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God’s Word for You

1 Chronicles 13:9-12 The hand of Uzzah

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, December 18, 2023

9 When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to grab the ark, for the oxen stumbled. 10 The anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah. He struck him down because he reached out his hand to the ark, and he died there in the presence of God. 11 David was angry because the LORD had broken out against Uzzah. So that place is called Perez Uzzah to this day.  12 David was afraid of God that day; he said, “How can I bring the ark of God close to me?”

The ark did not have very far to travel, but at a certain place on a hilltop or a hillside, there was an incident. The place was near a threshing floor. This one’s name, Kidon, means “dart” or “javelin,” but this doesn’t have any bearing on the text. The team of oxen stumbled, and although the cart was new (1 Chronicles 13:7) the road was poor, so that when the oxen stumbled or went down, something happened to the ark. The Hebrew verb suggests that the team of oxen were “thrown down” or dropped suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s easy to see how the heavy ark may have begun to slide.

Out went the hand of Uzzah. He had the best of intentions. All he wanted to do was to steady the holy cargo. But the whole operation was flawed. The Levites should have been carrying the ark with poles on their shoulders. The ark had been built with gold rings specifically designed to receive long poles to support the chest in such a way that no one would ever need to touch it (Exodus 25:12). Even the poles were specially made. They weren’t just a couple of long sticks picked up from the trash behind the wood shop. They had to be a specific diameter on account of the rings, and a certain length, and made of acacia wood, and the poles were even overlaid with gold (Exodus 25:13). But where were they now? Was someone just walking along, carrying those two golden poles that should have been used to heft the ark? They don’t even enter into the account. The terrain got bumpy. The oxen stumbled. Out went the hand of Uzzah. And then, as they say, something terrible happened. From God’s point of view, the terrible part was that Uzzah reached out to touch the ark. Never mind, why—he did indeed intend to touch the ark.

Just as with the sins of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu, the Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and his was killed by God in a moment. Did his heart simply stop? Did he suddenly drop dead? Did fire come from God and destroy Uzzah’s flesh? 2 Samuel 6:7 says, “He died there beside the ark of God,” while our author here in Chronicles says, “He died there in the presence of God.” We can’t say more.

Uzzah’s death is tragic, but it has at its root a common theme with other deaths or serious attacks in the Scriptures. These are incidents when one of God’s people dies because God’s specific commands are being broken, especially concerning his tabernacle or a display of his holiness.

1, Just as God was sending his servant Moses to rescue his people from Pharaoh, God came rushing toward Moses to kill him because he had failed to circumcise his son (Exodus 4:24). But Moses’ wife intervened and circumcised the boy so that Moses was not put to death.

2, Just after the tabernacle was set up in the desert and the first priests were consecrated, Nadab and Abihu were killed by fire when they attempted to offer unauthorized fire “before the Lord,” perhaps meaning that they attempted to enter the Most Holy Place (Leviticus 10:1-2; Numbers 3:4).

3, Just as the New Testament church was beginning to spread and grow, the seriousness of vows before the Lord was underscored by the deaths of Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who lied about the value of some land they sold to give an offering to the Lord (Acts 5:1,10).

4, We should group Adam and Eve here, because their sin may have seemed insignificant—an eaten piece of fruit (Genesis 3:6)—yet it brought death for the first time into the world, and to all mankind by descent from our first parents, “For… in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Uzzah, too, was a death which showed that God is serious about his holiness and about our sinfulness. Sin can be categorized in many ways, and these are simply meant to help us better understand our sins. In this case, we see that while some sins are committed against ourselves, and some against other people, still other sins are committed against God. This division comes from the high priest Eli in the days when the ark was in Shiloh. He said, “If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him. But if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” (1 Samuel 2:25). And Paul says to Titus: “In this present age let us live self-controlled lives” (with respect to ourselves), “upright lives” (with respect to our neighbor), and “godly lives” (with respect to God, Titus 2:12). Uzzah’s sin was not a sin against himself or his fellow man, but directly against God’s command. Even though he should have been warned, it was still a sin. In the New Testament church we are not under obligation to meet so many requirements that the Law of Moses presented, but just as we are surprised and shocked that someone could disobey the clear rules about the handling of the ark, we also see that the instruction of the people was essential to their obedience.

In the same way, we should keep this in mind when we share the word of God with one another. For those who sin against God’s holy will need to be warned, or they will perish. We might be saved ourselves, “as if we have gone through the fire,” Paul says (1 Corinthians 3:15). But we want to preserve others from the fire of hell, and so we feel the urgency of proclaiming the law and the gospel. The law, to show people their sins and their need for a Savior, and the gospel, to teach or remind them of who their Savior truly is.

Was Uzzah lost to suffer forever in hell because of his sin? A man who knows his Savior and is certain of his place in heaven and yet falls into a sin that leads to or results in his death can still be saved. Consider the believer who dies as a result of inattention as he is driving; he is endangering other people (a Fifth Commandment sin), and yet he has faith in Christ and will be saved. He was not throwing away his faith, and he rightly trusts that his baptism covers over his sins. If this were not so, then we would live in constant terror of every sin rather than living in the joy of the gospel and the hope (that is, the promise) of the resurrection. Therefore we must see that there is a difference between temporal death and eternal death. Temporal death, which Uzzah suffered, came on account of his sin, just as Eve’s death came on account of her sin. But Eve knew her Savior and confessed her faith in her Savior (Genesis 4:1). In the same way, Uzzah was undoubtedly assigned the task of accompanying the ark on account of his firm faith in the Lord and his love for the Lord, and yet an error caused his death. But we can say with confidence that while Uzzah was put to death even at the hand of God, his soul could and certainly was rescued from hell on account of his faith. For as we learn from Mark 16:16, faith alone saves, and unbelief alone damns. Uzzah did not do what he did out of unbelief or because he rejected God, but because he made an error in the way he served God. Therefore we do not have any qualm in saying that Uzzah is not suffering in hell, but is in heaven. And he is in heaven on account of his faith, just as we shall be. Put your faith in Christ, and serve him as best you can. And do not fear your death. Use your life to serve Jesus with whatever tasks he sets in your path.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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