Uzzah was a nice guy. Everyone said so. Whenever someone needed to move, Uzzah got his 3/4 ton donkey and helped out. He was just one of those guys who was always looking for a way to be supportive and useful.
So when his dad asked if he and his brother would help move the contents of the big box that had been left in their back yard, he didn’t think anything of it. He had been willing even to help lift it onto the big cart they would be using to haul it to Jerusalem, but his dad had a worried look on his face and told him not to touch it. That day, a bunch of Levites showed up to load it onto Uzzah’s cart. Uzzah had a beer while he watched the other guys work. He had no trouble taking a break when there was nothing to do.
Dad told him to walk beside the cart and make sure the oxen didn’t take off into the fields. Right before they left, Dad explained that this was the Ark of the Covenant, one of the most important items in Israel’s history. Uzzah heard the words, but they meant nothing to him. He just liked to help.
About 4 miles up the road, one of the oxen slipped on a smooth rock and stumbled. Uzzah was walking by one side of the cart and saw the Ark begin to slip off the side. He quickly reached out to steady it.
The second his skin touched the Ark, he was dead. He will forever live as the poster-boy for the Quick Judgment of God.
In the last article, we saw that God is slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. Except when He isn’t. There are some notable examples of God very quickly enacting Judgment. Let me mention just a couple:
- In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of land and brought it to the care of the Apostles. They told Peter they sold the land for a lot less than they actually did and kept back some of the money for themselves. As soon as Ananias lied to Peter about the amount of money, he dropped over dead. When his wife came in later, Peter asked her the same question and she concurred with her husband’s account. She too died immediately.
- A sorcerer named Elymas or Bar-Jesus opposed the Apostle Paul when he was preaching. He immediately became blind until Paul touched him and prayed for him.
- King Herod stood up to give a speech one day. The crowds were trying to butter him up for a favor they were going to ask, so they kept calling him a “god”. He didn’t refute this. Immediately, the book of Acts tells us, he dropped over dead because worms ate his insides.
- The ten plagues that God struck Egypt with came in rapid succession. However, in this case, God gave lots of warning and even took away the plagues when Pharoah begged him to.
- In 2 Kings 2, Elisha the Prophet is walking up to Jerusalem when a bunch of street kids starting taunting him about his bald head. He curses them in the name of the Lord. Immediately two bears rush out of the woods and mangle 42 of them.
There are other instances of this, but these suffice to make the point. Sometimes, the God of the Bible does enact judgment quickly. There are several things to note about all these scenes.
1. For the most part, when God enacts quick judgment, people die. .
2. When God judges quickly, he rarely uses a human intermediary for the judgment.
3. Quick Judgments never get repeated in the same way. This is a crucial point I want to explore. It will tell us a lot about what quick judgments mean.
Let’s go back to Uzzah. Nowhere in the story do we see the heart condition of Uzzah. He was just this guy. The Ark of the Covenant was a visible reminder of the sublime relationship between Israel and Jehovah God. 20 years earlier, the Philistines captured the Ark, and kept in their land. But the presence of the ark caused rats and cancerous tumors for the people living where the Ark was. So they begged Israel to take the Ark back. Israel took it back but no one wanted it. They were all afraid. So the leaders of Israel asked Uzzah’s father (or clan leader) to care for it at Kiriath-Jearim. While it was there for 20 years, God richly blessed that town. King David noticed this blessing and thought to himself, “I should bring the Ark back to Jerusalem, the center of the Kingdom”. So he arranged for some Levites to bring it back. According to the Law of Moses, only a Levite could work with the Ark.
Uzzah was not a Levite. As I speculated above, he was there to help out with the oxen. So why did he die?
As far as I can tell, it was because he touched the Ark which was against the Law. If you also think this was a pretty harsh punishment for such a small infraction, join the team with me. In fact, it so presents a different view of Jehovah from the rest of the Bible, that many people have doubted whether this story is true. But consider a few points.
First, this is not about Uzzah. This is about the Ark. The Ark was the resident symbol of God’s abiding presence with the nation of Israel, a covenant people. They had not taken God seriously for many years. This journey of the Ark from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem is a significant one. It marks a moment when the covenant people were returning back to God.
Significant moments are key to rapid judgment. Ananias and Sapphira were trying to lie to the Holy Spirit at a moment when the church was in its infancy. If they had achieved their deception, people would have heard about it and a general cynicism about the Holy Spirit would have grown rapidly. In the case of Elymas, Paul was bringing the Gospel to a new place. They arrived on Cyprus and the proconsul had asked to speak to Paul. The church in Cyprus was about to be born. And Elymas, a sorcerer stood in its way.
Believe it or not, God doesn’t work miracles or heal or intervene in human endeavors simply because He loves us. God loves us even when he doesn’t heal us. He loves us even if we suffer. No, God intervenes with His Power when it best suits the purposes He has in history. And that doesn’t happen as often as you think.
The same principle applies with Quick Judgment. When God acts quickly it is because it is a crucial moment in history. There are malevolent spirits in this universe. They oppose the work of God and often inspire people to do so. When this power encounter happens, often God needs to intervene to protect His work in this world.
Ed Silvoso, in his book “That None Should Perish” tells of a moment in Argentina’s history that underscores this principle. He and several prayer warriors were praying over the city of La Resistencia, a hotbed of witchcraft and the occult. They could not figure out how to break the power of the enemy in that town. So, instead of fighting the enemy, they began to pray for church leaders, that God would bring unity among them. They also prayed that God himself would intervene and break the power of the occult in that town.
God moved quickly. And as often happens, it was deadly.
The news spread fast. A woman known as the high priestess of a particular occult group in town had burst into flames in her bedroom and was consumed in seconds. No other part of the house was burned. This shook the witchcraft leaders to their core. Great fear seized everyone. This is similar to what happened after Uzzah, Ananias and Sapphira and Herod all died. God had made his point. La Resistencia is now a great place of God’s work.
With Rapid Judgment, God is usually making a point, not stamping out a pattern.
During the Scottish Reformation, several people who opposed the work of God died suddenly. This was also true in Burma during the early 1800s. We could cite case after case from Church History of instances where God did intervene with a miracle–even a miracle of judgment–and the work of God went forward.
I instruct people however, never to pray this way. This is not our concern. The most we can ask God is to “take care of this however you want to.” I know people who pray God will judge others and rain down plagues upon them. Don’t pray that way; this is Witchcraft praying. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his followers to pray blessings on those who oppose them. But if God wants to judge them quickly, that is God’s job.
There is one other thing to notice. Pharaoh and Herod. Both of them died suddenly and at the hand of God. In neither case did it really help the cause of God’s Kingdom. Both of them could have gone on living and it wouldn’t have affected God’s plan.
Paul, in Romans 9, tells us that God had been patient with Pharaoh for a long time. He allowed Pharaoh to live because it suited God’s purposes. When that purpose was done, Pharaoh was dead. We all need to remember that we still live because God allows it. God holds the power of Life and Death in His hands.
I think we can conclude the same thing about Herod. God had enough of that dastardly guy. Allowing himself to be deified by the crowd was one step too far. God may be slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness, but there is a moment when God has had enough.
Remember when your mother used to say “I have had enough of this”. When my mom said it, I cleared out fast.
You don’t want to hear God say it.