One of the most troubling passages in the Bible is this one, from 1 Chronicles: “And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were driving the cart… And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God… And David was afraid of God that day…” (1 Chronicles 13:7-12).
This seems like such a hardcore overreaction from God, doesn’t it? Uzzah’s action here—reaching out and touching the ark of the covenant—strikes me as well-intentioned. He was just trying to keep the ark from tipping over.
And because of that, God killed him. How do we make sense of this?
Now, it is true that they were transporting the ark incorrectly that day. As per the law, the ark wasn’t supposed to be wheeled around on a cart; it was meant to be carried by the Levites. Also, Numbers 4:15 prohibited the touching of holy things, like the ark of the covenant. They should have known better, though that doesn’t make the story less disturbing.
We have no business coming into contact with God’s presence in our broken condition
For a moment, though, let us set all that aside. Let’s consider how this story of Uzzah—as bothersome as it may be—reminds us of the general problem of the human condition. Here’s the problem: we are all infected with sin. We have no business coming into contact with God’s presence in our broken condition. He is holy; we are not. That’s a fearful reality. Entering His presence when we’re marred with sin is dangerous business, no matter how pure our motives and actions are.
In Luke 7, however, we find a story that is nearly the exact opposite of the story in 1 Chronicles. And it shows that, despite our sinful human condition, there is hope.
Check this out: “As He drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!” (Luke 7:12-16).
Isn’t that beautiful! Notice the striking contrast between these two accounts. In 1 Chronicles, a man died because he reached out and touched the presence of God. But here, in Luke, a man lived because God Himself reached out and touched his dead body. What a beautiful picture of the gospel!
There is a chasm between God’s perfection and our broken, corrupted humanity. Who reaches out and bridges that distance makes all the difference. When man, in his sinful state, attempts by his own efforts and merits to reach God, the ultimate result is always death. But when God, through His compassion, reaches down to us, the result is life. And that’s the beautiful core message of the Christian faith, is it not?
The answer is never to try harder—or somehow work our way up to God’s level. Instead, it’s about us recognising and believing that God Himself—through the Incarnation and the Crucifixion/Resurrection—came down and bridged that gap.
We serve a God who doesn’t leave us to perish in our broken sinfulness
I’m so grateful that we serve a God who doesn’t leave us to perish in our broken sinfulness. Rather, He daily reaches out and gives us the gift of life—of salvation. God’s presence didn’t remain the ark of the covenant. He came truly in the person of Jesus Christ, freely healing, resurrecting, and giving life to many. And He is still in the resurrection business, bringing life to our dying selves and restoring us to a right relationship with Him!
Before Christ, we were no less dead spiritually than that corpse in Luke’s narrative, being wheeled around on the bier (Ephesians 2:1-3). But praise the Lord that God is a life-giving, mercy-extending, chasm-bridging Saviour. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
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