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In ancient Israel, the Ark of the Covenant was a sacred object that symbolized Yahweh’s holy Presence among His people. Yahweh gave His people detailed instructions for how the Ark was to be constructed and handled. The actual Ark was never to be touched. It was attached to two poles to allow men to carry it. The poles were never to be removed from the Ark. The only authorized Ark bearers were Kohathite Levites (Deut. 10:8, Num. 4:1-20).
Yahweh was very touchy about His holy things. In describing how the Kohathites were to care for His special objects, He said: “But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die” (Num. 4:20). Today most of the pictures you see of Levites carrying the Ark of the Covenant are incorrect. In real life, the Ark had to be covered whenever it was out in public, so that no one could make direct eye contact with God’s holy box.
In 2 Samuel 6:1-7 and then again in 1 Chronicles 13:1-14, we find the story of King David doing a very sloppy job of transporting the Ark out of a man’s house and into the capital city of Jerusalem. Very excited to move the Ark to a more central location, David heads out with a bunch of people to the home of a man named Abinadab, who lived on a hill. Caught up in their own agenda, David and his crew forget all about God’s feelings and load the Ark into a wooden ox cart for easy transportation.
Um, what happened to hand-carrying the Ark by its special poles? Where are the authorized Ark bearers?
At first glance, David’s eagerness to bring the Ark back seems reverent enough, but we see by his actions that he’s lost quite a bit of respect for God’s rules and God’s feelings. Reverence is a HUGE issue with God and reverence is what this crowd is lacking as they jostle Yahweh’s Ark on down the hill with two of Abinadab’s sons walking alongside to make sure nothing happens. But something does happen: one of the oxen stumbles. Well, we can’t have the Ark of God bumping off onto the ground, so Abinadab’s son Uzzah reaches out to steady it.
Oh, so now we’re not only ignoring God’s rules but we’re feeling free to get hands on with His sacred stuff? This is the last straw. Yahweh’s wrath flares up and He strikes Uzzah dead on the spot. Don’t miss David’s reaction: “Then David was angry because Yahweh’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.” (1 Chron. 13:11)
“Perez Uzzah” means “outbreak against Uzzah”. A far more appropriate name would be “don’t mess with Yahweh” but notice how God isn’t getting any sympathy in this moment. All anyone cares about is what happened to the human.
David soon thinks better of his rotten attitude and becomes afraid of God’s anger. He decides to park the Ark at another man’s house and postpone his plans for moving it. Smart choice. God’s patience with being manhandled is gone.
This story is an ugly picture of where a lack of reverence takes us. When we start taking God for granted, we start feeling free to ignore His feelings and instructions. The bratty David in this story would have fit right in with many church elder and leadership boards today. After all, when it comes to planning Sunday service, it’s the comfort of people that we’re mainly concerned with, not the comfort of God.
God hates sharing His glory with others. Well, too bad, because it’s volunteer appreciation day and we’re going to parade all the workers in front of the congregation and ooze over what marvelous people they are. Oh, and we have a guest speaker so we need to be sure to give him plenty of applause. And of course the worship band needs accolades for the way they get our pulse racing for Jesus. God will understand.
God hates having His Truth watered down and twisted. Well, too bad, because many people find God’s truth to be offensive and we certainly can’t have humans feeling convicted in our pews. Break out the regurgitations of what the pastor of some megachurch said to his congregation last month. We can’t afford to say something that hasn’t been pretested or we might lose people. Keep it short and sweet, and throw in some humorous stories and video clips. Don’t go over twenty minutes, because we didn’t come here to think, we just want to be entertained. If the Holy Spirit has a problem, remind Him that we’ve already planned His sermons for the next six months and He’s missed the deadline for changes.
Gosh, we love the Bible. But let’s not actually read the whole thing. Let’s just tell the same Gospel stories ad nauseam and sprinkle in some stories from the Old Testament that we’ve heard a billion times while we skip all the parts that disturb us. The prophetic books? We’ll take on Revelation and a few Old Testament Messianic passages, but we’re going to steer clear of the parts where Yahweh is chewing out the spiritual leaders of His people for doing such a sloppy job. Obviously those passages have no relevancy for us.
Today we’re redefining sin and righteousness to suit our own agendas. We set up our friends as leaders in the church so we can all feel important together, even though they flaunt rebellious attitudes towards God. When we shop for a pastor, we look for someone who we can control, not someone who will actually speak the words of God to us. We’ve changed the definition of a “calling” to mean “I paid a bunch of money to a seminary and aligned myself with man’s carnal agenda.” Today we want to be entertained and have good snacks. We don’t want to have to sit still and focus on what is being said. We don’t want to have to think and apply. We want to see media clips and PowerPoint displays. We want fancy graphics and loud songs. We want our Sunday mornings to have the look and feel of a theatrical performance: dark room, brilliant stage, polished performers and smooth transitions. Squeaking mics and awkward silences are the things we get uptight about now, not errors in doctrine. It’s okay for God to be offended, but it’s a federal emergency if one of our first time visitors gets his nose out of joint. Church today is about catering to people. If we get word that the pews are too hard or the room is too cold, we will rush to fix the problem. But if it’s suggested that we aren’t paying God enough mind, well, we just roll our eyes. Let’s not start nitpicking about things like reverence and glory—there are far more important priorities, like serving gourmet coffee to our guests instead of some cheap store brand during the refreshment hour. Be sure to put the brand label out where everyone can see it. And we’ve got to splurge for the expensive pastries. We can’t woo people back without good eats.
In so many ways, we just keep tossing God onto the back of a metaphorical ox cart, telling Him to hush up and sit down because we’re doing things OUR way. We drag Him through our daily agendas, jouncing and jolting Him with our slighting attitudes, irreverent actions and indifferent hearts. Yet we may be certain of this: the day is fast approaching when God’s tolerance for being so grossly mistreated will suddenly come to an end. When His wrath is being poured down on our defiant little heads, there’s no doubt that most Christians will respond just like David: accusing God of being the jerk while we are the innocent victims. We’ll whine and snivel, pout and complain that God is a big meanie who doesn’t appreciate all the effort we’ve put in to serving Him. We’ll try to whitewash ourselves by reminding Him of the great lengths we’ve gone to in order to reach unchurched Harry and Mary and to make rebellious souls feel as comfortable and unconvicted as possible during our sermonettes. We’ll tell Him He’s ungrateful and unreasonable. In response, He’ll strike a few more of us dead. And then we’ll get scared and wish we could just park Him somewhere and go on home without Him.