We have here Uzzah struck dead for touching the ark, when it was upon its journey towards the city of David, a sad providence, which damped their mirth, stopped the progress of the ark, and for the present, dispersed this great assembly, which had come together to attend it, and sent them home in a fright.
I. Uzzah’s offence seems very small. He and his brother Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, in whose house the ark had long been lodged, having been used to attend it, to show their willingness to prefer the public benefit to their own private honour and advantage, undertook to drive the cart in which the ark was carried, this being perhaps the last service they were likely to do it; for others would be employed about it when it came to the city of David. Ahio went before, to clear the way, and, if need were, to lead the oxen. Uzzah followed close to the side of the cart. It happened that the oxen shook it, 2 Sam. 6:6. The critics are not agreed about the signification of the original word: They stumbled (so our margin); they kicked (so some), perhaps against the goad with which Uzzah drove them; they stuck in the mire, by some. By some accident or other the ark was in danger of being overthrown. Uzzah thereupon laid hold of it, to save it from falling, we have reason to think with a very good intention, to preserve the reputation of the ark and to prevent a bad omen. Yet this was his crime. Uzzah was a Levite, but priests only might touch the ark. The law was express concerning the Kohathites, that, though they were to carry the ark by the staves, yet they must not touch any holy thing, lest they die, Num. 4:15. Uzzah’s long familiarity with the ark, and the constant attendance he had given to it, might occasion his presumption, but would not excuse it.
II. His punishment for this offence seems very great (2 Sam. 6:7): The anger of the Lord was kindled against him (for in sacred things he is a jealous God) and he smote him there for his rashness, as the word is, and struck him dead upon the spot. There he sinned, and there he died, by the ark of God; even the mercy-seat would not save him. Why was God thus severe with him? 1. The touching of the ark was forbidden to the Levites expressly under pain of death—lest they die; and God, by this instance of severity, would show how he might justly have dealt with our first parents, when they had eaten that which was forbidden under the same penalty—lest you die. 2. God saw the presumption and irreverence of Uzzah’s heart. Perhaps he affected to show, before this great assembly, how bold he could make with the ark, having been so long acquainted with it. Familiarity, even with that which is most awful, is apt to breed contempt. 3. David afterwards owned that Uzzah died for an error they were all guilty of, which was carrying the ark in a cart. Because it was not carried on the Levites’ shoulders, the Lord made that breach upon us, 1 Chron. 15:13. But Uzzah was singled out to be made an example, perhaps because he had been most forward in advising that way of conveyance; however he had fallen into another error, which was occasioned by that. Perhaps the ark was not covered, as it should have been, with the covering of badgers’ skins (Num. 4:6), and that was a further provocation. 4. God would hereby strike an awe upon the thousands of Israel, would convince them that the ark was never the less venerable for its having been so long in mean circumstances, and thus he would teach them to rejoice with trembling, and always to treat holy things with reverence and holy fear. 5. God would hereby teach us that a good intention will not justify a bad action; it will not suffice to say of that which is ill done that it was well meant. He will let us know that he can and will secure his ark, and needs not any man’s sin to help him to do it. 6. If it was so great a crime for one to lay hold on the ark of the covenant that had no right to do so, what is it for those to lay claim to the privileges of the covenant that come not up to the terms of it? To the wicked God says, What hast thou to do to take my covenant in thy mouth? Ps. 50:16. Friend, how camest thou in hither? If the ark was so sacred, and not to be touched irreverently, what is the blood of the covenant? Heb. 10:29.
III. David’s feelings on the infliction of this stroke were keen, and perhaps not altogether as they should have been. He should have humbled himself under God’s hand, confessed his error, acknowledged God’s righteousness, and deprecated the further tokens of his displeasure, and then have gone on with the good work he had in hand. But we find, 1. He was displeased. It is not said because Uzzah had affronted God, but because God had made a breach upon Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:8): David’s anger was kindled. It is the same word that is used for God’s displeasure, 2 Sam. 6:7. Because God was angry, David was angry and out of humour. As if God might not assert the honour of his ark, and frown upon one that touched it rudely, without asking David leave. Shall mortal man pretend to be more just than God, arraign his proceedings, or charge him with iniquity? David did not now act like himself, like a man after God’s own heart. It is not for us to be displeased at any thing that God does, how unpleasing soever it is to us. The death of Uzzah was indeed an eclipse to the glory of a solemnity which David valued himself upon more than any thing else, and might give birth to some speculations among those that were disaffected to him, as if God were departing from him too; but he ought nevertheless to have subscribed to the righteousness and wisdom of God in it, and not to have been displeased at it. When we lie under God’s anger we must keep under our own. 2. He was afraid, 2 Sam. 6:9. It should seem he was afraid with amazement; for he said, How shall the ark of the Lord come to me? As if God sought advantages against all that were about him, and was so extremely tender of his ark that there was no dealing with it; and therefore better for him to keep it at a distance. Que procul a Jove, procul a fulmine—To retire from Jove is to retire from the thunder-bolt. He should rather have said, “Let the ark come to me, and I will take warning by this to treat it with more reverence.” Provoke me not (says God, Jer. 25:6) and I will do you no hurt. Or this may be looked upon as a good use which David made of this tremendous judgment. He did not say, “Surely Uzzah was a sinner above all men, because he suffered such things,” but is concerned for himself, as one conscious, not only of his own unworthiness of God’s favour, but his obnoxiousness to God’s displeasure. “God might justly strike me dead as he did Uzzah. My flesh trembles for fear of thee,” Ps. 119:120. This God intends in his judgments, that others may hear and fear. David therefore will not bring the ark into his own city (2 Sam. 6:10) till he is better prepared for its reception. 3. He took care to perpetuate the remembrance of this stroke by a new name he gave to the place: Perez-uzzah, the breach of Uzzah, 2 Sam. 6:8. He had been lately triumphing in the breach made upon his enemies, and called the place Baal-perazim, a place of breaches. But here is a breach upon his friends. When we see one breach, we should consider that we know not where the next will be. The memorial of this stroke would be a warning to posterity to take heed of all rashness and irreverence in dealing about holy things; for God will be sanctified in those that come nigh unto him. 4. He lodged the ark in a good house, the house of Obed-edom a Levite, which happened to be near the place where this disaster happened, and there, (1.) It was kindly entertained and welcomed, and continued there three months, 2 Sam. 6:10, 11. Obed-edom knew what slaughter the ark had made among the Philistines that imprisoned it and the Bethshemites that looked into it. He saw Uzzah struck dead for touching it, and perceived that David himself was afraid of meddling with it; yet he cheerfully invites it to his own house, and opens his doors to it without fear, knowing it was a savour of death unto death only to those that treated it ill. “O the courage,” says bishop Hall, “of an honest and faithful heart! nothing can make God otherwise than amiable to his own people: even his very justice is lovely.” (2.) It paid well for its entertainment: The Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household. The same hand that punished Uzzah’s proud presumption rewarded Obed-edom’s humble boldness, and made the ark to him a savour of life unto life. Let none think the worse of the gospel for the judgements inflicted on those that reject it, but set in opposition to them the blessings it brings to those that duly receive it. None ever had, nor ever shall have, reason to say that it is in vain to serve God. Let masters of families be encouraged to keep up religion in their families, and to serve God and the interests of his kingdom with their houses and estates, for that is the way to bring a blessing upon all they have. The ark is a guest which none shall lose by that bid it welcome. Josephus says that, whereas before Obed-edom was poor, on a sudden, in these three months, his estate increased, to the envy of his neighbours. Piety is the best friend to prosperity. In wisdom’s left hand are riches and honour. His household shared in the blessing. It is good living in a family that entertains the ark, for all about it will fare the better for it.