34 Who Killed Uzzah?
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
This story has been a puzzle for many. With the view that Jesus gives us of God, we are enabled to see the story through different lenses and discover who really killed Uzzah.
The Cause of Uzzah’s death
It is interesting to summarize the movement of the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh to Jerusalem. After the Israelites arrived in Canaan the ark was located at Shiloh. Shiloh was more central to Israel than Jerusalem and besides the latter was not conquered until the time of David. It remained in Shiloh for 369 years. After losing a battle to the Philistines, the Children of Israel take the Ark of the Covenant from the Tabernacle (Mishkan) in Shiloh to the battlefield, hoping that the Ark’s presence would protect them (1 Samuel 4:3-4). It was either carried by Hophni and Phineas or Israelite soldiers. Here the Ark was captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:11). The Philistines take Ark from Even Ha-Ezer ( ) to the Philistine city of Ashdod, where they place it in the temple of their god, Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1-2). As a result, the statue of Dagon collapses and God sends a plague upon the people of Ashdod (1 Samuel 5:3-7). The Philistine soldiers must have transported the ark. Next the Ark is moved from Ashdod to the Philistine city of Gath (1 Samuel 5:8), where the people of Gath also suffer from the godly plague (1 Samuel 5:9). From Gath, the Ark is brought to the Philistine city of Ekron. The people of Ekron also suffer and demand that the Ark be sent back to Israel (1 Samuel 5:10-11). Fearing death, the Philistines send the Ark back to Israelite city of Beth Shemesh (1 Samuel 6:11-12). The ark is transported on a new ox cart drawn by two cows whose new calves are locked up. The people of Bet Shemesh rejoice over the Ark but 70 (NIV, NLT) or 50,070 (KJV) depending on which translation is read, are killed by God for looking into it (1 Samuel 6:19-21). The people of Beth Shemesh send for the inhabitants of Kiriath Jearim to take the Ark. It is brought to the house of Abinadab in Kiriath Jearim where it remains for 20 years (1 Samuel 6:21-7:2). After capturing the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites, King David establishes it as the political and spiritual capital of his kingdom. He sends for the Ark at the house of Abinadab in Kiriath Jearim . The ark is transported on a new cart, perhaps following the example of the Philistines. Uzzah (son of Abinadab) reaches out to steady the ark when the oxen stumble and drops dead at the threshing floor of Nacon. Terrified, David places it in the home of Obed Edom the Gittite, it eventually reaches Jerusalem after three months (2 Samuel 6:2-17). It is transported from Obed-edom’s house to a special tent in Jerusalem by Levites who carried it. (1 Chronicles 15:2). The ark disappeared before the Babylonian exile and there are various ideas on what happened to it. The Mishna claims Jeremiah hid it (Second Maccabees (2:4-8)) but his statement in Jeremiah 3:16 seems to contradict this claim. No deaths are recorded in its disappearance and it is unlikely that the Levites were complicit in its removal. It was not present in the Second Temple (Talmud (TB Yoma 22b). It has been suggested that Athaliah, Ahab and Jezebel’s daughter, who married Jehoram of Judah and became queen for six years removed the ark and other pieces from the temple in retaliation for Jehu killing her family in Israel and reinstituting YHWH worship. Athaliah brought Baal worship to Judah. (Theodore D. Erlich, Jewish Bible Quarterly. Vol. 40, No. 3. Publication date: July-September, 2012) Numbers 4 records the process for packaging and moving the sanctuary and the ark. Anyone touching the sacred objects, apart from Aaron and his sons who packed them, would die. Then the LORD’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God. 2 Samuel 6:7 1 Samuel 4 1: “Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek”.
If one adds up all the people that the Old Testament claims were killed by God the total is at least 2,390, 000 not including the flood and the people in Sodom and Gomorrah. The reason the Old Testament attributed these deaths to God was because the writers had no knowledge of a supernatural, evil being and so thought that all supernatural events were caused by God.
This is relevant to Uzzah’s death.
Here is the strangeness of the death of Uzzah. Many others had touched the ark in its transport around the country but only Uzzah is killed for doing so. What is the reason for Uzzah’s death? 1. Perhaps none of the others involved in transporting the ark had touched it. They could have used poles pushed through rings at the corners to transport it. However, they were also remiss, especially the Philistines, because only Levites were permitted to transport the ark and in the prescribed manner described in Numbers 4. Thus if Uzzah’s death was inflicted for disobedience many others should have also died. 2. Perhaps Uzzah was a scapegoat. One man was punished to smarten up Israel. Certainly David was terrified and followed God’s instructions the next time the ark was moved. He is motived by fear of God. However, according to John there is no fear in love and God is love (1 John 4:18). 3. There is no direct explanation in the OT or the NT as to who caused Uzzah’s death. 4. We are lucky to live after the incarnation of Jesus Christ because: He is the only eyewitness of God (John 1:18) and his revelation is normative for all of scripture (John 5:39). He is the Word of God. (John 1:1) He has the life of God (John 1:1-5). In his presence death flees away. The Father had to leave at the cross so Jesus could die as man (Matthew 27:46). Mary and Martha believed that if Jesus had been there Lazarus would not have died (John 11:21, 32). Jesus is clear that he brings life, more abundant life and the thief (devil) comes only to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). Jesus says he is the light which leads to life (John 8:12). He teaches that revenge is not part of the Kingdom of God and we are not to resist evil people (Matthew 5:37-39). Hebrews 2:14 NLT “ We cannot have the same God righteous and just some of the time and then arbitrary and harsh at other times. We cannot have a God who sends bears to eat up irreverent children in one chapter and then in the next breath have Eli’s sons behaving immorally at the sanctuary with God apparently ignoring the matter completely! We can’t have a God who kills Ananias and Sapphira for breach of personal promise and then allows church leaders to live in mansions purchased with funds embezzled from the faithful. This means that it was impossible for God to have executed Uzzah. 2 Chronicles 15:2: "The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you." The choice for separation is always, first, a human decision. But given this human decision, God has no choice but to honor it and leave us to the consequences. (Psalm 81:11) Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.”
"My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels." Rather than feeling happy at his chance now to "get them" for their rebellion, He says, "Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their adversaries" (Psalm 81:11-14). Uzzah died at the hand of “the murderer” (John 8:44; Heb 2:14) not at the hand of the Creator of light, life and love. We can be sure of this because of what Jesus told us and the way he lived and died. Even in his most extreme pain and suffering he never had any threats for the perpetrators of his unjust suffering at their hands. The cross demonstrated, once and for all, the way God deals with evil. He dies and conquers in resurrection. He never takes revenge or punishes his enemies.