Our Old Testament lection for today, as it comes to us, is profoundly celebratory in nature. David, having recently become king over all Israel in addition to Judah, sets out with 30,000 able-bodied young men to retrieve the ark of God from Baalah. This was cause for great celebration, complete with music and dancing. King David hoped that the ark might bring about the same kind of blessing it had produced for the household of Obed-Edom. The mood of this event stands in stark contrast to the setting in 1 Samuel 6, when the Philistines could not get rid of the ark fast enough. But now, having a consolidated kingdom, King David is filled with joy at the prospect of bringing this symbol of God’s presence into the capital city, at the very heart of communal life.
But there’s a problem with our text. Actually, there’s a problem with the text that the lectionary skips over. It reminds me of a scenario that plays out frequently in our family life. There’s a street in our town where an adult entertainment establishment features an extremely large digital sign by the roadside. The text and images on this sign cannot be missed when driving down the street. It has become my standard practice, about 100 yards before reaching this sign, to point in the other direction and exclaim, “Hey guys, look over there! I wonder what that is?” Maybe if we just skip it or look the other way we won’t have to deal with it. That’s what it feels like the lectionary is doing with the problematic text of verses 6-12. But, as I’ve heard Thomas Long say, we must not let this text pass us by before it has the opportunity to bless us.
In light of the great exuberance displayed in this passage, and the great lengths David and his men go to in an effort to bring the ark to Jerusalem, the incident with Uzzah seems bizarre, if not deeply troubling. Certainly Uzzah had good intentions when he reached out and took hold of the ark (v.6). There are other passages of Scripture that are troubling to us, like Acts 5, with the story of Ananias and Sapphira. In that passage the discomfort is lessened a bit due to the fact that this couple deceives the community. Rather than giving everything from the sale of their property, they keep some back for themselves. The result is death. In our passage, the Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, the Lord strikes him, and the result is Uzzah’s death–all for trying to steady the ark. Wasn’t Uzzah doing God a favor?
Maybe that’s where we find our entrance into this story. Uzzah’s first reaction seems innocent enough—he reaches out and takes hold of the ark so the ark wouldn’t be harmed. He tries to ensure its safe passage into the City of David. After all, 30,000 men have joined King David in this recovery effort. The ark would be at the center of all religious and political life, and Uzzah’s reaction is to keep it safe.
As if God needed Uzzah’s safekeeping.
As if the Lord Almighty needed handholding.
As if the future of the Davidic kingdom relied upon this symbol of God’s presence.
Thomas Long notes that in his automatic response, Uzzah revealed a lot about himself. In an instant, we get a whole history. He adds, “And when the oxen stumbled, and with a spontaneous gesture that revealed a universe, Uzzah confessed his real faith: a God so impotent that if the box falls God falls; a God so weak that this God needs the help of the likes of Uzzah to dotter across the street; an empty shell of a God trapped inside fragile religious symbols.”
The text tells us that David was angered by these events, and became afraid of the Lord. It is helpful to remember that this all happens prior to the ark entering the City of David, and probably for good reason. King David has been quite successful in all his endeavors, and the credit for this goes to the Lord. It is because the Lord has been with him, and because the Lord has been the major player, that David has gotten to where he is. And lest he forget that, he is reminded that the Lord needs no steadying. The Lord Almighty doesn’t need King David to accomplish the Lord’s purposes.
For the preacher, this invites introspection. Are there ways we try and help God out? Are there ways we reach out, grab hold, and maintain God’s presence? Are there ways we try and ensure that our programs will work?
The God revealed in this text is not a God who needs to be handled. The God revealed in this text does not need our handholding. The God in this text is the God spoken of in our psalm for today, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2).
One other possible route for the preacher is to take another look at the character of Michal. Too often, we have read her actions as those of a rejected, nagging wife; however, her disgust with David probably goes deeper and reveals things about David that may lead to his eventual undoing.
Scripture tells us that Michal loves David, without ever telling us that David loved Michal. Perhaps it was out of political expediency that he entered into this relationship.
David takes multiple wives even after marrying Michal.
Notice that in this text we are told that Michal looks out a window and sees “King David” (v.16). Rather than identify him as “her husband,” the textual clues note the distancing that has occurred in their relationship. Perhaps in the cultivation of his professional image, David has failed to attend to those relationships closest to him, thus contributing to the fracturing we are presented in the text.
 Thomas G. Long, “The Fall of the House of Uzzah…and Other Difficult Preaching Texts,” Journal for Preachers 7, no.1 (1983): 13-19.