The
Tragedy
of Uzza


1 Chronicles 13-15

part 4 of the series:
God's Works and His Words
by Dr. Andrew Fountain

This message is for those who love God dearly, and earnestly long to be closer to Him, as David did.

Part 1      was about the problem of when the events of life don’t seem to match up with God’s promises in the Bible, and how God tests our faith.

Part 2      looked at the different ways in which God speaks to us in events and the way we must respond to them.

Part 3      looked at being led by the Spirit and the problem of feelings that come from the flesh.

Part 4      continues that theme, and asks the questions:

If you truly love God with all your heart and desire to please Him and draw closer to Him in every way,  and something feels right,

        Does that mean it is right?

Is it sufficient to love God and to desire Him and to earnestly want to serve Him with all our heart or is something else needed?

The story so far…

   Back in the days of the wilderness, the Israelites had worshipped God in a tent. In the middle of the tent was the Holy of Holies in which there was a gold covered chest or ark, just over a metre long, containing the stone tablets of God’s covenant. The lid was called the “mercy seat” above which God’s special presence sometimes appeared as a shining light. It was the most holy part of the whole ceremonial system. Inside this chest were kept a number of things. The most important of these were the two tablets of the ten commandments, the tablets of stone. Aaron’s rod  that budded was kept in here, and there was also a pot of manna. The ark was carried by means of two gold-covered poles which were threaded through four gold rings, one at the bottom of each corner.

   When they reached the promised land, the pure worship of God gradually became confused and corrupted.

   Once they tried to take the ark out to battle with them, to force God to save them. God refused to be manipulated in this way and it was captured.

   The Philistines had so much trouble with it that seven months later, they returned it on an ox cart.

   When it arrived back in a town of Israel there was great rejoicing and the people decided to have a look inside. 50,000 people looked inside and God caused them all to die.

   The city was very distressed because of this and the ark was taken to the house of Abinadab where it remained for many years.

   Meanwhile, the period of the judges was coming to an end and Saul was made king.

   Saul disobeyed and was rejected by God, and the young man David was anointed to be king.

   David had learned to love and trust God and demonstrated his faith when he killed Goliath.

   Saul was jealous of David and hunted him down for years, but David learned to love and trust God in every situation.

   Eventually Saul died and David was made king, first over his own tribe, and then over the whole nation.

   David selected Jerusalem and set it up as his capital city and there was a final decisive battle against the Philistines.

The events of chapter 13:

David was now secure and at peace, and the first thing he decided to do was to bring the Ark of God close to him. David was a man after God’s own heart and he loved and trusted God.

    If we truly love God, isn’t that good enough?

    If we sincerely try to do what pleases Him, isn’t that good enough?

    If we feel in our hearts that we are doing the right thing, isn’t that good enough?

    “Just because it feels right doesn’t mean it is right.”

But David seems to have been so careful to consult everyone about this action—about whether it was the right thing to do, and God’s will. He is so excited about it, this is the climax of the establishment of his kingdom. We can see this in the way he sings and plays music with all his might. He wants God’s presence close. He wants closer intimacy with his beloved God.

The tragic sequence:

They decided to use a new ox-cart, a two wheeled cart pulled by cows or bulls. Ox-carts were the normal mode of transport in those days.

The cart was driven by Uzza and Ahio, the two sons of the man who owned the house where the ark had been kept.

They started off with tremendous celebration and music.

Suddenly the cows stumbled and it looked like the ark would fall off the cart. The ark was large and very heavy, and a fall would certainly damage it or even break it.

Uzza reached out and grabbed hold of the ark, and in a flash he was struck dead!

I want to pause for a moment and ask what Uzza should have done.

It was obviously wrong to have touched the ark.

But if he had let it smash into the ground, would that have brought God honour?

The problem was that he was already in a wrong situation. He should have stopped the cart long before, as soon as he saw there was any possibility of this happening. Better still, he should have known the Scriptures and had nothing to do with such an unbiblical way of moving the ark.

David’s reaction:

David was angry at what happened. Probably both angry with himself and angry at God. David became afraid of God. It says in the passage, “David was afraid of God that day saying, ‘how can I bring the ark of God to me.’” If the ark can cause death so easily, how can I dare to have this with me in my capital city? Am I going to be at risk having it so close to me?

David had hoped for greater intimacy with his loving Father. Now look at what happened! It seemed his hopes had been dashed. Never before had God treated David in this way. God had always been on his side. In his experience as a shepherd boy, and with Goliath, and then on the run, God had always seemed to be on his side. But now he was a different God, a strange God, an unfriendly God. A God that seemed to be unpredictable.

He named the place Perez Uzza which means “the breaking out against Uzza”. In 2 Samuel 5 we see that shortly before this, God’s power had broken out against the Philistines and David had called God, Ba’al Perazim—the Lord of breakouts or breakthroughs, and named the place after Him. This is the same word Perez that he used to name this place. In the past, God had only broken out against David’s enemies, now David was threatened. He is forced to name a place after God breaking out against himself. This is something new in David’s experience. He felt scared. He felt deeply upset and he probably felt betrayed. Wasn’t he putting God first? Didn’t he long to be closer to God? A major reason for moving the ark was that Saul hadn’t inquired at the tabernacle. Now David wanted to do right what had been wrong beforehand. He wanted to put it right, yet his very attempt to become closer to God seemed to be rebuffed in this way.

Have you ever been in a situation where you have been tempted to be angry with God? I admit that I have. I have been in a situation where I have trusted God is going to do something, and God has done something different and it shocked me, and for a moment I felt betrayed. Have you ever felt hurt by what God does, hurt by the events of life that God sovereignly controls? It seems that God has betrayed you. It seems that God is behaving in an unpredictable way, a capricious way, that God is too dangerous to be a friend. You say, “Once I felt God was close to me, but now He seems so far away. Things were going well spiritually. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I knew how God was going to work and now look at what has happened. God hasn’t behaved in a way that I expected Him to. I don’t understand God.” Just because it feels right, doesn’t mean that it is right.

The Lowest Point

At this point in the story we are right down at the bottom of the valley. From now on things get better. David goes back to God’s word to find out what went wrong. He discovers that just because it feels right doesn’t mean that it is right. He went back and he read Exodus chapter 25 where we find God’s commands about the ark.

Exodus 25:10-15 “And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length,” that’s just over a metre, “a cubit and a half its width,” that’s about two thirds of a metre, “and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a moulding of gold all around. You shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners; two rings shall be on one side, and two rings on the other side. And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them. The poles shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.”

We see in Numbers 4 that this carrying should only be done by a select group of Levites, the sons of Kohath. Numbers 4:15 describes how they should move the ark, “when the camp is set to go, the sons of Kohath shall come and carry them. But they shall not touch any of the holy things lest they die. These are the things in the tabernacle of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.” There are very strict rules about what is to be done. Once David worked out what went wrong, he is able to trust God again. Also, he sees the blessing that Obed-Edom (a Philistine descendent!) has been receiving because the ark is in his house. David could be receiving this blessing.

A second attempt is made

1 Chronicles 15 describes David’s second attempt to move the ark. “David built houses for himself in the city of David and he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it. Then David said, ‘No-one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the Lord has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before him forever.’” You see he has discovered the importance of this law now. David gathered all the people together at Jerusalem to bring up the ark of the Lord to its place which he prepared for it.

This time the ark will not be carried by a cart, but by the Levites. Verse 5, he gathered “of the sons of Kohath, Uriel the chief, and a hundred and twenty of his brethren.” In verse 13 he tells the Levites why it went wrong the first time. “For because you did not do it the first time, the Lord your God broke out against us because we did not consult Him about the proper order. So the priests and Levites sanctified themselves to bring the ark of Israel. And the children of the Levites bore the ark of the God on their shoulders by the poles, by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord.”

But there was still a tension. Would God accept this? Had they actually done everything right? You can imagine as they lifted the ark up on their shoulders, they would have thought, “Is God going to strike us again? Have we done everything right?” We read in v.26 “And so it was, when God helped the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that they offered seven bulls and seven rams.” God hadn’t broken out against them! We don’t know exactly how God “helped” them, but He sent some special sign that He accepted the way they were doing things, that He was pleased, and they rejoiced and sacrificed to God in their joy. In 2 Samuel 6 there is a parallel account of these events and we read that this happened after they took six steps.

There was great joy: “raising their voice with resounding joy.” (v.16), “David and the elders of the captains brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Obed Edom with joy.”(v.25) “Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn, with trumpets, with symbols, making music with stringed instruments and harps.”(v.28). This was a joyful, wonderful occasion. The previous sorrow was left behind. We read in Samuel that David was so overwhelmed with joy that he danced all the way and leapt with vigour. Their music was exuberant and high-spirited, but God’s holiness was not offended by that. The relationship with God that had been broken was now restored and maybe even stronger, because now David had a new respect and understanding.

Questions Raised

Why did God not just tell David about the problem or cause him to find out earlier?

This story raises some questions. The first is, why did God not just tell David about the problem before they started out the first time? Why did David have to find out the hard way? I think that there are a number of answers to this. David had to understand how serious this was. He had grown up knowing God in an informal way, in an informal setting. He had known God in the wilderness. He had known God in the battle. He had known God in the heat of problems. He had known God as he prayed to him at night. But he had never been in a situation of formally worshipping God. So his knowledge of God had become unbalanced. His understanding of God had grown very great in some areas but he didn’t know much about the holiness of God. He didn’t know much about how God was different to us in many ways and had to be treated with respect.

We can get too careless with God. In Psalm 2:11 it says “Rejoice with trembling.” The nation needed to understand this. The nation of Israel was about to enter the greatest period of blessing in its history and this had to be built on a true worship of God. If we want God to bless us or to prepare us for a period of blessing, there has to be a foundation of things being done right and scripturally otherwise God might need to teach us some painful lessons.

Why was God’s reaction so severe?

Why did God not just give Uzza some sharp pain in his arm, or make it wither up? Why did He have to kill him? God’s mercies are sometimes severe. Sometimes we only learn through pain. Do you think David would ever have forgotten this event through his whole life? I don’t think he would have. David learned this lesson and so did the whole nation.

In Hebrews 12:5 God tells us about the way He treats His children. “Have you forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons. My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him, for whom the Lord loves He chastens.” That’s why the Philistines were not punished for using an ox cart, but the people of God were. “Whom the Lord loves He chastens. He scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening God deals with you as with sons. For what son is there whom a father does not chasten. But if you are without chastening of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.” So it is sign of God’s love for them.

What can we learn?

First of all we can learn that just because it feels right doesn’t mean it is right. Feelings are not sufficient to guide us.

It is not sufficient to love God. We can love Him and think that we are doing His will, and then suddenly everything goes terribly wrong.

We can learn the importance of studying God’s Word to determine whether something is right.

We learn that it is possible to have the desires of the Spirit mixed with those of the flesh. Was it the Spirit that put it in David’s heart to move the ark to Jerusalem? Yes it was! It was right to move it. That part was right, but it was the way that it was done that was wrong. We, too, can have a mixture in our heart. We can desire to do something, for example, a program of outreach or some great thing we want to do for God. It can be right to do it, but we are wrong in the way we are doing it. They are mixed together and God is terribly concerned that we follow His Word and we do things in the right way.

Ignorance is a dangerous thing. In Hosea 4:6 God says “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge I also will reject you. Because you have forgotten the law of your God I also will forget your children.” We need to be balanced in our Christian growth. David was not balanced in his growth. There are some who stress a life of serving God. Some who stress intimacy in fellowship with Him. Some stress showing the love of God to others. Some stress obedience to God’s Word. Some stress dependence on God. But if we are not balanced in those five things then we risk problems in our Christian life, in our church life, and in our service of God.

There was a man called Edward Irving, a preacher who lived 150 years ago in England. He was known for a godly life. Everybody spoke about the way he loved God and the way he desired to serve Him. But this man made a wreck of his Christian life, because he got caught up in a prophetic movement and felt that he should obey every word that these “prophets” gave. He was only 42 but in bad health, when he was given a prophecy that he should go to Glasgow, Scotland immediately. His health would be restored and he would see great blessings from God. Without thinking about the wisdom of this, because he felt he must obey this prophecy, he travelled in bad weather and within days he died. A tragedy—a man who loved God, but a man whose life was derailed because he was not balanced in his Christian life.


There may be things in your life that you know are not according to God’s Word. Maybe there are thoughts that you entertain in your heart that you know are not right. Are you ready for God to suddenly expose them? Sometimes there are clear commands of Scripture that we are not serious about following.

I heard of a Christian man who was not willing to be baptized. His pastor asked him why and he said, “I don’t feel the Lord leading me and convicting me to do it yet.” Sometime later the pastor took this man out to lunch and at the end of the meal the pastor started taking the knives and forks and putting them into his pocket. The man said, “Why are you doing that?” The pastor replied, “I could do with some more knives and forks at home.” The man answered, “Look, the Bible says ‘Don’t steal’” “God hasn’t convicted me yet about stealing things” was the pastor’s reply. Of course the man got the message and of course, the pastor didn’t actually steal the knives and forks. If God commands it, how can we say “God is leading or God is not leading”.

We may say “God hasn’t led me to give financially to the church. When I feel God leading me to give some of my income then I will do that.” But God has given us clear commands about how we are to give of what we own to Him. If we are not taking them seriously, maybe God will have to bring us to financial disaster for us to recognize we are breaking those commands of His. God is serious about our giving to Him.

What about the way that we criticize people behind their backs? We can say, “Oh everybody does it. Everybody talks about other people in the church and behind their backs.” Does that condone it? In Matthew 18:15 God gives clear commands how we are to deal with a situation when we have a problem with another person. We are to take it to them. We are not to talk to another person. Just because we hear this being done, doesn’t mean to say we shouldn’t obey God’s command. God is serious about His Word being followed.

You may be tempted to be in a relationship with a person of the opposite sex that is not right because they are not a believer. You may say, “It feels right”. If it feels right, that doesn’t mean to say it is right because God’s Word says “Be not unequally yoked with an unbeliever.”

You may say, “This is an Old Testament passage. In the New Testament God is not quite so concerned about how we worship Him. We can worship in any way now. It really doesn’t matter.” But in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul speaks to the church in Corinth about how they celebrated the breaking of bread. They were guilty of gluttony, and of causing other Christians to go hungry while they were having what was supposed to be a love feast that demonstrated the unity of the Body of Christ. God was so angry with the way they were bringing him into disrepute that some of them were struck with sickness and some even died. We can somehow feel that we can be as careless as we like in the worship of God. We don’t live under the Old Testament administration where everything is laid out according to a pattern that we have to follow strictly. Yet nevertheless our worship must not be in a way that brings dishonour to God, because that makes Him angry.

In Revelation 3 we read about a church that was lukewarm in the way that they loved God and served Him. God said to them that He would bring disaster upon them because of their lukewarmness and their materialism. Maybe you are caught up with material things in your life and your Christian walk isn’t as it ought to be. You think, “It’s okay, I can go on like this. Maybe I should reform myself. I know I should seek God more. I shouldn’t be so caught up with material things, but things seem to be going on all right.” Disaster may come upon you because God is not prepared to let you live a life like that. God is not prepared to let His children go on in a lukewarm way caught up with material things. He may bring disaster on you as He said that He would to the church at Laodicea in Revelation because He is serious about us living our lives as we ought.

But there is tremendous encouragement in this passage because things came out right in the end. David was forgiven and his relationship with God was restored.

Have you ever done great damage by your mistakes? Take heart because God is merciful. He will forgive. When they did things right He forgave them and brought great blessing and honour and riches to David, and great intimacy in David’s life.

God wants us to learn this lesson so that He can bless us and bring us close to Him. Make no mistake: God wanted the ark to be with David in Jerusalem. He wanted to be close to David. He just required it to be on His own terms and not David’s terms.

God desires to bless us, but on His own terms, which we find in the words that He has given to us.

I want to sum up this message in three sentences:

First of all, just because it feels right doesn’t mean it is right.

Second, the Bible is the route to closeness to God, to intimacy with God, (as was discussed in the previous article).

Third, God is so serious about us growing close to Him that He is willing to be drastic in our lives, even if it means bringing tragedy.                      


This sermon was preached to Jarvis Street Baptist Church on Sunday, April 7, 1998 by Dr. Andrew Fountain, Principal of the Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College, and published as Part 4 of the God's Words and His Words series in the Gospel Witness.

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