The secular headlines screamed: “Man Killed Doing Religious Service!” The Israelites are at it again – doing something religious that ended in disaster. They had what they called the Ark of the Covenant and were transporting it to a new location in Jerusalem. They loaded it on a cart pulled by two oxen driven by two sons of Abinadab, Uzza and Ahio. One of the oxen stumbled, and the ark shook. Uzza quickly put his hand on the ark to stabilize it and immediately was struck dead. The Israelites say that God struck him dead – but they didn’t give a reasonable explanation of why that happened. Wow! If that is true, the Israelites’ god is a harsh god who doesn’t mind killing his own worshipers.
Sometimes, even today, Christians look at this event in the same way as the above news reported.
David’s idea was to bring the ark to Jerusalem, which was popular with everyone. (1 Chronicles 13:3). The event became a national holiday and was celebrated with much music. The ark, representing God’s presence and holiness, was coming home to Jerusalem. The Israelites were shouting, singing, and playing their instruments with excitement and thankful hearts.
They watched as the oxen stumbled. It looked like the ark would fall over and off to the ground. Collectively, they held their breath as they observed Uzza reach up and steady the ark. And then he fell over dead. The celebration was over. With long, drawn faces showing sorrow and puzzlement, the crowd gradually dispersed. Why had God done this?
They took the ark to the nearby home of Obed-edom and stored it there for three months. God blessed their home during that time. Three months later, the ark was moved to Jerusalem, doing it the right way. (1 Chronicles 15:2,12-15).
A popular idea accompanied by a big celebration and a lot of music and entertainment does not cause God to look with favor on an event. But when God’s people follow God’s instructions, God is pleased.
God gave careful and detailed instructions for transporting the ark in Numbers 4:4 and 15 and Numbers 7:1-9. Aaron’s sons were to cover the ark with a vail. Then, without seeing or touching the ark, the sons of Kohath of the tribe of Levi were to carry the ark on their shoulders using staves on both sides of the ark. Although loading it on a cart pulled by two oxen might have been easier and more convenient, that was not what God had commanded.
God expected reverence, godly fear, obedience, and holiness in worship. The ark and all the furniture and tools of the Tabernacle must be treated with honor and respect. Everything in the Tabernacle, and later in the temple, was a picture of what Christ would do for us on Calvary. You can see how carefully God laid out the detailed instructions for worship in Exodus through Deuteronomy.
In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on music and entertainment in church worship services. About twenty years ago, I read an article in a church publication lamenting that we were losing our youth. The writer pointed out that the church had concentrated on entertaining youth with music and activities instead of teaching them the Word. Youth needed to build their lives on the solid principles of the Word of God rather than music and entertainment. There has also been a trend to minimize preaching time and maximize music time.
I have always loved good music – I started college with a music major. Music is emphasized in the Old Testament and, to a lesser extent, in the New Testament. It is a vital, important part of worship. But we can lose our way and lose our youth when we make music paramount.
The New Testament emphasizes the preaching (and teaching) of the Word. “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (Acts 5:42). “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4)
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. – – – For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. But we preach Christ crucified, – – – Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18,21,23,24).
“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5).
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Timothy 4:2).
First Century Churches had no sound systems, no movies or PowerPoint presentations, and were never used to entertain. They were designed only to present the gospel and Bible teaching with Holy Spirit conviction. It was designed to bring the sinner to repentance and the believer to the place of submission to Christ. Yet they were more effective and powerful for God in spreading the gospel than all today’s modern, full-technology churches.
We can’t compete with the world in entertainment and music. The church should be different. It should respect the holiness of God. Biblical worship is not intended to make us feel good. It is intended to glorify God, please Him, and deliver His message.