When they came to the threshing floor of Nachon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen had stumbled.
I. IT WAS THE PUNISHMENT OF HIS SIN. "The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah." Every sudden death is not a judgment, even when the result of disobedience of some law. Instances: a child killed while playing with fire or deadly weapons; a man struck dead by the electric fluid while experimenting with it. But the phrase we have quoted compels us to regard Uzzah's death as a punishment of sin. At first it seems difficult to discover in what the sin consisted. His conduct, in reaching out his hand to the ark and laying hold of it, seems to have been at least well-meaning: he desired to preserve it from falling to the ground. But well-meaning acts may be wrong and severely punished. In this case there were:
1. Disobedience to a plain law, with the penalty of death attached. (See Numbers 4:15.) Indeed, the method of bearing the ark on this occasion was altogether contrary to the Law (Exodus 25:14; Numbers 7:9), as David learned by this event (see 1 Chronicles 15:13-15). There appears to have been at this period a general neglect of the Law of Moses, and ignorance of its requirements. How, otherwise, can we account for the ark itself lying so long neglected (1 Chronicles 13:3)? But, surely,.those who had the care of the ark ought to have known the law of God respecting it, or searched it out diligently when a new departure was contemplated, that they might both act rightly themselves and prevent the king from copying the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:7) instead of obeying the Divine Law. In the swift punishment that followed Uzzah's act, the memorable maxim was again, and most impressively, proclaimed, "To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22) - better than the most splendid pageant in honour of religion from which obedience is absent.
2. Irreverence. The ark was one of the most sacred things in the religion of Israel. It was a symbol of God's presence, his local dwelling place, "called by the Name, even the Name of the LORD of hosts, that sitteth upon the cherubim" (ver. 2, Revised Version); a witness, therefore, for him: an assurance that he was with them while they were loyal and obedient; the central point of worship and national life. It was, therefore, to be treated with utmost reverence. In the services of religion it was, as a witness for the invisible God, to be itself invisible, concealed by the second veil; it was to be approached only by the high priest, and by him only once a year, and with incense, the smoke of which should prevent his beholding it (Leviticus 16:13). But it had long been separated from its proper place in the tabernacle, and kept in a private house, the inmates of which had probably become so familiar with it that they ceased to cherish due reverence for it. Hence the rash act of Uzzah. True, the temptation was sudden and strong. But so are many temptations. All the more need to cherish such habitual piety, self-control, and watchfulness, as shall preserve us in the hour of peril. The recollection of the circumstances under which the ark had been brought into the house of Abinadab should have been sufficient to arrest the impulse to lay hold of it (1 Samuel 6:19-21).
3. Presumption. In pushing himself forward without warrant, and against the law, to preserve the ark from injury. Better to have left it to the care of him to whom it belonged, and who had shown in former days his care for it and his power to protect it (1 Samuel 5.). It was an instance of zeal without knowledge and faith, and in which self was prominent rather than God.
II. THE DEATH OF UZZAH WAS FOR THE INSTRUCTION AND WARNING OF DAVID AND HIS PEOPLE. David was seeking to revive and re-establish religion, and this act of God appeared to be a hindrance to his good design; but in fact it tended to promote it more effectually than all the measures of the king.
1. It was an impressive demonstration that Jehovah their God was still among them, the living God, the Almighty, the Holy One, observing and punishing sin. It showed that his laws were still living laws, not obsolete, though forgotten; that the sacred things which he had appointed were still sacred in his eyes, however neglected, and were to be so esteemed by the people; that, in particular, the ark was still the symbol and pledge of his living presence, as a God to be approached and worshipped with reverence, yet also with confidence in the covenant of which it was the sign. Thus the impression produced by the terrible event would tend to the revival of religious faith and feeling, and secure that David's endeavours should not end in the establishment of a mere ritual, however orderly and stately, but in sincere worship and corresponding life. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that the revival of religion began with terrible judgments. We also need a living faith in the living God - faith in his relation to us and presence with us; faith in his love, awakening our confidence and affection; faith also in his majesty, holiness, and justice, awakening our "reverence and godly fear." To this end we should meditate on the awe-inspiring aspects of the Divine character and government, as they appear in nature and providence and in the inspired book. Otherwise our religion is likely to become a weak, superficial, and sentimental thing, without depth and power.
2. It was a warning that was adapted to guide and restrain the religious zeal of the king. There was danger that, in his ardent desire for the re-establishment of the national worship with fitting circumstances of splendour and orderliness, he should not pay due attention to the instructions of the Law, but should violate the will of God in the endeavor to pay to him and secure for him due honour. Uzzah's death would teach him that the Divine will must be first regarded. He learnt this lesson so far as the mode of removing the ark was concerned. He could scarcely fail to keep it in mind. in all his subsequent proceedings. Great zeal for religion has ever a similar peril. Under its influence there is danger of adopting, with the best intentions, means and methods which are not according to the Divine Word. The most powerful persons are the most likely to feel as if their own will might be their law. Thus carnality and worldliness come to regulate the affairs of the Church, and the Law of God is violated in letter or in spirit. Hence the "will-worship, the volunteered, self-imposed, officious, supererogatory service" (Lightfoot on Colossians 2:23), which has so extensively prevailed in Christendom, and which has originated or fostered errors of doctrine; hence also the terrible crimes against Christian liberty and love which have been committed ad majorem Dei gloriam, and thought to be sanctified thereby.
3. There remain the common lessons taught by every death, especially by sudden deaths, and yet more especially by sudden deaths in the midst of displays of human power and glory. The uncertainty of life, the certainty of death, the awfulness of death in sin (John 8:21, 24), the vanity of earthly pomp and splendour, the necessity of habitual preparedness, the value of sincere and spiritual worship and service of God, the appropriateness of the admonition, "Be ye also ready," and of the prayer, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." - G.W.
Numbers 3:29-32; Numbers 4:4-15; Numbers 7:6-9.
1. How many there are who, like Uzzah in our text, profane the ark of God by wilful disobedience to His laws; and, therefore, like him, have to suffer the certain consequences. Death seems a severe penalty for simply touching the ark, but we see just the same penalty inflicted for what seem very small .offences against the laws of health almost every day of our lives. Thus for instance there are two great and important laws relating to our bodily health, disobedience to which inevitably brings its proper penalty — one the law that if we would be healthy we must be clean, dean both in body and in dwelling; the other the law that the air we breathe must be pure and fresh. And remember that we can all of us obey these laws if we like — it is not money or the want of money that makes the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy home. There are plenty of houses where the husband earns nothing more than ordinary weekly wages, and yet the cottage and its furniture are clean — the windows are regularly and properly opened, and the air is sweet and pure, and why? Because, while the husband is doing his work outside, the wife is also doing her duty inside, but unfortunately there are some houses where this is not so, and then, God's laws being broken, as surely as the penalty came on Uzzah. so surely does it come on that household. Often it comes in the form of bad health, fever sometimes, or more often that constant languidness and feebleness which makes work a weariness and even life itself a burden.
Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God.
1. Uzzah was a Levite, and he knew or ought to have known the commands of God with respect to the ark. In Numbers 4:15, it is written that those who had to bear the ark were "not to touch any holy thing, lest they die," Not only so, but the ark was to be covered, and so kept from the gaze of the irreverent. This had been neglected. Again, that which was to be borne only on men's shoulders was put on a cart. This was a gross piece of neglect.
2. Then it is probable that the offence of Uzzah was aggravated by the fact that he had not sufficient reverence for the Divine command. The ark had been for seventy years under the care of his father and family. Eleazar, who had been set apart to take care of it, was probably dead. It may be that neither Uzzah nor Ahio his brother had ever thought that it was important that they should be consecrated to the work. They, presuming on their Levitical descent, may have taken upon themselves informally the position of attendants. Constant familiarity with it may have led them to think of it with even somewhat of contempt. It was like a piece of useless furniture. They may have forgotten how interwoven that ark was with religious and national life. To them it may have seemed a sort of Nehushtan. Others regarded it with expectancy and reverence, but to them it was only so much wood and gold. And thus many regarded Christ's cross as so much wood, and His death as a martyrdom, forgetting that they are of infinite value as the sign and seal of the expiation of sin and salvation of the world. There was no virtue in the ark, any more than in the cross itself, apart from God's appointment. God's revealed will makes all the difference in respect to any act or observance. Doubtless Uzzah had touched the ark in an over-familiar way before, and it may have been passed over; now he does it publicly, and as evil would result from his example, judgment follows.(1) Some would say, "But how trifling the sin, compared with the severity of the punishment." Sin is never a trifle. Disobedience to God is not a trifle. Peter's few words of denial were easily spoken, but they were no trifle in their consequences. A few drops of prussic acid taken into the system are trifling, so far as size and substance are concerned, but not as to results. To touch the ark irreverently was no trifle; it indicated a state of heart not in accord with the office filled.(2) Besides, the attention of the people had to be arrested, and the need for reverence emphasized. Hence the sin was not passed by. Great benefit arose. As in the case of the men of Beth-shemesh, the exclamation was raised, "Who is able to stand before the Lord?" so here we find David saying, "How shall the ark of God come to me?" A deep impression of the need for purity on their part and of unswerving justice on God's part was made.
3. Uzzah sinned with his eyes open. He knew the commands. He sinned with the warning of Beth-shemesh before him. He sinned publicly, and has perished suddenly and miserably. It was a sudden and severe judgment, but that was a stern age, and the people could only be influenced by such means. David saw the reason for the visitation, and so when he summoned courage to move on instead of going up to Jerusalem he turned aside to Obed-edom the Gittite, one who was not only a Levite but probably a Kohathite, to whom it rightly pertained to bear the ark. It may be objected that the punishment was needlessly severe, in that Uzzah's intentions were good. This is very plausible; but good intentions do not always justify wrong-doing. Many have been led astray by this sophistry. We may not do evil that good may come. God will not have His laws broken under pretence of serving Him. We may not bend to a course of expediency under the pretext of glorifying God. Whatever is really wrong must not be permitted, and it was wrong for Uzzah to break the Divine command and thereby perhaps lead others to similar irreverence. Uzzah died by the side of the ark of God. How terrible! Yet what a warning for the ages! Being engaged in religious services or connected with sacred things cannot ensure salvation. We should, therefore, watch any tendency to levity or lightness in Divine worship, or in treatment of sacred subjects. To use Scripture to point a witticism or to regard the Divine book as an ordinary book is not a good sign. There should be no listlessness in worship or in listening to God's truth. Is not Such carelessness an indication of indifference to the presence of that Divine Spirit in which we believe? Can we be bold and heartless in the presence of the King of Heaven?
2. There are laws of worship, the first of which is given us by our Saviour Himself. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. And the second law of worship, if not exactly given us by our Saviour, at any rate comes to us bearing the stamp of His approval. It is the law of a consistent worship, not a worship of the lips only while the heart is far off, but a worship in which heart and voice unite " to make one music." Is it so with us? If not, would it not be well to think of the lesson taught us by the fate of Uzzah? To come into God's house without reverence for the owner of the house; to come joining (or professing to join) with our lips in the confession of sin, while yet we feel no sorrow for sin; to come with the prayer for forgiveness on our lips, while yet we desire none in our hearts; to sing the psalms on the beauty of holiness, and hymns about the joys of heaven, when holiness is distasteful to us, and heaven a home where in heart and mind we never go; what is that but a profanation, and what other penalty can it bring than the penalty of spiritual death? For a cold, heartless, and indifferent service — what is it like but an unhealthy diseased life, a life without either energy or enthusiasm, a life which is really only a living death? What then shall we do?(1) Two things; first we must amend our lives, and learn to obey that command of St. Paul's, "I beseech you, brethren," and(2) we must remember the lesson contained in the fact that while no blood might be sprinkled on the ark, the figure of this world where law and order reign, yet on the mercy seat, the figure of heaven, where God in mercy is enthroned, the blood of the sacrifice was to be offered. And that sacrifice we must offer according as Christ has commanded.
(G. Bladon, B. A.)
1. Man may forget, but not God. If God has made a thing clear at one time, we must not think (like Balaam) that He will change His mind about it.
2. Altered circumstances don't affect truth.
I. DEATH WAS UNDER THE LAW THE PUNISHMENT OR TRANSGRESSION. Executed in single cases. (Numbers 15:32-36; Joshua 7:15-25; 1 Kings 13:21-25.) The principle of such punishment is doubtless brought out in 1 Corinthians 11:30-32.
II. REVERENCE BECOMES FINITE BEINGS IN APPROACHING THE INFINITE, Love and zeal are not enough; there is danger of carelessness or lightness. We are to work out our salvation "with fear and trembling," to speak "with meekness and fear," to serve "with reverence and godly fear."
III. GOD DOES NOT NEED MAN'S HELP, THOUGH HE CONDESCENDS TO USE IT. We put our hand to the ark when we defend God's cause with carnal weapons.
(R. E. Faulkner.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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