Today's Irreverent Church
“The Lord's anger burned against Uzzah
because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died
there beside the ark of God.”
2 Samuel 6:6-8, NIV.
After David became King over Israel, he conquered Jerusalem and set about to bring the ark of the covenant up from the house of Abinadab which was on a hill. The ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord Almighty, was the place where God was enthroned between the two cherubim. It represented the earthly throne of Israel’s God.
David understood the importance of restoring the ark to a place of prominence in the nation. 30,000 of his men accompanied him that day and they built a brand new cart to be pulled by several strong oxen. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the cart with the ark of God on it. “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals” (2 Samuel 6:5). Does that sound like some Charismatic churches today? Worshipping the Lord like David did.
When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled and Uzzah reached out to take hold of the ark. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act. God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God. Just what had he done that was so “irreverent”? He was just trying to save the ark and keep if from falling off the cart. Uzzah had good intentions, but he hadn’t followed the specific instructions given to the Israelites concerning how to handle the ark of the covenant. And because of his disobedience and the irreverence he displayed for the holiness of God, he died that day (NIV Study Bible, p. 557).
If David had consulted with several of the Levitical priests with him, he would have found out that the ark of the covenant should always be carried on the shoulders of the priests themselves (Exodus 15: 12-14), never put on a cart as the Philistines had done. The Philistines (representative of the world’s way) built a cart to carry the ark of God, a perfectly natural and logical thing to do. Their idea was a good one, very efficient in time, money and manpower. Let the oxen to the work. Building a cart and using oxen represents works of the flesh; doing it man’s way. Using logic and skill, man can do many things that look like good and acceptable works of the Lord. Christians can put on a pretty good show of worship and appearing to obey God, but their efforts are not always acceptable to God.
Every time David “inquired of the Lord” first to get his directions, he was successful in battle, but when he tried to handle situations on his own, he failed miserably. A few years later he will make the same mistake again when he sees Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop. How many times do we need to make the same mistake before we learn the importance of taking time to seek God for his directions?
To man there is what seems like a good way to do something and then there is God’s way, the right way. The good way comes by using logic and natural understanding. Experience teaches us how to handle matters and how to fix problems in life. However, God’s ways are higher than our ways. His way which is the right way in a particular set of circumstances is not always the most logical, conventional, timely, or efficient. Our understanding of natural and supernatural events is extremely limited by our lack of complete knowledge and wisdom. But since God knows all things and is constantly working to accomplish His will, man needs to learn how to yield to the ways of God to live successfully here on earth.
One way in which we do this is to submit all our knowledge and understanding to the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we need to know how to handle a matter or what is God’s will, we have to prayerfully submit our requests to God and wait for His instructions to us. An added safety precaution is to submit that idea to others in the body and look for confirmation before we proceed. “Every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18:15-17). Uzzah (the elder/priest) died because David failed to inquire of the Lord or how to handle moving the ark of God. He moved ahead with his own plan of action which proved to be a fatal mistake. Since David was the king (pastor/leader) it was his responsibility to find out how God wanted to handle this situation. His negligence resulted in a man’s life being taken needlessly.
Over the years counseling in the Healing House Network we have personally heard many stories of pastors like king David who made a bad decision and the members of their church suffered apparently more than they did. Whenever a leader in the body falls in sin, the congregation members are left wounded and disillusioned, the church’s reputation is severely damaged and a number leave the church never to darken the door again—of any church. God is not pleased with these conditions, because many once loyal and faithful people don’t want anything to do with church life any more. There is an old saying that that the church is the only army that kills its’ own soldiers. Church can be a dangerous place to be.
It needs to be pointed out that God doesn’t plan to get angry and punish us when we do something wrong, but He has set certain principles in place and spiritual laws that he expects us to obey. When we obey his commandments, life will go well with us. When we disobey, we will suffer the consequences. Deuteronomy 28 provides a detailed list of the blessings and curses. It is our choice, not His that determines the outcome of events. Evidently, the ark of God must have contained the anointing and power of God perhaps like that of an electrical transformer or experienced when lightening strikes. God warned the Israelites not to touch the ark for their own safety and protection least the power within destroy them. In 1 Samuel 6 the men of Beth Shemesh experienced God’s wrath when they opened the ark of God to look inside. Some Hebrew manuscripts say 50,070 were killed that day.
David and the people of Israel learned their lesson the hard way that day on the way home from Abinadab’s house. God is a holy God who demands reverence from his people and obedience to his Word. "Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:29-31). When we fail to revere God and obey His commands (instructions), we will pay the consequences. It is not his desire to punish us, but to be a loving God who provides for our every need. "My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name” (Malachi 2:4-6).
The ark of God was built to very specific instructions as an object lesson to the people of God. It symbolized the throne of God, the great King, who chose to dwell among his people. It contained the Testimony, the tablets with God’s commandments inscribed on them. It had an atonement cover of pure gold with two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Above the cover between the cherubim God said, “I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites” (Exodus 25:22). This is where Moses met with God in the tabernacle to receive instructions and divine revelation.
Of course today the Son of God, Jesus Christ is the Great King we worship. It is his atoning blood that washes away our sin and enables us to appropriate the grace of God and life eternal. He is Emanuel, God with us. He dwells among believers and wants to be on the throne of our heart. According to the New Covenant of Hebrews 8, God writes His laws on our heart so that we serve Him with a new heart that is compliant to His commands.
2 Corinthianins 7:1-3 instructs us this way, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” If we truly revere God, we should strive to purify ourselves of all sinful attitudes and ways our behavior displeases him. We should seek to learn about the ways of God which are beyond our own understanding. Finally, we should also “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:20-22).
It just may be God’s mercy toward us that He doesn’t show up in more of our church services. God is holy and only clean, uncontaminated vessels can stand in His presence without being struck down like Uzzah. How many of us can say for sure our hearts are completely clean and pure before our Holy God? After all our hearts can deceive us, we try to relate to others out of our blind spots and we are spiritually blind to the things and ways of God. When the men of Beth Shemesh experienced the wrath of God they exclaimed, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” (1 Samuel 6:20).
One major problem with the church today is a lack of reverence or the fear of the Lord in our hearts. According to Proverbs 1:6-8, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Many leaders in the body of Christ profess to love God and preach about Him, but they have never experienced the holiness of God nor his wrath. God seems so distant and unconcerned with their problems. In many churches today programs take the place of anointing. There is a form of religion which denies the power of God. Seminary schools hold class discussions on the question, “Is God dead?”
Jeremiah 5:21-23 reminds us, “Should you not fear me?" declares the LORD. "Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it.” The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:10-12).
There are many blessings made available to those that fear the Lord. “The fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short” (Proverbs 10:26-28) and “The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:22-24). If David and Uzzah had been more fearful of God and followed his instructions for carrying the ark of God on the shoulders of the priests our story would have had a triumphant ending instead of the tragedy that occurred.
Why did God require that the ark be carried on the shoulder’s of the priests? After all everything else was carried on carts for ease and convenience. However, the ark was not just another piece of furniture in the tabernacle. It was a common practice in those times to carry kings and other royalty on an elaborate carriage mounted on the shoulders of slaves, symbolic of their royal position of authority and leadership over the people. God was their true King, not a man selected to lead the people as David was. David was a true theocratic king (leader/pastor) serving under the lordship of God. In other words, the Lord God ruled over king David and the people (The NIV Study Bible, p. 557).
God wanted the ark carried on the shoulders of his servants, the Levites. These men devoted their entire lives to the service of the tabernacle and understood the importance of remaining holy and untainted from sin. The priests who served in the holy of holies went in with a rope tied around their ankle and bells on their skirts. The sound of the bells tinkling meant everything was fine, but if they went silent it meant they may have been struck dead by the power of God. The rope was used to pull their bodies back out. We cannot take sin into the holy of holies least we be destroyed by a holy God.
One reason sin abounds in the church today is there is no fear of God in the hearts of God’s people. One example that comes to mind is the 50% divorce rate among Christians. Couples are doing what seems right in their own minds and have no fear of God for breaking their covenant with their partner or being unfaithful. “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked. There is no fear of God before his eyes” (Psalm 36:1-3). “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:6-8). Without the fear of God, evil abounds. Man does what is right in his own eyes and justifies his sin.
Finally, the most important reason for having the fear of the Lord in our hearts and which is so appropriate for this occassion-- is so we will judge fairly and impartially between the disputes of men. “Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery" (2 Chronicles 19:6-8). With a holy fear of the Lord, or reverence for God, we will want to consider carefully the conflicts that arise in our church among the believers. Matters of conflict, accusation and injustice will receive careful scrutiny and prayerful attention, because we realize we will be held accountable before God for our decisions. Leaders will prayerfully seek God’s solution on a matter and follow His instructions carefully. Men and women of God with a heart to serve Him honestly and with integrity will seek to do things the right way, not what seems like a good way. We will remember the story of Uzzah who died in the presence of God, because of his irreverent act. He died doing what seemed good in his own eyes.
Isaiah is prophesizing about Jesus when he said, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears” (Isaiah 11:2-4). Today’s churches need the fear of the Lord in order to make fair and impartial judgments. We need Jesus’ presence in our worship services and in the meetings that take place behind closed doors among the leadership.
Malachi recorded two remarkable observations about those who did not fear the Lord and those who did. "So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty” (Malachi 3:4-6).
“Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name” (Malachi 3:15-17). May our names be written on this scroll and we be credited with handling matters in the church with wisdom, impartiality and discernment by the Holy Spirit.
If only today’s churches were more like the ones mentioned in Acts, we might have less division, strife and unrest. They would be places of refuge from the world, fulfilling God’s purposes in the earth and establishing the kingdom of God. “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:30-32).
Now for the rest of the story. David was afraid of the Lord that day and also angry that his attempt to honor the Lord resulted in a display of God’s wrath. He was afraid to bring the ark of God into the city of David so he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months. While it remained there, the Lord blessed him and his entire household. When David heard this good news, he decided to try once again to bring it up to Jerusalem, but this time he followed God’s instructions precisely. It was placed on the shoulders of the Levite priests and when they had taken six steps, David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf (symbolic of the blood of Christ shed for our sins). Wearing only a linen ephod (symbolic of hearing God) instead of his royal robe he danced with all his might. The whole house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets (2 Samuel 6:9-15). The earthly throne of Israel’s God was brought up to Jerusalem with great jubilee and celebration. God was awarded the proper reverence and respect for who He was. “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain” (Psalm 48:1).
With today’s Charismatic enthusiasm to worship God and come into his presence, let us not forget to do it God’s way. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, but there should not be irreverence. May we take time to inquire of the Lord in all our endeavors and to know His will. Let us maintain a reverent fear of the Lord in our hearts as we learn from Uzzah’s example. Obed-Edom welcomed the ark of the Lord into his home and was blessed. Oh, that we would welcome the Lord Jesus Christ and His New Covenant into our hearts and truly say we are blessed by the Lord and all our household.
Prayer: “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:10-12).
Copyright © 2005. Tree of Life Ministries