Ananias, Saphira, Lot’s wife… Every time I read biblical accounts of the sudden death of the disobedient, I’m left feeling a little jittery and unsettled. In every case I can almost guarantee that I would have executed the same mistake and met the same, swift end. Even today’s reading of the death of Uzzah from 1 Chronicles 13 is no exception.
We read today that people from all the territories of Israel joined King David on a great mission to bring back the ark of the covenant. However, somewhere along the way as they traveled in great celebration towards the city of David, the oxen pulling the ark suddenly stumbled. In this faltering moment, Uzzah reached his hand out to steady the ark, and “the Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah” (1 Chron. 13:10). Uzzah fell and perished instantly for his crime. (“And they shall spread on it a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles . . . [and] shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die” [Numbers 4:14-15].) Even King David is shaken with anger and fear, and for three months he leaves the ark behind with another household.
For David and for any audience, the sudden death of Uzzah is a forceful picture of the power, might, and untouchable holiness of God. The justice of the Lord is reliably perfect and pure.
As a word of comfort, a pastor recently reminded me to “read the Old Testament” and see how God has followed through on every word that he has promised. He said, “God always does exactly what he says he is going to do. There are no big surprises.” His simple and pure message bore reminding because I never reflect upon the amazing gift of God’s absolute trustworthiness enough. In moments of both repentance and reward, the Lord never fails to execute his promises.
Although I cannot say that I know why this specific story bears repeating from the 2 Samuel 6 account, or that I usually feel comfortable when I read of Uzzah’s death, for the first time in my memory, upon reading this passage again I felt a strange sense of comfort slowly pass through me. Oddly enough, for the first time, this passage elicited not only a fear of the Lord’s power and might but also a sense of trust mingled together with the fear. If God has “followed through” on this promise, however painful and unpopular, can I not surely rely upon the rest of his promises?
Sadly for Uzzah in 1 Chronicles 13, the Lord God had promised (assuredly for our protection) that whoever touched the ark of the covenant would perish. Though just as surely as God kept the ark sacred and holy, will he not surely keep all of his other promises? He has promised forgiveness (Eph. 1:7), he has promised an end to pain (Rev. 21:4), he has promised that we will live eternally with him (John 10:28), and much more.
Praise be to the life of Jesus Christ, for not only is he the greatest promise fulfilled—in his birth, in his perfect, consistent life, and in his sacrifice on the cross—but he is also Christ the Priest and King. For now we no longer have to fear the death of Uzzah because “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf” (Heb. 6:19-20, NIV). The curtain of the holy of holies has been ripped apart, and it is no longer we, like Uzzah, who reach and fall, but Christ who has met us and lifts us up to join him.
Sarah Seibels is Senior High Youth Director at the Cathedral Church of the Advent.
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