David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 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. 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, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.
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. 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. 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. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” 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. 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. – 2 Samuel 6:1-11 ESV
David had a heart for God. He was anxious to serve God well and rule according to the will of God. As we saw in the last chapter, David sought God’s counsel before doing battle with the Philistines and the result was a stunning and decisive victory. And as David began to plan and prepare for his future kingdom, including the creation of his new capital in Jerusalem, he was motivated by a strong desire to acknowledge God in all that he did. And one of the first decisions he made was to relocate the Ark of the Covenant from its place in Kiriath-jearim to the city of Jerusalem. The ark was an important part of the history of the Jews. It was their link all the way back to the days of Moses and the period of the exodus. The book of Hebrews provides us with some details regarding this holy and revered object: “the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:4 ESV). The cover of the ark was called the Mercy Seat and it was there that God’s presence dwelt. Exodus records God’s commands concerning the Mercy Seat:
“You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony…” – Exodus 25:17-22 ESV
The Mercy Seat was especially significant to the Jewish people because it was there, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, that the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of a bull and a goat as an offering to God for the sins of the people. So you can see why David was anxious to have the Ark of the Covenant relocated into his newly chosen capital. But in his zeal to do the right thing, David ended up doing the wrong thing. He got in a hurry and failed to do his homework, and his actions would result in the unnecessary death of Uzzah.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul discusses the problem of zeal without knowledge.
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. – Romans 10:1-3 ESV
Paul was talking about his fellow Jews who had refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah. In their zeal for God, they had failed to recognize the very one sent to them by God. Instead, they continued to seek a right standing with God through the keeping of the Law. They were zealous for God, but were refusing to do things God’s way.
And that was David’s problem. God had given very clear instructions regarding the Ark and how it was to be transported.
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 shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry. – Numbers 4:15 ESV
The Ark was designed by God in a very specific manner and it had two long poles with which it was to be carried and only by the sons of Kohath. Because of the holiness of the Ark, it was forbidden for anyone to touch it. If they did, they would die. No one was to look inside the Ark (1 Samuel 6:19). Again, if they did, they would die. So, when David got ready to move the Ark, he made a major mistake. Rather than doing things God’s way, he followed the lead of the Philistines. In other words, he did it the world’s way. Earlier on in the history of Israel, there had been an occasion when the Ark had been captured by the Philistines after a battle with the Israelites. How did this happen? The Philistines had defeated the Israelites in a battle and, as a result, the elders of Israel resorted to sending for the Ark and attempted to use it as some kind of good luck token. “And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies” (1 Samuel 4:3 ESV). But rather than bringing the Israelites victory, the Ark was captured by the Philistines. And when the discovered that having the Ark of God around proved to be deadly, they decided to return it to the Israelites. And, not knowing the law of God, they did so according to their own methodology.
Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way… – 1 Samuel 6:7-8 ESV
So, when David got ready to transport the Ark into Jerusalem, rather than doing so according to God’s prescribed methods, he followed the lead of the Philistines. The passage clearly states:
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, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. – 2 Samuel 6:3-4 ESV
And when the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, as the Ark began to fall, Uzzah reached out and tried to steady it with his hand. He touched the Ark. And he died. In fact, the passage tells us, “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 Samuel 6:7 ESV). This might appear to us as a gross overreaction on the part of God. How could He be so angry against Uzzah for simply attempting to keep the Ark from falling? But God’s anger is always a righteous and just anger. It is never capricious or without warrant. Uzzah had broken the law of God and, as a result, the righteous, just anger of God was the result. Had God not punished Uzzah for his sin, God would have failed to be God. He would have been unjust. Had Got not responded in anger toward the violation of His just law, He would have been an unjust God. This is why God gave clear conditions and commands regarding his people and their interactions with Him. Had David done things according to God’s plan, this would not have happened. Uzzah would not have died. And while his sin was not motivated by a heart of rebellion, it was rebellion nonetheless. And the outcome was death.
And David’s reaction to this event was much like ours would be. He became angry. He was frustrated. Then his anger turned to fear and that fear ended up paralyzing him into inaction. Rather than taking the time to determine what it was that he had done wrong, he simply left the Ark where it was. His intentions had been proper and right. But when he suffered for doing God’s will in the wrong way, David just gave up. So the Ark sat in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months. David returned to Jerusalem angry at God and without the presence of the Ark in his new capital. But while David pouted, God was busy blessing Obed-edom. And news of this would reach David, motivating him into action.
The problem was not David’s zeal. It was his methodology. It was also his lack of knowledge regarding the will of God. He attempted to do the right thing in the wrong way. He acted with sincerity, but in ignorance. He had celebrated, danced and sang as he led the procession with the Ark toward Jerusalem. He had been enthusiastic and excited about having the Ark in his new capital. But he had left out one important part: Obedience. As Samuel had told King Saul years earlier, God prefers obedience to enthusiastic sacrifice any day of the week.
Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV