One of the many troubling passages of the Old Testament is found in 2 Samuel 6. There we find that King David and his troops travel to Baale Judah in order to return the ark to the City of David. So far, so good. But as they journeyed, they decided to place the ark on a brand new cart! This allowed the rest of the people to play all kinds of instruments, and dance before the cart as it went.
It seemed like a splendid idea. They would parade before the ark of God, making all kinds of noise and dances, really showing their emotions and sincerity before YHWH, demonstrating how pious and religious they were.
The only problem with this sincerity is that they were being disobedient before the LORD. They were not heeding His word about the way in which the ark was to be transported and they discovered God’s displeasure in a most tragic way. As they made their way along, singing and dancing to the LORD, the oxen stumbled and the ark started to fall off the cart. Uzzah, one of the men tending the cart, reached out his hand in order to steady it. He touched the ark. He saved it from hitting the ground. He kept it from falling. I’m sure for just a split moment, Uzzah thought he was really honoring the LORD.
But then we read: Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.
That is when most of us just shake our heads and wonder what in the world could have gone wrong. Why would the LORD strike this man down, he was only trying to help.
It is when realize that what David and the Israelites were doing with the ark was contrary to what God told them to do, that we begin to see the mind of God. He isn’t as interested in sincerity as much as obedience. I’m not saying we should not be sincere in our worship, but our worship must be in line with His word. This is where David and his followers failed. They were very sincere, emotional, happy, and desirous of returning the ark to its proper place. It meant that the presence of God would be with them once again. The presence of God is vital to the life of the believer. But these men failed in being obedient to the LORD.
This is where so many believers in our day get off base. They believe that if they are sincere in their worship, then the doors of their imaginations are open wide for them to worship in any way that they choose. But we are not given such freedom, for God is holy, and we must approach the throne room of grace with reverence and awe. I know, the scripture also says to approach boldly, but that boldness is not a license to worship as we please.
King David and his men found out this truth the hard way. Uzzah was struck dead for their disobedience to God. There are more than 25 references found in Exodus 25-40 about the ark and how to revere the ark, treating it with reverence and awe. Just in the construction alone, the ark screams of God’s mercy to the people.
The people were to cover the ark with gold and place two cherubim on the top of it. The cherubim represented the mercy seat. Why would this representation of God, which pointed to His presence, need a mercy seat in the first place? It needed a mercy seat because we are constantly in need of God’s mercy. Mercy, if you may recall, is the act of giving someone something which is the opposite of what they deserve. All deserve God’s judgment, wrath, and eternal damnation. But He shows mercy to those who are His. In other words, instead of pouring out judgment, wrath, and eternal damnation, He gives us mercy, comfort, fellowship, and salvation from our just punishments. This is why we approach God in humility with reverence and awe. Yes, we can boldly enter His throne room, but not carelessly or thoughtlessly.
This is why the LORD had the mercy seat placed on the ark. It was a reminder of God’s mercy to the Israelites. God is truly holy, without sin, without darkness, completely separate from the plague of sin that we struggle with every day. Therefore there is a constant reminder of our need for mercy. The Israelites were also given two rods of acacia wood, covered with gold, in order to carry the ark. Had they followed God’s instructions in carrying the ark, the entire episode with Uzzah would have been avoided. This shows us the need to be careful in our worship of Him.
Yet, all of this was not enough for the Israelites in Moses’ day. Never mind that the LORD brought them up out of Egypt, showing them that He was supreme over all the godlings of their enemies. Never mind the miracles He used to demonstrate His power. Never mind that He was calling them out to be His people, and He was to be their God. Never mind that no other nation had been given such favor as to have God dwell among them in their midst. Never mind the reminder of His presence with the tabernacle and the ark.
As you read Exodus, you find the ark and tabernacle were not enough to satisfy their fleshly desires. I’m not saying that it was not good enough to feed them spiritually, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy the sinful desires of the flesh. The things of God never are, and are not intended to be. This is why there is a call for us to mortify the flesh, die to the self, and seek the things of the Kingdom of Heaven. For in worship, we must approach in the Spirit in order to fed by the spirit, trusting in His means He has given us to be fed.
Back to the Israelites under Moses care. They had to have a golden calf because they were not walking in the spirit, but in the flesh. They were giving into the demands of their emotions. They were looking for an “experience” instead of being obedient. For a dream comes through much activity. So they made a golden calf, which seemed like the right thing to do at the time, because they all had to sacrifice their very own gold in order to make the calf. They got to “do” something. What dedication. What sincerity. What lawlessness. Instead of waiting on the LORD, and Moses, they set out “to do ministry” on their own, without the leadership of Moses and the direction of God. It did not end well.
This is very similar to how churches of our day are always teaching that we must “do” something in order to have our own ministry. After all, you cannot be a real Christian unless you have a ministry to boast about. This is the same as the people before the golden calf, sincere but profane.
As for the golden calf, God had already spoken to the issue: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above; or that is in the earth beneath… The Israelites, in their sincerity, became profane before the LORD in their unrestrained passions. All of which, I’m sure, were sincerely held passions. Dancing, making merry, participating in a fertility cult orgy, you know, the very things God called them away from when He led them out of Egypt. This is what they were doing to worship God. The LORD was spot on in calling for the death of those who participated. They had spit on His mercy and grace toward them by returning to idolatry.
The same was true for Uzzah. He should have known they were not supposed to transport the cart in such a fashion. In Numbers 4:15, the people are told not to touch any of the holy things, lest they die. Instead of becoming an exalted patron saint, Uzzah is a reminder to us that God desires obedience, not sacrifice. He wants our reverence, not our revelry. He desires that we be chaste and holy, because He is holy. He wants us to be set apart for Himself, as His own private possession, not something that looks like the pagan idolatry of the golden calf.
Sadly, so many today have let their passions guide their worship. They have let their sincerity dictate their revelry before the LORD. Instead of obedience, emotionalism guides them. Instead of humility, the people proudly boast of their numbers, their works, their many words put to music. Instead of heeding God’s word from the preacher, the speak rashly, quickly, and without thought. The preacher tells us: do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God, for God is in heaven, and you on earth (a reminder to be humble before Him) therefore let your words be few, they utter many meaningless words, without thought, thinking their emoting actions to be sincere and acceptable. Yet, they are profane. They are just as profane as the Israelites who got up to play, dance, and orgy. Just as profane as Uzzah and his disobedience.
They would do well to remember the rest of the preacher’s words: for a dream comes through much activity (think of the golden calf), and a fool’s voice is known by his many words.
So beware of Uzzah worship. Be on your guard of those who offer many profane words, who let their emotions guide them, who make many utterings of their passions, and their passionate desires about passion. Look to those things which God has graciously given to us: the preaching of His word, the administration of the LORD’s supper and baptism, and the prayers of the congregation. That is true worship. Yes, it’s simple, not complex. It might even be considered boring. But for the true believer, who hungers for HIS word, it is the bread of life. For the false believer, it is boring, so he invents his own golden calf. He dances before God, when we are told to be still and know that He is God. He ignores the preacher, and fulfills his own passions, just like the Israelites did so many years ago, before their golden calf.
Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they know that they do evil. Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God, for God is in heaven, and you on earth therefore let your words be few, for a dream comes through much activity, and a fool’s voice is known by his many words (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3).