I love my dog.
Ebony comes when I call her. She goes to her bed when I tell her to. She’s always excited to see me. She does tricks when I offer her a treat and runs through as many of them as I want when I’m ready to feed her breakfast or dinner. In fact, she’s so excited to please that she’ll try to guess which trick I want her to do next.
Too often, I treat God that way, like a dog. And I’m not alone in this. It’s disturbing.
Think about how you interact with your God.
Do you want your God to always be happy with you?
Do you want your God to answer quickly when you call out?
Do you want your God to do all sorts of complicated tricks to make things work out well for you, even though you probably don’t deserve for things to work out well because of what you’ve done?
Do you expect to get something from your God when you’ve given him something (fed him)?
Do you expect your God to be there at the snap of your fingers and not bother you the rest of the time?
Do you go on walks with your God? (That one was kinda meant to be a joke.)
It’s kinda scary, isn’t it? Most of us want a dog, not a God.
The biblical story of Uzzah helps us resist this attempt to domesticate God into a dog.
Uzzah was a priest in Israel at the time that King David came into his throne. Where King Saul had neglected the worship of the Lord, calling on him when he wanted but letting the ark of the covenant languish in storage. (The ark was a gold-leafed box with two cherubim on its lid, representing the throne of the Lord — Yahweh is often referred to as enthroned between the cherubim.) Saul seemed more interested in securing his own throne than the Lord’s throne.
When David became king, he quickly arranged for the ark to be brought to Jerusalem, the new capitol city. (See 2 Samuel 6 for the story.) But something happened along the way. The cart the ark was being carried on hit a big bump on the uneven road to Jerusalem and was about to fall to the ground when Uzzah reacted with the speed of a short stop and kept it from falling.
Instead of the ark falling, Uzzah himself fell dead.
David was mad at the Lord because of it. In fact, he canceled the intended celebration and sent the ark back into storage, leaving it at Obed-Edom’s house for the next six months.
Think about that for a moment. Uzzah died for trying to do the right thing, for trying to protect the ark, the throne of the Lord. What could be wrong with that?
A few things.
1. Who is supposed to be doing the obeying here? Is Uzzah supposed to obey the Lord or is the Lord supposed to obey Uzzah?
When Uzzah reaches out his hand to steady the ark, he is disobeying a direct command of the Lord that no one is ever to touch it. By reaching out his hand, Uzzah not only disobeys, but he acts in a way to control. He is the man in charge.
There’s a reason why the word hand is related to the word manipulate. By handling the ark, Uzzah was manipulating God. And that is something our Lord will not put up with.
2. Is God’s throne really in danger here? Remember, the ark isn’t the actual throne of the Lord. It’s a representation. As a representation, it has significance, because it symbolizes God’s rule. And yet it’s not the real thing. There is no physical throne for our non-physical God.
Our Lord’s rule is not threatened by the possible denting of a symbolic throne being dropped. His rule is threatened by disobedience and manipulation.
When we get the direction of obedience backward, we are in danger of having our God reduced to our dog.
But how many pastors handle holy things in far more cavalier ways that Uzzah?
How many church musicians crank through worship tunes as if they were a set in a concert?
How many preachers are more interested in writing sermons than in reading the Bible?
How many theologians are more interested in the response of the academy to their papers and books than our Lord’s response?
Our God is no dog, but his treatment of Uzzah should be viewed like the warning bite of a dog who’s had her tailed pulled a few too many times by pesky punks. Hands off! There is a power here that is amazingly and lovingly controlled but which should not be treated with contempt.
We’re the ones who need to go to obedience school. Not God.