A Dreadful Moment
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A Dreadful Moment

2 Samuel 6:1–11  (ID: 3475)

David’s triumphant procession to return the ark of God to Jerusalem halted suddenly when Uzzah was struck down for touching the holy object. While the Lord’s judgment may seem harsh, Alistair Begg reminds us that the ark represented the presence and glory of our holy God. His warnings are made clear in Scripture, not to frighten us away but to draw us to Him in reverential awe. Do we treat His presence with the godly fear it deserves?

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 5

The King and the Holy City 2 Samuel 1:1–6:23 Series ID: 109015

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, we turn together to 2 Samuel and to chapter 6. And I encourage you to follow along as I read. Here we have the record, as the heading in our text says, of the ark being brought to Jerusalem.

“David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.

“And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.”


Father, as we turn now to the Bible, we recognize that the words that we have just sung are essentially the words of the one whom we now consider—namely, David, the king of Israel. How wonderful that after all these years, his poetry is our song, because his God is our God. And so we pray that as we look to the Bible, that the Spirit of God will constrain our thinking and guard our rambling imaginations and set us securely on the path of your appointing. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, this morning, as you can tell, we resume our studies in 2 Samuel and here at the sixth chapter. The sixth chapter is all about the ark of the Lord coming to Jerusalem. And all being well, we will deal with part one of it this morning—this section in which Uzzah dies—and then in the evening hour, the second part, in which we discover that Michal—that is, the wife of David—despises her husband.

The story really, for quite a period of time—the overarching story—is that of God establishing his anointed one in Jerusalem. And we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that as we look at this ancient story, it not only takes us back to what was, but it points us forward to what will be when finally the great King, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, will descend from heaven with a shout and with a triumphant call of God and eventually a new Jerusalem will descend from heaven and so on. This is the great overarching theme of God’s Word.

And the reason that we are in chapter 6 is because when we left off, we were in chapter 5. And if you have just joined us or you’re visiting us and you may find yourself saying, “I wonder why it is that we’re in this particular chapter,” that is the reason. One of the benefits of doing what we do—and it’s not unique to us (and what I’m referring to is the systematic, consecutive exposition of the Scriptures, or the SCEOTS, if you like)—the reason that we do this is in order that we might understand something of how the Bible fits together; that we might, as a congregation, get a balanced diet and not find ourselves left with the preoccupations or the hobby horses or the bright ideas of whoever happens to be the pastor. These things and more are involved, and certainly this: the benefit of doing it in the way in which we do it means that it makes it virtually impossible for the Bible teacher to skip the difficult passages. Because the congregation knows that it is there, and therefore, it must be tackled. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you have not been reading ahead and you read this passage along with me now, you said, “Now this really is quite a difficult passage.”

So, we’re going to approach it from three perspectives: first of all, to consider the occasion as it is recorded for us; to say just briefly a little of the celebration that accompanies it, to which we will return in the evening; and then to recognize the violation which takes place, which brings all the celebration to an immediate and a dramatic halt.

The Occasion

So, then the occasion is there for us essentially in the opening four verses. You will recall that chapter 5 ends with David’s triumph over the Philistines on two separate occasions. On each of those occasions, I hope you will recall that in 5:19, and then again in 23, he “inquired of the Lord.” He recognized that the challenge before him was significant, and so he asked the Lord, “Shall I go up?”[1] And I hope you remember that the question was the same on both occasions, and the answer was different as the Lord guided them.

So, he had proceeded accordingly, and as a result of that, he had things in place, you might say. Politically, in terms of the kings of Israel that had now come to him from the various tribes—that’s at the very beginning of chapter 5. They had to come to him and said, “In the past, Saul was the king over us, but now we recognize that you are the Lord’s anointed, and we are here to join forces with you.”[2] So, politically it was stable, and militarily it was successful. He had triumphed over his archenemy, and now, with that sort of political, social stability in place, David decides that now is the time to bring the ark and to bring it to Jerusalem.

Now, we need to say something concerning the ark. First of all, what is it, or what was it? Well, it was essentially a box. Not a very big box—maybe about five foot this way and two feet in depth and another little over two feet in width. And it was made of acacia wood. There were very specific directions as to how it was to be fashioned. And it was also in certain places plated with gold. This box then was covered by a mercy seat, and this mercy seat was fashioned in gold, as were the cherubim, which faced one another, looking across the mercy seat to one another. And it is that picture of the Lord, the God of Hosts, manifested in this way which runs throughout the story of the ark.

You can do your own homework with great ease. You can read all about its beginnings back in Exodus 25, where the ark of the covenant is designed, the order for it is clearly stated, and so on. And it is there that God says through Moses, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will [speak to you, and I will] speak with you about all that I will give you in [the] commandment for the people of Israel.”[3] In other words, he places the Ten Commandments in the ark—a reminder to us that God declares himself by his Word. It is his Word which is contained in the ark. That’s what it is. We could say more; we won’t.

The presence of God among his people is a fearful thing.

Secondly, where had it been? Why is it popping up now, as it were? Well, the answer is there in your text. You can see that it had been in “the house of Abinadab,” a house that was “on the hill.” Now, it’s very, very important that we resist this morning the temptation to go back and remind ourselves of the last occasion when we were focused on the ark. You can actually read of it in chapters 4, 5, 6, and into the beginning of 7 in 1 Samuel, if you are prepared to do the homework. And for a very long time, the ark has been gone.

Let me just give you the sense of it, though, without going back through it. At the end of chapter 4, when the Philistines have captured the ark, the Bible recalls, “[And] the glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of [the Lord] has been captured.”[4] All right? So that was the picture. The glory of God as represented symbolically in the ark of the covenant has now departed from Israel. And they took the ark away, and you will remember, I think, much of the story from that point on. So, the glory of God has departed. Now David says, “The glory of God will return. Here we are. We will enter triumphantly into Jerusalem. We have established ourselves there, and now let us bring the ark along.” He’s going to put it at the very center of Israel’s life.

Now, some seventy years have elapsed in all of this: twenty years that are referenced in the Scriptures there, forty years of Saul’s reign, and then it’s probably about ten years that have elapsed since David has been established in Jerusalem. We don’t immediately get that from the text, but we get it inferentially. And so, this is a red-letter day, when this ark is going to be brought back into the very heart of their lives. It is a major national milestone. And we need to try as best we can to get ourselves under the weight of that: that the numbers that are involved—thirty thousand people—and all the pageantry that attaches itself to it reinforces this. The ark is coming out of storage. After all these years of dormancy, it is coming back.

And as we’ve already rehearsed one of the psalms of David in our song, I think probably Psalm 24 is a part of what is going on in this instance, where, in Psalm 24, it says,

Lift up your heads, O gates!
 And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
 that the King of glory may come in.[5]

So you get this picture of a procession heading towards Jerusalem, and they’re all singing, and they’re saying, “Here, in the ark of God, the glory is returning. Open up the gates so that the glory of God may enter in.” And the response of the people on the gates: “Well, who is the King of glory?” The answer comes back: “He’s the Lord. He’s strong and mighty. He’s mighty in battle.[6] We have defeated the Philistines. We are now in a strong position. Lift up your heads, O gates! Lift them up, ancient doors, that the King of glory may enter in.” Who is this King of glory? Who is he? Well, he’s the Lord of Hosts. He is the King of glory.

Now, you get the vastness of this; I hope you do—that here we are in the twenty-first century, as we said last time, with all kinds of notions about God: God as a cosmic principle, God as a sort of internal mechanism, God as whatever we might want him to be. And it is as we come to the Scriptures that we realize how wrong it is to think of him in that way and how devalued is our notion and understanding of the greatness of God.

So, what is it? It’s a box. Where has it been? It’s been in the house of Abinadab. And thirdly, what does the ark represent? Well, clearly, it represents the glory of God. It is the Lord of Hosts coming among his people. It represents the presence of God. It’s not an image of God, but it is a sacrament of his presence. If you just use the word sacrament, you think both of baptism and you think of the Lord’s Supper. One of the hymns that we seldom sing, but it is a good hymn, when we share in Communion together, we sing, “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face.” Well, of course, we don’t. “Here would I touch and handle things unseen.”[7] That’s the picture. The ark now symbolizes the presence of God, as we noted in Exodus 25: “There I will meet with you. There I will speak to you.”

Now, keep in mind—and I won’t keep saying this, but it is important for us to keep it in mind: Jesus fulfills all that the ark symbolizes. Jesus fulfills all that the ark symbolizes. If you’ve often wondered why it is that perhaps in your background, in a Roman Catholic background, or perhaps in an Eastern Orthodox background or so on, there were all these various celebrations, and carrying of bits and pieces, and incense, and all these different things. And you may have said to yourself, “Well, I understand that this is being done. I’m not sure why it’s being done, but more than that, I want to know why, when I go to a place like Parkside, there’s none of that there at all! There’s no parading around. There’s no setting off of fireworks. There’s nothing at all. Why is that?” Well, because all of that Old Testament symbolism is fulfilled in Jesus, so that we have, if you like, simply a pulpit and a table on which we put the sacramental elements or a pool in which we share in baptism. Is it because all of the past is irrelevant? No, clearly, we’re studying it. But it has been actualized in the Lord Jesus himself.

Now, here’s the point, though: the presence of God among his people is a fearful thing. Is a fearful thing. I called our study this morning “A Dreadful Moment”—“A Dreadful Moment”—purposefully, because when somebody looks on, on a later day, and sees the title for this service, they’ll say, “I wonder why it’s called ‘A Dreadful Moment.’” Well, “dreadful” not in the sense of “bad” but in the sense of “awesome,” in the sense of inspiring awe, in the sense of instilling reverence and wonder.

If you got the “Beans’Talk” this week, from Mark and Patty, who are involved in linguistics, there’s an interesting little section in there—in fact, I think it begins with it, from memory—where he’s talking about translating what it means to have a “heavy heart,” and translating it in such a way that the people would understand that semantically. And I found it very helpful. And that is true of this word dreadful. It’s like the word awful, right? A-w-f-u-l. Awful, in its original meaning, was “inspiring wonder or inspiring fear.” The word awful was essentially a shortening of the phrase full of awe. But in contemporary language, awful usually is in a negative connotation. It means, “Oh, that was awful!” “Did you like the soup?” “No, it was awful!” As opposed to “That was awful soup!” Dreadful. Or, if you want it at a trivial level, the word gay: what it meant, and what it has come to mean.

Now, what I want to do is make an argument for the using of the word dreadful, very purposefully. The King James Version, of course, uses the word dreadful. Genesis 28, in that moment where Jacob has that dream with the ladder that goes up; and in response to that, Jacob finds himself saying, “Surely the Lord is in this place.” And then he says, “How dreadful is this place!”[8] You have the very same thing when Daniel prays in Daniel chapter 9, and as he addresses God, he says, “O Lord, the great and dreadful God…”[9] “Dreadful.”

Now, contemporary texts translate “dreadful” as “awesome”—which really is fine, were it not for the fact that awesome has ceased to be awesome as a useful adjective for the better part of the last twenty-five or thirty years. Because when you think of it, you think of some young girl from Santa Monica saying, “Oh, it’s awesome! It’s awesome!” So what I’m saying is, I’m not sure that we can use the word awesome in relationship to God and think rightly about what is going on in this passage. You understand me? So I’m saying, let’s just allow dreadful for the moment. Because dreadful arrests our thinking.

Now, interestingly, in this occasion which is before us here, there is no record of David inquiring of the Lord on this occasion. In going against the Philistines, on both occasions, he comes to the Lord; he says, “Now, Lord, what are we going to do?” It would appear in this instance that with all of the excitement, all of the understandable enthusiasm, all of the expectation, thinking of the glory of the Lord having departed and now returning, it’s almost as if they were carried away—carried away to the extent that the clear requirements in relationship to the ark had been set aside.

No, it’s important, you see, that God then would remind his people. The hymnody of old was unashamed in these things. There’s a wonderful hymn that begins, “My God, how wonderful thou art, thy majesty how bright!” And the third verse reads, “O how I fear thee, living God”:

O how I fear thee, living God,
With deepest, tend’rest fears,
And worship thee with trembling love
And penitential tears.[10]

Well, just ask yourself where that fits in the sort of vocabulary and lifestyle of most of our contemporary gatherings, and perhaps of our own quiet times: “O God, how wonderful you are.”

Now, what happens, of course, is that they go on ahead, and instead of carrying the ark as they were required to do, they decide to use a cart. And you will see that there. Now, you say, “Well, how do we know this?” Well, if you want to turn just back to the book of Numbers for a moment, let’s just set it in context. Because you can take my word for it, or you can actually look it up and see if it’s actually there.

This section in Numbers 7 has to do with offerings at the tabernacle’s consecration. Remember, the tabernacle contained the ark. And it’s in that context that the very details are given. And so, for example, in verse 6, “Moses took the wagons and the oxen … gave them to the Levites. Two wagons … four oxen,” and then, in verse 8, “and four wagons and eight oxen … according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.” Now, here we go, verse 9: “But to the sons of Kohath he gave none.” They didn’t get a cart. Why? “Because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder.”

Now, that is really all that we need to know in order to proceed. Did somebody say, “Wait a minute! Do you think it’s okay that we use a cart?” Did somebody say, “Well, I think probably… It’s a new cart, after all. Do you think this is close enough? Do you think this is okay? Do you think, really, God means what he says when he says what he says? Do you think it’ll be okay if I cheat just a little? Do you think it’ll be all right if I spin this in a different direction? Do you think it’ll be okay?” You see, this is where, again, our view of God comes in—the God who searches our hearts, who knows when we sit down and when we get up, who knows the words of our mouths before we even speak them.[11] “Do you think it’ll be okay?” Somebody must have said, “Yeah, I think it’ll be all right. I mean, we don’t want to be too fastidious about these things.” Well…

The Celebration

So off they go, and the celebration is there for us in verse 5 and a little in verse 6. From the occasion to the celebration: “And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord.” You will notice that this celebration took place “before the Lord.” We will notice that phrase again before we’re finished today: “before the Lord,” in the light of the Lord’s presence, in the awareness of the Lord’s purposes. It involved the entire company, you will see; and “all the house of Israel,” as represented by the company, were there. It foreshadows in many ways what Paul would later write about when, in the letter of the Ephesians, he says to those to whom he writes, “Speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord.”[12] And so there is no doubt that what is taking place here is exuberant; it’s, if you like, extravagant; and it is definitely joyful.

Now, here’s a principle of interpretation when we’re reading the Bible. So, people say, “We’re reading the Bible,” and we’re in the home Bible study now. And somebody will say, “Well, don’t you think that we should introduce castanets to the praise team at Parkside? After all, castanets are part of the framework.” Part of what framework? “Well, it says it in the Bible!” Well, it says a lot of things in the Bible, doesn’t it? Everything that is described in the Bible is not prescribed for everyone who’s reading the Bible. And so you go immediately wrong when you think, for example, that the reason that these instruments are here, the reason that it is described in this way, is in order that we might mimic them, in order that we might do the same as them. But in actual fact, they’re not given for us to mimic, but they’re given for us to understand, first of all, the extent of joyful praise that was represented among the people.

The vastness of God, and the purposes of God, and the grandeur of God, and the wisdom of God are ultimately unfathomable by us.

Now, it is in that context, with all of that going on, that the threshing floor of Nacon becomes a significant place in the history of the people of God. Look at verse 6: “And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.” Now, it’s a perfectly understandable situation, isn’t it? They are rolling along on this cart. The oxen stumble. It jiggles everything, and Uzzah says, “Oops,” puts out his hand, steadies it, and says, “It’s okay. I got it.” And then, all of a sudden, the music stops almost instantaneously as people realize that Uzzah now lies dead at the side of the ark. What in the world is happening here? Calvin says what we have is “a man attempting to honour God, burning with a good and holy devotion,” being “punished like a criminal.”[13] That’s what we have.

Now, do you notice that there is a chain reaction in this? First of all, the cart. There should never have been a cart in the first place. That’s David’s bad, if you like. He knew better in leadership. So you have a cart. Then you have the stumbling oxen. Then you have Uzzah’s hand. Then you have God’s anger. Then you have the death of Uzzah. Then you have the anger of David. Then you have the fear of David. And then you have the whole enterprise being put on hold for three months. We’re gonna have to stop for a while, if you like. We’ll have to see if we can’t come back to this.

Now, what are we to do with this? Because this is uncomfortable to our ears, isn’t it? If you are not sort of immediately offended, as it were, by what takes place, then probably you’re not actually thinking.

Here, of course, is the benefit of our study last Sunday, although it wasn’t contrived in that way. Last Sunday, we were pondering the words of Isaiah: “Who has understood the mind of the Lord? Who has instructed him or been his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him?”[14] In other words, the vastness of God, and the purposes of God, and the grandeur of God, and the wisdom of God are ultimately unfathomable by us. And so it is that the judgments of God—the judgments of God—are like looking down into the depths of the Grand Canyon. The judgments of God are a profound abyss, because we find ourselves saying, “How are we to understand this? Why would this ever be?”

Now, I’ve only ever heard one sermon on this passage. I certainly have never tried to preach on it before. The sermon I remember so vividly, even though it was forty-six years ago. Now, I don’t remember a lot beyond last Sunday. But forty-six years ago! And I’ve never forgotten it. Because I remember sitting in the pew, and the passage was read, and I said, “Well, I can’t wait for this one!” I hope you felt a little bit that way as well. It’s kind of like “Stump the Pastor” Sunday. And the pastor, his opening gambit was this: “Now, you need to know that God doesn’t do things like this.” That was his opening line. In other words, “The Bible is not true.”

Now, his problem—well, he had a number of problems, as it turned out. But his problem was a defective view of the Bible. That’s why we say to one another all the time that the doctrine of Scripture—that we cannot proceed by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God;[15] that all Scripture is inspired by God, breathed out by God, and is profitable for rebuke and for training and proving in righteousness and all these things;[16] and that this Scripture is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.[17] But we do not have any legitimate basis upon which we can determine the parts that we choose to believe and the parts that we choose to set aside. Augustine, I think it was, he said if we believe only what we want to believe and reject what we don’t want to believe, then it is not the Bible we believe but ourselves.[18] And so, that was essentially the sermon: the pastor did not believe the Bible. And for you and I to ponder the judgments of God such as is contained in this passage, we actually need to put on the glasses of Christian doctrine, as it were. In other words, we need to be able to understand the works of God on the basis of the Word of God.

Now, Dale Ralph Davis, who’s a wonderfully helpful commentator, has little gems every so often. And I think this was one of his. I read it this week, and I said, “Oh, I must share that with them.” This is what Dale Ralph Davis says (he preached for us here on a previous occasion): “Passages like this,” that we’re looking at now, “are [for me] evidence of the supernatural origin and trustworthiness of the Bible.”[19] Here is an evidence of the supernatural origin and trustworthiness of the Bible. Because we would never have invented a God like that. If you were coming up with something… For people who think that God is just a wish fulfillment—they say Christians have a God that they have sort of projected out there—oh, yes? Well, try 2 Samuel chapter 6 in relationship to a God who’s a God of wish fulfillment. No. We must allow the Scriptures to say what the Scriptures say: “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error and he died … beside the ark of [the Lord].”

Now, let me just say four things in quick succession.

Number one: the warnings of God which preceded this, which you can read, again, in Numbers chapter 4—mainly in 4, and then again in 7—the warnings of God were on account of his kindness. The prospects of terrible, dreadful judgments are not in the Bible in order to frighten us away from him but in order that we might approach him, as it were, on our knees, as creatures before a Creator, as subjects before a King, recognizing as we do that his ways are not our ways and our thoughts are not his thoughts.[20]

Now, the second thing is that the warnings of God, which are on account of his kindness, are clearly there in Scripture. I’m not gonna go back and read this in Numbers just now, but you can find it clearly there. Well, I’d better read just a bit of it, because I can’t be sure that you’ll do your homework. It’s just like any schoolteacher. He said, “Yeah, I know. Oh yeah, we’re gonna look it up, soon as we get home, yes. Yes, teacher.” No.

“The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites.’” “I don’t want them to be destroyed, okay?” “‘But deal thus with them, that they may live and not die’”—“I don’t want them to die” —“‘when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.’”[21] So the way in which God actually frames this is to say, “There’s to be no looking, and there’s certainly to be no touching.” And the reason that he circumscribes it in that way is—and makes it clear—is on account of his judgments, and because of his kindness.

Now, if we were to fast-forward, for example, to Hebrews, in chapter 9, where you have the reminder of the judgment of God, you have this very striking, nerve-jangling statement of what we cannot avoid. And I just need to quote it, lest in seeking to do so from memory, I scramble it: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…”[22] There it is. How much attention is given to that in our day? Well, death is unavoidable. Judgment, however, is unacceptable. But what a crazy world we would live in without justice.

See, what is being said there by the writer of the Hebrews should be of great comfort to us—in other words, that God will not leave things at loose ends at the end of the day. He’s not indifferent. He will bring everything to judgment. But the very next verse says, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Christ would not have been offered on the cross if there was no sin. So that the judgment of God magnifies both God’s justice and God’s love.

Now, come back to our passage, and try and put these things together. The warnings are on account of his kindness. The warnings are clear. But notice this: God’s judgment on Uzzah is temporal. Is temporal. We should not read from this that he was condemned by God forever. Uzzah’s eternal destiny is not at stake in this incident.

So, we cannot say it didn’t happen, like that man preaching. Nor should we feel that we have to somehow or another apologize for God because it did happen. We ought also to beware of the rising thought or of the presence of those who want to tell us that “this is just a long time ago and far away. This is just when God was like that, when he was that kind of God. But now he is a different kind of God. Now he is a good God. You don’t have that,” they’ll tell you, “in the New Testament.”

That’s because they don’t read the New Testament! You remember Ananias and Sapphira? They sold a piece of property. With his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of it for himself, but he made it seem like he was giving the whole thing when he wasn’t. And Peter says to him, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit … to keep back for yourself part[s] of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, [didn’t it] remain your own?” Of course! It was used to do whatever you want with it! “And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” Absolutely! “Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You[’ve] not lied to man but to God.”

And “when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And [a] great fear came upon all who heard … it. [And] the young men rose up … wrapped him up … carried him out and buried him.”[23] And after about an interval of three hours, his wife arrives, and Peter gives her the same question: he says, “I just want to ask you whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yeah, for so much.”[24] And Peter said, “[Well,] how is it that you[’ve] agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” And “immediately she fell down [dead] at his feet.”[25]

Were it not for the fact that God burst forth in the person of his Son at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, not a single one of us could ever stand before him.

God is God. His wisdom is unsearchable. His purposes for all of time are ultimately framed for us in the expanse of Scripture and made clear to us in the wonder of Christ. Don’t apologize for this. Don’t succumb to silly notions. Because remember, when we’ve pondered a wee bit about the providence of God—when we’ve said, “Why is it that things happen? How is it that things unfold in this way?”—we’ve said to ourselves, you know, one of the things that we need to realize is that when we’re trying to understand difficult things in our lives, or even in the Scriptures and so on, we have to recognize that it is not always about the person who’s the focus of the event; that what God is doing in the life of someone may not actually have very much to do with the someone.

Now, think about that in relationship to this incident. Think about that in relationship to Uzzah. What God is doing with Uzzah actually has very little to do with Uzzah. If you like, he got a pretty good deal. He didn’t end up intubated in a long-term COVID war. He did not suffer through cancer. He did not have to struggle through the remainder of his life. He, in every good objective, did what anybody would have done in that circumstance, and God said, “You’re out.” Haven’t you stood at the grave of someone and said, “You know, in this loss there is a lesson here for me”?

No, you see, what happened is that he, in his death, was the occasion of the response of David’s anger: “And David,” verse 8, “was [very] angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah.” “He was happy when God broke out” is the same terminology as 5:20, where David defeats them because “the Lord has broken [out against his] enemies.” And David is essentially saying, “I don’t mind when you break out, God, and you do it for my benefit, but I don’t like it when you break out like this and do it to my detriment.”

And so “David was afraid of the Lord that day.” He was afraid of the Lord in the same way that, way back, in the passage that we didn’t turn to in 1 Samuel 6, the men of Beth-shemesh were afraid when they encountered the ark, and their response was the same: “And he struck [down] some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord.” Do you remember that? And “he struck seventy … of them, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow. [And] then the men of Beth-shemesh said, ‘Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?’”[26] “Who can stand before the Lord? If this God is this serious about this, how in the world can you ever approach God?” Same question by David: “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” “Come to me.” “What am I gonna do with this thing? Look at what has happened now!”

Well, of course—and we must stop here. We’ll come back to it this evening. But what we’re discovering is this: that the presence of God is dreadful, fearful, awesome, significant. We began by singing, “Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here.”[27] Now, I ask you: Do we believe this? Not in some kind of strange, “out there” way but in the promise of God that when the people of God gather, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, the risen Christ leads us in our praise. We are here. The presence of the Lord is here. And it is fearful. In fact, it is so fearful that were it not for the fact that God burst forth in the person of his Son at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, not a single one of us could ever stand before him. Who is it that stands between me and an eternity without God? The Lord Jesus Christ, with two arms outstretched to save.

Now, see, don’t run away from these hard stories. Don’t run away from the warnings. The warnings are clear, they’re on account of God’s kindness, and they’re not to drive us from him, but they are to woo us to him.

Well, you would think that David’s wife would be looking forward to him coming home so that she could enjoy all of the celebration herself. Well, read on, and you’ll see where we will be.

Just a moment of silence.

Lord, grant that your Word might find a resting place in our hearts. We bow down before you, and we want to be still in your presence.

[1] 2 Samuel 5:19 (ESV).

[2] 2 Samuel 5:2 (paraphrased).

[3] Exodus 25:22 (ESV).

[4] 1 Samuel 4:22 (ESV).

[5] Psalm 24:7 (ESV).

[6] Psalm 24:8 (paraphrased).

[7] Horatius Bonar “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee” (1855).

[8] Genesis 28:16–17 (KJV).

[9] Daniel 9:4 (KJV).

[10] Frederick William Faber, “My God, How Wonderful Thou Art” (1848).

[11] See Psalm 139:1–2, 4.

[12] Ephesians 5:19 (paraphrased).

[13] John Calvin, “Lessons from the Death of Uzzah,” in Sermons on 2 Samuel: Chapters 1–13, trans. Douglas Kelly (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992), 244.

[14] Isaiah 40:13–14 (paraphrased).

[15] See Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4.

[16] See 2 Timothy 3:16.

[17] See 2 Timothy 3:15.

[18] Augustine, Contra Faustum 17.3.

[19] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Focus on the Bible (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus, 2018), 75.

[20] See Isaiah 55:8–9.

[21] Numbers 4:17–20 (ESV).

[22] Hebrews 9:27 (ESV).

[23] Acts 5:3–6 (ESV).

[24] Acts 5:8 (paraphrased).

[25] Acts 5:9–10 (ESV).

[26] 1 Samuel 6:19–20 (ESV).

[27] David J. Evans, “Be Still” (1986).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.