Summary: Why did God strike Uzzah dead? Because he touched the ark... but why hadn’t they carried the ark the way God told them to? The answer may surprise you.
OPEN: Several years ago, Reader’s Digest told of a young couple who had just bought a water bed. While assembling the bed, the couple realized they would need a hose to fill it with – and they didn’t own one. So, the husband went to the hardware store and bought one.
They attached the hose to the bed, ran it through the apartment to the kitchen tap and - knowing it would take over an hour for the bed to fill – they left their apartment to run an errand.
About an hour later they returned to check on its progress. And that’s when they discovered that the husband had bought a sprinkler hose
APPLY: Now, we all know what happened to that apartment, and you can imagine how frustrating it must have been to them (not to mention their landlord) to discover the damage their “oversight” had caused to their home and possessions. Just a minor oversight… but it caused an immense amount of damage.
I. In II Samuel we read about a more serious oversight that cost a man’s his life
Now, just so we understand the setting, let’s revue what has happened in this passage. David has just conquered Jerusalem and was making it the capital of Israel.
Now, David loved God so much that he wanted God at the center of his world… and of his nation, so David sought out the Ark of the Covenant to bring it into Jerusalem from the town of Kiriath Jearim where it had lain dormant – unused in the worship of the nation (as far as we can tell) for about 100 years.
What was the ark doing in Kiriath Jearim? Well, approximately 100 yrs. previously, Israel had been engaged in a war with Philistines. Israel had been guilty of walking away from God and disobeying His will for their nation, and as a result they were losing badly to the Philistines. As it became apparent that the Philistines would overwhelm them, someone came up with the bright idea of taking the Ark into battle. They figured, if they had the ark with them on the battle front, that God would be there too. Unfortunately for Israel – God stayed home. The Philistines slaughtered Israel’s army and took Ark back home with them to the city of Ashdod as a trophy of war.
Now what do you do with a trophy? You display it in a prominent place, don’t you? So the Philistines placed the Ark in the temple of their god – Dagon (a god who was half man/ half fish) as a way of declaring that their god was greater than the God of Israel.
Confident of their victory, the Philistines offered sacrifices and incense to their god and then went home to bed. The next morning, their god lay face down on the temple floor. Now, I’m sure this troubled them, but I guess they shrugged it off, picked up the statue of Dagon and placed him back where he belonged. They offered their sacrifices and incense to Dagon and went home again. The next morning, they find Dagon on the floor again – but he wasn’t laying on his face this time. He didn’t have a face anymore. His head & hands had been broken off and were laying on the threshold beside him.
When God had finished with Dagon, He started in on Ashdod and plagued them with disease and vermin (rats). So severe was the outbreak that the citizens of Ashdod greatly and they decided maybe it was time to share this trophy of war with the other great cities of the Philistines for awhile.
So the ark was shuttled from city to city in Philistia, and every where it was taken, those cities were plagued by disease and vermin. Finally, the Philistines decided it was time to return the ark to Israel, and they placed it on an new oxcart and placed a chest alongside it…with 5 golden tumors and 5 golden rats as a peace offering to the God of Israel.
Their Philistine priests had advised:
“Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and pay honor to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.” (1 Samuel 6:5)
The oxcart bro’t the ark back to Israel – to a city named Beth Shemesh
1 Samuel 6:15 tells us that “The Levites took down the ark of the LORD, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD.”
The citizens of Beth Shemesh were so pleased and delighted to have the ark in their city that they decided to look inside the ark. That was a mistake. The hand of God struck down 70 men who died on the spot. This so upset the city of Beth Shemesh that they had the ark moved to Kiriath Jearim and there it remained for the next 100 years or so… until David decided to bring it to Jerusalem.