Having gained the support of the people, the next major thing we are told David does as king is to bring the ark of the covanent to Jerusalem. He doesn’t make the decision as an autocrat or dictator, but asks the opinion of the leaders of the soldiers and civilians. Crucially, it is not merely a popular opinion that he is after, but also whether they agree with him that the plan has come from the Lord. David understood that men may make whatever plans they wish, but if the Lord does not ordain success then it will not happen. That makes it strange, then, that they don’t handle the ark with the reverence that God and prescribed for it when they do move it.
All of Israel is gathered together for the celebration of bringing the ark of Yahweh to be amidst the people. To clarify some history, the ark had previously been taken into battle so that the Lord would bless the Israelites and give them victory. However, they weren’t faithful to the Lord and only saw the ark as a magical talisman, so it was captured by the Philistines. The Philistines took the ark to the temple of Dagon as a trophy, but the Lord kept toppling the idol and breaking it, eventually causing a plague of tumors to break out before the Philistines realized they needed to return the ark to the Israelites. That is how it ended up in Kiriath-jearim in Judah. This happened while Samuel was still a boy, so Saul hadn’t become king of Israel yet, but King Saul and the rest of Israel never tried to recover the ark and treat it properly.
David makes an attempt, though, and all of Israel joins the procession that brings the ark from the house of Abinidab. There is singing, dancing, and much rejoicing along the way, which is entirely appropriate because this is a good thing that they are doing for the Lord. They transport it on a cart drawn by oxen, and Uzzah and Ahio are in charge of keeping them on the right path. At the threshing floor of Chidon, though, one of the oxen stumbles and the cart tips, threatening to dump the ark to the ground. Uzzah, probably without even thinking about it, puts his hand out to steady the ark to keep it from falling, and the Lord strikes him dead.
That seems rather harsh, doesn’t it? It only seems that way because we do not have a correct view of how very, very holy God is. Should the ark have touched the ground? No. But the ark is not supposed to be put on a cart, whether oxen pull it or not. Instead, it should be put on poles and carried by four Levites, as described in the Law of Moses. The ark is not just a fancy box that holds Aaron’s budded staff, the golden urn of manna, and the tablets of the Law. The ark is the earthly throne of Almighty God who sits beneath the shelter of the wings of the cherubim. The Most Holy Place was God’s throne room. The ark wasn’t precious cargo to be carted around. It was a royal palanquin.
Uzzah died because God’s throne was not given the proper reverence, as a warning to all the people that the Lord does not mess around. David was angry, and it’s natural to think he was angry at the Lord, but the text doesn’t say who he was angry at. The text does say hewas afraid of the Lord, which makes sense. Sinners in danger of judgement should be in fear of the Righteous Judge. We can speculate about the rest of his thoughts and motivations, but we can hope he heeded the warning of the Lord and gave the ark to the care of Obed-edom who did show the ark of the Lord the proper reverence.
We are all wretched sinners who cannot stand in the light of Your holiness. Your mercy is unwarranted.