The Sin Of Uzzah: Disobedience
Posted by Job on August 24, 2009
There is an interesting tale in the Bible recounted in 2 Samuel 6: the case of Uzzah. The background: the ark of the covenant had been lost some time before in battle, and wound up in the house of this one Abinadab. King David sent his men to retrieve the ark from Abinadab and restore it back to its proper place in the tabernacle. Now as the ark represented the very presence of God and as such was holy, God gave Israel specific instructions for transporting the ark in order to prevent the holiness of God from coming into contact with sinful hands. The ark had been constructed with rings on each side so that staves – rods if you will – could be slid through them, and thus the ark could be carried without human hands being placed on them. Further, even the ones carrying the ark had to be priests that had been ritually purified. In case this seems a bit strange, please recall that these events took place before the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, before the tearing of the veil, and before sinful man could approach God directly. At this time, no payment, no atonement, no satisfaction for the wrath of God against sinful man had been made, so the punishment for approaching God in a manner not commanded by God was death. And this is what Uzzah found out.
For David did not have the priests go out and bear the ark on staves in the manner that God commanded. Instead, the ark was placed on a cart driven by oxen! I suppose the fact that it was a NEW cart was supposed to make this disobedience somehow better. Inevitably, as oxen driven carts carrying precious and holy cargo that was never supposed to be transported in such a manner tend to do, the rough ride caused the ark of the covenant to shake violently, as if it was going to overturn and fall off. Uzzah, thinking that he was acting out of respect and devotion to the ark of the covenant, reached out to steady it. When his sinful hand touched the ark of the covenant, he was slain on the spot.
It is easy for us in our human minds to sympathize with Uzzah. Wasn’t he trying to do the right thing? Wasn’t he trying to do his best? After all, it wasn’t his fault that the ark was being transported incorrectly. He was only following the commands of his king David. What was he supposed to do? Allow the ark to topple and fall over and its holy contents fall out and possibly break? What would have happened then? It is incidents like this that cause many to believe that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of the New Testament, which was the heresy of Marcion. Or many believe that the God of the Old Testament dealt with mankind in a different manner than the God of the New Testament, which is the basis of dispensationalism theology. Or they simply feel that God was much angrier, demanding, harder to please, even arbitrary in the Old Testament, and those of us living in the age of grace have a better deal. Again, that is if you look at it from man’s perspective, sympathize with Uzzah, and place ourselves in his shoes.
While doing so is human and natural, it is not being fair to God. Instead of putting ourselves in Uzzah’s shoes, the duty of the Christian is to look at this from GOD’S perspective. David referred to this incident Perezuzzah, which means a breach was made upon Uzzah, but the true offense was made against the holy and righteous God. After all, it was Israel’s sin that caused the ark to be taken in the first place. It was still more sinful behavior that the rulers of Israel took their sweet time retrieving the ark of the covenant when they should have done so as quickly as possible. The method of transporting the ark was also in violation of God’s explicit commands, also sinful. And finally Uzzah’s grabbing the ark was sinful. How much sin, how much disobedience, how much defiance, how much evil was God supposed to endure before acting? Why do we, children of God, care more about the injury done to Uzzah, a creature, than we do to the holy character and nature of God? Why do we have this conviction that man can behave as he chooses and God has to just take it, as if He is our servant whose duty is to put up with our nonsense? Is this what we think that grace means?
The truth is that God gave a specific command: not to touch the ark of the covenant. Uzzah was aware of this command, and broke it. Why? Because of faithlessness which leads to presumption. Uzzah presumed that God would be more displeased by the ark’s falling over than He would be with Uzzah’s disobedience. In doing so, Uzzah completely misunderstood God’s nature. Uzzah either ignored or rejected what God was using the ark of the covenant to teach him. Taking care of the ark became more important than obeying the God whom the ark pointed to and represented, and by doing so Uzzah made the ark of the covenant into an idol that he worshiped in the place of God. Instead of serving the true God through faith by obeying the commandment of the Lord and not touching the ark whatever the consequences, Uzzah created his own self-styled observance, his own rules for religious worship, and thereby broke God’s commands.
What is the purpose of religion in the first place? It is to help us praise and serve God. If we pursue religion through the faith that leads to obedience, then religion is a good thing. But if the religion is practiced in the absence of obedience, then it is the religion that is being worshiped instead of God, and ultimately it is ourselves – our own values, notions, and desires – that are worshiped instead of God. Religion absent obedience to God is idolatry, because we are worshiping our own creation, the things of our own hands. That is exactly what Uzzah did when he decided that keeping the ark from falling over was more important than obeying God. It is reminiscient of the sin of Saul, who rather than waiting on Samuel to bring him the Lord’s instructions instead faithlessly and presumptuously offered a sacrifice, attempting to buy and bribe God into giving Him victory in battle, and in that way treating God as if He were one of the false pagan deities whose favors were bought with gifts, rituals and ceremonies.
Now do not be deceived: I am not saying that for Uzzah to have faith would have meant believing that the ark would not fall if he did not touch it; believing that God would have somehow supernaturally kept the ark from falling … that it would have fallen out of the cart but flew or floated on air without touching the ground, or that it would have never fallen out of the cart in the first place. That is false, outcome-based man-pleasing man-centered religious thinking. Why? Because our obedience to God is not based upon any particular outcome! That is double-dealing, working both sides, having a foot in two camps! That is not how man responds to a sovereign God! Instead, faithfulness on the part of Uzzah would have been to not touch the ark whether it would have fallen or not! Instead of trying to honor the ark by keeping it from falling, Uzzah would have honored the God whom the ark represented, the God that was greater than the ark, by doing what He says!
And what if the ark had fallen? Would it have been a terrible thing? Of course. But this is the rub: God has equipped us to deal with terrible things. God has promised to stand with us, to go out before us in battle, to never leave us or forsake us. Bad things are going to happen. Illnesses. Betrayals. Church splits. Persecution. False imprisonments. Deaths. Trials, turmoils and tribulations, wars and rumors of wars, plagues, heartaches and heartbreaks. Those things are going to happen, and God has never at any time promised us that they would not. Instead, what we are supposed to do is remain faithful. Remain obedient. We are to keep God’s commandments, see the bad things happen, and then see how God deals with it. Or more accurately, see how God uses the bad things that happen to deal with US. To mold US. To shape US. To train US. To prune, rebuke, and chastise US. To conform US into the image of His Son. Uzzah should have just let the ark of the covenant fall to the ground and then ask in prayer “What now Lord?” But he didn’t, and the reason was that he lacked the faith to come to the conclusion that no matter what happens, God can fix it. Or even better, even if God doesn’t fix it, GOD CAN STILL USE IT! Even in the most limited human thinking, Uzzah should have realized that had the ark of the covenant fallen off the cart, that would have been David’s responsibility for not ordering the priests to come carry the ark in the first place. But when he reached out and touched the ark, the responsibility went from David to himself, and he alone faced the consquences.
This is why we have to flee religious doctrines and movements that rationalize disobedience. We have to reject the excuses and the lies. We have to turn away from the compromise. We should only attach ourselves to and fellowship with Christians who are making their best efforts to obey. This is impossible you say? Of course it isn’t. After all, look at Uzzah. He wasn’t the only one near the cart. He wasn’t the only one who saw the ark shake. Yet he was the only one who touched the ark! Everyone else obeyed. Uzzah was the only one who didn’t. So, in acting out of disobedience because of his lack of faith, Uzzah presented the Lord an unacceptable sacrifice similar to that of Cain. He gave the Lord an unacceptable sacrifice that can be compared to those of Israel at the time of their apostasy when God warned through His prophets that they displeased Him and would not be accepted by Him. Why should God accept our religion done in disobedience when He has empowered us to do better? If He did not accept the disobedience of Uzzah and those like Him under the old covenant, why should He accept our religious disobedience today, where obligation and ritual and traditions matter more than loving faithful and obedient hearts?
And do not be deceived into thinking that Uzzah has no relevance to the age of grace. Evidence that it does: what Paul said concerning those who took communion unworthy. 1 Corinthians 11:28-30: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” So even now in the times of the church, the times of the Gentiles, many Christians are suffering the same punishment as Uzzah the Jew for the same reason as Uzzah the Jew: disobedience. And to those who call us who unapologetically state that the God of the New Testament and the God of the Old Testament is the same God and as such is a holy God that requires obedience names like “legalist” and have adopted a “judge not” attitude towards Christianity, and in doing so lie upon and deceive people concerning the grace of God, please pay attention to the next verse: “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” The next verse still: “But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.”
How many Uzzahs do we have in the church today? It would appear to be quite a few because of the culture of permissiveness that is rampant in these last and evil days. I am here today to warn you: those who partake in Uzzah’s behavior will receive Uzzah’s reward. This is not a warning to the unsaved, for the unsaved do not need to be told to obey. How can an unsaved person obey without the Holy Spirit? And if an unsaved person does somehow obey, what good will that unsaved person’s obedience be on judgment day, when he is cast into the lake of fire with all the other unsaved obedient or not? Instead, this is a warning to the born again believers. Do not use the grace of God as license to commit evil. Instead, reject the way of Uzzah and love the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength by obeying Him and keeping His commandments. Examine yourselves, Christians, as to whether there is an area in your lives where you are disobedient. I am not speaking of sin, because the New Testament makes it clear that even Christians will sin. Instead, the question to you today is whether there is some area in your life where you are persistently disobedient. It may be some habit, or it may even be the result of some doctrine. Read the warnings to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 to see how false doctrines cause many in the church to live in disobedience. While you do so, pay attention to the context of Revelation 2:23, which reads “And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” Do not believe that simply because you are a born again Christian that what happened to Uzzah cannot happen to you if you continue in disobedience.