The Ark of the Covenant – Exodus 25-27

Read Exodus 25-27

In today’s reading, we are introduced to the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22). The word “ark” in Hebrew simply means chest. The Ark was a wooden box overlaid with gold. It was approximately 4 feet long, 2.5 feet high, and 2.5 feet wide. On the top of the Ark was a slab of pure gold called the Mercy Seat. There were two golden angels facing one another over the Mercy Seat.

The Ark of the Covenant was the central piece of furniture in the Tabernacle. It was placed in the back of the Tabernacle in the Holy of Holies. Only the Levites, a group from within Israel, could carry the Ark. It was the only piece of furniture in this room. It was over this Ark that the very presence of God appeared. The Ark represented the very presence of God (Exodus 25:22), thus a reminder we can know and experience God Himself.

If we follow the Ark of the Covenant through the pages of the Bible, we learn some important lessons for our worship of God.

Israel’s enemies, the Philistines, eventually captured the Ark at a time when Israel had no king (see 1 Samuel 5). The Philistines mockingly said to themselves, “This ‘God of Israel…’ He’s not so tough. We’ve captured His Ark!” The story that ensues would be amusing if it were not true. Every time the Philistines placed the Ark inside their temple, the Ark destroyed their god. Every morning when they woke up, their god, Dagon, was flat down on his face before the Ark. And even when they removed the Ark from their temple to place it in their town, tumors broke out upon the people (1 Samuel 5:9). So, the Philistines got rid of the Ark and sent it back to Israel.

Back in Israel, the Ark first came to rest in the small town of Beth-shemesh inside Israel. Curiosity overtook seventy men who decided to look inside the Ark and as a result, they died (1 Samuel 6:19). Messengers were soon sent to the town of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “Come, take this thing away from us.” So they returned the Ark but it only came to a fairly remote place in Israel, Kiriath-jearim (1 Samuel 7:2).

Twenty years go by and King David desires to bring the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). During this time, David had brought the Tabernacle to Jerusalem, and now wanted to bring the central piece of furniture there as well. David gathered thirty thousand men to bring the Ark to the Tabernacle in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1). They placed the Ark on an ox-cart and Uzzah walked along side the ox-cart. Soon, one the oxen stumbled and the Ark was about to fall. It was then that Uzzah placed his hand out to steady the Ark from falling to hit the dirt. And it was right there that Uzzah was struck down dead for touching the Ark (2 Samuel 6:7).

Imagine the scene as thousands of people dancing and singing and Uzzah drops dead. The entire scene goes silent. Everyone went home and the Ark was left right there at the home of Obed-edom, a foreigner (2 Samuel 6:10-11). It remained there for three months.

What do we learn from the Bible’s story of the Ark? The story of the Ark is running commentary on your worship practices.

  1. God is Very Big. People thought they could manipulate God by taking the Ark to the battle. Once the ark was near the battle, they thought God was obligated to give them victory. God cannot be manipulated by a holy relic. Nor will He be manipulated through the use of a rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover.
  2. God is Infinitely Holy. Why did Uzzah die? God gave rules for the transportation of the Ark in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. What were those rules?

1) The Ark had to be covered. People were not to look upon it.

2) It was to be carried. There were golden rings on the sides of the Ark for poles, allowing four men to carry it.

3) The Ark had to be carried by Levites consecrated by God for this work.

4) The Ark was not to be touched.

Uzzah thought the dirt of the ground would defile the Ark more than he would. He thought the soil was dirty but he was not. Uzzah’s instincts assumed that his hand was holy enough to touch the Ark.

Again, why did Uzzah die? Every one of the instructions given by God were disregarded. Uzzah was not a Levite. The ark was not carried by Levites, instead it was placed on a cart. And Uzzah touched it. The rules for were broken.

No one can come before the holy presence of God without grace.

Prickly Passages: Why Did God Kill Uzzah?

Programming Note: This is the first in series on problem passages in the Bible. Frequently, pastors receive thoughtful questions from those who are interested to know more about God and His book, the Bible. Prickly Passages will be devoted to Scripture texts that have caused good people to scratch their heads in perplexed wonder. Check back here from time to time as I’ll prayerfully respond to some of the best questions I’ve received.

Tucked away in the middle of the Old Testament is a story that has caused many to think God is unfair. It’s the story where God takes the life of man named Uzzah (2 Samuel 6). We know very little about Uzzah as he makes but a cameo appearance in a story that is more about King David of Israel than it is Uzzah. Here’s a synopsis: David had assigned Uzzah and his brother, Ahio, the task of moving the Ark of the Covenant along with a host of others. As the Ark is being moved on the back of an ox cart the oxen stumbles. Uzzah puts out his hand to prevent the Ark from falling to the ground where the Bible records these words: “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God.” (1 Chronicles 13:10). You can read the entire story in both 2 Samuel 6 and 2 Chronicles 13.

People are perplexed when they read these words. Maybe you’ve wondered what God was doing when you read this story. A friend recently commented, “My first reaction in reading about Uzzah was – why would God do this? After all, Uzzah was just to keep the ark from falling.” So, why did God kill Uzzah?

The Ark of the Covenant

Most of us are more familiar with Ark from the Indiana Jones movie series, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yet, the Ark is more than the stuff of Hollywood legends. The Bible gives us a rich history and meaning to the Ark of the Covenant. The word “ark” in Hebrew simply means chest. And the Ark was a wooden box overlaid with gold. It was over four feet long and approximately 2.5 feet high and 2.5 feet wide. On the top of the Ark was a slab of pure gold called the Mercy Seat. Above the slab of gold were two golden angels facing one another over this Mercy Seat. The Ark of the Covenant was the central piece of furniture in the Tabernacle. It was placed in the back of the Tabernacle in what was known as the Holy of Holies. Only the Levites, the group from within Israel, could carry the Ark. It was the only piece of furniture in this room. Amazingly, God appeared over this Ark as this chest signified the very presence of God Himself.

The Background to Uzzah’s Story

Again, the Ark represented the experience of God – it was the visible throne of God on earth. We sense the significance of the Ark and of God’s presence when read of how the Philistines captured it during the time when Israel had no king. Soon, the Philistines brought the Ark back to Israel because every morning when they woke up, their god Dagon was flat down on his face before the Ark. They set their god back up, only to find their god back on his face before the Ark, only with his hands and head cut off.

It had been twenty years since the Philistines returned the Ark where it came to rest in a small town within Israel, named Beth-shemesh. It’s in this small town where seventy men decided to look inside the Ark. Curiosity overtook them and the Bible says that these seventy men died by the hand of God that day. Because the seventy died, they sent messengers to the nearby town of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “Come, get this thing because it scares us.” So they returned the Ark but it only made it as far as the fairly remote place of Kiriath-jearim, a small town within Israel.

King David becomes the leader of Israel in time and he had a desire to place the Ark inside the Tabernacle. He wanted God to be central and in His rightful place again. King David gathered thirty thousand men to bring the Ark to the Tabernacle in Jerusalem along with brothers, Uzzah and Ahio. They placed the Ark on an ox-cart, those of you who have been to places in Asia can picture this scene easily. Uzzah walked along side the ox-cart when the oxen stumbled and the Ark was set to fall. It was right then that Uzzah placed his hand out to steady the Ark from falling to the ground. And it was right there that Uzzah was struck down dead for touching the Ark. Again, he simply placed his hand on the Ark in order that it would not fall. And he was instantly killed. Imagine the scene as thousands of people dancing and singing and Uzzah drops dead. Everyone and everything goes silent. Uzzah is dead and everyone goes home. And the Ark was left right there at the home of Obed-edom, someone described as a foreigner. The Ark stayed in his home for three months.

Why Did Uzzah Die?

God gave rules for the transportation of the Ark in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. What were those rules?

1. The Ark was to be Covered. People were not to look upon it.

2. The Ark was to be Carried. There were golden rings on the side of the Ark where you would poles through it. Here four men were to carry it. God gave specific directions on how the Ark was to be transported.

3. The Ark was to be Carried by Levites. These men were special and unique because they were consecrated for this work by God.

4. The Ark was not to be Touched.

Why did Uzzah die? Everyone of these rules were disregarded. Uzzah was not a Levite. They were not carrying it but instead David instructed the Ark to be placed on a cart. And lastly, Uzzah touched it. They broke everyone of God’s rules. Uzzah died because he broke the rules. Uzzah thought the dirt of the ground would defile the Ark more than he would. He thought the soil was dirty but he was not. Uzzah’s instincts assumed that his hand was holy enough to touch the Ark.

We must remember: no one can come before the presence of God without radical grace. God is radically unlike anyone or anything else.

I Cannot Believe in a “God” Who Kills 

No doubt someone may say, “I cannot believe in a God who does this to good people like Uzzah. I cannot believe in a God where you break just one rule and you are killed instantly.”

But that’s simply not the case. Look at the story again. There wasn’t just one rule that was broken. Instead, a number of God’s rules were broken. Let me count a few… How did they get the Ark on the cart? Didn’t multiple men touch it when it was placed on the cart? Why were these men not also killed? Why wasn’t David killed who lead the entire parade where each of these four rules were broken? Why was only Uzzah killed? Why didn’t God kill Ahio alongside with Uzzah? He was also guiding the Ark?

Even in God’s anger, He was tremendous mercy. Only one man was killed. God is merciful even when He’s angry.

Series Note: Next in the series of Prickly Passages – What are we to make of the “saints” who were raised on Good Friday (Matthew 27:52-53)?

Praying for Sunday February 9

Pray Big Feb. 9th from NRH Baptist Church on Vimeo.

The Bible gives us tremendous encouragement to pray. Prayer is a time when you are able to personally communicate with the God of heaven and earth. In the pages of the biblical story, we are told one story on top of another of God taking action because people prayed. Moses prayed for the nation of Israel and God spared them despite their desire to worship a golden calf (Exodus 32-33). The prayers of Moses also persuaded God to stop fire from heaven that resulted in death for many (Numbers 11:1-3). Later, when Israel was at war with the Philistines, the prophet Samuel successfully prayed so the Israelites would succeed against their enemies (1 Samuel 7:1-14). On yet another occasion, we learn of an unnamed man who prayed for the king of Israel’s hand to be restored, and his hand was healed (1 Kings 13:1-6). Jonah prayed while in the belly of a big fish and he lived to share God’s compassion to the people of Nineveh (Jonah 2:1-10). All of these stories are included in the pages of the Bible to encourage us to pray. Indeed, James 4:2 tells us, “… You do not have, because you do not ask.”

On Sunday, February 9, North Richland Hills Baptist Church will feature our third and final offering to complete the first year of Better Together. Because of the special importance of this day, I want to suggest five ways our church family can pray together. Take time to read and reread these avenues of prayer in the coming days.

1. Pray that Christ is honored in how our church handles its business. The church of Jesus Christ has its critics and some people want to see the church fail. Knowing this, our church seeks to handle our finances with tremendous integrity and transparency. The Bible commands that pastors be people who are not greedy for money, but are eager to serve God first and others second (1 Timothy 3:3; 1 Peter 5:2). Pray with me that every transaction connected to Cross Church is done with tremendous integrity.

2. Pray for additional people to form the launch team. We have just enough people to cover the areas of responsibility needed to launch Cross Church. Yet, we need more people to assist with set up and tear down of the equipment when services begin in April at Schluter Elementary School. Join me in praying for more people to serve (Matthew 9:38).

3. Pray that our church family would be generous. While many people think successful fundraising campaigns happen because of great leadership or the excitement of the people, the reality is simple: God ultimately causes His people to give (1 Chronicles 29:6-20). When David collected an offering for the purpose of building the Temple, approximately one thousand years before Christ, David recognized that all human giving is from the hand of God (1 Chronicles 29:16).

Pray that followers of Christ everywhere would use money as a tool for the greater purposes of the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Since how we handle our money is an index of our spiritual lives, pray we would give freely with the same generosity that has been given to us (Matthew 10:8). Pray with me that no one would be prevented from coming into God’s Kingdom because of our refusal to give to reach the world for Christ.

4. As you pray, remember we are involved in spiritual warfare. The Bible is clear that Satan has a territory and he is locked in conflict with God Himself. Evangelism is God’s strategy to reduce Satan’s territory by seeing people come into the light and out of the darkness (Ephesians 5:11). Our church has made efforts to start our fourth worship service (the Spanish speaking service that began in early 2013) and now a fifth worship service (Cross Church beginning in April, 2014). Both of these services reach into the darkness of Satan’s territory with the light of the gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). If Satan is smart (and he is), he will not take these efforts without resistance; he will come after believers in an effort to retaliate (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, we must remain vigilant in the fight against Satan (Ephesians 6:18).

5. Pray for resolve. I first asked our church to pray for resolve back in June of 2013, and I repeat that prayer request here. Pray that God would make us steadfast through the entire process of Better Together (2 Thessalonians 1:11). Pray we would not lose heart after starting the second site on April 20, 2014. Pray for the 150 or more people who set up and tear down all the necessary pieces in the rented facility. Pray that God would bring encouragement to our hearts. Pray that we would not become weary in well-doing.

Thank you in advance for praying for this Sunday.