Stunned — trembling — Ahio stood back! One moment he and his brother Uzzah had been driving the ox cart toward Nachon's threshing floor. The next moment, Uzzah was lying on the ground dead! And why? When the oxen stumbled and the cart shook, Uzzah had merely put out his hand to steady the ark of the covenant, which was being carried in the cart. God struck Uzzah down (II Sam. 6:3-7). Perhaps you have wondered about this incident. Why did God deal with Uzzah in such a harsh manner? Why did God take his life for trying to steady the ark when it was about to fall to the ground? A closer study of this episode reveals valuable insight into how God views our lives now and our future opportunities.
The men of Israel had actually ignored explicit instructions from God concerning the transport of the ark. God commanded that only the priests, the sons of Levi, were to bear the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10:8). Notice that when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River under the command of Joshua, it was the priests who carried the ark (Josh. 3:3, 6, 8, 17, 4:9-10, 16-18). Further, God instructed that the ark be carried on their shoulders: "But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none [oxen and carts]: because the service of the sanctuary belonging unto them was that they should bear upon their shoulders" (Num. 7:1-9). Nobody other than Aaron and his sons was to touch any holy articles at all, including the ark. The penalty for violating this law? "And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary... after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die" (Num. 4:15). God told Moses to equip the ark with four rings, one in each of the four corners. Staves were to be passed through these rings so that the ark could be lifted and carried by means of the staves (Ex. 25:12-14). Therefore, on two points the ark was being transported in a fashion totally unacceptable to God: 1) Uzzah was not of the Levitical priesthood. The genealogy in the book of Chronicles shows that Uzzah was David's nephew. He was the son of Abinadab, David's brother (I Chron. 2:13). 2) Instead of having the ark carried, David had it put in a cart (I Chron. 13:7). Even King David, who was accompanying the ark, had obviously forgotten these conditions. He had actually chosen to do what "was right in the eyes of all the people" rather than consult God's clear law in the matter (verses 1-13).
Learning the lesson
Subsequently, David gave some serious thought to the situation and corrected the wrong that had occurred. He gave these instructions, this time basing his orders on God's law: "None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto him for ever" (I Chron. 15:2). Action followed! "[David] said unto them, Ye are the chief of the fathers of the Levites: sanctify yourselves, both ye and your brethren, that ye may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel... For because ye did it not at the first, the Lord our God made a breach upon us [by killing Uzzah], for that we sought him not after the due order.... "And the children of the Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded according to the word of the Lord" (verses 12-15).
What it means today
Perhaps we would feel sorry for Uzzah. On the surface, after all, it would appear that he was merely the unwitting victim of unfortunate circumstances. But remember that the events of biblical history are recorded as examples for us today (I Cor. 10:11, Rom. 15:4). Certainly we can learn from this incident that God does not compromise with H is commands. In this case God acted to halt a dangerous trend — certain of His laws were being ignored and others would have soon been cast aside. God stamped out disobedience before it spread. Another valuable lesson is that God on occasion allows suffering so that spiritual lessons can be brought home to us in a more forceful manner. As Paul put it to the Christians at Rome, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). Our eternal well-being is of primary importance to God. In order for us to learn important spiritual lessons, severe trials are sometimes necessary. God called us and is constantly aware of our circumstances. He promises that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our capability to handle the situation (I Cor. 10:13). How reassuring! It behooves us to constantly and carefully examine our lives to see if we have moved out of line with God's law. Often we carry out this examination only when we are going through a severe trial. It is far better to be continually studying God's Word and measuring ourselves against its teachings. Had Uzzah and those around him been studying God's commands in the form that was available to them, Uzzah probably would have lived to a ripe old age.
Uzzah not lost
Uzzah is not lost, however. He will have another chance to study God's law and bring his life into harmony with God's way (and reap the benefits!). That chance, which will take place during the Great White Throne Judgment, is the hope of everyone who has ever lived and died without knowing of God's truth — the vast majority of people who have ever lived! God wants us all to eventually become actual members of His Family. For more information, read our free article reprint entitled "Is This the Only Day of Salvation?".