Be Holy for I Am Holy
1 Chronicles 13
The ark of the covenant, as you’ll remember, was the piece of sacred furniture that Israel carried with them wherever they went, over which God’s presence resided. When David becomes king, he wants to go and get the ark to bring it to Jerusalem. And everybody in Israel thinks that’s a good idea (13:4).
Now, what happens in this passage is surprising, confusing, and for some, offensive. God strikes a man dead for trying to keep the ark from falling on the ground. Why would God do such a thing?
Well, the first problem is they decide to put the ark on a cart. To you and me that may seem like an efficient way to transport a heavy object. But to the Lord, it’s a violation of his command back in Exodus 25-37. The next problem, is with Uzzah. He is a great guy, but he shouldn’t be looking or getting close to anything from the sacred tabernacle of God. Most probably, Uzzah was a Korahite (Numbers 4). Korahites were not even supposed to look at the ark, much less get close to it.
Now, you might get all that. But you still might not think that this is a big deal. Is ark transportation and touching a piece of furniture worth taking a life? I mean, shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime? So what is the big deal? What is God up to? And what in the world is the point of this passage?
The Text teaches us that the Lord Is Holy and We Are Not
Hebrew is a funny language. When we want to emphasize something in English, we add the words very or really. Hebrew just repeats the word. Genesis 14, for example: people fall into pit-pits. Pittiest pits around. And in Isaiah 6, when the prophet sees the Lord he hears, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” Three times repetition to emphasize the absoluteness of God’s sanctity, power, transcendence, otherness, and awesomeness. And the effect that this has on Isaiah is not to yawn or walk out. He’s not bored or underwhelmed. He trembles, falls on his face, and says: Woe is me; I am ruined. Because I am filthy, and I live among a filthy people.” In an instant that he realizes who God really is, he understands how corrupt he really is. Likewise, when Moses sees God’s glory as it passes by him in the mountain side, God says, “You can’t look at me or you’ll die. I’m too much for you.” Same thing happens to the disciples in the boat during the storm. Jesus calms the storm and they’re more afraid of Jesus than they are the storm. Peter’s response in a similar moment to Jesus is: “I need you not to be around me, Lord, because I am a sinful man.” This is what God’ absolute purity, perfection, and holiness causes within us. In the presence of Infinite, you realize how you are finite. Perfect love, you realize how unloving you are. Purity, truthfulness, etc., you realize how far short of the glory of God you are.
The story of Uzzah shocks and offends us because because we forget what we are and what sin is in the sight of a holy God. Our sin is not some personality quirk; it is cosmic treason against his holy, perfect sovereignty — for which we ought to be obliterated every day. Hans Kung: When we sin, it’s like we reach for God’s crown to take it off of God’s head and say, “I know what your law is, but I think I know a better way.” It is cosmic treason. Kung goes on to say: “The mystery of sin is not that the sinner deserves to die, but that the sinner continues to exist.”
I also think we are shocked by Uzzah, because he reminds us of ourselves. Most of us are probably just trying to do right. Like Uzzah, not that bad of a fella. And so it provokes us, because we think if God can get angry at a person like that, what’s to stop him from getting angry at a person like me? You can be a good person, like Uzzah, but holiness is not so easy to come by.
Yet We Try to Be Holy By Consensus. But Consensus is not holy. Everybody was OK with this plan. Everybody. But the Lord does not care what David thinks here or give two cents for what Israel together comes up with. He has made his mind plain for what his will is, and He alone is holy. Sometimes God is Contra Mundum. “Against the World” because the world (even the religious world) is dead set against him. And sometimes to walk in righteousness, you will have to be contra mundum too. The believer, to be holy, must always break his will on the rock of God’s Word, not on the opinion of the majority. Be cautious, brothers and sisters. Living by consensus is not what makes a thing holy. All Israel was wrong here.
We try to be holy by good intentions, but Good intentions are not holy. We look at Uzzah’s last ditch effort to keep the ark off the ground and think, “What’s the big deal? What would God prefer? To touch his hand or to touch the ground?” David thinks the same thing. See 13:11. “Uzzah was just trying to do something nice, and you killed him for it?”
In the first place, God could have, under the law struck down Uzzah just for looking at the ark. So the fact that he’s alive this long is really a mercy.
In the second place, good intentions are not sanctified. I’m sure that Adam and Eve meant well when they sought knowledge from the tree; I’m sure that Moses meant well when he struck the rock Horeb; and my guess is that the devil really does think he can rule the earth better than God. Uzzah means well. I’ve never met a normal person who did something wrong that didn’t mean well, even if he had to lie to convince himself that he meant well.
Story from Dr. Moore. Wild Turkey, case of Bud. “You’re starting to sound like my wife.” (If you’re reading this, you’ll have to find the audio. The story is hilarious and sad) He had baptized his heart’s wickedness to divorce and binge drink himself to sleep every night. In fact, he saw no clash in his heart between the reality that he could probably sing from memory all the verses of “Jesus Paid it All” while chugging his 11th beer and using theology to scheme sexual immorality against his wife. In fact, he’d convinced himself that that was right. Now, that’s maybe an unusual case, but I think we do this kind of thing all the time.
Some of you are cussing and slandering your boss, your employees, and your wife. And you’re blaming it on how ridiculous and disrespectful they act, how stressed out they make you, and how they just needed somebody to jerk their chain…”yelling some 4-letter words and giving them a piece of my mind was just what they needed. “After all, I didn’t hurt anyone, but I just gave em what they needed.” Like you should be rewarded, because you’ve done something with good intentions. Some of our highschool graduates here are going to go off to school, where you’ll be expected and even encouraged to be evil – and very often with your parents’ blessing. “Go have fun and sow some wild oats. Just use protection and call a cab.” Like being wicked in your 20s is a normal, and good thing. I’m so sorry if that’s the lie your parents told you. Sure they were well-intentioned. But can you imagine, your Lord Almighty telling you, that “It’s OK to be slander your wife, so long as you don’t put bruises on her arms. It’s OK to be get drunk and fornicate in college, so long as you graduate, don’t hurt anybody, don’t get anybody pregnant.” That’s exactly the logic of David and Uzzah. It’s obviously wrong, but they’ve persuaded themselves that wrong is right.
It’s old sinful logic. The same logic that put Jesus on the cross. Caiaphas was just trying to keep Jerusalem from getting in trouble with Pontius Pilate. Better for Jesus to die, than for the nation to get in a war with Rome. Listen, dear friends, your good intentions do not make you holy.
I see myself on that road…
I see myself on that road. That’s what I deserve. If you know me, you might say, “Ah, come on, man. You’re a pretty good guy. You’re being too hard on yourself.” I’m sure Uzzah thought he was pretty good, too. And he died under the righteous hand of the judgment of God.
You can’t be consensus holy, good intentions holy, 99% holy. Yet God demands that to be in his presence, you must be holy.
So what do we do?
Look to the cross. Where the awful, embarrassment, shame, and guilt of your sin was dragged out into public for all the world to see. That was what you deserved. And on the cross, see where the justice of God meets the mercy of God. Where it satisfies the wrath of God. That’s how He sees you, sinner. A treasonous creature deserving his full-on wrath, drinking his water, eating his food, living on his land, insulting his holiness. But there is a way to be at peace with the one who made you. He will remake you, if by repentance and faith you will come to him seeking forgiveness and redemption. And he will do it for anyone, no matter how far gone you think you are. That cross is for you, and there’s room for you there.