Why Was a Man Killed for Touching the Ark of the Covenant? (2 Samuel 6)

Why Was a Man Killed for Touching the Ark of the Covenant? (2 Samuel 6)

Written by John L. Mackay |
Tuesday, December 26, 2023

“The anger of the Lord” is not some power inherent in the ark but the personal response of God to the contravention of his requirements. “God struck him down,” that is, killed him, “there,” on the spot where the offense was committed, so that there would be no doubt about the connection between offense and penalty. “Because of his error” involves a somewhat obscure term, but 1 Chronicles 13:10 makes it clear that Uzzah’s error was his unthinking irreverence in touching the ark.

Read the Passage

1David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2And 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. 3And 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, 4with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. 5And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 6And 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. 7And 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. 8And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day.

Military Presence and Pageantry

“David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel” is evocative of a military campaign, like those just described against the Philistines (2 Sam. 5:17–25), and this is probably how David views bringing the ark to Jerusalem (1 Chron. 13:1–4)—but with the surprising difference that he does not inquire of the Lord (2 Sam. 5:19, 23). Whether “thirty thousand” men or thirty military units are involved, a military presence provides the pageantry and security for this major national milestone.

The phrase “they carried” (lit., “they made to ride”) along with the mention of a “new cart” signals how the first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem is flawed from the start. Though intended as a mark of respect, using a new cart is actually the Philistine mode of transporting the ark (1 Sam. 6:7), whereas the Lord had specifically directed the ark to be carried by Kohathites from the tribe of Levi, using poles inserted through rings incorporated into its sides (Ex. 25:13–15; Num. 4:4–6, 15, 17–20).

Three generations earlier, the ark had been left in the “house of Abinadab,” in the custody of Eleazar (1 Sam. 7:1). He has died in the interim, and Uzzah and Ahio, his descendants, are now its custodians. Though “Ahio” may mean “his brother” (ESV mg.), it is probably a personal name (as in 1 Chron. 8:31; 1 Chron. 9:37). The two brothers “were driving the new cart,” not seated on it but walking in front of it and beside it as they guide it.

A Joyful Procession

David and all the Israelites with him “were celebrating before the Lord.” The verb “celebrate” (found also in 2 Sam. 6:21 and in 1 Sam. 18:7, and as “compete” in 2 Sam. 2:14) indicates joyful exuberance, probably involving dancing.

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