The Death of Uzzah
2 Samuel 6:6, 7
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.…

A startling event. Startling to us to read of. How much more to witness, in the midst of all the pomp and joy with which David was bringing the ark to consecrate his newly founded capital, to inaugurate a revival of religion amongst the people, and thus make some fitting return to God for all his goodness to monarch and subjects, and promote in the best and surest way the welfare of all! It is by sudden, startling, and terrible events that God very commonly calls attention to his laws, and avenges the breach of them. By such means the laws of nature come to be known, reverenced, and obeyed; and are thus brought into subjection to man, and made to promote his well being. And by similar means men are made to reflect upon the laws of God with respect to religion and morals, and so the spiritual good of men is promoted. With reference to the sudden death of Uzzah, we remark -

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.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put forth [his hand] to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the cattle stumbled.

The Ark Upheld with Irreverent Hands
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