When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God. — 2 Samuel 6:6–7
The Torah portion for this week, Shemini, is from Leviticus 9:1–11:47 and the Haftorah from 2 Samuel 6:1–19.
A fellow rabbi once explained his job as a spiritual leader this way: “My job is to make uncomfortable people comfortable, and comfortable people uncomfortable.” Obviously the job of any clergyman is to comfort those who are hurting. But my friend also wanted to stress that it is not good for people to become too comfortable – not with themselves and not with God. A person who is overly satisfied with himself won’t push himself to grow. A person who is too comfortable with God might stray in her obedience.
This week’s Torah reading and the Haftorah reading both share with us the danger of being too “close” to God. In the Torah portion, Aaron’s sons brought an offering to God. The problem is that they brought “unauthorized fire before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:1). As a punishment for approaching God when they weren’t authorized to do so, Nadab and Abihu were struck dead.
In the Haftorah, David was bringing the Holy Ark to his city – Jerusalem. During the joyous procession, tragedy struck. When one of the oxen carrying the ark stumbled, a man named Uzzah reached out and touched the ark in order to stabilize it. As a result, Uzzah was killed: The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down.”
Understandably, David was alarmed and no longer wanted the ark of God so close to him. Remember that scary scene from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark when the bad guys opened the ark and basically melted into nothingness? David was afraid to have the holy presence of God beside him. So he sent the ark somewhere else instead.
The ark was sent to the home of Obed-Edom and remained there for three months. During those three months, the house of Obed-Edom prospered and flourished so much that it was obvious to all that the ark had brought the blessings. After that, David relented and joyously brought the ark to his city.
David learned that there needed to be a balance between closeness to God and reverent separation. To have only fear of God limits the blessings that can come only from having a close and loving relationship with God. But to only love God without any kind of fear or respect diminishes our relationship with Him and can even lead us to sin. God is our loving Father, but He is also our King. As our father, He loves us unconditionally. As our King, we must respect and obey Him. It’s our job to relate to Him in both ways and to keep a healthy balance between the two.