Why Did Uzzah Have to Die?

I was reading from 2 Samuel chapter 6 recently and came across the story of poor Uzzah, who died after reaching out to steady the Ark of the Covenant.  They had placed the Ark on a cart that was being pulled by oxen, and the oxen nearly caused it to overturn.  Uzzah stretched out his hand to steady it and keep it from falling.  It seemed like such a noble thing to do, right, to steady the Ark so it wouldn’t fall off the cart?  So I could not help but wonder to myself why God chose to smite this guy right there on the spot.  I had heard this story several times before, but never with a fuller understanding of what was the big deal, and why it cost poor Uzzah his life.

So I decided to turn to Matthew Henry’s Commentary, and have highlighted a few interesting tidbits:

  1. Uzzah may have been a Levite, but only priests were allowed to touch the ark.
  2. Uzzah’s offence seems small, but scripture was very clear, they must not touch any holy thing, lest they die. Num. 4:15 .
  3. Good intention will not justify a bad action.
  4. Uzzah was long familiar with the ark. The thought is that perhaps he wanted to show everyone how he could make with the ark, with it having been so long in his care he presumed God would wink at his actions.
  5. God saw the presumption and irreverence of Uzzah’s heart.
  6. David afterwards owned that Uzzah died for an error they were all guilty of, which was carrying the ark in a cart. Because it was not carried on the Levites’ shoulders, the Lord made that breach upon us.  1 Chr. 15:13
  7. If it was so great a crime for one to lay hold on the Ark of the Covenant that had no right to do so, what is it for those to lay claim to the privileges of the covenant that come not up to the terms of it?

What led up to this event?  The Philistines had stolen the ark, but had had given it back after a time because it literally caused a plague to fall on the Philistines in whatever city they tried to keep it within.  In the process of giving it back, it wound up within the personal home and care of Abinadab and his two sons, Ahio and Uzzah.  It stayed in this home for so long it was nearly forgotten by the younger generation, and Saul, the previous king (although he wanted to be blessed by God) seemed to care nothing about it.  But when David became King over all Israel, he wanted the Ark to have a place of honor, and was intending to move it from Abinadab’s home to the city of David (Jerusalem).

Here is a sacred, holy object that represents the very presence of God and is a type of Christ, and Uzzah has been the one caring for it for many years now as a result.  Somewhere along the way, he seems to have developed a sense of entitlement and privilege that Matthew Henry refers to as “familiarity”.  He was too casual with the Holy Presence of God, and as a result became irreverent.

The last point in my Matthew Henry list (#7) speaks about the laying claim to the privileges of the covenant that one has not come up to the terms of, and so I could not help but wonder what holy things of God we have also become too casual with?  Acts 4:12 says “and there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved”.  Do we presume upon His blessings without meeting the terms of His new covenant?

How does this tie in today with our programs, works, and service to God?  Have we become complacently familiar with our ideas about Christianity?  Do we see Him as holy? Are we willing to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily to follow Him (Luke 9:23), or have we become so familiar that we don’t recognize His holy presence when we see it, and choose to be irreverent in the process?  Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me”.  These are the terms of the new covenant. Maybe, like Uzzah, it becomes necessary for us to “die” (to self) as well, so that we can live in Him!

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