Author: John Clayton of Does God Exist? Used with permission.
When Richard Dawkins released his now famous atheist rant against God, he opened the door for many arm-chair atheists on the web to jump on his charges that God is violent, angry, unreasonable, and cruel. One of the most frequently used examples of these charges against God is taken from 2 Samuel 6:1– 8. In this account David has rescued the ark of the covenant from the Philistines who had captured it earlier. As David and his entourage return the ark to Jerusalem, they put the ark on a “new cart” and with 30,000 men start a joyous return. While the celebrating is going on, the sons of Abinadab named Ahio and Uzzah are working with a team of oxen who are pulling the cart with the ark on it. Verse 6 tells us, “When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.” Atheists have ranted about this incident saying it is just one more example of how unfair, vindictive, petty, angry, and violent this God of the Bible is. Are Dawkins and his many plagiarizers justified in this claim?
The first point that needs to be made in a study of this incident is that the “ark of the covenant of the LORD,” as it is called in Numbers 10:33, was a major factor in Israel's relationship to God. Deuteronomy 10:1– 5 tells us that it contained a copy of the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. It represented God’s presence in the affairs of Israel described in Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2; and 1 Samuel 4:4. There was nothing that should have been more important to the ancient nation of Israel than the ark of the covenant of the LORD
Exodus 25:10 –15 tells us of the construction of the ark, and involved in that construction was a set of attached carrying rings and poles to insert through the rings so that the ark could be carried as a litter. Numbers 7:9 tells us that the Kohathites were “to carry on their shoulders the holy things for which they were responsible” and in Numbers 4:15 these carriers were told “when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathities are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die.” In ancient times royalty was honored by being carried in litters (a wheel-less carriage) on the shoulders of chosen men. Song of Solomon 3:7, 9 tells us of Solomon making a litter for himself carried by 60 warriors.
In modern times we have had a similar situation in the carrying of plutonium. Like the ark, plutonium is inherently dangerous to transport. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has detailed instructions given to all agencies associated with plutonium, because those carrying the plutonium would be the first affected if the material was carried incorrectly.
The ark of the covenant of the LORD had always been carried correctly up until this time (see Deuteronomy 31:9, 25; Joshua 3:3, 15, 17; 4:9 –10, 18; 6:6; 8:33; and 1 Samuel 4:4). It was always carried correctly after this incident (see 2 Samuel 6:13; 15:29; 1 Kings 2:26; 8:3). In 1 Chronicles 15:13 it is spelled out that “the LORD our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way.”
The atheist response to all of this would be to suggest it is still petty arrogance that is being justified here when such senseless anger and violence is involved. The problem however is that how you carried something reflected the value of what you were carrying. Carts and wagons were for baggage. In Numbers 7:3 – 9 Moses divides carts among the construction crews on the basis of what they needed to do their job. Verse 9 tells us that the Kohathites did not get any carts because they were carrying royalty on their shoulders. Amos 2:13 gives us a similar picture of the use of carts. Carrying what should have been the most important object of Israel’s relationship to God on a cart made it baggage, of little importance to the nation of Israel. Suppose I buy a fancy car and call my wife and say, “I am going to pick you up in my fancy new car.” When I get there I am in the new car but I am pulling an old manure wagon attached to the car and I say to my wife, “Get in the wagon and I will take you for a ride.” I will not repeat my wife’s likely response, but suffice it to say she would be insulted, angry, and hurt.
The entire nation of Israel is involved in this incident — 30,000 men. Israel had been instructed, warned, and taught about the importance of the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the consequences of mishandling the ark. This is not an angry, petty, temper-tantrum on the part of God. This is a logical response to blatant mishandling of an important artifact.
The analogy to the handling of plutonium is a good one, but more important is how we ourselves view God. Is God baggage for us? Do we handle our relationship with God in a way that honors God and treats him with respect, or do we treat God like baggage that we tow along to use if we need him? Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37 that we should “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Our faith is hollow unless we are physically, spiritually, and mentally committed to it. In Revelation 3:15 –18 Jesus condemned lukewarmness. We need to treasure the covenant we have with God as stated in Acts 2:38. We need to obey God just as Israel needed to obey the commands God had given them. We have a great promise of being given the gift of the Holy Spirit just as Israel was promised great blessings if they would live as God called them to live. Obedience is not an option. It is a requirement if we want all that God has promised us.