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Bible Q

Why was God so harsh with Uzzah?

The story of Uzzah has often puzzled Bible readers. Here it is:

David and all the men who were with him traveled to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts, who sits enthroned between the cherubim that are on it. They loaded the ark of God on a new cart and carried it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart. They brought it with the ark of God up from the house of Abinadab on the hill. Ahio was walking in front of the ark, while David and all Israel were energetically celebrating before the LORD, singing and playing various stringed instruments, tambourines, rattles, and cymbals. When they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and grabbed hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD was so furious with Uzzah, he killed him on the spot for his negligence. He died right there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:2-7 NET)

On face value, Uzzah seems to have been harshly punished for acting with good intention. However, there are several things to keep in mind here.

  1. We actually have no idea what the circumstances were or how Uzzah was behaving. We imagine he was acting respectively and with good intentions, but this is not actually stated.
  2. God had given clear instructions on how to transport the ark (see Exodus 25:10-15; 37:5; Numbers 4:15-20) and so the whole procession in moving the ark on a cart was disobeying God. Uzzah’s action in grabbing the ark with his hands was the final insult to God. Perhaps God was being merciful in not killing everyone involved.
  3. The ark was God’s dwelling place — he was to be thought of as enthroned between the cherubim on top of the ark (Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2; 2 Sam 6:2) So, in a sense, it was his throne and he was being transported to Jerusalem.  No human ruler was transported on a cart, and by carrying the ark in this way they were treating God with great disrespect.
  4. The entire nation was watching this procession — “all Israel” (2 Samuel 6:5). So it was an important time to send the message that obedience is not optional, and we are not free to choose how to treat God.
It is interesting that the times when God appears to act harshly are often at the start of a new era in his dealings with his people. Think of Nadab and Abihu at the start of tabernacle worship (Leviticus 10:1–2); the man collecting sticks on the Sabbath at the start of the Law of Moses (Numbers 15:32-36); Ananias and Sapphira at the start of the Christian era (Acts 5:1-11); etc.

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