Yesterday I began a short series on the holiness of God and the existence of hell. In a day when hell is under attack, I want to show that any question of the existence of hell is not at heart a discussion of whether or not a place exists, but a question of the character of God. Yesterday I said that there are two ways God may react to human sin: with just wrath or with patient mercy.
Today I want to show that when the holy God comes into contact with human sin, he may react with just wrath. I want to look at the story of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:1-7) to help us understand God’s justice. Let me give a bit of context: Many years ago the ark of the covenant had been captured and taken away. God’s people had broken covenant with God and he had given them over to their enemies. When he did that, the Phillistines attacked them, pillaged them, and captured the ark. When they captured the ark it was not just that they were taking away a religious icon. Instead, they were taking away the presence of God from among the Israelites and the Israelites understood that this meant that God had abandoned them and was no longer there in the midst of his people. Their sin was so great, so offensive to God, that God had turned his back on them for a time.
But that time lasted just a few months. After just a few months the ark was returned to the nation of Israel, but not to the tabernacle. Instead it sat for many years in the house of a man named Abinadab. And now, finally, as we come to 2 Samuel, King David has determined that he needs to return the ark to its home in Jerusalem. This is more than moving a box from one place to another. This is returning God to his central place in the hearts and minds of the people. It is a meaningful act that demonstrates the hearts of the people returning to God.
And so they load the ark on a brand new cart and as it goes down the road, there is dancing and singing and rejoicing. The people are celebrating the Lord’s return. God will once again dwell in the midst of his people. This is a great day! And then, suddenly, right in in the middle of all of the celebrating, everything goes silent. A man has fallen down beside the cart. He falls to the ground and is pronounced dead.
What has happened? As the cart is trundling along, the oxen suddenly stumble and for just a moment it seems like the ark might tip over. A man named Uzzah sees this happening. He puts his hand out to steady the ark, to keep it from falling to the mud. And in the instant he touches that ark, God strikes him dead.
Many years before God had commanded that no one was to touch the ark, ever. He had given very clear rules about how the ark was to be transported and taken care of. There was a whole family in Israel, the sons of Kohath, who were dedicated to this one task of transporting the ark and the other holy objects. Uzzah was from this family and the very first thing he would have learned about his task was this: Do not touch. You aren’t ever to touch it and you aren’t to put it on a cart. Uzzah and Abinadab and David know this. They are without excuse.
The ark was a holy object. It was the place of his presence, an earthly representation of his holiness, that no one was ever to touch. By reaching out his hand and touching the ark, Uzzah was acting as if God was not holy at all, as if he and God were peers. He was treating God with contempt.