In the Book of Chronicles there is what seems at first glance, a puzzling story concerning Uzzah who appears to be struck down dead by God after doing what appears to be a righteous act preventing the Ark of God from crashing to the ground.
King David has decided that the Ark should be moved to Jerusalem and it is being carried on a cart pulled by oxen when one of the animals stumbles, so Uzzah puts out his hand and steadies the Ark. This does not appear to be an unreasonable act given the circumstances but he is immediately struck down and dies there before God (1 Chronicles 13:10).
There are very strict commands from God relating to the Ark which include the warning that ‘they must not touch the holy things, or they will die’ (Numbers 4:15). Furthermore, the Ark is to be carried on poles (not a cart driven by oxen) and those carrying it should be the priests from the Tribe of Levi (1 Chronicles 15:2). So in addition to Uzzah’s disobedience, there was collective disobedience from the community.
This incident provides several very important lessons for us today. The first is that we should obey the commandments given to us by God without exception; there can be no good reason for breaking a commandment. The sixth commandment states, ‘Thou shalt not kill’, (Exodus 20:13). In the first 40 years since the Abortion Act of 1967, 6.7 million children have been aborted in the womb in Britain. Life begins at conception and therefore these children have been killed in contravention of the Sixth Commandment. However, not only are the individual pregnant women, the nurses and doctors guilty of breaking this commandment, but we as a society with its sexual freedom and failure to bring this abhorrent situation to an end are equally guilty. It is only because Jesus died for ALL our sins at Calvary that God has not vented his anger and struck us down. But perhaps we are paying in other ways; psychological trauma for the women themselves and an ageing population for example.
The second lesson is that we should not take individual lines of the Bible out of context, they have to be read as part of the whole; in isolation the death of Uzzah appears unreasonable but when put together with earlier episodes in Scripture from Exodus and Numbers, it makes sense. This is particularly noticeable in the issue of ‘gay marriage’ where proponents often remind us that Jesus taught we should love everyone but fail to remember that Jesus came to fulfil the law not to abolish it (Matthew 5:17) and that law included ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination’ (Leviticus 18:22). (See also Genesis 19:1-13 and Leviticus 20:13). Now whilst Jesus himself did not specifically mention homosexuality he did condemn all forms of sexual immorality: ‘What comes out of you is what defiles you. For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile you’ (Mark 7:20-23), so the message is clear.
The third learning outcome is that God has a plan, but it has not been revealed to us in its entirety and therefore we cannot say that, well in these circumstances God would do this or God would do that. We simply don’t know! The key is prayer and by that I don’t mean simply reciting prayers and speaking endless tomes to God, but silence and listening. Only then can we possibly hear what God’s plan for us this day might be. Even then, we might not understand how this fits into the whole picture but we must faithfully follow His calling.