The conversation at the breakfast table got very lively this week.
“That’s not fair!”
“God was mean!”
“Why would God do that?!”
I took a deep breath and mentally stepped back. I hadn’t expected the children to respond this way to our Bible study, but okay, why not? Lets tackle this head on. And I prayed for the words to explain 1 Chronicles 13:5-14 to my children.
David, newly crowned king of Israel, decided to bring the ark of the Lord back from where it was waiting (previously, it had been stolen by the Philistines). They basically had a big parade with music and dancing and celebration, and they stopped intermittently to offer sacrifices all along the way. That is, until the the oxen that were pulling the new cart, which was carrying the ark, stumbled… the cart was upset, a man named Uzzah steadied the ark, and an angry God struck him dead. Cue the protests. David got mad at God and temporarily ditched the plan to bring the ark back, storing it with the family of Obed-Edom.
So was God acting out of character? As David T. Lamb asks in his book “God Behaving Badly,” is the God of the Old Testament angry, sexist and racist?? 1
Hardly. The truth is that God’s character never changes, and if we study the passages where God gets angry, in context, we should be able to pick out the reasons for His responses.
So why did God get angry enough to strike Uzzah dead?
Poles are for kings; Carts are for things. God had repeatedly given Israel clear instructions on how to carry the ark. Just like royalty was historically carried on a “litter,” which was a throne carried by people with poles, God is royalty and the ark was his throne. The ark was supposed to be carried by priests with poles, not a cart. The Philistines transported the ark in a cart. Copying their example was both disobedient and disrespectful.
The ark was dangerous… handle with care. I’m thinking of the Chronicles of Narnia, where Susan asked if Aslan was safe. Mrs. Beaver replied, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 2 God isn’t safe, but He is good. He told Israel in Numbers 4:15 that if anyone touched the ark, he would die. He didn’t just spring this on them. It wasn’t a P.S. They knew the penalty for touching the ark.
God is a consistent, prudent parent. My kids got this. I asked them what would happen if I let one of them break a rule. “Everyone will break it,” was their quick response. Sometimes parents choose to make an example of disobedience, even when it breaks our hearts, because it is what is necessary to keep everyone in tune with the spirit of the law and in awe of God. There were 30,000 people watching David’s parade that day. If God had made an exception for Uzzah, it would have set a precedence that His people could push all of the boundaries and expect to get away with it.
What if Uzzah acted without thinking? There are times that we all have knee-jerk reactions, but it doesn’t make it okay. I know of a young woman who missed a stop sign and hit and killed a pedestrian. It was an accident, and she went to prison for 10 years for being unobservant. You better believe I pay extra close attention to pedestrians and stop signs. My littles don’t like to apologies for accidents, but I teach them that accidents still have consequences, can hurt, and we still say “sorry” and ask for forgiveness.
What do we know that we know about God’s character?
- He is slow to anger.
- He is abounding in steadfast love (hesed= love, lovingkindness, kindness, mercy).
- He is also full of mercy, grace, faithfulness and forgiveness.
- He is God, and He is worthy of our worship.
Even after striking Uzzah, scripture says God blessed the family David chose to steward the ark, and He blessed all that they owned. Isn’t He generous?? Three months later, David returned and Israel brought the ark back to Jerusalem in the way that God desired, showing Him obedience and respect. God made an everlasting covenant with David, continuing to use him, bless him, and bless others through him to this day (as Jesus is the descendant of David).
My takeaway: Sometimes, like David, we can think we are pleasing God. Yet, if we are not careful to remember our roots, our reasons can become tainted by selfish motivations instead of a pure desire to please God. We need regular heart checks, and we need to stay familiar with God’s Word so that our doctrine isn’t ever tainted by worldly ideologies, because the world is pushing their priorities and we need to stand firm in Christ. We can’t compromise.
Thank you for being a loving, merciful, worthy, and consistent Father. Help us to see you as you are, and not as we would have you to be. Give us a thirst for your Word, understanding of what we read, and wisdom in applying your truth to our lives. Show us how to sift the world’s ideas and throw out everything that isn’t of You. May we seek to truly please you. Help us to become so familiar with the Bible that we don’t accidentally sin in knee-jerk reactions the way Uzzah did, but that we can thoughtfully honor your heart, even in unexpected situation. We love you, Father.
In Jesus’ name, Amen
1 Lamb, D. T. (2022). God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? (Expanded ed.). IVP.
2 Lewis, C. S., & Chou, J. (2021). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia) (Abridged ed.). HarperFestival.