Did God Kill An Innocent Man?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week by looking at the story of the ark of God coming to Jerusalem during the reign of King David. There is a part of this story that seems to perplex and worry many readers, and that is the account of Uzzah. I recall hearing several sermons and teachings in my past surrounding this story, but most of them didn’t fit within the theological narrative of the text. Both 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13 retell this story. 2 Samuel is not as nuanced and detailed as the Chronicler’s account, so I’ll use both texts. Let’s look at it together.

In Samuel’s account, David had become king and had been inquiring of God and operating under God’s guidance (2 Sam. 5:10, 18, 23). After this time David wanted to bring the ark of God, which is the very presence of God, to Jerusalem. This is a noble task because in contrast to Saul, David actually wanted to inquire of the LORD and wanted to be near the ark of God, the presence of God, when he did so (1 Chr. 13:3). The problem is that David did not actually inquire of God how to move the ark! (1 Chr. 15:13)

Careful attention is needed to what the text actually says here. “[David] and all his men” were the ones that undertook the movement of the ark of God (2 Sam 6:2). “They set the ark of God on a new cart” (2 Sam 6:3). As the cart travels along the ox stumbles so Uzzah takes hold of the ark and God strikes him down (2 Sam 6:6-7). 

Now on the surface it looks like God strikes down Uzzah because of a violation of a worship technicality. But keep in mind David and the whole group did this, not just Uzzah, and he is the only one struck down. That’s not what has happened. One might also think a vengeful God struck down an innocent concerned person who was only trying to help. That too is not what has happened. David, Uzzah, and all involved in the moving of the ark violated the law. Why did God only strike down Uzzah? This is where context comes into play.

The Chronicler has set a theme throughout his writings. To quote John Mark Hicks, that theme is “God seeks seekers.”  Chronicles uses the words “seek” more than any other biblical writing, and “heart” more than any except Jeremiah and Psalms. From the Chronicles we learn that to God it is the condition of the heart that matters. There are other clear examples of technical law violations in Chronicles (ex. 2 Chr. 30:18, 23), but God honors these violations (2 Ch. 30:20, 27).

The heart of the matter in this story is a matter of the heart.
-Why was Hezekiah’s unauthorized Passover celebration acceptable? His heart was set on seeking God. (2 Chr. 30:19)
-Why was David not struck down for moving the ark of God on a “new cart”? His heart was set on seeking God. (1 Sam. 16:7)

Why was Uzzah struck down? It’s clear Uzzah had no respect for the presence of God. Apparently his heart was not set on seeking God. Uzzah was struck down while others were not.

More could be said, but I think Hezekiah’s prayer in 2 Chronicles summarizes the story of Uzzah, and the Chronicles well.

“May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God – the LORD, the God of their ancestors – even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”

2 Chronicles 30:18-20 NIV (emphasis added)

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