The story of Uzzah is often a puzzle to readers and an occasion of criticism by critics of the Bible. David tries to do a noble thing: move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. But on the way, an ox pulling the cart carrying the Ark stumbles. The Ark shifts and is in danger of falling. Uzzah puts his hand on the Ark to steady it, and God kills him.
In point of fact, even David gets angry at God for this (and then becomes afraid).
What was the big deal?
In chapter five, David’s reign is contrasted with Saul’s again. Remember that the account of Saul’s downfall began with a war against the Philistines when Saul neglected to “inquire of the Lord.” David, however, does it twice in his conflict. But then, David undertakes to move the Ark and fails to talk with God about it.
David’s move of the Ark resembles the one of the Philistines in 1 Samuel 6. There’s lots of respect. Lots of rejoicing. But a failure to listen to God. The Ark was to be carried by men of the tribe of Levi, not on a cart pulled by oxen. As the story progresses, David discovers his error and does it correctly – and successfully.
It won’t be the last time David makes a mistake by acting on his own initiative.
David was responsible for knowing and following the will of God. As we saw in our look at the law (eg. Leviticus 5:17ff), ignorance of God’s will is not an excuse. Like most of us, David had those moments when he believed his good idea was surely the Lord’s will. But “assuming” doesn’t make it so, and the result was tragedy. Nothing has changed.