Summary: Christians often compromise the holiness of God by treating Him as something common.
Introduction: On October 31, 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007 departed from Anchorage, Alaska, for a direct flight to Seoul, Korea. Unknown to the crew, however, the computer engaging the flight navigation system contained a 1 1/2 degree routing error. At the point of departure, the mistake was unnoticeable. One hundred miles out, the deviation was still so small as to be undetectable, but as the giant 747 continued across the Aleutian Islands and out over the Pacific, the plane increasingly strayed from its proper course. Eventually it was flying over Soviet air space. Russian radar picked up the error, and fighter jets scrambled to intercept Flight 007. A short time later the jet was shot out of the sky over mainland Russia and the lives of everyone onboard was lost, all because of a 1 1/2 degree routing error! I wonder if this isn’t a picture of the tragic course that many Christians find themselves on. They depart from an intimate relationship with God and head straight for a destination that is offensive and far removed from Him. Maybe you’ve known someone like this or, possibly, been in a comparable situation yourself. In the last few years I have counseled with many who have shared similar stories with me. On each occasion, I was struck with the realization that few believers take a flying leap from a life characterized by the passionate pursuit of God into moral chaos. It is much more common that we ease into disobedience in such subtle ways, that at first, they barely seem to affect us at all. Yet over a long period of time, when no attempt has been made to repent and seek God anew, we discover that we are sinning in ways that we would never have thought possible only a short time before. So it was for the central figure in this passage.
Background: The occasion that we’re looking at this morning covers just such an instance. The Israelites had been at war with the Philistines for many years. They had won some battles and lost others. At one point in their conflict, the Philistines managed to steal away the Ark of God, otherwise known as the Ark of The Covenant, and carry it into the temple of their god, Dagon, in the city of Ashdod (See 1 Samuel 4-6). The ark was the most holy object in the Israelite’s system of worship under Moses. It served as a symbol of the very presence of God (See Exodus 25:22). It was no small thing that the Philistines had done this. The Bible tells us that God’s hand was "heavy upon the people of Ashdod" for their actions so that eventually they moved the ark to another Philistine city named Gath. Unfortunately for them, the residents of Gath fared no better. Another move to Ekron, a third Philistine city, yielded the same result. In desperation someone conceived of a plan that would determine whether or not the trouble that had befallen them was from the God of Israel. If it was determined that it was, they would return the ark in an effort to appease His anger. Here was their plan: The ark was placed on an ox cart pulled by two cows each of which had recently given birth to a calf. The calves were taken from their mothers. Then cows were set free under the watchful eyes of the Philistines. They reasoned that if the animals left their calves (an unnatural thing for them to do) and carried it in the direction of Beth-Shemesh (a city of the Jews, toward which the cows had no special inclination to go) then they had done the right thing. If not, they would assume that everything that had happened was the product of mere chance. It probably comes as no surprise to learn that the cows went straight to Beth-Shemesh. Upon receiving the ark, the Jews chopped up the wood from the cart and sacrificed the cows to the Lord. After more sacrifices and some foolishness on the part of the men who lived there (i.e. they looked into the ark and were put to death by God as a result--See Numbers 4:20 and Exodus 33:20) the ark finally found a resting place for the next 60+ years through the end of Samuel’s judgeship, the reign of Saul and the installation of David as King. It was stored at the home of Abinadab in Kiriath Jearim, about 7.5 miles northwest of Jerusalem. During that time the new king of Israel, Saul, felt no compulsion to check on it at all. Finally, many years later, his successor, David decided to bring the ark up to Jerusalem. Though his intentions might have been good, the result was disastrous. Having neglected much of God’s instructions regarding the transportation of the ark, the Levites serving under David, failed to follow the commands of God and reaped His anger as a result. It is likely that some of us are inclined to think that God was unloving and unfair in his treatment of Uzzah. If you are one who thinks this, may I suggest a different conclusion: God did not give us this passage so that we might question His justice, but reverence His holiness and obey His Word. Everything about the Ark was ultimately meant to communicate something about the character of God. From the way it was built, to what it contained and how it was to be transported, God was using it as a way to illustrate His absolute holiness. If He allowed the Israelites to compromise His character by failing to carry out His instructions regarding the ark, then they would foolishly begin to treat Him as something common, denying Him His rightful glory. GOD DEMANDED THAT THEY OBEY HIM EVEN IN THE LITTLE THINGS! Here are three applications from this story that are worth considering this morning: