Was Uzzah’s Punishment too Harsh? (2 of 2)

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(Continued from yesterday)

Now let’s return to Uzzah’s case. Who carried the ark, and how?
2 Sam 6:2-3 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim. They placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart.

Some assumed that Uzzah was a Levite, based on Josephus (Ant. 6.1, section 4), but the Bible does not state this explicitly. There is no biblical genealogy to prove this. He lived in Baale-judah, another name for Kiriath-jearim (see NASB footnote), also called Baalah (Josh 15:9, 1 Chron 13:6):
1 Chron 13:6 David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim, which belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, the LORD who is enthroned above the cherubim, where His name is called.
Kiriath-jearim was in Judah (Judg 18:12, 1 Chron 13:6), but was not one of the 23 cities (Josh 21:4-5) given to the Kohathites by the other tribes (Josh 21:9-26; 1 Chron 6:54-61, 66-70). It is possible that Uzzah was a Kohathite not living in a city given to them, but there is no evidence to support this claim. If he was not a Kohathite at all, then he had no business escorting the ark.

Furthermore, they placed the ark on a new cart drawn by oxen, which is definitely against God’s instructions. God’s work must be done God’s way.
1 Chron 13:7, 9-10 They carried the ark of God on a new cart from the house of Abinadab, and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart. … When they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, because the oxen nearly upset it. The anger of the LORD burned against Uzza, so He struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark; and he died there before God.

Some believe that Uzzah (Uzza) reached out his hand to steady the ark as a natural reflex, but that’s an assumption, eisegesis and not exegesis. The text said God struck him down for his irreverence (2 Sam 6:7). A more likely explanation is that the ark remained at Abinadab’s house for twenty years, and familiarity breeds contempt:

1 Sam 7:1-2 And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took the ark of the LORD and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD. From the day that the ark remained at Kiriath-jearim, the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.

Uzzah no longer considered the ark as the most holy object, and treated it as common. The ark was only nearly upset. Uzzah probably thought if it fell, it might be damaged or soiled by the ground, but did not realize the hand of a disrespectful sinner was more defiling than the dirt, and God struck him down for his irreverence. This punishment was clearly spelled out and had overwhelming precedents. He had no one to blame but himself.

One last point is the distinction between justice and mercy. God was just in punishing Uzzah for what he deserved. The punishment fits the crime. We don’t know Uzzah’s heart, expected God to show mercy, and are dismayed when He did not. But mercy is always voluntary and cannot be expected:
Rom 9:15 I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.
God saw Uzzah’s heart and judged it to be irreverence. He had not treated God as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel (Num 21:12), therefore God gave him justice. Never complain to God “that’s not fair! I want justice!” If God had dealt justly with us we would have died many times over, because the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Beg for His mercy, which we don’t deserve. Never stand in judgment of God.

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