David desired to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The ark had been left at the house of Abinadad for decades since its return by the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:1). They approached this task with great joy and sincerity (2 Samuel 6:5). A new cart was acquired for this purpose. Two men, Uzzah and Ahio, took pains to see that it was properly guided, but the whole enterprise ended in tragedy:
And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:6–7, ESV)
David frightened and angry returned to Jerusalem without the ark. But David doesn’t remain dejected. Something wonderful took place — the scriptures were searched, and a valuable lesson was learned. When the Levites were prepared for the second attempt to get the ark, David shared the painful truth he had learned.
Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule. (1 Chronicles 15:13, ESV)
Amazingly, David and his associates had either failed to read the regulations concerning the transport of the ark (Exodus 25:10-22, 37:1-9, Numbers 4:15-20, 7:9) or failed to obey them. The death of Uzzah was avoidable and in a sense predictable.
What is bothersome about this episode is that we know the king was commanded to have his own copy of the law that “he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:19, ESV). The priest was “to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken” (Lev 10:11, ESV). Both failed. The second time they transport the ark it is a different story.
And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD (1 Chronicles 15:15, ESV).
Uzzah is a warning example to our confused and confusing religious world. Many seem to commit the Uzzah fallacy. They approach religious faith with enthusiasm but fail to take seriously the question: how does the Lord want this to be done? Let us remember to inquire of God for what he would have us to do.