February 17, 2014

God in a box?

Most movie goers will have formed an idea about the Ark of God from a popular movie series. Those movies were not thoroughly biblical, but did present the Art as mysterious and powerful. In the Bible, the Ark represents the presence of God. It contained objects: the tablets with the Ten Commandments, a pot of manna, and the wood staff of Aaron that had budded.

The Israelites were instructed to carry the Ark on poles and not touch it or they would die. When it had been taken by their enemies, they recaptured it, and in great celebration, were bringing it home. At one point in the journey, a Levite named Uzzah “put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:5–7).

This story is a puzzle. God had given other commands like this. For instance, Mount Sinai was not to be touched when God appeared there to Moses. In this case, the people sinned by transporting the ark improperly on a cart just like those who had taken it from them. But it seems Uzzah had even less respect for the divine presence and the holiness of God. He suffered the consequences.

One commentary points to modern irreverence for holy objects. In other cultures, this can go to the other extreme where the worship of objects becomes idolatry. However, irreverence is worthy of consideration. Do I treat God or His presence, or even such things as Bibles too lightly?

Another suggestion is that the Ark on a cart was the continuation of a pagan practice and putting it on a cart reflected a disregard for its holiness. I’m reminded how easily we can pick up pagan ways of doing things and incorporate them into our lives, even our worship. In at least one Old Testament passage, Israel’s rejoicing is described as a “disorganized, over-exuberant tumult, a cacophony of raucous chant and blaring fanfare” which “trifled with the presence of God.”

A third idea is that Uzzah had no regard for the power of God. He thought that if the Ark fell, God would fall too. To this man, God needed his help for He was merely “a god trapped inside a box of fragile religious symbols.”

One other interpretation is that Uzzah committed more than a technical violation. What he did reflected a heart that was not interested in God or His commands. He was struck down to illustrate the fate of those who are like him. His death was not sudden, but years in the making because his ‘dead’ works accumulated and were “suffocating the spirit of praise and faith and worship.”

The Ark was a symbol. There was a time when, “It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again,” and Jerusalem would be the place of God’s presence (Jeremiah 3:14–17). This happened and the Ark has vanished. However, God’s presence did not vanish with it.

Ultimately, His presence became visible when, “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” in the wonder of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ, we have seen God’s glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Jesus fulfilled the Commandments of God, all Ten and more. He is the true High Priest whose life from death is like the rod of Aaron that burst into leaves and buds. He also is the true manna, bread from heaven to give us life and sustain us.
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:31–33)

My take-away from all this? Putting God in a box is idolatry. Treating Him as if He needs me is idolatry. And being flippant about all that is holy is idolatry. While I can rejoice and dance before Him, I must remember that God is transcendent, above all that my mind can grasp. He does not need me to “help” Him, but I need Him. I live on borrowed breath and the bread that He supplies. All that I am and do depends on Him and on Jesus Christ who is the mercy and grace of God. 

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