You Had One Job!

the death of Uzziah

by Joel Ramshaw (2022)

There are certain spots in the Bible which we read and it seems like God is being totally unfair to one the characters. 1 Kings 13 has the story of the man of God and the deceptive “old prophet.” The old prophet lies to the man of God, telling him to alter his instructions which had came from God because an angel had appeared with new instructions. The part about the angel appearing was a complete lie however. When the man of God changes his route, God kills him for his disobedience, but allows the old prophet who created the lie to continue on living. Its one of those stories which appears totally unfair at first glance and requires a closer look to see what is actually going on.

This story with Uzziah and the ark is similar in that it seems at first in that God is eager to kill for any little mistake. The context is that David wants to bring the ark up to Jerusalem, the capitol of Israel and a place of great honor where the ark can be at the center of the nation. Lets read the passage:

1 Chronicles 13:7-12 So they carried the ark of God on a new cart from the house of Abinadab, and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart. Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets.

And when they came to Chidon’s threshing floor, Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, for the oxen stumbled. 10 Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before God. 11 And David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzza; therefore that place is called Perez Uzza to this day. 12 David was afraid of God that day, saying, “How can I bring the ark of God to me?”


We find ourselves identifying immediately with Uzziah. He just wanted to help and do the right thing. If you or me were responsible for bringing the ark up wouldn’t we have all done the same thing and tried to grab hold of it to prevent it from falling off? To find God’s justice in this story we have to dive a bit deeper into the role of the priest. What we find is that Uzziah’s true error began far earlier.

What is a modern job that is similar to a priests? Think of a nuclear plant control room operator. 99% of the time this will be a very slow and easy job with not much of any stress or excitement. There are however, extremely strict procedures that must be followed exacts with no deviation. The operator must be familiar with the official procedure for activities such as changing the fuel rods. They cannot just “wing it” or get loose with their practices. Also, just like the biblical priest had to wear the breastplate before accessing the holy of holies in the Jerusalem temple, the nuclear operator must wear his lead shielding suit before accessing the heart of the reactor. Just as there are innumerable detailed and tedious procedures in the nuclear plant, the priest’s role is similar in that he has the book of Leviticus describing the temple practices and procedures in sometimes tedious detail. The priest was always considered an esteemed role in all ancient cultures, an upper-class group below only the royalty. They did not do any hard work, but worked with their mind and not their body. They were allowed to feast on the meat of the sacrifices every day, while most of the peasants would be lucky to taste meat even a few times each year. Suffice it to say, the priest had what we would today call a “gravy” job.

The nuclear plant operator is similar, it is a high paying job with little that would be seen as “hard work.” The weight of responsibility that they deal with is so serious however, that we do not mind paying them a high wage in exchange for having the most professional and highly trained operators to deal with equipment that could wreck and entire city if mishandled.

Another modern example of a priestly-type role is an electrician. They do not work as hard as other trades which have to get dirty and do heavy lifting all day. The electrician gets to stay clean and has more free time. There is a price to pay for this privilege however. Any mistake could be especially fatal. Turning off the incorrect power source or crossing the wrong wire could lead to an arc flash which instantly ends their life.

We can see then that Uzziah had a fairly cushy job as a priest, but this also came with a much higher than normal responsibility. He was expected to use his free time to study the Torah books and Leviticus in order to understand how to care for God’s presence according to the strict standards set forth. Apparently, Uzziah did not do this. Perhaps he read the books early on in his career and then decided they were unimportant or that he thought he remembered the procedure and was too lazy to actually read up and check to confirm.

As a priest it was his job to study thoroughly in the Law. He would have seen the section where it mentioned the ark must be carried in a very specific way.

Ancient kings were carried on “litters,” with one person carrying each corner; the closest modern example is how a coffin is carried at a funeral. This method of carry provides natural shock absorption and shows the level of respect for the One being carried. Ancient roads were brutal, full of bumpy cobblestones and large ruts. A person in a cart was in for the roughest ride imaginable.

God being subjected to this extremely bumpy, jostling and disrespectful ride was already at his anger point, barely holding it all in. The touching of the ark was merely the “last straw” as it were.

1 Chronicles 15:15 “And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders, by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD.”


Ark carried on poles After the serious judgment earlier, the priests revisit the rules and discover what was wrong the whole time. They had not carried out God’s law as written, but had decided to “wing it,” making up their own rules. They quickly corrected this error and made another attempt to carry up the ark, this time the proper way. This time the ark was received safely and with much joy in Jerusalem and instead of bringing death it brought a blessing. Likewise when interacting with God’s Glory it is incredibly important to be respectful and not just to treat God as any common object as Uzziah had done. This is not only an Old Testament concern, but we remember the story of Ananias and Saphira where they attempted to lie to the apostles who were carrying the Glory, thus they were considered to have lied to God directly due to his intense manifest presence on the apostles who were like walking arks. In the end times when God’s glory becomes more direct it will be essential to show the proper reverence, not acting callous and arrogant but having the proper humility and respectfulness of his presence.

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