Old Testament passage for Friday, July 12, 2013: I Chronicles 12:19-14:17
9 And when they came to Chidon’s threshing floor, Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. 10 Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before God. 11 And David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzza; therefore that place is called Perez Uzza to this day. 12 David was afraid of God that day, saying, “How can I bring the ark of God to me?” I Chronicles 13:9-12 (NKJV)
An amazing and perhaps shocking thing took place as David sought to bring the ark of the covenant back to its rightful place. The ark was the centerpiece of Old Testament worship and symbolizes THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN THE MIDST OF HIS PEOPLE. But, it had been captured by the Philistines in I Samuel 4:11. For upwards of forty years, it had remained "out of place" -- lost -- exiled. As a side note, one of the reasons for the failure of Saul as king of Israel was that at no time during his reign was God worshipped in fullness. During his entire 40 year reign, the Presence of God was absent from Israel's worship.
One of David's first actions as king was to bring back the ark. Undoubtedly, this was the right thing to do. It was a national event of huge significance. "All Israel" was excited and watching as this long overdue return took place (I Chronicles 13:4-5). But tragedy struck right in the midst of the procession. One of the men escorting the ark reached out to steady the ark and Scripture says that the anger of God boiled over such that He struck the man dead on the spot. Needless to say, the parade stopped at that point. One moment there had been music, singing, tambourines, and trumpets (I Chronicles 13:8). The next, things went totally silent. It was shocking. David was obviously distraught. His "good" actions had brought another tragedy.
In discouragement, David let the ark of the covenant rest for three more months "out of place." Progress came to a halt in the midst of a flood of questions. Perhaps you have felt like this. All your good intentions seem to result only in another disaster -- another disappointment. There was no doubt that David was doing the right thing in bring the ark back. Yet an "innocent man" got killed in the process! Worst of all, GOD DID IT! How can something start out so good and yet end up so bad? What went wrong here? In frustration, David cried out, "How can I bring the ark of God to me?" (I Chronicles 13:12) He was saying what many of us have said as we seek to get things right in our lives. HOW CAN I DO THIS? EVERYTHING I TRY SEEMS TO BACKFIRE ON ME! HOW CAN I POSSIBLY BE ALL I'M SUPPOSED TO BE? THIS WALK WITH GOD IS TOO HARD!
But, of course, the story does not end here. The ark of the covenant DOES finally arrive back in the center of Israel. That day does unfold with great celebration. But, that is three months later. We need to look for a moment at why this shocking delay took place. There are at least three lessons that we need to understand.
1. ALL TRUE PROGRESS MUST BE ON GOD'S TERMS.
We can't bargain with God. He knows the right way. He has given it to us in His Word, the Bible. David had forgotten how to handle the PRESENCE OF GOD. The priests had forgotten what the Scriptures clearly say about carrying the ark of the covenant. In Exodus 25:12-14 and Numbers 7:9, it says that priests are to transport the ark ON THEIR SHOULDERS using poles. Instead, David had tried to carry it "on a new cart". In short, man's way is a new MACHINE. God's way is redeemed MEN. In the words of E.M. Bounds, "Men look for better methods, God looks for better men."
2. OVER-FAMILIARITY CAN CAUSE LOSS OF GOD'S PRESENCE.
Uzza was one of the sons of Abinadab. It was in his house that the ark of the covenant had rested for the past 20-40 years. Uzza grew up with the ark in the next room. He had never known the ark as the glorious instrument of worship it was. In a sense, he easily could have seen it as another piece of furniture. This loss of reverence led him to "help God." Scripture does not say that the ark teetered. It says only that the oxen stumbled. When Uzza saw that, he reached out to make sure God was ok.
As the son of a priest, Uzza should have known that you the process of transportation, the ark was not to be touched. Numbers 4:15 says, "but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die." It is said, "Familiarity breeds contempt." In our day of casual Christianity and easy faith, perhaps we need a new dose of the fear of God. Unfortunately, the entire concept of the reverential fear of God is a foreign concept to many.
3. GOD'S HOLINESS IS STILL AWESOME.
How could a God of love strike down a "good" man like Uzza? It seems to our Western, egalitarian minds that God is playing unfair here. He seems to be nit-picking on a minor infraction while ignoring worse things done elsewhere. It appears that David questioned God in this manner. At times it seems God is too hard to please and then "swats a fly with a sledge hammer."
This mind-set hits us in the face when we read about the death of Uzza. The only way to understand is to go to the heart of our complaint, which is that we think God us UNFAIR. His judgments are too severe.
When we ask the UNFAIR QUESTION, we are telling God that we think He is treating us unfairly. In short, God has every right to reply to our complaint by asking us to define what exactly would be fair. If God were to treat us with complete fairness and justice, we would all be dead in our sins. In fact, He has mercifully withheld His wrath against sin. He has mediated His judgment and allowed us another chance. His HOLINESS is awesome -- perfect -- absolute. All variance from His holiness requires by nature His judgment and wrath. By atonement for sin, God has granted us mercy and grace. That atonement is given to us in Jesus.
Our problem is that we take His mercy and abuse His holiness. It appears that in the case of Uzza, God finally said that His righteous requirements were being ignored too long. As Uzza sought to rectify the ark by touching it, God rectified His HOLINESS by saying, "That's enough." And judgment fell.
God always knows best. His ways are not too hard. If life isn't working out like you thought it should, perhaps you should revisit the Owners's Manual, your Bible. In its pages, God's light will shine on your path showing you the way.
We need to look again at our relationship with Jesus. If He is "old hat" to you, then you are not really looking at Him. Even though He has been like a shadow lurking in a back corner of you life, it's time to bring Him into the living room.
All of us have been thankful for the forgiveness and patience of God. However, we need never forget that He CAN bring down judgment. And He does. It behooves us to do some housecleaning before God, in His holiness, finally says to you, "That's enough."
God wants His Presence back at the center of your life. In a sense, that's what life is all about. May it be yours in full!