Lessons From The Death Of Uzzah

By Mike Willis

2 Samuel 6 records the occasion when David moved the ark of the covenant from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem, after having conquered the city and making it his capital. The worship of God in Israel was in shambles. The ark of the covenant had been captured by the Philistines in a battle while Eli was judge in Israel. The Philistines placed the ark of the covenant in Dagon’s temple in Ashdod but removed it from there when the Lord destroyed the idol of Dagon (1 Sam. 5). The people of the city were smitten with a disease, so the Philistine removed the ark from Ashdod to several other cities. When the people of each city became ill with the same disease, the leaders concluded that the disease was related to their having the ark. Consequently, they returned the ark of the covenant to Israel. The ark was eventually placed in Kiriath-jearim, in the home of Eleazar.

The ark of the covenant remained in Kiriath-jearim throughout the judgeship of Samuel and the forty years that Saul reigned as king in Israel. In the meantime, worship continued to be offered in the tabernacle which was situated in Nob and later at Gibeon. When David became king, he resolved to bring the ark of the covenant to Jersualern and to re-unite the divided worship.

Consequently, David gathered 30,000 chosen men of Israel and proceeded to bring the ark of the covenant from the house of Abinadab in Gibeah to Jerusalem.

And they set the ark of God 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, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, 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. 6:3-7).

There are a number of lessons from this record which we can learn. Here are some of them:

1. When God gives man a pattern, he expects men to follow that pattern. God had given Israel a pattern for transporting the ark of the covenant. The sons of Kohath, the son of Aaron, were given the responsibility of transporting the ark of the covenant. The high priest was to cover the ark of the covenant with a veil and the sons of Kohath were to carry the ark on their shoulders (Num. 4:1-15). For whatever reasons, the ark was not transported according to the Bible pattern. Perhaps, because the ark had been away from the Tabernacle for so long, people were ignorant of the law. Perhaps the degree of reverence which God required of the people was missing. For whatever reason, they did not obey the Lord’s law and the Lord punished them, impressing David with the message that God expects his pattern to be obeyed. When the people placed the ark of God on their new cart they committed a serious trespass: they ignored the divinely appointed order and substituted their own arrangements. David acted without divine orders and substituted something in the worship and service of God for which he had no “thus saith the Lord.”

Three months later, when David brought the ark from the house of Obed-edom, he had learned the lesson of following the Lord’s pattern. As he planned the moving of the ark, he said, “None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever” (1 Chron. 15:2). When instructing the Levites in bringing the ark to Jerusalem, he reflected on the sin committed by Uzzah saying, “Ye are the chief of the fathers of the Levites; sanctify yourselves, both ye and your brethren, that ye may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel unto the place that I have prepared for it. For because ye did it not at the first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order” (1 Chron. 15:12-13).

The denominational pastor and author Arthur W. Pink commented on David’s sin in these words:

There are many who are anxious to see the pews occupied and their treasury well filled, and so “socials,” “ice-cream suppers,” and other worldly attractions are employed to draw the crowd. There are many preachers who are anxious to hold the young people, and so “athletic clubs,” social entertainments, are introduced to secure that end. There are many evangelists who are anxious to “make a good show,” secure “results,” and be able to herald so many hundreds of “converts” at the close of their “campaigns,” and so fleshly means are used, high pressure methods are employed to bring this about: “decision cards,” the “sawdust trail,” the “penitent form” are called in to their aid. There are many Sunday school teachers who are anxious to hold the interest of their class, and so “prizes” are given, “picnics” are arranged, and other devices are resorted to.

Apparently it does not occur to these “leaders” to challenge their own actions, to weigh them in “the balances of the sanctuary, ” to inquire how near or how far they measure up to the divine standard: so long as such means and methods seem right to them, or are in general vogue in other “churches,” and so long as they appear to “succeed,” nothing else matters. But in a coming day, God is going to ask of them “who hath required this at your hand?” (Isa. 1:12)! None of the devices mentioned above have one particle of scriptural authority to warrant their use-, and it is by the Scriptures that each of us will yet be judged! All things must be done “according to the pattern” (Heb. 8:5; Ex. 25:40) which God has furnished us; and woe will it yet be unto us if we have disregarded His “pattern” and substituted another of our own (The Life of David, pp. 295-296).

Many of our brethren need to learn the lesson which Pink has so well expressed. In recent years, some of our brethren have been trying to persuade us that those who have changed the worship of the church by adding instruments of music have not committed so serious an offense as to justify the division which exists between us. We are reminded that these brethren have a good, honest and sincere heart. If we can stand justified before God in spite of our sins, so also can they. I am willing to grant that these brethren have a good, honest and sincere heart – a heart just like Uzzah and David! Nevertheless, they are no more obedient to the divine pattern of worship than was Uzzah. My love for and concern for their soul insists that I call for them to repent of their sin, just as I should have been calling for Uzzah not to touch the ark of the covenant had I been present when they. moved the ark.

2. Sins committed with good intentions are still punishable by God. We have been fed a steady diet of the doctrine that sins committed from a good, honest heart do not jeopardize a man’s soul. One could not persuade Uzzah that this is so – Uzzah’s intentions were good. He was concerned that the ark of the covenant might fall off the new cart when the oxen stumbled. With the intention of steadying the tottering ark of the covenant, Uzzah reached back and touched the ark. Immediately, God struck Uzzah dead in exact compliance with Numbers 4:15. Good intentions do not sanctify wrong actions.

In writing to the Romans, Paul commended their zeal for God but condemned them for not practicing the righteousness of God. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10: 1-3).

“The special moral of this warning is that no one, on the plea of zeal for the ark of God’s church, should resort to doubtful expedients and unlawful means for the attainment of his end” (Wordsworth, Pulpit Commentary on 2 Samuel 6, p. 164).

3. Failure to follow God’s divine pattern is a sign of irreverence. The man who does not show enough regard for the Lord to inquire from his word to see what he has said about the matter does not show reverence for the will of God. Before speaking on the subject of homosexuality, a man should see what God has said about the matter. Before deciding how often the Lord’s supper should be served, a man should see what God has had to say about the matter. He who rushes to speak or act without consulting the will of God shows disrespect for God’s work in revelation.

4. The counsel of great men does not constitute authority from God. When David prepared to bring the ark of the covenant from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem, he conferred with the prominent men. “And David consulted with the captains of thousands and hundreds, and with every leader. And David said unto all the congregation of Israel, If it seem good unto you, and that it be of the Lord our God, let us send abroad unto our brethren every where, that are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levites which are in their cities and suburbs, that they may gather themselves unto us: and let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we enquired not at it in the days of Saul. And all the congregation said that they would do so: for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people” (1 Chron. 13:1-4). However, because it was right in the eyes of the people did not make it right in the eyes of God.


Brethren, let us never forget the fundamental lessons which we have learned from the study of such basic stories as the death of Uzzah.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 1, pp. 2, 19
January 7, 1988