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Abinidab’s first son was a strong boy. When the midwife showed him to his dad, instead of resting his head on her shoulder the baby held his unsupported. His dad was so proud of him! "I’ll name him Uzza (Strength)," he smiled.

Like some boys today called Rocky or Tuffy, Uzzah set out to live up to his name. The years of depending upon himself produce a man who was confident in his own strength. It seldom failed him, and he learned to trust in it. Uzzah became independent, self-reliant, and self-confident. He could get the job done. And to his credit, he may have even used it to help the weak.

Now, in Uzzah’s day the Ark of the Covenant was symbolic of the presence of the Lord. It was holy, and it was drilled into every Jew from "day one" that unholiness could never touch the ark under penalty of death. God was in the process of teaching them–and us–that He is holy and untouchable. This was to condition man to one day be awed by understanding that God had changed the rules: Through placing our faith in Jesus Christ, God could transform us and so purify us that He would abandon the gilded box and move into us!

Well, one day while King David and his army were bagging their daily limit of Philistines, the need arose to move the ark, which was resting on an ox cart at Abinadab’s hilltop home. Uzzah and his brother were honored to lead the oxen down the hill. Imagine this scene. There were 30,000 men present while the ox cart was en route. How many sets of eyes do you suppose were fixed on the two brothers? Pretty heady stuff. Lots of responsibility. Uzzah may have been thinking I can handle this. The cart hit a bump, the ark tipped, Uzzah was afraid it would crash to the ground, so what was his reflex action? He reached out his hand to steady the ark—his last earthly action. God struck him dead. That’s getting your name in the Bible the hard way (2 Sam. 6:6-7).

What was God demonstrating? That He is holy and that no profane thing (sinner) can touch Him and live (Num. 4:19-20). But I want to emphasize something other than this. God’s action shows us that He does not need man’s puny pseudo-strength "helping" Him. After all the ark didn’t fall, and since no one else grabbed it, can we not presume God was able to handle this little chore without our help? I think so. Do you realize that we have each fallen into the same trap that, regardless of his good intention, brought Uzzah to such an ignominious end? We have all striven to trust in our own flesh. God says, "Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength" (Jer. 17:5). Consider Israel. Even though God’s people under Joshua were eyewitnesses to His awesome provision and power as they entered the Promised Land, they compromised His plan for abundant living (trusting in God alone). The Canaanites, God’s enemies, represent the Christian’s flesh. God commanded Israel to take no prisoners as they conquered their land. Every inhabitant was to be eliminated lest any survivor lead God’s people into unfaithfulness. They failed to do this and God’s prophecy came true.

Judah gave up on driving out the inhabitants of the valley (Judges 1:19). Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites (v.21), the Canaanites persisted in living in the land with Manasseh (v.27), and Ephraim (v.29), and Zebulun (v. 30), and Asher (v.32), and Naphtali (v.33), and Dan (v.34), and Joseph (v.35). Folks, all of these enemies are a foreshadowing of our flesh—our old ways which we’ve developed by trusting in ourselves as Uzzah did. We’re to abandon such trust. We’re to give no opportunity to it" (Gal 5:13b). Chapter one of Judges describes Israel’s disobedience; they failed to deal with the flesh as God had commanded them—kill it! Don’t accommodate it. It’s your enemy!

Israel came up with a creative alternative to crucifying the flesh. They partnered with it. "Hey, we can use these Canaanites! We’ll make them carry our water and cut our wood." I’ll bet before long they became convinced that the Canaanites were actually a blessing God sent to help them. But in time, Israel became so intertwined with the enemy that it was difficult to tell the difference between God’s people and His enemies.

But there’s a puzzling surprise in Judges 3. God says, "Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly). And they were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers, through Moses" (Judges 3:1-2, 4, my emphasis). God could have easily eliminated the Canaanites from the land. But He left them there to test Israel. Testing is always for our benefit, not God’s. (When you’re omniscient, you know how books end before you read the first page.) Testing is so we can know how we’ll respond. God knows already. He also left enemies there so Israel could learn how to fight. So, did they open up a gladiator school and conscript all eligible males? Nope. They were to learn that our battles are spiritual battles, not physical ones. The enemies were left so Israel could learn how to trust the Lord to do all the fighting for them and through them instead of trusting in their own flesh. They failed.

You and I continually experience these same tests with our flesh. God could have eliminated your flesh at salvation, but He left it. Oh, if you were saved as an adult you can probably testify that one or two of your flesh patterns disappeared instantly, but He left most of them. Why did He do this? As with Israel: (1) He wants you to have daily evidence of whether or not you’re obeying God; and (2) He wants to teach you how to overcome the flesh (Eph. 6:12). Your huge ace in the hole is that Christ is in you to be strength through you. The question is: Are you playing the hand you were dealt at your first birth (flesh) or at your second birth (Spirit)?

Preston Gillham

About the Author

As a co-founder, Preston Gillham led Lifetime for 30 years. Preston is a writer, speaker, and leadership guide. He has authored numerous articles and several books including No Mercy and Battle for the Round Tower. He blogs on “Life and Leadership”. More about Preston, his writings, speaking, and his consulting practice can be located at PrestonGillham.com.