The Uzzah Syndrome

The problem with reading the Bible is that God speaks to you through it, and you end up having to change your behavior. It is so much easier to keep doing what you are doing because it is what you know to do. It is comfortable.

I’ve been doing a chronological Bible reading plan this year. It’s been very interesting. God’s been hammering me on a few things. One is what I’m going to call the Uzzah Syndrome in ministry. Uzzah is mentioned in 2 Samuel 6. Back in 1 Samuel 4 we see that the people of God messed up, and tried to use the Ark as some sort of magic charm in battle. The Philistines defeated them and captured the Ark. The next couple of chapters tell about some very strange stuff that happened to the Philistines while they had the Ark. They got scared, and sent the Ark back, on a cart, with a “guilt” offering for taking it.

So at this point, King David takes 30,000 men to get the Ark. They get a new cart, and have the sons of the man who was keeping the Ark drive it back, Ahio and Uzzah. On the journey back, the oxen stumble. And Uzzah grabs the Ark to keep it from falling.

God strikes him dead.

On its face, that’s not very fair. The guy was just trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling. Now he’s dead. Why would God kill him?

Couple of things you need to know:

The Ark was to be transported a certain way. Exodus 17:3-5 describes the poles that were supposed to be used. It was to be carried by four people. And not just any four people. Numbers 4 describes more about how the Ark was transported. It was covered, and it was carried by the sons of Kohath. And no one was to actually touch the Ark.

The Ark was the representation of God’s presence on the planet. The respect you show it is in direct correlation to the respect you show God. David knew how the Ark was to be transported. Maybe he figured that since the Philistines did it they could use a cart as well. I don’t know, but I do know that ultimately, this was David’s responsibility.

He made a decision. That decision cost a man his life. He was doing a good thing, he just wasn’t doing it right. He knew better. In 1 Chronicles 15 you can see all the preparation he goes to to complete the Ark transportation. Work he didn’t do the first time around.

Leaders, we must count the cost of our decisions. Most of what we do is good. But if we ignore what we know, or should know, about how and when to do these things, we will cause pain and hurt to those who support the work.

There are several ways this might apply, but lets look at labor. Am I working my team so hard that they cannot have a day off? Are the events we are planning hurting the marriages and relationships of those who have to work many hours to support them?

I know, I just stepped on some toes. You may be starting down the path of rationalization. Don’t I know these things are part of the vision God has given you? If the people supporting you, working for you really believed and were really committed they would be glad to serve. Sacrifice is a part of ministry. I’ve thought those same things.

Many of the people who work for me may feel the same way. Things might be going pretty good. The cart is on the path. The work is getting done. But what happens when the oxen stumble?

God doesn’t contradict himself. It’s never God’s will for work to be a seven day week, every week. God is serious about taking a day off every week. See Exodus 35:2. If my understanding of God’s vision requires me or my fellow servants to work without a break on a regular basis, I need to re evaluate my “understanding.”

As I read through Exodus earlier his year I was struck but the number of times God says the punishment for working seven days a week is death. I’m not legalist. I live under grace, not law. But I became convinced that when I ask my team work regularly work without a day off, I am sinning. So, I am taking steps to make sure that my guys get time off for rest and renewal. It’s not easy, when overtime has become a way of life.

I challenge you to take a hard look at what you are doing, at what you are asking your people to do. If your people are overworked, change. Stop doing something. Hire more people. Stop sinning.

Does Uzzah bear any responsibility?

Absolutely. 2 Samuel 6:7 says “God struck him down there because of his error” Uzzah and the rest of the Israelites knew how the Ark was supposed to be handled. Just because the king tells you to do something doesn’t mean you ignore what God has said. As hard as it may be, if those in authority over you ask you to do something that will harm you, it is your decision whether to do it or not. The people that are leading you may not be aware of the ramifications of what they ask. Reach down deep, and respectfully express your concerns. And, if they still want to go forward, you have a choice. It’s not an easy choice, but it is a choice.

I’ve heard too many stories of people working for ministries who are burning out. Whose marriages are failing. Who are suffering from the Uzzah Syndrome. Leaders, take note. Support people, take note. This isn’t right. Make the hard decision to do what God has called you to in the right way.

Do it before the oxen stumble.