It was about 1000 BC. The Ark of the Covenant was destined to be in God’s holy city, Jerusalem, the place where God had chosen to put his name. The City of David had been established, and now they just needed to bring the ark to its rightful place. It was time.
“And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the Name, the Lord of Hosts, who dwells between the cherubim.” (2 Samuel 6:2)
The ark had been just west of Jerusalem in Kirjath Jearim, near Abu Ghosh today (famous for its fantastic hummus). But it was time to take it up to the City of David. We always go “up” to Jerusalem, but as it says in Psalm 125, Jerusalem is surrounded by hills. You can come and see them for yourself. And so they were setting off from a hill.
“So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart.”
The brilliant new-fangled ark-moving device
You couldn’t have any old cart – this was a new cart to transport Israel’s holiest article, the ark of God. They were moving it a distance of some 15 kilometers, over pretty hilly territory with lots of ups and downs. Someone had got practical and had thought of an easier way to move it over such a distance.
The old system laid out in God’s word seemed so… yesteryear. Why carry it on our shoulders when we put it on wheels? So efficient! Much quicker!
But already there are some clues about what was going to happen in the names. Uzzah means “strength”, although funnily enough, it is a feminine version of the word – like how God represents humanity as his bride. Ahio simply means “his brother” because Uzzah is the main character here, and Abinadav, means “father of generosity”, of nobility, ready and willing to give. And what a terrible thing it was that he had to give. But these names show us that God saw the event coming, even before these men were born.
The kindness and severity of God
“And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. And David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah to this day.”
I don’t know about you, but I found this to be one of the hardest incidents to absorb in the Bible. It seems so harsh. They were just trying to move the cart and to make sure it didn’t have the dishonor of falling to the ground. Why on earth did touching it under those circumstances deserve the death penalty? And yet the place where it happened, Nachon’s threshing floor, also gives us a clue. Nachon means “right”, and also “ready”. Today, if you are agreeing with someone in Hebrew, you will nod your head and say “nachon”. “Right”.
The place was named long before and was ready for what would take place. And it was right. God is always right. Uzzah’s name means strength and oxen also represent strength, and doing things in our own human strength instead of according to God’s stated instructions is a recipe for disaster.
Eternally, Uzzah and his family are (almost certainly) with God, but Uzzah’s untimely death in this world has served as a valuable warning and a lesson for many generations to come.
One life cut short teaches the lesson about God’s uncompromising holiness and standards, saving many from the infinitely worse fate of eternal death. Such was the sacrifice of Abinadav, the generous father, the noble one, willing to give.
King David, however, was devastated. He could not reconcile the events with God’s goodness and justice. He told them to put the ark in the house of Obed-Edom and refused to see it again for three months. Until, that is, he heard of the profound blessings that had come upon Obed-Edom’s household for simply hosting the ark. The holy ark of God carried God’s fearful power to kill anyone who wrongfully touched it, but also his mighty power to bless.
The kindness and severity of God.
David saw those blessings and took courage to try again.
Doing things God’s way and at God’s pace
If you are going to follow God as David did, sooner or later you are going to have to take God on his own terms – even when you don’t understand them. Even when they seem unfair. David recovered from the blow and tried again. But this time he went back to the Bible, checked exactly what God had said, and proceeded with extreme caution. They got out the ceremonial robes for the priests, and the ark was hoisted up on their shoulders. The solemn procession was ordered as God had instructed in Exodus.
“And so it was, when those bearing the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, that he sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep. Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet.”
Six steps. They tentatively took six steps, hoping no one else would die, and then rested in relief. They praised and thanked God, and made sacrifices. It seems that they proceeded in this manner, six steps at a time, for the entire journey. Painstakingly slow, but no more death. And they got there in the end. The ark was installed, David danced like a madman, and there were raisin cakes for all.
This is a parable and a warning for all of us who think we can see a better or quicker way of doing things than God. His ways might seem to us to be ancient and provincial, out of step and lacking in efficiency, but God is a lot smarter than us. He knows best, and obeying him protects us from consequences that we cannot foresee. He disciplines us and trains us to trust him and his ways, even when we don’t understand them. It can be hard to resist the urge to leap ahead and do things our way, but we are the ones who will regret it in the end. If we trust God’s wisdom and follow his word, we can be sure he will get us to our destiny perfectly on time.
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)