In these chapters we see again that God acts on his own terms, not those of others. And that doesn’t always make him comfortable to be around.
First of all, God is not safe, as Uzzah found out to his cost. We’re not told exactly why David was angry – but my instinct is that he was angry with the LORD. After all, Uzzah was trying only to steady the Ark as one of the oxen carrying it shook, and it was probably just an instinctive reaction, not intended as any kind of insult to God. What was the great offence?
Perhaps we need to see the ‘anger of God’ a bit differently. The Ark was the focus of God’s presence on earth in a way that we can’t conceive today. The curtain in the Temple which separated the Ark from the world, through which the High Priest could pass once a year to offer sacrifice, tore when Jesus died on the Cross, because the presence of God through his Spirit was now dispersed through all the world. Before Good Friday, the Ark was the place where heaven touched earth. And there, as shown by the regulations about the high priest’s annual access to God’s presence, the holiness of the LORD was focussed to a fine point. Just as the sun’s rays, focussed by a lens, can start a fire in seconds, so the holiness of God was focussed on the Ark of the Covenant. That explains the barriers and warnings around it, and explains the devastating effect for Uzzah. He may well not have been a bad man – but his life was not pure enough to touch the unfiltered, focussed presence of God and not be consumed by the fire of holiness. It wasn’t his fault – there has only been one human life pure enough to survive that experience, and that life’s ending tore the temple curtain to make the Ark redundant.
After a while, David dares to continue the Ark’s journey to his new capital, Jerusalem. And as he goes, he refuses to stand on his dignity as king, but leads the people in celebration – with such abandon that his wife is embarrassed and despises him. In his years of waiting, David knew that he was the servant of the LORD before he was the servant of Saul, and unlike Saul he hasn’t forgotten that the king of Israel still serves and answers to the king of creation.
But to David’s disappointment, he is told that while he is the one who has established the greatness of Israel, as God intended, he is not the one to build the Temple. For now, the Ark will remain in a tent, a reminder to the people of how God led them in the wilderness. David accepts the will of the LORD, and his prayer in response is one of thanks and acceptance.
We do well to remember that it is only through Jesus that we enter into the presence of God safely. He is God and human, and through his life, death and resurrection we are enabled to come close to God without being burned up by the holiness of his being. And we do well to remember, too, that the God whom we approach is just as holy as ever, and that he, not we, has the right to set the terms on which we follow, worship and serve him.