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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. Oh 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 overrough 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. He, 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 should I be discouraged to see God just? We may go on safely and prosper. But here his foot stays, and his hand falls from his instrument, and his tongue is ready to tax his own unworthiness ; How shall the ark of the Lord come unto me?” That heart is carnal and proud, that thinks any man worse than himself. David's fear stays his progress; perhaps he might have proceeded with good success, but he dares not venture, where he sees such a deadly check. It is better to be too fearful, than too forward, in those affairs which do immediately concern God. As it is not good to refrain from holy businesses, so it is worse to do them ill; awfulness is a safe interpreter of God's secret actions, and a wise guide of ours.
This even hath holpen Obed-edom to a guest he looked not for ; God shall now sojourn in the house of him, in whose heart he dwelt before by a strong faith, else the man durst not have undertaken to receive that dreadful ark, which David himself feared to harbour. Oh the courage of an honest and faithful heart! Obed-edom knew well enough what slaughter the ark had made among the Philistines, and after that among the Beth-shemites, and now he saw Uzzah lie dead before him ; yet doth he not make any scruple of entertaining it, neither doth he say, My neighbour Abinadab was a careful and religious host to the ark, and is now paid with the blood of his son ; How shall I hope to speed better? But he opens his doors with a bold cheerfulness, and notwithstanding all those terrors, bids God welcome. Nothing can make God not amiable to his own; even his very justice is lovely. Holy men know how to rejoice in the Lord with trembling, and can fear without discouragement.
The God of heaven will not receive any thing from men on free cost; he will pay liberally for his lodging, a plentiful blessing upon Obed-edom and all his household. It was an honour to that zealous Gittite, that the ark should come under his roof; yet God rewards that honour with benediction : never man was a loser by true godliness. The house of Obed
edom cannot this while want observation ; the eyes of David and all Israel were never off from it, to see how it fared with this entertainment. when they find nothing but a gracious acceptation and sensible blessing, the good king of Israel takes new heart, and hastens to fetch the ark into his royal city. The view of God's favours upon the godly is no small encouragement to confidence and obedience. Doubtless, Obed-edom was not free from some weaknesses: if the Lord should have taken the advantage of judgment against him, what Israelites had not been disheartened from attending the ark? Now David and Israel were not more affrighted with the vengeance upon Uzzah, than encouraged by the blessing of Obed-edom. The wise God doth so order his just and merciful proceedings, that the awfulness of men may be tempered with love. Now the sweet singer of Israel revives his holy music, and adds both more spirit and more pomp to so devout a business. I did not before hear of trumpets, nor dancing, nor shouting, nor sacrifice, nor the linen ephod. The sense of God's past displeasure doubles our care to please him, and our joy in his recovered approbation : we never make so much of our health as after sickness, nor never are so officious to our friend as after an unkindness. In the first setting out of the ark, David's fear was at least an equal match to his joy; therefore, after the first six paces he offered a sacrifice, both to pacify God and thank him: but now, when they saw no sign of dislike, they did more freely let themselves loose to a fearless joy, and the body strove to express the holy affection of the soul ; there was no limb, no part that did not profess their mirth by motion, no noise of voice or instrument wanted to assist their spiritual jollity: David led the way, dancing with all his might in his linen ephod. Uzzah was still in his eye; he durst not usurp upon a garment of priests, but will borrow their colour to grace the solemnity, though he dare not the fashion.