Since a Death Has Occurred (II Samuel 6:1-11)
Topic: II Samuel Passage: 2 Samuel 6:1–6:11
Crying for a King
Since a Death Has Occurred
II Samuel 6:1-11
July 28th, 2013
(One Lord: No One Like You)
I. Fierce, Boundless, and Good
It is 1,450 miles long. It begins at over two miles about sea level. From drinking water, to agriculture, to electricity, it nurtures over 40 million people. Moreover, its power has also helped shape one of the seven natural wonders of the world. But its power can also be seen in its rapids. House Rock. Hance. Horn Creek. Crystal. These are spots where the fierce and boundless power of the Colorado River can be seen and felt very clearly.
In light of this, it isn't surprising that even rafting trips down the Coloarado labelled “family” trips, have a minimum age of 12, or in some cases, 9. Can you imagine a 5 or 6 year old rafting or kayaking over these powerful rapids? That could be deadly. Even the strongest of us must be prepared, right? River guides are there to equip and inform, to teach and warn.
The river is fierce and boundless, isn't it? But at the same time, its goodness is so abundant.
Keep that in mind as we turn this morning to II Samuel 6.
II. The Passage: “To Bring Up…the Ark of God” (6:1-11)
Now, if you've been studying with us over the past few weeks, you may remember that beginning in II Samuel chapter 5, we saw an amazing turn in David's story. Instead of running, he is reigning. Instead of being hunted by the king's command, David is giving commands...as the king.
As the newly anointed ruler over all Israel, we saw in the last chapter how God provides for His king: a throne, a capital, a palace, a heritage. On top of that, God gave David two major victories over the Philistines, the arch-enemies of God's people. As chapter 5, verse 10 summed it up: And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.
A. The Ark and Triumph (6:1, 2)
So as we begin chapter 6, David is riding high on the tidal wave of God's abundant provision. Look at where he goes next. Verse 1...
David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 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, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim.
So after securing Jerusalem as his new capital, David decides to go about 10 miles west to the town of Baale-judah, also known as Kiriath-jearim. This is where the Ark of the Covenant, “the Ark of God, which is called by the name of YHWH of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim”, this is where it was left way back in the closing verses of I Samuel 6.
We see in verse 2 that David's plan is to move the Ark to Jerusalem. It isn't clear what has prompted hiim to do this. But what is clear is the manner in which he carries out this plan. He makes this trip with Israel's chosen men...a lot of them (the Hebrew means either 30,000 or 30 units). These might be military units, or these might be the elders of the tribes and clans. Whoever it is and however many it is, this is going to be a spectacle.
B. The Ark and Tragedy (6:3-7)
So look at how the plan unfolds in verses 3-7:
And they carried 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, were driving the new cart, 4 with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. 5 And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.
It isn't long before this procession of triumph turns into a place of tragedy. Uzzah and his brother Ahio were apparently in charge of transporting the Ark. They were the sons of a man named Abinadab. Now, in I Samuel 7:1, Abinadab's son Eleazar was consecrated and put in charge of “the Ark of God, which is called by the name of YHWH of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim”. But Eleazar is not mentioned; seemingly his brothers have taken over.
But the singing and dancing stops when Uzzah drops dead. Now wait a minute. What just happened here? The oxen got tripped up, the cart shifted, the Ark started to tip, and Uzzah went to steady it. So why is Uzzah now laying face down in the dirt? The author is extremely clear in verse 7. God struck him down. God took his life. Why? Listen to Numbers 4:15...
And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath (one of the clans of the Levites) shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.
The Law of God, the Law given to Moses, explicitly prohibit anyone from touching “the Ark of God, which is called by the name of YHWH of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim”. However well-intentioned Uzzah was, his violation cost him his life, just as Numbers 4 made clear. Now notice how David reacts to this disturbing turn of events in verse 8...
C. The Ark and Trepidation (6:8-11)
And David was angry because the LORD had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. 9 And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” 10 So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 11 And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
So David reacts strongly to what has happened. Understandably so. Notice the two emotions that characterize David's reaction. He is angry, and he is afraid. Why is he angry? Well remember what we saw at the end of the last chapter. In 5:20, David rejoiced because God had “broken out against” the Philistines. The same word is used here, but of course this time, God has “broken out against” Uzzah a Levite. David is angry about what he sees as an uncalled for and horrible turn of events.
Why is David also afraid? Clearly he's afraid because he doesn't want to end up like Uzzah. Sharing a city with “the Ark of God, which is called by the name of YHWH of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim” seems a little risky at this point.
But notice how this section ends. David was not willing to take the Ark to Jerusalem. So he redirects the Ark to a nearby home, the home of Obed-edom. But God doesn't break out against Obed-edom. He is not burnt up. No, he is blessed. The “Ark of God, which is called by the name of YHWH of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim” brings blessing to this man's entire home for three months. It doesn't tell us this explicitly, but what is assumed is that Obed-edom is a righteous man, a man who is careful with the Ark.
III. Neglect and Respect
Now, it would not be surprising, even in the least, if many of us were simply scratching our heads at this point. Maybe we just feel...unsettled. One writer puts it this way:
“There are many who look at this passage and, asking “What does this tell us about God?” conclude that He is arbitrary, impulsive and unjust. And reading just this passage one could easily come to such a conclusion. Doubts may well linger.” (Tim Challies)
Where are you this morning? Does this passage square with the way you think about God? Let's be clear, there is no contradiction between what we read here and the rest of the Bible.
But how does the Bible make sense of this immediate judgment against Uzzah? It does in light of two concepts: man's sin and God's holiness. Let's talk first about the idea of holiness. The holiness of God is the fact that God is wholly (w-h-o-l-l-y) other. He is absolutely distinct. There is nothing, there is no one like Him. Thought we might be like him in certain ways, the absolute perfection of all of His attributes means that God is holy.
God is like the mighty Colorado. His power is fierce and boundless. And yet, His goodness is so abundant. But He is not to be taken lightly. You see, when it comes to this kind of power, the issue is not the danger of our youthfulness, it is the danger of our sinfulness of our rebellion, of our consistent, our pervasive attempts to live me-centered lives in a God-centered universe.
To reject a holy God is to place ourselves at odds with the greatest power in the universe. And like foolish children, when we are neglectful, when we are indifferent, when we are arrogant in the face of such fierce and boundless power, there is a price to pay. The river must be respected. God must be revered.
Uzzah should have known this. He most likely came from a Levitical family. He lived for decades in the same house as “the Ark of God, which is called by the name of YHWH of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim”. Do you understand why the writer re-introduces the Ark with that extensive name. This box represents the very name, the very throne, the very presence of God on earth. And therefore, no one lives in the same house as the Ark, no family occupies the same space as this chest for that long, and does not understand the holiness of God and what precautions must be taken in His presence.
Uzzah must have known that the Ark could not be touched for any reason. In addition to that, Exodus 25 clearly indicates that the Ark was constructed with rings on all four corners, rings in which wooden poles were inserted; wooden poles that were never supposed to be removed; wooden poles by which the Ark was always to be carried...not put on a cart.
In light of verse II Samuel 6, verse 13, David eventually realized this mistake. Listen to the way the book of Chronicles describes David's 'course correction':
Then David summoned the priests...and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it.  Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.”  So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel.  And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD. (I Chronicles 15:11-15)
Uzzah should have known all of this. So why didn't any of these things affect the transport of the Ark? The only conclusion is that Uzzah was, at the least, neglectful, and at the worst, arrogant. Listen to how the writer and teacher R.C. Sproul explains the scene in vs. 6 and 7:
“Consider now the story of Uzzah. The ark of the covenant was being carried in a cart. This was not the way it was designed to be carried. It should have been on the shoulders of priests. When one of the oxen stumbled the ark looked like it was going to fall. Uzzah keeps it from tipping in the mud. God’s reaction was not, “Thank you, Uzzah!” No, God killed Uzzah instantly. Uzzah believed that mud would desecrate the ark, but mud is just dirt and water obeying God. Mud is not evil. God’s law was not meant to keep the ark pure from the earth, but from the dirty touch of a human hand. Uzzah presumed his hands were cleaner than the dirt. God said no.” (R.C. Sproul)
Uzzah should have know better.
On top of that, David should have known better. This whole scene smells of reckless exuberance. David has been riding the wave of blessing. His motives for bring the Ark up to Jerusalem are unclear.
And as we talked about last time, as the king, God's law required him to write out a copy of the entire Law, all the commandments given to Israel through Moses. If David had done that, then he would have written down Exodus 25 and Numbers 4, and many other passages that deal with the holiness of God and “the Ark of God, which is called by the name of YHWH of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim”. David should have known better.
And beyond Uzzah, and beyond David, Israel should have known better. They should have remembered how they were defeated before the Philistines when they tried to use the Ark as a weapon (I Samuel 4). They should have remembered how the Ark was taken by the Philistines and how God severely inflicted the Philistines through it (I Samuel 5). They should have remembered the men of Beth-Shemesh who eventually took it to Abinadab in Kiriath-jearim, but only after it killed 70 of their men...men who treated it lightly (I Samuel 6). What did these men conclude: I Samuel 6:20...Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?
All of them should have known better...because God wanted them to understand. Do you see that? God's love and mercy was so abundant, he wanted to help these sinners understand HOW they could know Him; HOW they could stand in His presence; HOW He could dwell in their midst. Like a river guide, He gave them all the equipment they needed. He instructed them. He warned them through His word...and all out of love.
But they neglected His word. The priest. The king. The people. All of them. They minimized the holiness of God, and were indifferent to His word.
But...I believed God used Uzzah's death in an important way. I believe this tragedy was ultimately a blessing. How? Because it sobered David. It must have. Yes, he was angry at first. And yes, he was afraid. But if we were to continue in this chapter, we would see that David begins to understand the immense blessings that come from God's presence. But this understanding is also informed by a new reverence for God.
So in light of the whole context, I think one of the principles we should take away from this chapter is this: When God maximizes our victories, we have to guard against allowing those victories to minimize God.
When we focus on the blessings instead of the Blesser, then we are tempted by two equally wrong responses: 1) either we forget about God and see ourselves as capable and worthy, or 2) we begin to think of God as the one who serves my agenda, rather than the other way around. Either way, God's word begins to fall by the wayside.
This morning, God wants to remind us of His holiness...of His power and greatness. He wants us to always take Him seriously. Not to minimize. Not to trivialize. Not put God in our box. Not to make him safe. But He also wants to remind us of His amazing goodness. The same God who powerfully struck down Uzzah also powerfully blessed Obed-edom.
So what hope is there for any of us? Our hope is in the fullness the Ark represented. When the author of the book of Hebrews wrote to his Jewish Christian readers, he spoke about the “mercy seat” (9:5), the name for the very top of the Ark, the place where, once a year, the high priest would sprinkle the blood of a bull and the blood of a goat in order to make atonement for the nation's sins...in order that they would not share the same fate as Uzzah.
But in that same chapter of Hebrews, the writer also points us to the ultimate reality of which the Ark was only a shadow. Speaking about Jesus, the far-off Son of David, he writes...
...he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption...Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:12, 15)
Because of His goodness, because of His love, God has prepared for us a way in which we can truly know him, a way in which we can truly stand in His presence, a way in which He can truly dwell in our midst...forever, and ever, and ever. And that preparation did not involve animals or Arks or sons of Aaron.
You see, Jesus Christ has dammed up the powerful waters of God's holy justice, for any sinner who simply trusts Him…Him and Him alone. Safe in him, we can stand in perpetual awe of the River's power and goodness. Jesus takes our heart of spiritual neglect and gives us a new heart, one of spiritual respect.
And he does this through His death on the cross, the very place where, like Uzzah, the wrath of God “broke out against” him. To be clear, it was you and I who neglect God's word, we are the spiritually careless ones, we touch the Ark...but it was Jesus who was struck down.
Uzzah's death might have sobered, but it couldn't redeem. Only Jesus can do that. And unlike Uzzah, death could not hold Jesus. He has risen and He is reigning. Come to him this morning. Trust Him. Look back to Him with morning. Savor His sacrifice.
Fierce and boundless, but so, so, so good.