Uzzah and the Ark
5 And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 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. 8 And David was angry because the LORD had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. 9 And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” 10 So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 11 And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household.
12 And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. 13 And when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. 14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Sa 6:5–15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
6:6–11 / After a while the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah naturally took action to prevent the ark from falling, but that action resulted in his death. The Hebrew in verse 7 is unclear, and most translations rely on the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 13:1–14 to make sense of it. Uzzah’s act was seen as irreverent and deserving of this severe penalty. First Chronicles 15:2, 15 refer to the importance of Levites carrying the ark, and perhaps this is presented as the cause of Uzzah’s death. The Israelites in general and David in particular had been guilty of trying to use the ark for their own purposes—in effect, they were trying to manipulate God. They had rejoiced at the demonstration of God’s power, but they had not taken either his power or his holiness seriously. There is no record of the kind of warning being given here that was given to those Israelites who might have strayed too close to the mountain where God was going to speak to Moses (Exod. 19). Maybe the writers intend to show the ignorance within the Israelite community concerning religious traditions, in particular regarding how they should properly treat the ark.
David’s first reaction to Uzzah’s death was fury, either because his plans for a glorious affirmation of his new capital had been ruined or because he had genuinely been trying to do the right thing and saw God’s action as unfair. However, as he began to realize the enormity of his own behavior his anger was replaced by fear. He realized that the ark—indeed God—was unpredictable and awesome. David abandoned the project and the ark. The ark was given for safe keeping into the hands of Obed-Edom. It remained with him for three months and to his household brought nothing but blessing. This apparently convinced David that not the ark but a wrong attitude and approach to it was a danger—although it could also be that God’s anger had turned to blessing.
6–11 Just as “David and the whole house of Israel” (dāwid wekol-bêt yiśrāʾēl) begins the last verse of the previous section (vv. 1–5), so also “Obed-Edom and his entire household” (ʿōbēd ʾedōm weʾet-kol-bêtô) ends the last verse of the present section (vv. 6–11). The contrast is stark: David and Israel’s house celebrate while the ark is being mishandled, whereas Obed-Edom and his house are blessed because the ark is under his protection.
Since threshing floors were often places of sanctity (cf. 24:16, 18, 21, 24–25; Ge 50:10; 1 Ki 22:10; Hos 9:1), the “threshing floor of Nacon” (v. 6) may also have been a holy site (cf. Porter, 171). Unfortunately, it is mentioned only here (“Nacon” as a proper noun is a secondary reading in 1 Sa 23:23; 26:4; see NIV notes there; see Notes on 1 Sa 23:23), its location is unknown, and even the spelling of its name is uncertain (e.g., 1 Ch 13:9 reads “Kidon” instead of “Nacon”). “Two verbs with which nacon could be connected are kûn, ‘to be fixed or prepared’, or nākâ, ‘to smite’; indeed the latter occurs in verse 7 [‘struck him down’]. The name may have been coined to encapsulate memories of the disaster, witnessed by the great company of worshippers” (Baldwin, 207–8; cf. similarly Carlson, 78).
In any event, the threshing floor is fraught with peril for Uzzah (whose name, ironically, means “Strength,” from the same Heb. root translated “might” in v. 5). Sensing that the oxen pulling the cart were stumbling (v. 6) and might therefore cause the ark to fall to the ground, Uzzah “reached out” (elliptical for “reached out his hand,” as in 1 Ch 13:9, 4QSama, and several ancient versions; cf. Ulrich, 195, and BHS) to steady the ark. In so doing he “took hold of” it, and thus his doom was sealed despite whatever good intentions he may have had.
The wrath of divine judgment fell on Uzzah “because of his irreverent act” (v. 7), a phrase that is unique in the OT (for discussion see Carlson, 79) and that is understood in 1 Chronicles 13:10 to mean in this context, “because he had put his hand on the ark” (cf. also probably 4QSama; Ulrich, 195). Although this act in itself would have been enough to condemn him, (1) Uzzah was transporting the ark in a cart rather than carrying it on his shoulders, and (2) there is no evidence that he was a Kohathite Levite in any event (see Nu 4:15; cf. similarly Terence Kleven [“Hebrew Style in II Samuel vi” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the ETS, New Orleans, La., November 1990), 6], who calls attention as well to such related texts as Ex 25:12–15; Nu 3:29–31; 7:9; Dt 10:8). Just as God had “struck down” and put to death some of the men of Beth Shemesh for looking into the ark (1 Sa 6:19; cf. Nu 4:20), so also God “struck [Uzzah] down” (v. 7) for touching the ark (cf. also 1 Sa 5:6–12).
It is sometimes claimed that the ark, a wooden chest overlaid inside and out with gold (Ex 25:10–11), functioned as a huge Leyden jar that produced enough static electricity while bumping along the rocky road to electrocute Uzzah when he touched it. But it is also conceivable that a member of the ark’s military escort used his spear (one Heb. word for which is kîdōn [cf. Jer 50:42], the name of the threshing floor according to 1 Ch 13:9) to dispatch Uzzah. In any event, the Lord was the ultimate cause of Uzzah’s death, whether or not he used secondary means to accomplish the act of judgment.
As though to emphasize the threshing floor as the locale of Uzzah’s death, the narrator states not only that Uzzah died “there” but also that God struck him down “there” (omitted from the NIV in the interests of English style). An additional irony is that he died “beside” (ʿim, usually “with,” but cf. similarly “near” in 1 Sa 10:2) the ark, which he had been attempting to rescue from real or imagined harm. (“Beside the ark of God” [v. 7] and “with the ark of God” [v. 4] translate the same Heb. phrase.) John Stek, 69, observes that the fate of Uzzah brings to mind “the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, Lev. 10:1, 2; Achan, Josh. 7; and Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1–11; all of whom failed to take Yahweh’s rule seriously—at the dawn of new eras in the history of the kingdom of God.”
The Lord’s anger (v. 7) causes David to react first with anger of his own (v. 8) and then with fear (v. 9). David is understandably indignant that the divine “wrath” (lit., “breaking out,” v. 8) has broken out against Uzzah and resulted in his death, a seemingly harsh penalty for so small an infraction. Indeed, it may have been David himself who named the place of Uzzah’s death Perez Uzzah (v. 8), “The outbreak against Uzzah” (see NIV note; see also comment on Baal Perazim in 5:20).
It is not surprising that David’s anger against God should be mingled with fear of him (v. 9). His fear was experienced “that day” (i.e., the day of Uzzah’s death, as opposed to “this day” [v. 8], the time of the narrator of 2 Samuel; see comment on 1 Sa 6:18), in the light of which he questions whether the ark can “ever” (implied in the context, though not explicitly represented in the MT) come to him. Although written from a different perspective, Blenkinsopp’s observation (151 n. 33) is surely correct: “The question of David … is answered in the liturgy of Ps 24 (vss. 4f.).”
David decides that a cooling-off period is in order before he is willing to give further consideration, if any at all, to taking the ark to be “with him” (remembering what happened when it was with Uzzah) in the “City of David” (v. 10, the new name so recently given to the fortress of Zion; see comment on 5:7). Instead, he gives the ark a temporary home in the house of “Obed-Edom” (“Servant of Edom,” in which “Edom” is probably the name of either a god or a tribe; see Driver, 241) the Gittite.
While it is true that “Gittite” can refer to someone whose hometown was the Philistine city of Gath (cf. Goliath in 1 Sa 17:4, 23; 2 Sa 21:19), it is unlikely that David would entrust the ark to the care of a Philistine. Since gat is the ordinary word for “(wine)press,” the epithet “Gittite” can be used with respect to any activity (cf. the enigmatic feminine form gittît in the titles of Pss 8; 81; 84) or place name (cf. Gath Hepher [Jos 19:13; 2 Ki 14:25]; Gath Rimmon [Jos 19:45; 21:24–25; 1 Ch 6:69]) related to winepresses. Indeed, it is even possible that Obed-Edom was originally from Gittaim (“Two [Wine]presses”; see Notes on 4:3).
In any case, despite the skepticism of some commentators (e.g., McCarter, Smith), Obed-Edom was a Levite (1 Ch 15:17–18, 21, 24–25; 16:4–5, 38; Josephus, Ant. 7.83 [4.2])—in fact, he was a Kohathite Levite if Gath Rimmon in Dan or Manasseh was his hometown (Jos 21:20, 24–26; 1 Ch 6:66, 69; cf. Kirkpatrick). The house of Obed-Edom was probably located “somewhere on the southwestern hill of Jerusalem” (Carlson, 79; on the two-site location of Jebusite Jerusalem see comment on 5:6). There the ark remained for three months (v. 11), during which time the Lord blessed the house of Obed-Edom, as soon to be reflected in the confidence of David that the Lord would bless the house of David forever (7:29). In the case of Obed-Edom, the divine blessing (as often in the OT) would ultimately come in the form of numerous descendants: “62 in all” (1 Ch 26:8; cf. “For God had blessed Obed-Edom,” 1 Ch 26:5).
 Youngblood, R. F. (2009). 1, 2 Samuel. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel–2 Kings (Revised Edition) (Vol. 3, pp. 367–369). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.