Anyone reading their Old Testament, sooner or later comes across the account of David wanting to move the Ark of The Covenant to Jerusalem. And bound up with that account, is the somewhat shocking record of a man called Uzzah.
There a number of interesting things about this account, but what really stands out is that while David and his people were in the process of doing what was perfectly acceptable, even desirable, this tragedy occurs. They decide to transport the Ark on a cart. In the process, as 2 Samuel 6:6 notes, the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. Uzzah, fearing the Ark might tip off the cart, reached out and took hold of it to steady it. At which point the text says: “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.” (2 Sam. 6:7)
There are a number of lessons which can be drawn from this, but for time’s sake I want to focus on just one: Well-meaning actions are no substitute for Biblically informed obedience.
Just pasting the label of good intentions on what we do, is not sufficient to magically secure God’s blessing on things which are contrary to what He has plainly communicated in His Word. Where Scripture is less specific, we certainly have some leeway. But it is our responsibility first and foremost to KNOW what God has said, and to seek to fulfill those things.
So we have it here by startling example. David meant well by wanting the Ark, which represented God’s presence among His people, to have a prominent, centralized and permanent resting place. So far so good. And Uzzah meant well in wanting to see the Ark kept from damage. But what had been ignored in all of this – apparently by all parties (even the Priests!) was that no one was ever to touch the Ark; it was only to be carried on the shoulders of the priests with is carrying rods. Starting in Ex. 25 and numerous times after, God was explicit – the Ark was to be carried by the Levites and that was the only way it was to be moved.
The point is, that good men, being very well meaning, can still commit very grave offences in the very midst of doing what they believe is right with a clear conscience, because at the same time, they failed to know and observe the Word of the Lord. Good intentions are not enough. No matter how sincere, when they sit yet against the face of God’s given revelation.
We’ve no time to unpack it here, but we see this OT example fleshed out in the life of Jesus; though mercifully without the same tragic result. It is in Mark 8 and Matthew 16. Jesus was telling the disciples how He would go to Jerusalem and suffer and be killed. At which unsteady moment Peter – well-meaning as could be – said: “Far be it from you Lord, this shall never happen to you.” Which earned Peter the rebuke “Get behind me Satan.” Peter couldn’t steady the Ark that was about to be carried by the Levites. To try, would in effect make Him God’s own adversary. Though Peter’s intentions couldn’t have been further from it. I suspect that the references from the OT which would blaze to life for the Apostles after Jesus’ resurrection, ascension and the giving of The Spirit – which were less explicit than the commands regarding the transportation of the Ark – were at least in part why mercy was so manifest here. Yet even that does not negate the severity of the rebuke from Jesus. As with Nicodemus, He expected His people to know and understand His Word. And where they failed, there were always sad consequences.
No matter how gentle, how patient, how forgiving, how condescending, God is still to be treated with reverence and propriety. We cannot just approach Him and handle His things any way WE please – even if it is in sincerity. It is our responsibility to know His ways. David and the others had the Word of God at their disposal. They all knew, especially the Levites, what God had commanded. And when God is ignored as to His will, wishes and ways, He breaks out.
Heaven deliver us from the wicked self-stylings of a free-wheeling – make it up as you go – kind of Christianity. A Christianity unmoored from Biblical principles. How we need to read and study our Bibles consistently and responsibly so as to apply what God has said carefully in our present circumstances, and not just be well-meaning but uninformed in our approach to Him. May we come to Him, as He desires for us to come. And serve Him, as He Himself has designed. There are some things, even God is picky about. We should know them.