And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD (carrying the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem on an ox cart), 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.2 Samuel 6:5–8
There have been a lot of discussions about the death of Uzzah in 2 Samuel and I have heard many discussions about how this happened, why it happened, etc. Many of those responses are trying to find meaning in the text itself without an understanding of WHY it happened, or what the background was. This comes, largely, from people who are not well versed in the whole Bible and only focus on certain sections at a time. This tiny article should resolve those issues.
Uzzah, also known as Uzziah, was of the clan of Merari (1 Chronicles 6:29), one of the three sons of Levi (Exodus 6:16). The care of the temple, its holy furnishings, coverings, and walls were broken into three sections, one for each of the sons (Numbers 3:5-39). The sub-tribe that came from Levi’s first son, Gershon (the Gershonites) were to carry the curtains, screens, and coverings of the temple, and those only (Numbers 3:21-26). The sub-tribe that came from Levi’s third son, Merari – as was Uzzah, were only to carry the pillars, cross beams, and the bases for the pillars (Numbers 3:33-37). The sub-tribe that came from Levi’s second son, Kohath, were to carry the holy things of God, but only by the poles (Numbers 3:27-31). They were strictly warned not to touch or even look at the most holy things, lest they die (Numbers 4:20). All of them were to have a covering placed over them, both for protection of the items and so they could be carried in the open and no one would die from looking at them. The removal of those coverings only took place once the tabernacle was rebuilt, and sons of Aaron (the priests) would then enter the tabernacle once the work of rebuilding it was complete and remove them all for service.
And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry.Numbers 4:15 (ESV)
The only ones who were to touch the holy things and perform the service of the temple were those from the lineage of Moses and Aaron, and the only ones who were allowed to carry those items (once covered) were those of the lineage of Kohath – as appointed by the priests.
So God had given them grace when the ark was carried onto the cart, thought the ark was probably placed onto the cart by those who were of the lineage of Moses and Aaron or of the Kohathites. Likely because they had been so far removed from the worship of God according to his holy standards, and the knowledge of the Law of God itself, Uzzah forgot his place and the promise of God that only the Kohathites and the lineage of Moses and Aaron were to touch the ark, and therefore God struck him dead.
A reminder that God is good, he is kind, he is loving, but he is never safe – not from any human understanding of the term. David may have been angry at God when Uzzah was struck down, but that was only David’s sin and error, not God’s. Uzzah broke the commandment of God and he paid the price with his life. David was angry at God because he thought that God wasn’t acknowledging his effort for God, which shows that David had placed his faith in himself and his actions, not in the God of all creation.
God had kept his promise. He kept his promise to the people of Israel to take them out of the land of Egypt, he kept his promise to give them the land of Canaan, he kept his promise to provide them a good king in David, and he kept his promise to keep his holy things holy, even from the tainted and sinful flesh of man. God keeps his promises, even today, in the salvation he provides through Christ Jesus.