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Dirty Hands

Tuesday is supposed to be reserved for William Gurnall and The Christian in Complete Armour, but my current reading in that volume brought to mind the following quote from The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul, so I thought I would share it before it slips away from my memory. In a chapter titled Holy Justice, Sproul reviews a few instances from the Old Testament of God meeting out his justice in dramatic ways. Among them is the story of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6). As you likely remember, the ark of God was being transported on an ox-cart—already in violation of God’s specific instructions—when the ride got rough.

imgBut when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.

Sproul writes:


Uzzah was a Kohathite. He knew exactly what his duties were. He had been trained thoroughly in the discipline of his calling. He understood that God had declared that the touching of the ark of the covenant was a capital offence. No Kohathite, under any circumstances, was ever permitted to touch the ark. No emergency was grounds for breaking that inviolate command. The elaborate construction of the ark, complete with golden rings through which long poles were inserted, was so fashioned as to make it clear that the ark itself was not to be touched. Only the poles could be touched by man and inserted into the rings for purposes of transport. Then it was the task of the Kohathites to carry the ark by these long poles. No provision was made for hurrying the procedure by transporting the ark via an oxcart.

We must ask the question, what was the ark doing on an oxcart in the first place? God was so strict about the holy things of the temple that the Kohathites were not even allowed to gaze upon the ark. This, too, was a capital crime. God had decreed that if a Kohathite merely glanced at the ark in the Holy of Holies for an instant that he would die. Not only was Uzzah forbidden to touch the ark, he was forbidden even to look at it.

He touched it anyway. He stretched out his hand and put it squarely on the ark, steadying it in place lest it fall to the ground. An act of holy heroism? No! It was an act of arrogance, a sin of presumption. Uzzah assumed that his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn’t the ground or the mud that would desecrate the ark; it was the touch of man. The earth is an obedient creature. It does what God tells it to do. It brings forth its yield in its season. It obeys the laws of nature which God has established. When the temperature falls to a certain point, the ground freezes. When water is added to dust, it becomes mud, just as God decided. The ground doesn’t commit cosmic treason. There is nothing polluted about the ground.

God did not want his holy throne to be touched by that which was contaminated by evil, that which was in rebellion to him, that which by its ungodly revolt had brought the whole of creation to ruin and caused the ground and the sky and the waters of the sea to groan together in travail waiting for the day of redemption. Man. It was man’s touch that was forbidden.

—R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale, 1985), 140–141.

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#1 || 10·03·25··06:51 || Alex Philip

I remember reading this in my teens, when I first read Sproul's book. His treatment of this has always been meaningful. However, in reading it again, I'm curious about how his treatment squares with Genesis 3:17... "Cursed is the ground..." My question then is: "Is the ground as unpolluted as Sproul makes it out to be?"

#2 || 10·03·25··09:11 || Ethan Smith


Good question. Does God literally mean the ground is cursed or simply that man's labor will be very difficult?

#3 || 10·03·25··09:21 || David

   What Sproul means is that there is no moral uncleanness in the ground, no inherent unholiness. The ground is “cursed” in that, because of Adam’s sin, it will no longer produce for him. One could even say that, if the ground was a living moral being, that its refusal to serve man because of man’s rebellion against God would be righteous and just. So yes, I would say that the ground, even under the curse, is still, as Sproul said, only doing what God has decreed it should do.

#4 || 10·03·25··12:57 || sherri

I have thought about reading The Holiness of God many times but I will definitely put it on my reading list now. Thanks for sharing that! What an apt title for a blog too, The Thirsty Theologian. I like it!

#5 || 10·03·26··04:49 || Sean

God also calls the ground Holy when Moses is approaching the burning bush.

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