By Weldon E. Warnock
Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah to bring up from hence the ark of God. . . . And they set the ark upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart. . . . And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God (2 Sam. 6:1,2,3,6,7).
Two violations of the Old Testament law took place in the moving of the Ark of God. (1) The ark was carried by an ox cart. This was a violation of the Old Testament requirement that the Ark be carried by staves and placed upon the shoulders of the men of Levi, of the family of Kohath (Num. 3:30-31; 4:15; 7:9; Exod. 25:14-15). (2) Uzzah touched the Ark. This violated Numbers 4:15, the penalty for which was death.
More than twenty years had elapsed since the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant in their defeat of Israel. They carried it to Ashdod where they suffered the destruction of God’s anger. Such punishment caused them to send the Ark to Gath, but they soon realized the displeasure of Jehovah and sent the Ark to Ekron who suffered the same consequences.
Out of desperation the Philistines decided to make a new cart (1 Sam. 6:7) and send the Ark to Beth-shemesh. The Beth-shemites also experienced the anger of the Lord and they asked the men of Kirjath-jearim to come and get the Ark (1 Sam. 6:19-21). The Ark of God remained in the house of Abinadab, the father of Uzzah and Ahio, for twenty years (1 Sam. 7:2).
David, after he became king, determined to move the Ark to Jerusalem. He totally ignored the instructions of God regarding how to move the Ark and copied the method of the Philistines, using a new ox cart. Things, seemingly, went well until the procession arrived at Nachon’s threshing floor and Uzzah, touching the Ark to stay it, was smitted dead. The Ark was left in the house of Obed-edom for three months before it was properly moved to Jerusalem.
There are several lessons that we can learn from David’s new cart and Uzzah’s presumptive act.
1. David adopted the ways of others. The Philistines moved the Ark on an ox cart and David patterned his mode of transportation after theirs. Today, we like the ways others are doing things, so we incorporate them in our service unto God. Many churches of Christ, mimicking the denominational churches round about them, have their Easter services, special singers, recreational facilities, family counselors, junior church, a positive approach to preaching, and many more things that could be mentioned. We are seeing these “new carts” all over the place.
Apparently, David thought the “how” made no difference as long as you get the job done. But the “how” is important when God states the “how.” God told Moses to speak to the rock and water would come forth, but Moses smote the rock instead (Num. 20:8,11). Water came forth, abundantly, but Moses violated God’s word. The “how” was most significant. Children can be brought into this world outside of marriage, but God designated the sanctity of marriage as the “how.” Noah was to build an ark out of gopher wood. He obeyed the “how.”
We are to offer up praise unto God. The “how” has been specified! He told us to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Some would have us to believe that any kind of music we offer to God is acceptable as long as we are sincere. In other words, a new cart is alright as long as you mean well.
Paul said, “I have laid the foundation and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how (emphasis mine) he buildeth thereupon” (1 Cor. 3:10).
David tried to improve on the ways of God. Instead of carrying the Ark the way God had instructed, he devised his own method. He should have known that God’s ways are higher than man’s ways, and his thoughts than man’s thoughts (Isa. 55:9).
Denominationalism is a result of men seeking to improve and enhance the ways of God. This is clearly reflected in their creed books, catechisms and disciplines. They have
sought intensely to “improve” the organization, worship, mission and doctrine of the first century church. Some of our brethren are in the same kind of crowd when they
espouse no eldership, no corporate local church, no structured worship, no pattern, women preachers, women deaconnesses, no treasury, et al. These “new carts” have
been rolled out with their modern Uzzahs and they are no more sanctified than was David’s look-alike Philistine cart.
4. David lacked respect for God’s divine authority. There would have been no new cart to carry the Ark if David had respected the authority of God. After failing in his first effort to move the Ark, David was successful in his second endeavor because the children of the Levites bore the Ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves as Moses commanded (1 Chron. 15:15).
We must respect the authority of Christ (Matt. 28:18). May everything we do in word or in deed be done in the name of Christ (Col. 3:17). Let us speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.
It seems that Uzzah should have known better than to have touched the Ark. For twenty years the Ark had been in Abinadab’s house, the father of Uzzah. Had they lost their respect for the sacredness of it? One translation states that God smote Uzzah because of “his irreverent act” (2 Sam. 6:7, NIV). In Uzzah’s unlawful behavior we learn:
I. A little thing (in men’s eyes) may be a great thing in the eyes of Jehovah. All that Uzzah did was reach forth his hand to stay the Ark. Many would call it nothing more than a trifle. Yet, God smote him dead on the spot! Uzzah’s act was an overt violation of God’s restrictions. He acted without divine warrant.
How many times have we heard that instrumental music in worship to God is such a trivial matter or that observing the Lord’s Supper on Thursday or Saturday is of no consequence. Consider those who sprinkle for baptism and ask, “What is the difference of having a little water on the top of your head and getting wet all over?” We had better remember Uzzah!
An action may seem necessary and yet be wrong. It appeared to Uzzah that unless he reached forth his hand to stay the Ark, it would topple off onto the ground. However, if Uzzah had adhered to the law of God, the Lord would have taken care of the safety of the Ark. We dare not impose our human solutions upon the wisdom of Jehovah God.
We sometimes think unless we devise some human scheme to preach the gospel, like a missionary society, that we can-not get the job done with just the church. Too, we envision that gimmicks and carnal measures are necessary to “convert” the lost to Christ, having lost our faith in the power of the gospel. But these worldly methods are wrong. They are like the irreverent act of reaching forth the hand to stay the Ark.
Good intentions do not excuse disobedience. Who could question Uzzah’s intentions of trying to protect the Ark? But though trying to do what he thought was good, Uzzah disobeyed God. In the past several years brethren have had good intentions (I think) of making elders of a local congregation into brotherhood elders to oversee a cooperative effort of hundreds, even thousands, of congregations. Yet, such an arrangement violates the plain teaching of 1 Peter 5:2 and Acts 20:28. Elders have no authority to oversee anything beyond the work of the local congregation where they are elders.
Cain perhaps had good intentions, but he was wrong (Gen. 4:1-7). King Saul may have meant well, but he disobeyed God (1 Sam. 15). Saul of Tarsus was sincere in persecuting Christians, but he was disobedient (Acts 23:1; 26:9-11). Any work or function that does not conform to the will of God is sinful, regardless of one’s intentions.
We must not expect to help God’s work by measures which God forbids. It is most presumptive on man’s part when he thinks that he can improve upon God’s scheme of things by self-devised inventions. This is how the Roman hierarchy was developed and how all manner of innovations got into the church. God’s way was considered insufficient, so changes were made to satisfy human ambitions and carnal appetites.
Uzzah’s act serves as a warning against situation ethics. We are not left to our own discretion as to how the law of God should be administered. The Lord speaks and we are to hear. He commands and we must obey.
In conclusion, let us note “how swiftly an irreverent habit of treating holy things grows. The first error was in breaking the commanded order for removal of the ark by the Levites. Once in the cart, the rest follows. The smallest breach in the feeling of awe and reverence will soon lead to more complete profanation.” One does not have to be very discerning to see the rapid decline in respect for divine authority among members of the church of our Lord. In-deed, a disregard for a “thus saith the Lord” is leading to “complete profanation.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 3, p. 9
February 4, 1993