David is named King over the entirety of Israel. His people cheer, celebrate, hold a feast, and collectively decide to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant – the symbolic representation of God’s presence. David builds a cart, loads the Ark, and then leads a joyous procession to his city. But the oxen pulling the cart lead it over a pothole, and the Ark shakes, almost falling over the edge of the cart. So a man named Uzzah reaches out to steady it. Then “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down … and he died there before God” (1 Chron. 13:10). The party stopped, the people became fearful, and the Bible even tells us that David was angry because of Uzzah’s death. It’s hard for us not to feel the same way.
Uzzah was doing the responsible thing! He was trying to stop the Ark from falling over! Why should God kill him?
All humans feel disenchanted by this story, because we all like to imagine that we should (and can) come to God however we want to and that he must love an accept us. But nothing could be farther than the truth. Our God “is a consuming fire” (Duet. 2:24). His holy glory is unbearable for impure creatures like us. His glory even overwhelms righteous angels (Is. 6:1-6). No one can mosey up to him without justly facing death.
When we say “God loves me and should accept me as I am”, we’re actually suffering from pride. We pridefully think that we have something to offer God which earns us our place before him. We pridefully think that we deserve to be in God’s presence, and that we can handle his glory.
This is where Uzzah went wrong. You see, God made it clear in the law that the ark was to be transported by Levites with poles, not on a cart. He even said, “they must not touch the holy things lest they die” (Num. 4:15). Uzzah and the rest of the Israelites ignored God’s rules, and pridefully assumed they could relate God however they wanted to.
You might think that God is just a stickler for arbitrary rules and should have shown some grace, but you’re wrong. God killing Uzzah, was actually a reminder to us of his grace. You see, the ancient Israelites had an enormous problem: how could they, a sinful, unclean people, come before their holy, just, and righteous God? They could do no works good enough to earn their place, and had no way to clean themselves. How would they do it?
Well, God told them that they could draw near to him not by works, but by sacrifice. The only holy way to come before the Ark (which represented God’s presence) was not by works or human means (like the Israelites and Uzzah attempted), but by his gracious means.
These rules ultimately point us to Christ. You see, Christ was the final sacrifice for our sins. And by trusting in him, we are actually able to come before God… but he is the only way. Why? So that we do not foolish try to work our way into God’s presence like Uzzah. But also, so that anyone, no matter how bad their life has been, can come into God’s presence by God’s gracious means!
That’s why I’m thankful God killed Uzzah. It reminds me that their are no works that I can or must do to enter into God’s presence. I’m totally incapable! And if I tried, I’d die like Uzzah! Yet, God graciously made a way through Christ, so that even the worst sinners can come before God.