There are some passages in the Bible which cause us to wonder why, which arouse in us confusion, bewilderment and even anger. 2 Sam 6:1-23 is one such passage, the tale of how David sought to bring the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem and how one man’s apparently innocent gesture resulted in death. The lessons to be learned from this passage are not easy.
After years of being a fugitive from the king, David is now crowned king and wants to bring the symbol of God’s presence back to its rightful place. Taken by the Philistines many years earlier, the ark was a sacramental sign of God’s presence which had proved too hot for the Philistines to handle and now David wishes to unite the religious and the political by bringing it to his new capital city. It was a day of celebration which turned to mourning; carrying the ark on an ox cart, the cart stumbled; Uzzah reached out a hand to steady the ark and died on the spot.
David, we are told, was angry at what God had done (2 Sam 6:8) and so often, we too feel like this. God’s ways are so often incomprehensible to us and we do not understand what He does. Uzzah’s actions seem so ordinary and reasonable, but in actual fact, by moving the ark on a cart instead of being carried by the Levitical priests on poles, the people were trying to do things their way rather than God’s way.
How often do we feel we need to protect God and keep Him safe? We fail to realise that God is not benign or cosy; we cannot control Him (or fit Him into a box). David had failed to read the instructions given and it took three months of fear, awe and learning for David to understand his mistake and do things differently.
The second time, David and the people had learned their lesson. The ark was transported properly and there was great celebration and rejoicing – and sacrifices along the way. David had learned the lesson that reverence and awe can go hand in hand with joy and dancing. What happened this time was that David lost himself in the awesome love and holy majesty of God. His wife did not understand this; she viewed his reckless worship as something that was vulgar and undignified. David’s heart was given over to God, however, and he had learned the lesson that nothing was more important than worshipping the Lord whose presence makes all the difference.