Your Friday Firestorm #50

And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals.

And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. And David was displeased, because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perez-uzzah to this day.

(2 Samuel 6:3-8)

Discuss. Or, Discuss.

NB, links probably have nothing to do with anything at all.

Comments

  1. Last Lemming says:

    Would Uzzah have angered the Lord if he had pointed out to somebody with the authority to touch the ark that it was in a precarious position and in need of steadying? What about if he had made suggestions about how it might most effectively be steadied, or even how it might be secured more firmly in the future to avoid the need for further steadying?

  2. The NRSV has it:

    They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio,* the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart 4with the ark of God;* and Ahio* went in front of the ark. 5David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs* and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

    6 When they came to the threshing-floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. 7The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark;* and he died there beside the ark of God. 8David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah; so that place is called Perez-uzzah* to this day.

  3. I honestly don’t understand the reasoning for the Lord to take the life of Uzzah. I’m curious how God “struck” him. I wonder if he mayhap had a seizure that wasn’t at all related to his touching the Ark, but just one of those coincidental things and explained by the author, superstitiously, as being the Lord’s fault.

  4. Mark IV says:

    Last Lemming,

    What about if he had made suggestions about how it might most effectively be steadied, or even how it might be secured more firmly in the future to avoid the need for further steadying?

    In the church today, isn’t that pretty much the textbook definition of ark-steadying?

  5. Mark, I think you’re right. So the question the good Lemming raises is whether today’s textbook reading is on a solid footing.

    I might note that ark-steadying in the current pejorative sense seems to be very much in the eye of the beholder. I’ve seen it described as ark-steadying when stake presidents complain to the general authorities that the church’s Sunday School manuals don’t work well for the local culture. Yet unaccountably, it’s not ark-steadying when local members complain to general authorities that stake leadership has modified the Sunday School curriculum to better suit what are seen as local needs.

  6. #3 – I have always pictured an old guy reaching out to try to stop the ark from falling and having a heart attack from the over-exertion. God got blamed for a lot of things that the people just couldn’t understand at the time – just like He does still today. Whenever someone dies unexpectedly and in a shocking way, we still here “it must have been his time” or “God took him up” – even when the reason for the death is obviously the fault of the person who died.

    Perhaps there is more to this, but I just don’t see it. J. Stapley or Kevin Barney or someone else who knows much more about these things than I . . .

  7. “hear” not “here” – yikes

  8. Every time I read the word “psalteries,” my mind reads the word “pastries.” It makes for a tastier celebration.

  9. Ray, I’m not sure how J. Stapley, Kevin Barney, or any of the rest of us could know whether the guy died from a heart attack, whether he died from a direct divine curse, or whether he even existed in the first place. Material in the Old Testament is always some kind of complex mixture of national folklore, history, theology, and revelation; isolating the precise balance in any particular anecdote always seems hard, to be mild. My feeling is that we can get a lot farther discussing the meaning of these narratives than we can trying to determine (across thousands of years of time and with no evidence other than the Old Testament text) what really happened.

  10. I’ve often wondered what “dancing before the Lord with all [one's] might” (2 Sam. 6:5 NRSV) looks like. Maybe something like this.

  11. Steve Evans says:

    PS – 52 Friday Firestorms. 50 are known. 2 will be revealed.

    And they have a plan.

  12. Mark IV says:

    J., you are quite right re: the eye of the beholder. I might describe someone else’s action as ark-steadying or looking beyond the mark. When I perform that same action myself, I am simply counselling with my councils. Fortunately, those of us who are righteous are blessed with the spirit of discernment, and can tell the difference. (tongue in cheek alert)

  13. Peter LLC says:

    I used to have a pair of glasses not unlike those Brother Peterson sports in the first video.

  14. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    So, if I paid attention in Seminary well enough, Uzzah should have notified his Home Teachers that the ark was less-than steady, who should have, in turn, reported Uzzah’s concern to the EQP at the end of the month, who would have brought up the issue in the next correlation meeting. As a local bishop would not have authority in dealing directly with the ark, he would have to seek out the Stake President. Now, the SP could have told the Bishop to remind Uzzah of his place and to not be concerned with the matter any further, or he could appeal to Salt Lake (probably both). Surely, after lengthy deliberation, the Brethren would reach the conclusion that the ark did, indeed, need steadying, and would form a special committee, which would report directly to the First Presidency, to develop proper procedures for said steadying. This, or course, would not be publicly acknowledged, as it is not prudent for the general membership to be aware of the unsteadiness of the ark. Ultimately, the ark would be stabilized, but Uzzah would have no hand in it – as is the unwritten order of things.

  15. 1. drave?

    2. I just finished watching Raiders of the Lost Ark about 20 minutes ago. So was there any face melting going on? I hope this doesn’t happen to me.

    3. This is actually pretty scary in the sense that HF/Jehovah would smite someone for doing something we would perceive as minor, just because they don’t have the authority. What would be the modern day equivalent? Because if we can equate this to someone touching something sacred – perhaps in the temple – would anything like this happen? It’s not like Uzzah wasn’t included. He had some sort of authority to be there because he was driving the cart with the in-crowd.

  16. #3:
    I agree entirely that the death of Uzzah was almost certainly a superstitiously-interpreted coincidence. Likewise, I think it’s quite likely that Onan had an exertion-induced heart attack, which was superstitiously interpreted as a deific condemnation of his birth control technique.

    #4:
    In the church today, isn’t that pretty much the textbook definition of ark-steadying?

    Yes, it is, and I’m afraid I’ve met a few (very few) LDS leaders who seem like they would be pleased if the alleged “ark-steadier” met the same fate as Uzzah.

  17. I suspect that as the gold ark traveled along (it should have been carried by hand, rather than by cart), it built up massive amounts of static electricity. When the ark tipped, Uzzah reached out to steady it and was simply electrocuted. Moral of the story: it pays to stay grounded.

  18. FYI: J. Stapley doesn’t know anything about anything that occurred before 1800.

  19. Seabass says:

    #14

    Well done.

  20. Steve Evans says:

    Seabass is right. Good job Mack.

  21. Mark IV says:

    The interesting question that underlies this post is to what extent we are hurting the church when we think we are helping.

    My answer would be: Probably more often than we think. We can put forward what we think are stong arguments for the church or the positions it takes, but when those arguments turn out to be unconvincing, we have damaged the church. I think this is what Eder Oaks had in mind when he said that sometimes people speculate and give reasons for commandments who later turn out to be “spectacularly wrong”.

    And this says nothing at all about the manner in which those argements are conducted. At least half the time it is so embarassing I can’t even stand to watch.

  22. I imainge dancing with all ones might looks something like this

  23. Regarding the Daniel Peterson video – Nothing fuels my doubts more than listening to apologetic “evidence” for the Book of Mormon.

  24. Remarks by BY regarding this scripture as reported by G.D. Watt:

    Let the kingdom alone, the Lord steadies the ark; and if it does jostle, and appear to need steadying, if the way is a little sideling sometimes, and to all appearance threatens its overthrow, be careful how you stretch forth your hands to steady it; let us not be too officious in meddling with that which does not concern us; let it alone, it is the Lord’s work. I know enough to let the kingdom alone, and do my duty. It carries me, I do not carry the kingdom.

  25. I think this is story about two things: 1) David’s, and all Israel’s, innate fear of the Ark and why it sat so long outside the capital, and 2) familiarity breeds contempt (for the Law).

    On the first point, while the Arc had a history of being a blessing to Israel, it was also known to be a curse to those who had it when they shouldnt. It wasnt a weapon of convenience, it was an agent of God’s will. They didnt like that, they feared it. Hence David’s reaction to leave it outside the city until conditions were apparently favorable to bring it in some three months later.

    On the second point, the Ark had sat for some 20 years, ignored by Saul. The guys who live at the house do nothing with it until moving day, and they treat it lightly, ignoring the Lord’s commands concerning it. The ox falters and Uzzah goes to touch it when it is forbidden. Uzzah has lived with this thing around for 20 years, that entitles him to touch it? There were obviously authorized people present who moved the ark to the cart, he was so careless that he couldnt let them take care of it? The problem was the oxen, not the cart or the ark, he was steadying the wrong thing. He should have been up front with his brother, not in back messing with the Ark. This guy thought that being connected to it surreptitiously for 20 years entitled him to something he wasnt. Doesnt work that way. Loose affiliation with artifacts gets you nothing, obedience is everything in the Lord’s economy.

  26. Turtle Mack’s analogy was that Ultimately, the ark would be stabilized, but Uzzah would have no hand in it – as is the unwritten order of things.

    Actually, they would have replaced the ark by the time a decision was made.

    And many of the people in the chain would have been released, with no institutional knowledge of an unsteady ark.

  27. I agree entirely that the death of Uzzah was almost certainly a superstitiously-interpreted coincidence. Likewise, I think it’s quite likely that Onan had an exertion-induced heart attack, which was superstitiously interpreted as a deific condemnation of his birth control technique.

    Of course, you’re assuming that electrocution and heart attacks aren’t tools the Lord can employ…

  28. I count myself as an ex-ark-steadier.

    The only time I was an actual ark-steadier was when I cared. Uzzah cared about the ark. What a crime! What we need is less people caring about the welfare of the ark.

    Religion, expecially the LDS church, spends so much time getting you spiritually, physically, emotionally, and temporally invested in it. And then chastises you when you care enough to try correct something that you see as a problem.

    Funny, I always thought that caring and apathy were mutually exclusive!

  29. JM, if Uzzah expecially cared for the Ark, wouldnt he have let the authorized people who carried it out of his house and placed in on the cart in the first place take care of it like they were supposed to? The Lord breaching him was because of his breach of the authorized persons present.

    Sometimes problems are more perceived than real, and when someone should be fixing the real problem (the ox) they are off trying to fix the wrong one (the Ark).

  30. So is trying to understand the concept of “steadying the ark” analogous to “straining at gnats”?

    I’ll readily admit that I never really understood this story in the first place, and it has taken on larger than life status in the church. Perhaps David’s priests should have been the ones closest to the ark, and not Uzzah, if they were the one’s who were authorized to handle the ark.

    If so, was the fault and the responsibility David’s?

  31. ED, was it breach of authorized people or breach of God’s own presence as represented by the Ark? It seems from the broader context of the Old Testament that there’s a strong case to be made for the second interpretation. The first seems to possibly give too much reverence to mere mortals.

  32. kevinf, who got killed by the Lord?

    JNS, while the breach would have been against both, there is nothing in the text to suggest deference to or veneration of mere mortals. The context makes it clear there were authorized ark-handlers present, and Uzzah wasnt one of them, so he was out of line. The Hebrew Bible is against veneration of mortals, and I dont know how one could even come up with such a reading to say this is the case in the present text.

  33. ED, the text doesn’t emphasize the authorized handlers. And the Old Testament as a whole doesn’t demand reverence or even special respect for Levites or Aaronid priests. It just seems out of character to read the text in this way.

  34. No, it doesnt emphasize them, but they had to be there, right? See 1 Chron 13:2. If there were no fatalities in moving the ark to the cart, and the conspicuous event is the death of Uzzah, then its pretty clear there were authorized movers present. The whole party went with David to follow the Ark, they were going to unload it at the intended destination.

  35. OK, ED, but since these individuals are only present in the passage by allusion and implication, it seems a stretch to characterize the passage as centrally about some kind of disrespect to those individuals, as opposed to God.

  36. I didnt say it is “centrally about some kind of disrespect to those individuals” as you suggest, although I definitely do include that as part and parcel to the story. Why are you so eager to cut such an obviously important part of the story out? The story has at its core the elements of authority and disobedience. The Lord’s Ark represents Himself and His covenant and presence with Israel, only authorized servants are allowed to approach and handle said Ark, as explicitly detailed in the Torah. Unauthorized person takes liberties, probably owing to long-term casual contact, in contradiction to explicit prohibitions for seemingly good cause, and is stuck down.

    Moral to us: Casual contact, no matter how long, is not a substitute for obedience. If you live across the street from the Temple, it isnt doing you any good unless you actually live what is taught there. And guess what: you make the covenants there with authorized servants.

    Its like you are trying to explain away the obvious presence of the Lord’s authorized servants in the story. Why? You want to be at liberty to criticize them because you dont like the Sunday School manuals?

  37. [not the] Justin says:

    “The Ark is a source of unspeakable power and it has to be researched.”

  38. [not the] Justin says:

    Belloq, Toht, and Dietrich were also smitten for playing around with the Ark.

  39. Just keep it away from those damn magnetic aliens.

  40. [not the] Justin says:

    “Just keep it away from those damn magnetic aliens.

    Comment by Clark — June 6, 2008 @ 12:40 pm”

    What I want to know is how Mola Ram got the shining stones from the brother of Jared.

  41. Matt Jacobsen says:

    I know nothing about proper ark etiquette, so where can I read about the rules?

    Did Uzzah know the consequence of touching the ark would be so dire? Had he ever touched the ark before without dying? How many unauthorized people touched the ark and also died?

    Did David know Uzzah would die if he touched the ark? David was obviously angry with the Lord after this occurrence and also scared of the ark. Why would David be so scared if he could simply lay the blame on Uzzah? It’d be really confusing if Uzzah was one of those who put the ark on the cart and then died later during the journey.

    Interesting story. Makes me want to know more details before I draw too many conclusions.

  42. ED, #32, we often find others are hurt by our actions or mistakes. Running a stop sign and killing a pedestrian certainly is an example of how how my negligence can harm someone else.

    As yet, I still wonder about the details of the story, as in “proper ark etiquette”. Did Uzzah, who apparently had lived in close proximity to the ark for years, know that there were proscriptions about touching the ark? Was it only while it was being moved that he was forbidden?

    As evidenced by verse 9

    And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and said, How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?

    , David was concerned about “ark etiquette” as well, and approached it differently the next time it was moved. He obviously felt some responsibility for the safety of others after this incident.

  43. All I am saying is that I have more questions than answers here.

  44. E.D., your comments don’t fit my understanding of Mormonism. I’ve made covenants with God, but never with any humans other than my family. People in church service positions have witnessed and administered covenants, but the covenants are never with them.

    I might ask you why you’re so eager to put disrespect to people in authority into a story that’s really very short, vague, and unspecified. The only person in authority whose response to Uzziah’s actions is mentioned is David, and his thought seems to be that God acted badly.

  45. Justin FTW.

  46. #27:
    Of course, you’re assuming that electrocution and heart attacks aren’t tools the Lord can employ…

    Of course, you’re assuming that there’s any need for a deity to employ them, other than as a freakish scare tactic. The above statement is along the same lines as “deity buried a bunch of supposed dinosaur bones, and even made them give false readings on carbon dating tests, so he could fool the wicked into disbelieving Genesis.”

  47. Nick, tricky you. We all know that the dinosaur bones were either (a) placed by Satan, not God, to deceive us, or (b) artificially aged by the friction as Earth spun out of orbit from Kolob after the Fall of Adam and Eve (the actual theory of a University of Utah Institute teacher from the 1990s).

  48. Poor old Uzzah. Thank goodness the story isn’t likely to be true.

  49. not true? NOT TRUE?

    Ronan how can you say such things?

  50. “isn’t likely” Amri. If you want Jesus zapping poor blokes who are only trying to help, then it can be true.

    (There’s a serious response here about the theo-politics of the writer of 2 Sam, but I can’t be bothered to make it. Got Dexter to watch.)

  51. An interesting cross-reference here is to Doctrine and Covenants 85:8. In the context of speaking about the “one mighty and strong,” the revelation makes the following remark:

    …while that man, who was called of God and appointed, that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God, shall fall by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning.

    This is, I believe, the only reference to the Old Testament ark-steadying narrative in distinctively Mormon scripture. In this passage, ark-steadying is distinctively associated with those who are called and appointed of God — i.e., with church leadership, not with the rank and file. Whatever the ark of God is, then, it’s something bigger than church leaders’ projects or personal authority. After all, if these were the ark, then people called and appointed of God would be logically incapable of ark-steadying.

  52. Did Uzzah know the consequence of touching the ark would be so dire? Had he ever touched the ark before without dying? How many unauthorized people touched the ark and also died?

    Which always raised the question of how on earth Indiana got the thing back to the US. It seems like that’d have been a story in and of itself.

  53. A look at another translation suggests that we’ve got the story all wrong anyway, true or not:

    http://net.bible.org/bible.php?book=2Sa&chapter=6#n18

  54. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, what will it take to make you believe the Bible? Don’t ask to get the zap treatment, my friend.

  55. Yeah, Ronan. Didn’t they teach you in grad school that the KJV is the Lord’s true and living translation?

  56. If the KJV was good enough for Indiana it is good enough for me.

  57. “Dexter to watch…” Too funny!

  58. Latter-day Guy says:

    But Dexter’s not usually funny. That show can be a bloodbath.

  59. L-dG,
    It’s funny because it is a bloodbath. Good Old Testament stuff, actually. Dex would make a good Israelite psychopath.

  60. Oh, and one more thing:

    IT’S BEAUTIFUL!

  61. #51 – JNS, interesting point. I hadn’t considered that.

    Thanks; I’ll have to think about that.

  62. TT, excellent cross-post. I love it when scriptures say the exact opposite of what we think they say.

  63. #62 – Wonderful post. Thank you.

  64. #

    The interesting question that underlies this post is to what extent we are hurting the church when we think we are helping.

    My answer would be: Probably more often than we think. We can put forward what we think are stong arguments for the church or the positions it takes, but when those arguments turn out to be unconvincing, we have damaged the church. I think this is what Eder Oaks had in mind when he said that sometimes people speculate and give reasons for commandments who later turn out to be “spectacularly wrong”.

    That is an excellent point.

  65. In answer to #52:

    He used the polls to cary it and put it in the crate. I don’t think he ever touched the ark itself.

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