Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 6:19-20; 2 Samuel 6:3-7)

The following quotes are taken from

"God Kills the Curious - "And he smote of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of Jehovah, he smote of the people seventy men, `and' fifty thousand men; and the people mourned, because Jehovah had smitten the people with a great slaughter.  And the men of Beth-shemesh said, 'Who is able to stand before Jehovah, this holy God? and to whom shall he go up from us?'" (1 Samuel 6:19-20 ASV)

"Killing the Good Samaritan - "The ark of God was placed on a new cart and taken away from the house of Abinadab on the hill.  Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab guided the cart, with Ahio walking before it, while David and all the Israelites made merry before the Lord with all their strength, with singing and with citharas, harps, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals.
            When they came to the threshing floor of Nodan, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God to steady it, for the oxen were making it tip.  But the Lord was angry with Uzzah; God struck him on that spot, and he died there before God."  (2 Samuel 6:3-7 NAB)

            In order to better understand these passages, it would help to examine them in their entirety.  You can read the full chapters here:

            First of all, what was the Ark of the Covenant of God?  The Ark was constructed by Moses and the Israelites at God's command, while they were in the wilderness after God freed them from slavery in Egypt.  It was a chest made of acacia wood overlaid with gold, with a lid containing the "mercy seat" between the figures of two cherubim.  Inside the Ark was placed the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written (Exodus 25:10-22).  The Ark was housed in the innermost place of the Tabernacle while the Israelites were in the wilderness.  Once King Solomon constructed the Temple in Jerusalem, the Ark was moved there (1 Kings 8:1-21).
            There were very specific laws detailing who could approach the Ark, who could carry it and so forth.  The Ark was a physical representation of God's presence and of his holiness.  Only the high priest could approach it, and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:2), or he would die.  Only the Levites could carry it, and it had to be carried on their shoulders using poles so that they would not touch it, because anyone who touched the Ark would die (Numbers 4:15-20, 7:9; Deuteronomy 10:8). 
            Why was this commandment given?  Why was it such a serious offense to touch the Ark or look inside of it?  It is important to remember the holiness of God (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).  No sinful mortal can approach God, because of the sinful and fallen state of humanity; there is a gap between us and God (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23).  This is why God sent Jesus to die for us and bridge the gap, to provide atonement for our sins and make us right with God, able to approach him once more (John 3:36; Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:14-16).
            In these two instances, the people involved were aware of the commandment against touching or looking into the Ark of God, but they disobeyed and did it anyway.  In the case of Uzzah, they disregarded the command to carry the Ark on poles to eliminate the danger of touching it (Exodus 25:12-14; Numbers 7:9), and carried it on a cart instead.  Even though Uzzah's intentions may have been good, he disobeyed the commandment not to touch the Ark, and this irreverence brought about his death.  "The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God" (2 Samuel 6:7, NIV).  These two instances were clear warnings to anyone who would not take God's commandments, and his holiness, seriously.