1 Chronicles 13:9-10
9 And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled. 10 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God.
At times we will hear people say something like this: God doesn’t’ care what you do, so long as you do it with a sincere heart. However, I think that Uzzah would disagree with that argument. In fact, Uzzah learned from the Lord, in a glorious and terrible display, that God’s holiness is deadly and his ways are to be followed.
The people of Israel were not doing rightly by God’s command. The ark was to be carried on the shoulders of the Levites, but the men of Israel had a different Idea. For certain, they would have thought that their idea was good and helpful. Why would God really care how the box was carried? Isn’t the point that the box gets moved from one place to another?
Then again, Uzzah did not intend harm. He saw that this beautiful symbol of Israel’s relationship with God and God’s mercy toward Israel was headed for the dirt. The oxen stumbled. The ark was slipping. Uzzah simply wanted to steady the thing to keep it from being defiled. For his efforts, Uzzah was struck down by the Lord.
Why did God do this? The reason is one that our entire culture has lost: God’s holiness. God is holy. He is completely perfect. He is so totally above and beyond us that we cannot even begin to perceive the difference between ourselves in our lowly corruption and the Lord in his absolute purity. God’s holiness is deadly. God’s holiness is all-consuming. Were any of us to be put into the presence of God without God protecting us from his holiness, we would be totally destroyed.
So, what should we learn from the Uzzah story? There are many things to learn, for sure, but here are a few things that come to my mind this morning. First, we need to regain a proper respect for God’s holiness. We live in a culture that believes that they have the right to judge God by their own standards. They do not grasp that the Lord will not be judged by them. God is above and beyond us. Yes, he is also nearer to us than the very air we breathe and has made himself known and knowable to us; yet he is not at all like us. His ways are not our ways. And, even when it feels totally different from us, God’s ways are right because his ways are holy. We should learn to bow to the Holy One, and to submit to his absolute perfection.
Bowing to God’s perfection should also lead us to obey his commands. Uzzah was a victim of his own and others’ disobedience. David failed to obey God by commanding that the ark be moved on a cart and not on the shoulders of Levites. Uzzah disobeyed God by daring to touch the ark, as if Uzzah was somehow more clean, more pure, than the mud into which the ark would have fallen. From both of those forms of disobedience, we need to do our very best to take the commands of God very seriously. He is holy, and his commands must be obeyed. There is no room for the whole, “God doesn’t’ care what you do so long as you are sincere,” sort of reasoning. God has revealed himself and his standards to us in his holy word, and we must obey them.
A final thought that I will share on this today is one of great joy. If all we knew was God’s holiness, we would all be destroyed, for none of us is holy. God knew that none of us is righteous, not even one (cf. Rom 3:10-12). God, however, chose to love us and to purchase for himself a people, paying for their sin with the blood of Jesus, God the Son (cf. Rev 5). For all who will entrust themselves to God through faith in Christ, God will cleanse them of their unholiness by the blood of Jesus, and he will sanctify them, perfecting them, and making them able to stand in his holy presence. This is a glorious concept. We who should be destroyed by God’s perfection are made by Jesus into the very perfection of God (2 Cor 5:21). Praise be to God for doing what we in our sinfulness could never do! He has made a race of rebels into his very own children (John 1:12-13).
So, the next time you are allowed to sing God’s praise or hear his word, give him thanks for allowing you to stand and live in his holiness.