The Ark of the Covenant had been captured when Samuel was a boy. Although the Philistines returned it to Israel, it ended up staying in the home of Abinadab near Kiriath-jearim.
David was concerned at the beginning of his reign as King over Israel that he have access to the Ark of God. He said, “Let’s move the ark of our God back here, for we did not seek his will throughout Saul’s reign” (1 Chronicles 13:3 NET). It is a sad statement on Saul’s reign that the Ark was not consulted to discover what God wanted of him as king at any point during his forty years reign.
To bring the ark to Jerusalem, David’s new capital, he had a new cart built to carry it. They loaded the Ark onto the new cart and the procession started out. “Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart. They brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab on the hill. Ahio was walking in front of the ark, while David and all Israel were energetically celebrating before the Lord, singing and playing various stringed instruments, tambourines, rattles, and cymbals” (2 Samuel 6:3-5). It had to have been a grand parade!
But there was a problem. It was how they were transporting the Ark of the Covenant. In Numbers 4 God gave instructions as to how the Israelites were to transport the Tabernacle and all of its furnishings including the Ark. They were to cover the Ark with the screening curtain, a cover of goatskin (or leather), and over it was to be a blue cloth. The Ark was then to be carried with poles that were kept in the rings on its four corners. It was to be carried by Levites from the sons of Kohath. It was vital that they not touch the Ark: the penalty was death (all of this information can be found in Numbers 4 and Exodus 25).
As they set out in the procession, with the Ark riding in the back of the cart, the oxen stumbled. Uzzah, apparently fearful that the Ark would fall out, put out his hand to steady it. “The Lord was so furious with Uzzah, he killed him on the spot for his negligence. He died right there beside the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:7).
It would seem that some sort of poles were in place when they lifted the Ark onto the cart because no one died then for touching it. But they were transporting the Ark in a cart without the sons of Kohath. The problem was they were not following what God had commanded.
We don’t know if they had consulted God’s law, the Torah, to determine how to transport the Ark. If they had not, we might argue that they didn’t know. But the problem was that God had still given commands with penalties attached. Whether they had consulted the law did not negate God’s command.
Isn’t this a lesson for us? Sometimes we like to think that ignorance is an excuse. But ignorance of the laws of our country is not a valid defense in court, nor is ignorance of what God has said an excuse for us. God wants us to obey him.
This is why God gave us his word: so we can know what he wants of us. Ignorance of God’s word didn’t save Uzzah and it won’t save anyone today. May we spend time each day with God’s word so that we know what he wants of us.
Readings for last week and next week:
17 September – 2 Samuel 2; Psalm 16
18 September – 2 Samuel 3; Psalm 17
19 September – 2 Samuel 4; Psalm 22
20 September – 2 Samuel 22; Psalm 18
21 September – 2 Samuel 5; Psalm 15
24 September – 1 Chronicles 11; Psalm 20
25 September – 1 Chronicles 12; Psalm 8
26 September – 1 Chronicles 13; Psalm 25
27 September – 2 Samuel 6; Psalm 22
28 September – 1 Chronicles 14; Psalm 31