U Can’t Touch This (Please Uzza, Don’t Hurt ‘Em)

LDS, and Christians and Jews in general, are no doubt familiar with the phrase “steadying the ark”, and the story from whence the phrase comes.  Here’s how 1 Chronicles 13 tells the story:

9 ¶And when they came unto the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled.

10 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God.

11 And David was displeased, because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzza: wherefore that place is called Perez-uzza to this day.

Assuming the story actually happened as reported, it’s all rather silly.

The ark isn’t God. The ark is a heavy gold chest, and apparently it was being pulled around the countryside by some oxen. The ark didn’t fly around on its own power, it didn’t have legs like a horse. It was a heavy box that people had to lift and carry, or animals had to be employed to move.

So Uzza is transporting a valuable gold chest, and the oxen stumble, apparently putting the ark at risk of falling to the ground. Are we really saying that if we were in his positition, we would stand still and watch the ark fall to the ground, spilling its contents? Was Uzza supposed to have faith that even though the Lord had allowed the oxen to stumble, he would miraculously save the ark from falling?

And since the Lord works through His followers, how was Uzza to know he hadn’t been placed in that position to act for the Lord in steadying the ark?

It’s even more silly how we try to apply some assumed lesson from Uzza’s tragic death in our day. Instead of using the principle of “ark steadying” to label those who we wish would be happier with the status quo, let me present some real-world scenarios:

– A seminary teacher arrives to the Church building early one morning and sees water running out from underneath the bathroom door, soaking the carpet in the hallway and seeping to the wood floor in the cultural hall. Since the facilities are not part of his stewardship, he decides not to “steady the ark” and shut off the water, and instead trusts in the Lord.

– While waiting for a Temple recommend interview in the foyer on a Wednesday evening, a man notices the Scout troop from another ward is meeting with only one adult leader two boys (in violation of the strict “two deep” adult leader policy). He sees some other things that make him uneasy about the situation, but since it isn’t his stewardship (or even his ward), he decides not to “steady the ark” and doesn’t mention it to anyone, trusting in the Lord.

– While visiting his brother’s ward, a man attends Gospel Doctrine class and in the course of the lesson, the teacher forcefully expresses views on the origin of the Priesthood ban that, while in harmony with teachings from 50 years ago, are out of step with current thoughts on the subject. The man’s brother later mentions that this subject comes up regularly with the teacher, and the same views are always reinforced, as well as some unusual beliefs regarding polygamy and other Church doctrines, policies or teachings. Instead of bringing the issue to someone in authority, both brothers decide it is out of their stewardship and to trust in the Lord and not steady the ark.

Those are all actual situations I have seen. Does anyone think that a person taking action outside of their stewardship in these cases is “steadying the ark”? How would it be any different than Uzza seeing the ark falling and instinctively trying to help.

It should also be noted that 1 Chronicles 13:7 says Uzza was driving the cart:


7 And they carried the ark of God in a new cart out of the house of Abinadab: and Uzza and Ahio drave the cart.

That being the case, it could be argued that the driver of the cart does have the stewardship to ensure safe transport of the cart’s contents.

5 Comments

Filed under Doctrines, Teachings, Policies and Traditions

5 Responses to U Can’t Touch This (Please Uzza, Don’t Hurt ‘Em)

  1. Jake

    I really appreciate how you took something from ancient scripture and made it applicable for today. That is what Mormon exegesis is all about.

  2. NorthboundZax

    The story always sounds to me like an FPR gone wrong. The ark was slipping, Uzzah wasn’t able to sustain the weight on his own and the ark crushed him. I can’t help thinking that if there had been more ark steadiers around, he would have actually been able to steady it and keep the ark out of the mud.

  3. rrichards.john@gmail.com

    Uzza was a Merarite, a descendant of Levi. Even though he was a Levite, he was subject to the laws that governed the Ark of the Covenant.

    Aaron himself wasn’t allowed full access. And Aaron was the grand patriarch(the only High Priest at that time) of the covenant of the Ark. In Hebrew the Ark of the Covenant is named Aron Habrit or the Covenant of Aaron. See Lev. 16:2; Heb. 9:7

    Therefore when Uzza reached out to touch the Ark, he knew full well the consequences of doing such an action. He paid for it with his life.

    It would be no different than someone who knew that putting your hand into a moving lathe would dismember your hand and still doing it.

  4. subgenius

    your assumption out of the gate is flawed. There is no reason to assume the ark would have been overturned, even that assumption would not have been made by even Uzza.
    Exodus 25 explicitly instructs that the ark be in a state that would have prevented such an accident. See also Numbers 4:15.
    This is a lesson in how one must approach God and how one must approach holy things. The OT is quite clear that good intentions never justify bad actions.
    You got off the reservation on this post.

  5. Jeff Blackmer

    Everyone blames Uzziah for second guessing the Lord, but King David brought many Levite priests to this location to retrieve the Ark. Why did not he order them to transport it in the prescribed manner so that poor Uzziah did not have to even get involved? This poor man’s only claim to fame is being made an example of Jehovah’s wrath. Certainly Israel had been made aware of how Jehovah wanted the Ark transported. But wasn’t that David’s responsibility? Evidently not. It doesn’t appear that he said “Thanks, Uzziah, we’ll take it from here.” And no punishment was put upon David, a king who showed many lapses in judgment. We see no evidence of Uzziah’s disobedience; just that he became a poster child for zero tolerance.

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