Serious Consequences

For the week of April 10, 2021 / 28 Nisan 5781

Business man looking at his phone while stepping off a cliff

Shemini
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 6:1 – 7:17

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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. 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. 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)

The connection between this week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading portion) and its associated haftarah (excerpt from the Prophets) is very clear. The parsha includes the death of two of Aaron’s sons for their inappropriate offering. The haftarah also includes a death due to a mishandling of one of God’s most specially set-aside objects. It was during David’s first attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. When the cart upon which it was being transported tipped, a man by the name of Uzzah attempted to stabilize it, and God struck him dead as a result.

The Torah incident doesn’t provide us with the specifics as to what Aaron’s sons did wrong. All we know is that it was, in Hebrew “zur” (“strange” or “unauthorized”); in other words, outside of that which was prescribed. The context suggests they may have been drunk. We don’t know if that in itself was what was deemed unacceptable and deserving of death, or if drinking led them to make a bad decision.

In the case of the Haftarah, however, the reason for the extreme result is much clearer. David had directed his people to transport the Ark in an unauthorized way. Instead of following the Torah protocol of it being carried with poles by Levites, they had it carried on an ox cart. We see the acknowledgement of this error sometime later when they resumed the plan; this time in keeping with Torah. The reason for the change of transport method is more explicit in the parallel passage found in 1 Divrei Ha-Yamim/1 Chronicles 15:1-2.

These are two examples of Bible stories that fall into my “don’t like it” category. I am not alone. Aaron who lost his two sons was understandably grieved, while David was upset and wouldn’t continue the journey with the Ark until sometime later. Yet, as I struggle with these and other unpleasant incidents in Scripture, I realize that life is full of things that I don’t like.

I have heard statements such as “I could never believe in a god who…”, referencing stories like these. It seems to me that such sentiments are loaded with all sorts of additional assumptions. There is likely little to no understanding as to the reasons behind such extreme consequences. Plus, little to no acknowledgement or understanding of God’s complex nature, purposes, and plans that could provide necessary context for such serious consequences.

Whatever one’s relationship is to the God of the Bible, life is full of serious consequences. I am aware that much of such harshness is inexplicable. But, at the same time, how much trouble have we gotten ourselves into because we haven’t taken life as seriously as we should? At times this ignorance is at an individual level as was in the case of Aaron’s sons. It appears they themselves should have known better. In Uzzah’s case, he suffered due to the leadership’s irresponsible handling of the situation.

We could learn to accept the way the world he made works or choose to reject the God who created such an environment for human beings. More and more people insist that we need a type of freedom that ignores the consequences of our actions. Our government may protect and/or mandate all sorts of preferences and/or lifestyles. But that will never change the way things actually work. Not doing things God’s way has serious consequences.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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