1 Chronicles 13:9-11
And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled.…
(ver. 10 with Matthew 9:21): — How characteristic are these two incidents of the two dispensations under which they respectively occurred? What a comment upon the declaration, "The letter killeth, the spirit giveth life."
I. I observe that the Old and New Testaments present many such instructive contrasts, serving to illustrate THE DIFFERENT SPIRIT OF THE LEGAL AS COMPARED WITH THE EVANGELICAL ECONOMY — the one being mostly miracles of judgment, the other almost exclusively miracles of mercy. For instance, there is the confusion of tongues at Babel — the gift of tongues at Pentecost; the water turned into blood in Egypt — the water turned into wine at Cana; the darkness of Egypt issuing in the death of the first-born — the darkness of Calvary bringing many sons to glory. And so in the text: the death of Uzza on touching the ark — the healing of the sufferer that touched our Lord. It was in either case a touch; but the one was fatal, the other a cure. The one was a case of presumption, if not of unbelief; the other a case of humility and of the deepest faith. The Lord, the heart-searcher, saw a difference in the intrinsic similarity of the acts which man saw not. It was not altogether the difference in the dispensations, but the difference in the persons. Uzza not only overlooked the law that prescribed the Kohathite as the ark-bearer, but sacrilegiously intruded his hand to support an emblem which had vindicated the sufficiency of its self-reliance by its superhuman inflictions in the house of Dagon, and by its miraculous over-rulings of natural instincts in the leading of the kine from their calves when its mystic pilgrimage lay in an opposite direction; whereas the woman in the Gospels ascribed merit and virtue even to the hem of the Redeemer's garment, and much more therefore to Himself. Hence the two, Uzza and the woman, enacted in type the Pharisee and the publican, whereof the one "went down to her house justified rather than the other." Both intrinsically were slight, inconsiderable acts in themselves — A mere touch externally in either case; the one touching the sign, the other the thing signified. But the one brought his support to the covenant ark, the other drew her support from the Ark; the one approached in self-sufficiency, and was smitten for his presumption, the other drew nigh in self-abasement, and was healed for her faith. Upon the one, therefore, fell the terrible anathema of "the letter" that "killeth"; upon the other descended as the dews of heaven "the Spirit" that "giveth life."
II. In their contrast is presented THE LIGHT AND SHADE OF THE PROFESSION-LIFE IN THE CHURCH. It is more agreeable to our natural pride to feel our personal hand to be the stay of a declining Church, than to creep with a poor, dejected sinner to the hem of the garment, the lowest place, the door-keeper's post in the house of our God. The pride of ecclesiastical office is in various shapes and degrees the besetting sin of clergy and laity. It leads the former to rest upon functional relations, those pretensions and reliances due only to the endowments of grace, to the conscientious cultivation of gifts, and to the exercise of personal influence. It tempts the priest alike to supersede the man and lose sight of God. Alas! for this thrusting the unbidden hand of the creature upon the ark of God! It displays itself among the laity, too, in the love of office in the Church, for the mere office sake, as a platform for self-parade. It escapes even in the mode and amount of contributions to the Church, in laying them like the corban on the altar, not for the glory of God, but as the price of redemption from some unpalatable duty. There are men who can be brought to church with the idea of playing the patron, to indulge the vanity of their sense of being necessary to her standing and well-doing, who thus lay unhallowed hands on her altar, like an Uzza, but who would disdain to be indebted to that lowly touch of her spiritual garment, for the feeling that it was that, and not their presumptuous handling of the ark of her strength, that made them whole.
III. The doctrine of the contrast is twofold — NAMELY, THE PERIL OF THE LEAST SIN, AND THE PEACE OF THE LEAST ACT OF FAITH. As to the first: you are always in danger so long as you allow yourselves in any known sin under the plea of Lot, who, by the side of the enormities of Sodom, contended "is it not a little one?" The effect of that friction with the world into which men's eagerness in business or pursuit of pleasure leads them, is to rub off the bloom from the fruits of the Spirit, and to rub off, though in minutest particles, the fine gold, and turn it dim in lustre and less in substance. The little sin, as you imagine it, of putting your hand, say, upon a portion of the Sabbath, to do something in your business, or to spend it in recreation, or in reading the news, or in secular gossiping, leaving the sound of the service chimes to die away among the graves of the dead, who are no more insensible to its calling than yourselves — in these supposed little sins begins the course, that deceiving and being deceived, waxes worse and worse, until the man's life becomes at last a mere chapter of practical Atheism, without prayer, without faith, without obedience. Or suppose the little sin take another direction, confining its action to within the sanctuary, and the moral delinquent lays his hand upon the ark in another shape. Perhaps he does not realise Christ's sufficiency as to an atonement or a justifying righteousness, and must have a hand in the satisfaction of the one, and the completeness of the other, and therefore looks to a baptism, or a eucharist, or to his social charities, or moral duties, or evangelical sentiments, or enthusiastic feelings and sensations, or the suffrages of fellow-sinners, or even fellow-saints, if the phrase be more acceptable. If by these, by all of them or by any of them, the man looks to commend himself in the sight of God, and supplement that which was lacking, in his theory, in the finished work of Christ, his hand is on the ark, and unless it be removed betimes, the hand of an indignant God will be upon him, and he that "sinneth with a high hand," for whom neither, law nor Gospel provided an atonement, "shall suddenly be cut off, and that without remedy." On the other hand, the contrast exhibits the peace and advantage of the least act of faith, even if the faith be so weak and feeble as to be likened to "a grain of mustard seed, which is the least of all seeds." Faith as little as that, like the woman's touch, has strength to remove mountains. A spark of Omnipotence is struck out of the rock by its feeblest blow.
(Joseph B. Owen, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled.