To Obey is Better Than to Sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22)
If you read about Uzzah’s death only in 2 Samuel you’ll miss a critically important piece of supplemental information.
In the sixth chapter David and “all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord.” They placed the ark of God on an ox cart to bring it to Jerusalem. But as they drew near the city the oxen stumbled and knocked the ark off balance. Uzzah the priest reached out to keep it from falling. But “the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, and God struck him . . . and he died.”
If that’s all we know, then we should have some questions, not the least of which would be: Why did God kill His priest for trying to protect the ark?
But take a look at the same story in the 15th chapter of 1 Chronicles, especially verses 11-15. After Uzzah’s death, David again decided to bring the ark to Jerusalem. But this time: “David called for . . . the priests, and for the Levites . . . and said to them . . . because you did not carry it at the first, the Lord our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.”
“. . . for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.”
In other words, sacrifice and celebration in our worship and work for God is fitting and proper for anyone who calls God “Father” and Jesus “Lord.” But God also demands those things be done in obedience to His revealed will. Only after Uzzah’s death did the priests insert poles into the rings of the ark and then carry it on their shoulders – as Moses commanded half a millennium earlier (see Exodus 25:10-14 and Numbers 4:6-15).
The Holy Spirit tells us through the prophet, Samuel: “Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
God is always serious about our obedience to His commandments – even while we worship and work for Him.