[Note: This is the prepared text for a sermonette originally scheduled to be given at the UCG congregation in Hood River, Oregon on December 10,2016. When the original scheduled message was cancelled by inclement weather, it was then given in UCG Portland that same Sabbath.]
We have all heard it said from people in mainstream Christianity that God does not care about the details, and that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, but that God only cares about what is in our hearts and not about how we obey His specific and detailed laws and commandments. Even when we believe and know this to be incorrect, it may be difficult for us to find just the right place to go to explain to others or to ourselves how we know this view to be mistaken. Today I would like to discuss a single story in the Bible that demonstrates clearly how God does care about the details and wants us to sweat the small stuff, and that encourages us to reflect on and apply God’s laws in our lives, even where we may not understand all of the reasons why God has commanded what He has.
Let us begin in 1 Chronicles 13:1-10. 1 Chronicles 13:1-10 tells us: “David conferred with each of his officers, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. He then said to the whole assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and if it is the will of the Lord our God, let us send word far and wide to the rest of our people throughout the territories of Israel, and also to the priests and Levites who are with them in their towns and pasturelands, to come and join us. Let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we did not inquire of it during the reign of Saul.” The whole assembly agreed to do this, because it seemed right to all the people. So David assembled all Israel, from the Shihor River in Egypt to Lebo Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath Jearim. David and all Israel went to Baalah of Judah (Kiriath Jearim) to bring up from there the ark of God the Lord, who is enthroned between the cherubim—the ark that is called by the Name. They moved the ark of God from Abinadab’s house on a new cart, with Uzzah and Ahio guiding it. David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets. When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.”
When we read this passage, our initial response is, like David, to ask why this happened. Why did God strike down Uzzah? Wasn’t Uzzah trying to do the right thing by steadying the ark of the covenant so that it would not fall off of the ox cart? Would we do the same thing ourselves, or would we try to justify this action if someone else did it, and be angry with God for striking down someone whose heart was in the right place? Would we ask ourselves how God wanted the ark of the covenant to be moved around in the first place? Hold your place here in 1 Chronicles 13 because we will be coming back, but first let us explore how God commanded the ark of the covenant to be moved, which we find in Numbers 4. First, let us look at Numbers 4:4-6, which tells us how the Ark of the Covenant is to be prepared for travel: “This is the work of the Kohathites at the tent of meeting: the care of the most holy things. When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and put it over the ark of the covenant law. Then they are to cover the curtain with a durable leather, spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place.” It should be noted here that the Kohathites were the closest relatives among the Levites of Aaron, and they included Moses as well as the Sons of Korah . God had very specific principles and laws established for how the Kohathites were to do their job of moving the holy things with poles. Let us drop down to verses fifteen and seventeen through twenty to see just how seriously God took their jobs. Verse fifteen of Numbers four says: “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, only then are the Kohathites to come and do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the tent of meeting.” And verses seventeen through twenty tell us: “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “See that the Kohathite tribal clans are not destroyed from among the Levites. So that they may live and not die when they come near the most holy things, do this for them: Aaron and his sons are to go into the sanctuary and assign to each man his work and what he is to carry. But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die.””
We see from this that God was not playing around. He took the holy things, especially the ark of the covenant very seriously. The Kohathites had an important but a dangerous job that required that they treat God’s things with reverence and respect. If they touched the holy things, they would die. If they even looked at the holy things for a moment, they would die. Now we understand why God struck Uzza down for steadying the ark of the covenant with his hand. The ark of the covenant was not supposed to be carried around in a cart, but rather carried on poles by the Levites of the family of Kohath. As we can read from Exodus 25:10-15, the poles to carry the Ark of the Covenant were a pivotal component of the ark as it was discussed in scripture. Exodus 25:10-15 says: “And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around. You shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners; two rings shall be on one side, and two rings on the other side. And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them. The poles shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you.” Here we see that not only was the Ark of the Covenant supposed to be carried by the poles but the poles were never to be taken out from the rings that were attached to the Ark itself.
How did the children of Israel ever get the idea to bring the ark of the covenant by a cart in the first place? Let us turn to 1 Samuel 6:7-9. Upon the advice of their diviners after being afflicted with plague after the battle of Aphek and the capture of the Ark of the Covenant and the death of Eli’s wicked and corrupt sons Hophni and Phineas, the Philistines resolved to return the ark of the covenant to Israel as follows: “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.” So, we see that when the Israelites brought the ark of the covenant in a cart that they were not obeying God’s law but were rather copying the example of the heathen Philistines. Do we not understand how God would view this in a less than positive light?
How did David respond to the judgment on Uzza? We read this back in 1 Chronicles 13:11-14, which reads: “ Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. David was afraid of God that day and asked, “How can I ever bring the ark of God to me?” He did not take the ark to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house for three months, and the Lord blessed his household and everything he had.” According to 1 Chronicles 26:1-8, Obed-Edom was a gatekeeper among the sons of Korah, which happened to be the Kohathites who were commanded to take care of the holy things. Doing his divinely appointed task with respect and reverence, Obed-Edom was blessed while the ark of the covenant was in his house, and from this David realized that God was not angry with Israel but rather wanted the ark of the covenant to be treated with the respect that God’s holy things deserved. David learned his lesson, and as we can see from 1 Chronicles 15:14-15, when David sought to bring the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem a second time, he did so in accordance with God’s laws and with success. 1 Chronicles 15:14-15 tells us: “ So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel. 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.” David and the Israelites followed the commandment of the Lord on how the ark of the covenant should be carried and their efforts were blessed.
What lessons can we learn from all of this? The simplest and most profound lesson we can learn is that God does care about the details and cares about the small stuff. As God’s people, we are expected to know a great deal about how God wants us to behave, and we are expected to obey the details of what God has commanded. God does not make idle threats; he promised to kill those who treated His holy things with dishonor, and in the story of Uzza, that is exactly what He did. The Israelites were not to follow the example of the heathen nations around them, but to obey His laws and follow His commandments. That expectation has not changed, so let us do like Obed-Edom and obey His laws and receive His blessings for so doing, and let us avoid the unfortunate example of Uzza, who died for his disobedience to Gods clear and unambiguous commands. Sweat the small stuff, it just might save your life.
 See, for example: