When Does A Good Thing Become The Wrong Thing?
This past year, our Bible Study group studied People of the Promised Land Part I which included Joshua, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, I Kings 1:11, overviews of Psalms and Proverbs, and some parallel scriptures in 1 and 2 Chronicles. One of our lessons covered in 2 Samuel 6 which includes a failed attempt to move the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem and then a successful effort at the end of the chapter. This chapter made me want to dig deeper into Scripture to try and understand some of the reasons the first attempt to move the Ark failed and the second attempt succeeded.
In the beginning of 2 Samuel 6, David was established as king over all Israel and it was his desire to establish a central place of worship for his people. To accomplish this, the Ark of the Covenant needed to be brought from Kiriath Jearim (I Samuel 7:1-2) where it had been for 20 years. Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem would be an important step toward providing a specific place of worship for all of Israel, and would enable the Israelites to feel the almighty presence, power and glory of God. David presented his plan to the whole assembly of Israel (I Chronicles 13:1-4) and they agreed because this seemed the right thing to do. David then took 30,000 of the chosen men of Israel to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. (There is no indication in the first part of this chapter that David inquired of the Lord before he made this attempt to move the Ark.)
The Ark was removed from Abinadab’s house, set on a new cart, and Uzzah and Ahio (sons of Abinadab) guided the new cart. As they traveled, David and the whole house of Israel celebrated before the Lord with all their might. Suddenly, the oxen stumbled and Uzzah reached out and took hold of the Ark to keep it safe. Scripture tells us that God’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act, God struck him down, and he died beside the Ark of God. Immediately the celebration stopped. David was first angry and then afraid because of God’s wrath against Uzzah, and he left the Ark with Obed-Edom for three months.
As we study these verses, we might be stunned that Uzzah’s punishment was so severe when his actions appear to be well-meant and instinctive. Then, we have to remember that God sees the heart of each one of us and He could see the heart of Uzzah. God’s harsh punishment indicates Uzzah’s action went deeper than just an automatic reflex. In Exodus 25:10-22 and Numbers 4:5-6, 15, God gave specific instructions for the Ark. It was never to be transported on a cart. It was designed to be carried and it was only to be carried by Levites of the family of Kohath. Even those designated to carry the Ark could not come near it until the priests had covered it. They also could not touch the Ark except by the poles provided to transport it.
How do we explain Uzzah’s behavior since he must have been aware of the guidelines for moving the Ark? We know the Ark had been in his father’s house for 20 years. Could Uzzah have become so accustomed to it being there that it became a familiar object and he forgot what it represented and failed to give it the reverence it deserved? Did he not know the instructions for carrying the Ark? Was he just following orders? Had he begun to see no difference between the Ark of God and any other valuable object? We don’t really know all the answers but we do know that Uzzah was wrong in thinking it didn’t matter who carried the ark or how it was carried. Like many of us, he most likely had good intentions but he had forgotten God’s instructions.
In the last part of Chapter 6, we learn David became aware that God was richly blessing the house of Obed-Edom where the Ark had been left, and he made another attempt to bring the Ark to the City of David. In I Chronicles 15:1-28, David inquired of the Lord about the prescribed way to move the ark. The second time, David moved the Ark God’s way, and this time he was successful.
Our group then discussed what lessons we learned from 2 Samuel 6 and the following are some highlights:
- Moving the ark (the first time) was a good thing but it was done the wrong way.
- Man’s way cannot be substituted for God’s way—God’s work must be done God’s way.
- Doing good things is worthless if not accompanied by obedience to God’s commands.
- Don’t attempt to ‘harness’ (or ‘hitch’) God’s presence to our new carts (a new ministry, a big, new production, a new way of doing things, or a new thing we want to do), and then go forth in our own strength and expect God to bless our efforts. Seek God first before we begin any work for Him.
- While New Testament believers are told to approach the throne of grace with confidence because Jesus is our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:16), we must never forget that we are also to come reverently to God with a desire to listen, obey, praise and worship Him.
- Ask God to give us a greater awareness of how holy and majestic He is.