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UZZAH, AND THE ARK REMOVED.
The house of Saul is quiet, the Philistines beaten; victory cannot end better than in devotion: David is no sooner ettled in his house at Jerusalem, than he fetcheth God to be his guest there; the thousands of Israel go now, in a holy march, to bring up the ark of God to the place of his rest. The tumults of war afforded no opportunity of this service; only peace is a friend to religion; neither is peace ever our friend, but when it is a servant of piety. The use of war is not more pernicious to the body, than the abuse of peace is to the soul; alas! the riot, bred of our long ease, rather drives the ark of God from us; so the still sedentary life is subject to diseases, and standing waters putrify. It may be just with God to take away the blessing, which we do so much abuse, and to scour off our rust with bloody
The ark of God had now many years rested in the obscure lodge of Abinadab, without the honour of a tabernacle. David will not endure himself glorious, and the ark of God contemptible ; his first care is to provide a fit room for God, in the head of the tribes, in his own city. The chief care of good princes must be the advancement of religion; what should the deputies of God rather do, than honour him whom they represent? It was no good that
Israel could learn of Philistines; those Pagans had sent the ark back in a new cart; the Israelites saw God blessed that conduct, and now they practise it at home : but that which God will take from Philistines, he will not brook from Israel. Aliens from God are no fit patterns for children. Divine institution had made this a carriage for the Levites, not for oxen: neither should those sons of Abinadab have driven the cart, but carried that sacred burden. God's businesses must be done after his own forms, which if we do, with the best intentions, alter, we presume.
It is long since Israel saw so fair a day as this, wherein they went, in this holy triumph, to fetch the ark of God; now their warlike trumpets are turned into harps and timbrels; and their hands, instead of wielding the sword and spear, strike upon those musical strings, whereby they might express the joy of their hearts; here was no noise but of mirth, no motion but pleasant. O happy Israel, that had a God to rejoice in, that had this occasion of rejoicing in their God, and a heart that embraced this occasion! There is nothing but this wherein we may not joy immoderately, unseasonably; this spiritual joy can never be either out of time, or out of measure. “Let him that rejoiceth, rejoice in the Lord.” But now, when the Israelites were in the midst of this angel-like jollity, their hearts lifted up, their hands playing, their feet moving, their tongues singing and shouting, God sees good to strike them into a sudden damp by the death of Uzzah. They are scarce set into the tune, -when God mars their music, by a fearful judgment, and changes their mirth into astonishment and confusion : there could not be a more excellent work than this they were about; there could not be more cheerful hearts in the performing of it; yet will the most holy God rather dash all this solemn service, than endure an act of presumption or infidelity.
Abinadab had been the faithful host of God's ark for the space of twenty years: even in the midst of the terrors of Israel, who were justly affrighted with the vengeance inflicted upon Beth-shemesh, did he give harbour unto it; yet even the son of Abinadab is stricken dead, in the first departing of that blessed guest. The sanctity of the parent cannot bear out the sin of his son. The Holy One of Israel will be sanctified in all that come near him: he will be served like himself.
What then was the sin of Uzzah? What was the capital crime for which he so fearfully perished ? That the ark of God was committed to the cart, it was not his device only, but the common act of many; that it was not carried on the shoulders of Levites, was no less the fault of Ahio, and the rest of their brethren. Only Uzzah is stricken: the rest sinned in negligence, he in presumption; the ark of God shakes with the agitation of that carriage, he puts forth his hand to hold it steady; human judgment would have found herein nothing heinous. God sees not with the eyes of men; none but the priests should have dared to touch the ark; it was enough for the Levites to touch the bars that carried it; an unwarranted hand cannot so lightly touch the ark, but he strikes the God that dwells in it. No marvel, if God strike that man with death, that strikes him with presumption; there was well near the same quarrel against the thousands of Bethshemesh, and against Uzzah; they died for looking into the ark, he for touching it; lest Israel should grow into a contemptuous familiarity with this testimony of God's presence, he will hold them in awe with judgments. The revenging hand of the Almighty, that, upon the return of the ark, stayed at the house of Abinadab, upon the remove of the ark, begins there again. Where are those that think God will take up with a careless and slubbered service ? He, whose infinite mercy uses to pass by
our sins of infirmity, punisheth yet severely our bold faults. If we cannot do any thing in the degrees that he requireth, yet we must learn to do all things in the form that he requireth : doubtless Uzzah meant no otherwise than well, in putting forth his hand to stay the ark; he knew the sacred utensils that were in it, the pot of manna, the tables of the law, the rod of Aaron, which might be wronged by that over-rough motion; to these he offers his aid, and is stricken dead; the best intention cannot excuse, much less warrant us, in unlawful actions. Where we do aught in faith, it pleases our good God to wink at, and pity our weaknesses; but, if we dare to present God with the well-meant services of our own making, we run into the indignation of God. There is nothing more dangerous, than to be our own carvers in matter of devotion.
I marvel not, if the countenance of David were suddenly changed, to see the pale face of death in one of the chief actors in this holy procession. Не, , that had found God so favourable to him in actions of less worth, is troubled to see this success of a business so heartily directed unto his God; and now he begins to look through Uzzah at himself, and to say, • How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?” Then only shall we make a right use of the judgments of God upon others, when we shall fear them in ourselves, and, finding our sins at least equal, shall tremble at the expectation of the same deserved punishments. God intends not only revenge in his execution, but reformation; as good princes regard not so much the smart of the evil past, as the prevention of the future, which is never attained, but when we make applications of God's hand, and draw common causes out of God's particular proceedings.
I do not hear David say, Surely this man is guilty of some secret sin that the world knows not; God had met with him, there is no danger to us; why