When Devils Carry the Ark (The Sons of Eli)

When Devils Carry the Ark
Robert Wurtz II

“Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” (1 Samuel 2:12 KJV)

Regardless of the fact that God had placed strict regulations on whom priests could marry, “bad seeds” still found their way into the priesthood. Long before John the Baptist denounced the notion of heriditary righteousness, we face this sobering verse, “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” (1 Samuel 2:12 KJV) Here were young men, born of Eli’s seed, raised to know the Lord, and yet they were devils. Making matters worse, Eli, who was supposed to stand before the Lord, was not doing his job. In fact, while Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were killed for offering strange fire, and Aaron was forbidden from mourning their death; here is Eli and his wicked sons making a mockery of the priesthood as if it were business as usual. 

The old timers used to say that “God’s presence withdrawn means judgment has been delayed.” Actually, God’s presence withdrawn is judgment in itself. Eli was more concerned about keeping his sons happy than obeying God. He was completely ignorant of the danger he, and his family were in. Even though God had specifically warned him, he kept honoring his sons above God. In fact, his sons became his gods. He served them instead of God. He falsely accused a woman of drunkenness while refusing to deal with his perverse — adulterous sons. He is the type of man who would cast out a prophet and allow a fornicator to go on ministering. Sound like modern times? The Eli’s of today have tolerated sin to the point that entire generations need to be re-taught the concept of holiness.

High Handedness 

The Ark of God was lost to the Philistines through the gross negligence and presumption of Eli’s wicked sons Hophni and Phinehas. Eli, who honored his sons more than he honored the LORD, refused to put an end to their high-handed gluttony and adultery. In time, their evil reached its apex as these sons of Belial shouldered the ark of God and ran presumptively into battle with no word from the LORD. Imagine that! Devils running down the hill with the ark over their shoulder. These were supposed to be ministers before the Lord; instead they carried the presence of God out of His own camp. As a consequence, they were killed and the ark was seized by the enemies of God. When Eli heard the news, his concern for the things of God finally surpassed his love for his sons, and in a moment of terror fell backwards and broke his neck. His daughter in law, struck by the horrific ramifications of her wicked husbands’ reckless evil, fell into labor and died; not before delivering their son and naming him Ichabod; a name that captured the reality of that day, “for the glory of Jehovah is departed.” 

In the midst of the rebellion and compromise, God raised up Samuel, who was after God’s own heart, to get the nation back on track. “After God’s own heart” is a way of saying that a person agrees with God and seeks to honor His will. After God judged the Philistines with rats and hemorrhoids, they decided it was best to give the ark back to Israel. They sent it on an ox-drawn cart with some golden hemorrhoid shaped offerings hoping their plan would put an end to their plagues. 

When it arrived at Beth-Shemesh, the children of Israel sat it on a flat stone, broke up the cart, started a fire, and cooked the oxen. They were happy and celebrating the ark’s return; for it symbolized the very Throne of God and His unique presence. Nevertheless, their party got out of hand. This is what happens when holiness is not taught and modeled. People do things they ought to know better than to do. Soon some decided to look inside the ark — while others stared at it; both of which were capital offenses (Numbers 4:20). It is important to note, that God did not spend the entire Old Covenant teaching us about His holiness just to void it all with grace. God is still as holy as He was when He struck down no less than 70 people for staring at and looking into the ark — rather than covering it up (Numbers 4:5).

Such recklessness and irreverence for the things of God are a direct consequence of not giving heed to what God has said about holy things. Moreover, evil associations corrupt good manners. When one person is reckless and irreverent, others are emboldened to behave likewise– especially if the ringleader is of reputation or position. Pretty soon the few who are left who are behaving reverently are shunned as old fashioned or some other cynical adjective. What happens? The voices that speak out against ungodly behavior are ridiculed until the masses are embolden in their evil. In fact, though God had successfully judged the Philistines so that Israel could recover the ark, it would take Samuel some twenty years, going around from town to town preaching repentance and correcting the people’s errors, to get the people right with God so the LORD could return in His unique presence. This is an important lesson for all times.

And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

During this twenty years the ark of God stayed with a Levite and his family. Incredibly, though they had known the ark of God for twenty years, they had no concept of how it was supposed to be handled. In fact, when David got ready to bring the ark up they put it on a cart just like the Philistines did. Their close proximity to the things of God, while refusing to educate themselves as to how they are to be handled, proved to be Uzzah, the son of the Levite’s, cause of death. Ignorance proved to be no excuse when he reached out and touched the ark. He may have had the impression that he was an expert on the ark, simply because he grew up around it. History has proven time and time again, that the opposite is often true. 

A Story for all Times

The entire story of the loss and recovery of the ark of the covenant is filled with examples of the consequences of disregarding God’s standards of holiness and righteousness. We have in our text in 2 Samuel 6:6-7 a demonstration of God’s estimate of presumption in the things of God. If He never smote another person down again, the example of Eli, his sons, the people who “gazed” into the ark, and finally Uzzah gives God’s perspective on the behavior. What is presumption? It is the blatant disregard of God’s clearly defined protocol or rules. It is to act independent of God’s counsel in innovating measures in the kingdom of God. This behavior could range anywhere from willful ignorance to highhanded rebellion. 

In the Kingdom of God, as the name suggests, God is the King. This seems simple enough, but we must understand that the word kingdom implies strict subservience. We are told in scripture that we are servants to whatever we yield our members to. This tells us what kingdom we are in. What king are we obeying? That’s the kingdom we have chosen to be subservient to. 

The Sin of Uzzah

The Sin of Uzzah 
Robert Wurtz II

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. (2 Samuel 6:6, 7)

We have in our text a demonstration of God’s estimate of presumption in the things of God. What is presumption biblically? It is a blatant disregard of God’s clearly defined protocol or rules. This disregard could range anywhere from willful ignorance to highhanded rebellion. In the Kingdom of God, as the name suggests, God is the king. This seems simple enough, but we must understand that the word kingdom implies subservience. We are told in scripture that we are servants to whatever we yield our members to. This tells us what kingdom we are in. What king are we following? That’s the kingdom we have chosen to be subservient to. So we see then that a kingdom is defined by those that are in submission to their king. There is the Kingdom of God and all other kingdoms.

What is in your censor? 

For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (1 Cor. 14:33) There are times when man gets in the way of God and tremendous confusion is the result. When it happens we know that God is not the author of it, as He is the author of peace. We have an example of how this can play out during the children of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. We read in Numbers 16:1–35 about an insurrection against Moses in the wilderness that is described as ‘the gainsaying of Korah.’ (Jude 11) These renowned men along with Korah took 250 censers, and at Moses instruction filled them with fire. He then told them to assemble with their censers with fire in them. These men suggested that they could put their own fire to the Lord without regard for God’s instructions. They acted as if they were above even bothering to ask what God’s word teaches about offerings to the Lord. This was Nadab and Abihu on a grand scale. They were trying to take over what God was doing and institute their own new mode of worship that the Lord had not commanded. What followed is one of the most dramatic sequences of events in all the Bible. 

 And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation. And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also. And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
(Numbers 16:31-35)

These men were utterly destroyed and consumed by the fire of the Lord. The message here is this, you and I are responsible for what is in our censer. That is to say, you and I are responsible for the spirit in which we approach God. This is effectively what we have said in the previous entries on ‘Obstacles to the Outpouring’ {Obstacle to the Outpouring (Part 1) and Obstacle to the Outpouring (Part-2)}. This story is exemplary. It shows forever God’s estimate of approaching God with a bad spirit, recklessly and flippantly in order to take control of what He is doing in the earth. He has already said He expects unity and love among the brethren. God does not accept people that approach Him in a way that He has not prescribed. If we are moving in the earthly, soulish and demonic- even unawares, we are still responsible for how we approach God. Like dot-to-dot as a child in the coloring book, we have to go step by step doing what God has asked of us before lining up by our 250’s to move on to something else.

Prepared to submit

To function in the Kingdom of God we must be surrendered to His lordship. This means we are prepared to know God’s will and perform it.  What does this look like? We read in Matthew 6:10, Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. The implication of this passage is that God wants the people of the earth to obey Him as do the angels. He wants His will carried out ‘as in heaven’. This is man willing to forsake their own agenda and follow God’s; knowing that His way, as Divine Creator, is the best way. There is simply no way to improve on God’s will and God’s ways. God’s will is perfection; anything else is imperfection. That is to say, everyone has their own ideas as to how things should be done. These ‘ideas’, if not born in heaven, will have disastrous results on earth. To place ones own will in front of God’s will is not only sin, it is the upsetting of a carefully designed creation. Sin always causes some kind of suffering. As surely as putting water in your fuel (petrol) tank, sin corrupts the machine. 

Innocent Suggestions?

Everyone has suggestions. this is common in life; but the important thing for God’s people to know is that they must receive their direction from God’s Holy Word and His Holy Spirit. We cannot presume to do anything before the Lord, we must study and pray. 

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. (Psalm 119:9)

The FIRST thing any believer should ask about any subject is, “what does God’s word teach?” It is not sufficient to dream up our own will and plans and then look for proof-texts. That is to say, we must ask what God says first and then come to our conclusions; if we start with our conclusions we will twist God’s word to fit those conclusions. This is not walking in truth. The SECOND thing a believer must do is consciously submit to what God has already said before daring to ask what He is saying. Many people want a ‘Word from God’ but don’t spend time in the word. This is not how the prophets of the Old Testament operated. We need to know this or we will presumptuously dare to speak when He has not spoken. 

The school of the prophets

 The ‘sons of the prophets’ were not biological sons of prophets, but students in the schools of the prophets, well-established institutions in Israel designed to perpetuate the Law of Moses and the Word of the Lord. (BK) We may refer to these sons of the prophets as a band or guild of prophets. The most extensive use of the expression occurs in the Elisha stories where the prophet is portrayed as the leader of the prophetic guild. In that capacity Elisha cared for the needs of a prophet’s widow (2 Kings 4:1-7), agreed to the building of a common dwelling (2 Kings 6:1-7), and presided at a common meal (2 Kings 4:38-44). The sons of the prophets functioned either as witnesses (2 Kings 2:3,5,7,15) or as agents of Elisha’s ministry (2 Kings 9:1-3). (Holman’s ‘sons of the prophets’) Amos’s famous declaration, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet” (2 Kings 7:14 NASB), is probably a declaration of independence from the prophetic guilds of his day. Similarly, Jeremiah’s claim that God made him a prophet even before conception (Jeremiah 1:5) may obliquely represent a rejection of association with the prophetic schools of Judah.  (Ibid) This point is made to demonstrate that the prophets did not just speak from their own mind; but rather, the prophesy was grounded in a thorough understanding of God’s word. This minimized the possibility for deception and falsehood. The Spirit of God and the Word of God agree. The prophets were expected to know what was of God and what was not through a clear grasp of the Law. This is how the prophets, by and large, kept themselves from presumptuous error. 

Error among the priestly function 

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. (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

Uzzah’s second sin is the consequence of his first sin. Error always begets error. This is insightful. God spent the entire Old Testament teaching us about the importance of following His directions. At the first it seems like such an innocent thing for Uzzah to do; to reach up and try to steady the Ark of God. After all, it was about to fall over. He was doing what comes natural. Yet, this seems to make sense only because of our distance in time and space from the Throne of God. For example, there is a way in which God’s will is carried out in Heaven and it is our responsibility to pray that God’s will will be done likewise in the earth. In Heaven there is no reckless attitude towards the Creator. God is obeyed. God’s wisdom is revered. The creatures understand the wisdom of God’s commandments. they do not believe they know better. Period. There is a reverential fear of God that sobers the minds to whom they have to do. In other words, they know who the sovereign God is. Even the devils believe and tremble. But men often move in a slapdash way towards God without even the good sense to tremble. This is a troubling reality.

The Ark of God

The Ark of God is symbolic of the Throne of God. The Wilderness Tabernacle was effectively a mobile palace that was set up in the midst of the children of Israel. In that palace was a throne; the Ark of God. The Throne of God is the place from which God reigns. To touch the Ark of God was expressly forbidden, because to touch the Ark was to touch upon God’s Divine prerogative; His sovereign authority. Men must not intrude into this area that is expressly God’s. This needs to be understood ecclesiastically and practically. This is one truth that we dare not know merely academically. An electrician had best know that safety measures are there for a reason and he had best respect them. He rebels against the fundamentals of electricity at his own peril. So it is with the sovereignty of God. Man must not touch the Divine prerogatives. When we consider the governance of the churches of God and related subjects we ought to do so with great fear and trepidation and move only after tremendous consultation with God’s word in prayer and fasting. Why fasting? Because when we approach the prerogatives of God we need to have our own flesh in subjection. We must have our own will completely on the altar. 

A Good Idea?

Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD. (1 Samuel 2:12)

It was a reckless and sinful attitude among the priesthood in Israel that caused the Ark to be stolen away in the days of Eli. (1 Samuel 4:1ff) They were supposed to be the guardians of the holy things of God, but sin entered and compromise ruled the day. At once, Eli’s evil sons took the Ark of God and ran into battle with it only to have it captured. (1 Samuel 4:11) This was one of the saddest and most terrifying days in the history of Israel; the day the Glory departed. It is hard to imagine how heart wrenching this event would have been. The situation would have seemed utterly hopeless even to the vilest of sinners. 

Setting the stage for Disaster

These sons of Eli were fornicators and yet tried to use the authority of God to win a battle. They behaved in such a way that the worship of God was hated. (1 Samuel 2:17) In more modern times these type things have happened on a different, but similar level, and been recognized. Matt Redman of Soul Survivor church in Watford, England stated: 

“There was a dynamic missing, so the pastor did a pretty brave thing,” he recalls. “He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we’d lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away.” 

The sons of Eli never came back to the heart of worship, it was all about them even unto the end. Flagrant sin in the camp, coupled with men usurping God’s authority in refusing to deal with it, set the stage for Eli being fired (sacked) and Samuel being raised up to take his place. We should always remember that God has a replacement in the wings for anyone that thinks they can do as Eli and his wretched sons. Even as the priests of God, how could these men escape the damnation of Hell? 

Years of Reckless Presumption

I sometimes wonder how long it would have been since anything was done right in Israel by the time Uzzah was struck dead? It seemed like everyone was getting by with it and suddenly in a moment the man is struck dead. This tells me that it was never ‘OK’ to do what they had been doing. At best, God was giving them opportunity to repent of their presumption. But they carried on. In fact, although the Ark was supposed to be placed on the shoulders of the priests, the people decided to put it on a new cart and tow it exactly as the Philistines did at the counsel of their pagan diviners and priests. The Philistines believed they were doing God a favor and being respectful by making sure the cart was new, but God gave Israel specific instruction on dealing with the Ark. For them not to consult God’s word was presumption. How often do similar things happen today and because no one is struck dead it continues. Yet, we must remember that Uzzah’s death is exemplary. It shows forever God’s estimate of presumptuously moving in the things of God in disregard and neglect of His patterns and designs. 

Uzzah Dead- David Angry? 

The burning of David’s anger was not directed against God, but referred to the calamity which had befallen Uzzah, or speaking more correctly, to the cause of this calamity, which David attributed to himself or to his undertaking. As he had not only resolved upon the removal of the ark, but had also planned the way in which it should be taken to Jerusalem; he could not trace the occasion of Uzzah’s death to any other cause than his own plans. Uzzah’s offence consisted in the fact that he had touched the ark with profane feelings, although with good intentions, namely to prevent its rolling over and falling from the cart. Touching the ark, the throne of the divine glory and visible pledge of the invisible presence of the Lord, was a violation of the majesty of the holy God. “Uzzah was therefore a type of all who with good intentions, humanly speaking, yet with unsanctified minds, interfere in the affairs of the kingdom of God, from the notion that they are in danger, and with the hope of saving them” (O. V. Gerlach). On further reflection, David could not fail to discover where the cause of Uzzah’s offence, which he had atoned for with his life, really had lain, and that it had actually arisen from the fact that he (David) and those about him had decided to disregard the distinct instructions of the law with regard to the handling of the ark. 

God’s Instruction

According to Numbers 4:1ff the Ark was not only to be moved by none but Levites, but it was to be carried on their shoulders, not in a carriage; and in v. 15, even the Levites were expressly forbidden to touch it on pain of death. But instead of taking these instructions as their rule, they had followed the example of the Philistines when they sent back the Ark (1 Sam. 6:7ff.), and had placed it upon a new cart, and directed Uzzah to drive it, whilst, as his conduct on the occasion clearly shows, he had no idea of the unapproachable holiness of the Ark of God, and had to expiate his offence with his life, as a warning to all the Israelites. (Keil & Delitzsch)     

A Generation of Uzzah’s?

Ignorance was no excuse for Uzzah, because he could have known that they were doing wrong. Many do likewise and never fall dead, but this is no excuse either. God has already demonstrated His estimate of such behavior even as He smote down Adab and Abihu. No need to kill the masses, one example is sufficient to make the point. So why don’t some men that pretend to do the works of God consult with God’s instruction? Why do they consult, as it were, with the Philistine new-cart makers? Why do they look to the world to learn how to conduct the affairs of God? In part, it is because no one has been struck dead yet, at least, that we can verify. Is there a consequence for not discerning the Lord’s Body? Is there a consequence for failing to acknowledge and hold the Head? (Colossians 2:19)

Some Modern Examples 

Innovations are often nothing more than a hand to steady the Ark. We live in a generation that thinks nothing of doing their own thing wether it is approved of God’s word or not. Pragmatism rules the day and men are embolden to continue doing the service of God as if He had not spoken. It gained great momentum with Charles Finney and has continued on today. Reckless evangelism that don’t see folk truly prayed through; false synthetic feelings of the presence of God created by an ‘atmosphere’; fruitless ministry that sees almost none saved or called to service. When will we see the Ark on the Cart and come to our senses? Will God long bless rebellion? While the lamp of God goes out the arrogance just keeps rolling on. Men are here and God is in heaven. What preventeth us? 

Are we better than they?

Will God tolerate the inconsistencies such as these? Does anyone really believe they will answer to God for the madness? It’s a wonder God has not struck some people dead for such high-handed rebellion and hypocrisy. They think they are about to get a great crown and all the while they have read passages and skipped over them as if God were not talking to them; as if they had a line-item-veto on God’s Holy Word. Shadows are gathering and death beds are coming. Would it not be wise to stop handling God’s word in such a flippant way? Why not sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people and do what He has told us to do? Why not quit acting like we have a better way than God’s way? Its not working anyhow.  

Modern Uzzah-ism 

The modern sin of Uzzah is being exposed for what it is; a new-cart methodology with no regard for God’s word. They cannot be improved upon. They are designed to accomplish God’s will. When men devise manmade formulas to do supernatural things failure is assured. God has given us patterns and instructions. They are timeless. God’s word has no expiration date. There is no need to upgrade from version 10.1 to version 10.2 and so on- every few months to keep step with the world. Uzzah’s sin was that he did not consult God’s word, perhaps because he didn’t think it important. 

God’s Word Obsolete?

Many today don’t consult God’s word because they think it irrelevant or obsolete. This is insanity. For example, modern day sports games have lived through tremendous popular cultural shifts.  Teams have gotten better stadiums, equipment, etc. Games are now televised in various ways. These are all innovations. What has not changed are the basic rules of the game. A football game in 1950 could easily be identified for what it was, and so also today a game would be known for what it is if it were seen in 1950. But this is not what has happened in main stream Christianity. The rules have changed as have the emphasis, standards and mode of the game. It is sadly akin to how the Superbowl Halftime Show and all the commercials try to overshadow the Superbowl Game itself. The ‘big event’ seems to always be the craziest and most unlike the whole rest of the season. This makes the game more palatable for those that don’t like football. Is that what we have done in our gatherings? the higher the profile the higher the halftime show-ism? Is this done for those that don’t really want God? At any rate, for whatever reason, it is placing the Ark on, not just a cart, but the very newest and ‘hippest’ cart. If ever there were a bible story that speaks directly to our times, it is this one; forever wanting to carry the Gospel on some ‘new’ thing. God help us.  

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