” I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Ex 3:1- 5 NASB)
In his very first encounter, Moses was given a demonstration of the Holiness of God. He was not to even approach where God was without removing his sandals. This command to remove his sandals served to indicate that when approaching God there was to be no hint of anything unclean, dirty or tainted. So grand, so pure, so unadulterated was God’s holiness that even the ground which was near by to presence of God became “holy” just by proximity.
This demonstration of holiness was in no way an isolated incident for Moses. In fact it actually set the stage for a revelation of God’s holiness to the entire nation of Israel. In the text above the Hebrew word “kodesh” is translated in with the English word “holy”. Kodesh means: apartness, holiness, sacredness, separateness. It can be used in reference to places, things and most importantly God. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (KJV version) this word is used 470 times in 382 verses in the OT. 174 of these verses alone are in just 4 books: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. That means that almost half of all uses of the word “kodesh” in the OT are from the Torah itself. The theme of the Holiness of God is a central theme for Moses and for the people of Israel. When you begin read individual verses, it becomes clear that relationship with God required holiness- to be set apart or consecrated. Throughout balance of the Torah there is the demonstration and command for regular purification for the priests and the people in order to enter the presence of God at any level. The tools and vessels which would be used in the sacrifices and practices within the temple had to be purified and set apart (read “made holy”) before they could be used. When something was supposed to be holy but was defiled in any way the fire of God would consume those things or people who were unholy. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu are a good example of this (Lev 10). Instead of following the holy procedures that God had set out through Mosaic Law about offerings to God, Nadab and Abihu did their own thing. They offered what we are told was a “strange fire” before the lord and they were consumed by God. You see they played fast and loose with God. They ignored ordinances of holiness. In Numbers 25 we are told about another situation where the people Israel started to “play the harlot with Moab” (this was an idiom which basically meant that instead of being true to their spiritual husband Yahweh they began to go and have a spiritual affair with the Gods of Moab eating food sacrificed to the foreign gods and bowing down to them). They had essentially brought that which was unholy and not set apart into their own camp and before their own God; in short they invited the taint of idolatry and sinful behavior into their midst and placed it front and centre before the feet of God. As a result a plague was brought upon them and over 20000 people died. If not for the zeal and holiness of Phineas many more would have died that day. This is the back story that we need to have in mind in order to understand David’s mistake in the 2 Sam 6 passage.
Expediency: Not Always the Best Policy
Now let’s shift forward in time again to when David was moving the Ark to his own city. Now if you have read 1 Samuel you will have already come across the passage where God declares that David is a man after his own heart (1 Sam 13:14). I have to admit when I hear this declaration from God I cringe because I feel so often that this is not a declaration that God would make about me. My life is so often a story of playing fast and loose with God. That being said it is narratives like the one that we are looking at here that puts David back on level playing ground with us. In this story of moving the ark, we get a picture of how much David screwed up… royally. It appears that in his zealousness to have the ark of the covenant (that symbol of the presence and power and holiness of God) right with in walls of his own city that he overlooked a some major details when he went to move it. Don’t get me wrong. His intentions were Godly and noble but in an attempt to bring the ark close by as quickly as he could, he actually acted in a way that showed no reverence or respect to God. In fact he completely ignored laws which clearly communicated the level of holiness that was expected by God. There has been a fair amount scholarship brought forth as to why Uzzah died when he touched the ark. I myself am not scholarly enough to being anything necessarily new to picture, however I will offer a few observations. Uzzah died because David simply ignored the holiness laws pertaining to things of the tabernacle. He ignored a clear commandment of Mosaic law which states that the ark was to be moved by those of Levitical descent. More specifically it was to be carried by the Kohathites as Numbers suggests:
When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy objects and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is to set out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them, so that they will not touch the holy objects and die. These are the things in the tent of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.“The responsibility of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest is the oil for the light and the fragrant incense and the continual grain offering and the anointing oil—the responsibility of all the tabernacle and of all that is in it, with the sanctuary and its furnishings.” Then the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “Do not let the tribe of the families of the Kohathites be cut off from among the Levites. But do this to them that they may live and not die when they approach the most holy objects:Aaron and his sons shall go in and assign each of them to his work and to his load; 20 but they shall not go in to see the holy objects even for a moment, or they will die.” (Num 4:15-20 NASB)
I have had a hard time trying to prove whether Uzzah was indeed of Levitical descent let alone a Kohathite. So I won’t put forth evidence for this. Nor can I prove or disprove whether the ark has been covered appropriately according to the law as the early part of Numbers 4 suggests. Here is what I can prove from scripture: Putting the ark on a cart driven by oxen really bad idea. Consider the design instructions of the ark from Exodus 25:
They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet, and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. You 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; they shall not be removed from it. (Ex 25: 10-15 NASB)
Clearly the blueprint of the ark which contains poles and rings for the poles to go through (poles which were not to be removed) suggests that the ark was itself not to be touched but more clearly that it was to be picked up and carried via the poles. This is not how David choose to move it though. I honestly believe he had speed in mind. To quote Larry the Cable Guy “git’er done!!!” From the standpoint of speed it was much easier to lift the ark on to cart and have a couple of oxen transport it to the city. You wouldn’t have to worry about availability of priests or all the consecration stuff. This was not however God’s way. In fact having oxen move the ark actually added a whole new dimension trouble to the transport. Perhaps this was not on David’s mind thought. Question: what was one to do if the oxen bolted and the ark began to fall off? And yet this was exactly the situation that ensued. I don’t think we can cast a lot of blame on Uzzah either. His intentions could have been noble. I can’t rightly say. The thought going through his head might have been “Uh Oh!! I am about to get smashed by a big heavy golden box.” Again we simply can’t know. When he did touch the ark though, God struck him dead. This was really David’s mistake. Uzzah might have been nothing more than collateral damage because of David’s sin. Again another question I can’t answer for sure. I believe however that David was in a rush and at that moment doing it God’s way was not in his mind. Fast and loose with God.
So we then see that David angered by what happened (might I add not at God but more than likely at himself) left the ark in the house of Obed-Edom for 3 months before trying again. Second time is apparently the charm in this case (to modify a common idiom). David’s approach this time was so much different. Check out this same story from the Chronicler’s pen. David’s own words shed more light on what happened in his thinking during the 3 months that the ark sat in the house of Obed-Edom. Before attempting the transport again he speaks to the priests:
“You are the heads of the fathers’ households of the Levites; consecrate yourselves both you and your relatives, that you may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel to the place that I have prepared for it. 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.” So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel. The sons of the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles thereon, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. (1 Chr 15:12- 15 NASB)
Breaking The Fast And Loose Cycle
Going back the 2 Samuel passage again notice how David slows his pace down to ensure that he is not playing fast and loose with the holiness of God:
And so it was, that when the bearers of the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. (2 Sam 6:13 NASB)
Notice anything about this that might seem familiar? God created for 6 days and then he rested on the 7th. There seems to be an allusion of sorts to the creation event (and for the record someone else made this observation and I am riding off their coat tails). Here is what I think sticks out to me about this: The second time around David ordered his steps in such a way that he wouldn’t lose site of the holiness of God. Six steps of movement was followed by an act of surrender, an act worship- in short an action that would put the focus totally back on God again. I think for the most part we want to serve God. We want to have his presence close to us like David did. I think we want to be standing on holy ground like Moses did and yet we, like David, play fast and loose with God, stomping all over His holiness and His ordinances. Instead of having our shoes removed (our defilement and taint) we walk right onto that holy ground. Instead of pursuing God according to the things that He has ordained, we ignore His laws and His ordering of things. We try to shortcut the process of sanctification in our lives (of becoming holy) by doing things our way. In many ways we are no different than David or Nadab and Abihu. We offer our own strange fire before the Lord thinking it will be accepted. Man am I ever thankful that Jesus has come as the once for all sacrifice for sin- otherwise I might have been burned up for all of the strange fire and shortcuts I have taken in life. I have so played fast and loose with God. I have so ignored God’s Law, God’s Word and His incredible holiness. You know the major difference between David and us? God’s presence and holiness is contained in a golden box or a temple made of wood and stone. His presence and holiness lives in you and I. How much more should our lives be characterized by beind consecrated and set apart. How much more should you and I be like David in his second attempt: to be seeking Him and His ordinances and living accordingly.
For me today the challenge is 6 steps then a sacrifice. Today the challenge for me is to order my life according to the patterns and guidelines that the Holy God has set out for me. It might take me longer to get there, but I won’t lose sight of Him. Ultimately the fast and loose game will dwindle and disappear as I pursue Him. As usual your thoughts and ideas are welcome. I hope this narrative challenges you the way it does me. Blessings