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Growing Through Conflict

Conflict With God

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | August 24, 1997

Selected highlights from this sermon

Have you ever been angry with God? You’re not alone; even David got angry at the Lord. He fumed at God, because in the middle of retrieving the Ark of the Covenant, God struck down Uzzah who had tried to keep the Ark from falling.

When we’re angry with God, we have to discuss it with Him and bring our anger to the foot of the cross. Bitterness only separates us from the help we need. 

Well, my friends, I think it is true that there are times when we become angry with God.

I remember a man whose wife died in childbirth. He said, “God isn’t worth a plugged nickel to me. Where was He when I needed Him?” A woman who was abused by her parents said, “God wasn’t there when I needed Him. Why should I think that He would be here now for me at this point in my life?” And someone else said it very accurately, and perhaps with a great deal of bitterness, “If God exists, He must be the devil.”

You see, friends, when we are angry at circumstances, we are usually angry at God because we know that behind those circumstances there is God. You know, He’s got the whole world in His hands, as we sometimes sing. And even decisions that we make, that we are responsible for, we can become angry and say, “Well, why did He let me make those decisions? He could have stopped me.” And of course, he could have. He’s got lots of means at His disposal.

David, the king, also became angry with God. Now, you know, this is a series of messages on the life of David, and I feel so badly that we are skipping so much material in his life. Actually, twenty messages would be about right. We’re doing it in ten. This is message number six.

But I do invite you to take your Bibles and turn to 2 Samuel, chapter 6, where David becomes angry with God. And in order to understand why, I need to paint the picture and the background. David, of course, was reigning in Hebron for seven and a half years. This is now long after his battle with Saul who died on Mount Bilboa. David is ruling in Hebron and he decides to capture the city of Jerusalem, which was a Jebusite stronghold. But David knew that Jerusalem is the place that God had chosen where He would put His name. It was there that the tabernacle was to be, and later the temple would be built there.

And so what David wants to do is to conquer the city from the Jebusites, and the story is actually in 2 Samuel, chapter 5. It says in verse 6, “Now the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, and they said to David, ‘You shall not come in here, but the blind and lame shall turn you away;’ thinking David cannot enter here.” The Jebusites were so confident that they ridiculed David and his men. And the reason is because their city was well-fortified. It was on a hill and they had a water system that enabled them to bring water into the city without going outside the city walls.

And so David said to one of his men, “Whoever it is that can capture the Jebusites, he will be my main military man. He will be first in the military. And the Bible tells us that Joab was the one who conquered the Jebusites, apparently going up through the water shaft, possibly with a whole host of soldiers behind him, overcoming all of the resistance that the Jebusites might have had, and capturing the city and taking it. And it says in verse 7, “Nevertheless, David captured the stronghold of Zion, which is the city of David.” That word Zion is a poetic word or name for the city of Jerusalem.

So David makes Jerusalem his capital, but it is time now to bring the ark to Jerusalem. The ark, you remember, was a box perhaps four feet long and about two-and-a-half feet high, and two-and-a-half feet wide. And it was brought into the land under the time of Joshua, and it was there in Shiloh. The problem was that the Israelites sinned against God 30 years earlier before this event. And they decided to take the ark into battle. That was contrary to what God wanted because that ark and its furniture, and all the furnishings of the tabernacle should have always stayed together, but they were going to use it as a good luck charm. And so they took it into battle and it was captured by the Philistines, and the Philistines had it, and the Philistine gods did not like the ark. The story is actually in 1 Samuel, chapters 3 and 4. And perhaps you’ve read it. We won’t take time to do that, but whenever they took the ark of God and they set is beside one of the Philistine gods, he would go “ker plunk.” And in the morning he’d be on his face.

So the Philistines said, “We have to get the ark back to Israel.” They put it on a cart and they sent it back to the Israelites. And now it wandered around in various homes for a while, and finally David decided to bring it to Jerusalem, and that now introduces chapter 6, verse 1.

“Now David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. (We’re talking about him going nine miles north of the city of Jerusalem.) And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah (that’s another way to say Kirjath-jearim), to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the name, the very name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim. And they placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinidab, were leading the new cart. So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinidab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. Meanwhile, David, and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and lyres, harps, and tambourines, and castanets and cymbals.”

Do you see the parade? Thirty thousand people. And David believed that this was the will of God. Number one, God had said, “I have chosen the city of Jerusalem as the place where I will put my name.” So the ark was to be in Jerusalem.

Secondly, he believed it was God’s will because this was a worship experience. They were honoring God. The intention was to bring honor to His name. So they put it on a cart. Some oxen were pulling it. Everybody was rejoicing and dancing along as they were moving the ark of God to Jerusalem, but we come to that little word “but” in verse six. And how that changes the nature of the parade.

“But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and laid 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 beside the ark of God.” Wow! End of parade.

And David says, “If that’s the way God is going to act, I can get angry too.” Verse 8: “And David became angry because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzzah, and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day.” The word Perez means an outbreak, the outbreak of Uzzah to this day. “So David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, ‘How can the ark of the Lord come to me?’ and David was unwilling to move the ark of the Lord into the city of David with him; but David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.”

And David said, “It can stay there. If that’s the way God is, I’m not going to touch it.” Well, it was a good idea. He said, “I’m not going to touch it.” That’s exactly what Uzzah did, but David said, “I’m not going to bring it to the city.” Wow! What an experience that was. And so the celebration ends. And the 30,000 people, along with David, go back to Jerusalem. No doubt they walked back in silence and in anger because of what happened, and so much for the ark of God.

Have you ever been angry with God? Have you ever said, as one woman did, because God wasn’t doing what she thought he should be doing, “God, I’ll see you around town. If this is the way You run Your universe, if that’s the way You are, that You allow that child to die, and You allow this to happen, You’re such a meanie and I don’t want to have anything to do with You.”

Well, in the midst of this experience, David had to learn two truths that will help us when we are tempted to be angry with God. First of all, David had to learn who God is. God is holy, and because God is holy, He expects that people will obey Him. Let me ask you a question. Was God just overreacting? Was God just having a bad day and it caught Him at a bad time, and He just had an outburst, as the text seems to imply, and He should keep His anger under control?

A little girl in Sunday school heard about this and said, “You know, God is very mean. When my mother’s china was falling onto the floor and I caught it, she doubled my salary.” Uzzah is trying to catch God’s china as it were, and God strikes him and he is dead. Boom! It’s gone!

No, God was not overreacting. Do you know what God said back in the book of Numbers? He says in Numbers, chapter 4, verse 5, “When the camp sets out, Aaron and his son shall go in and they shall take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it.” He goes on to say in verse 15, “And Aaron and his sons, when they have finished covering all the holy objects and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is to set out, after the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them, so that they may not touch the holy objects and die.” And Uzzah was a Kohathite, one of the sons of Aaron. He knew how this ark should be carried. They all did.

God says two things. Number one, you should not look at the ark. Once it has been built it would always be covered by the veil. And they were able to set up the tabernacle in such a way that they would not really have to look at the ark. And when they were taking the tabernacle down, that veil always covered the ark, and in this way, strictly speaking, if done carefully, no human eye had to see it. But God also said that when you carry it, you don’t touch it directly. You have poles and you have rings, and then the priests are to carry it.

What in the world are the Israelites doing putting it on an ox cart? Where did they get that idea? From the Philistines! That’s the way in which they carried the ark, and so they took the latest technology, and the latest idea of the Philistines, and they said, “Well, you know, me too. We can do it the same way.” And then Uzzah puts out his hand to steady the ark, and God smites him dead.

Well now, let me ask you a very modern question, a contemporary question. Didn’t he mean well? I mean, he had good intentions, didn’t he? (chuckles) I want you to know today that whenever we consciously disobey God, we can never do that with good intentions. Conscious [dis]obedience can never have wrapped inside of it a good intention. Uzzah should have known. The priests knew, and they violated the word of God because they thought it was a technicality. God says it’s a big technicality.

You say, “Well, what’s going on here in the text?” Actually it was not an act of heroism. It was an act of arrogance. Uzzah thought that his hand was less polluted than the earth. It would have been better for the ark of God to fall onto the rock smashed than for a human hand to touch it because a human hand is sinful. It is polluted, and God said, “Don’t touch it lest you die.” And he touched it, and he died.

You know, we can struggle with the text. We can say, “Well, wow! What kind of a God is this?” That’s one approach, but I don’t have a great problem with the text in terms of Uzzah being struck down. I have a bigger problem than that with the text. The question is why am I still living? That’s the question that I have. And the question is how come you’re still living? That’s the question.

You know that God is sovereign. God is sovereign. God said to Job one time, or rather He said to Satan, “Let’s try Job,” and Job was tried. And there are ten fresh graves along the side of a hill because Job’s ten children are smitten down in a wind storm brought by the devil under God’s strict supervision and guidance. And Job’s wife comes and says, “Shall we not curse God and die?” And Job says, “Shall we not receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not also receive adversity?” If God is God, can’t He make up the rules, and can’t He expect us to obey those rules, and cannot God do in our lives that which He wills with those who are His own? Can’t God do that? David had to relearn who God is. He really did.

Now, let me ask you a personal question. You know, sometimes when we are talking we say to one another, “Now, I want to ask you a question, but don’t take this personally.” Well I’m going to ask you a question that I want you to take personally today. Have you touched the ark of God recently? We can certainly do that when communion is observed here at The Moody Church, and there may be those who frivolously participate as if to say, “Well, you know, it’s actually just...the elements are not sanctified. They are not divine. They are not transformed into anything else.” Well, you’d better watch it because the Bible says that you’d better do it in a worthy manner.

But, you know, I think we can also touch the ark of God in other ways. We can touch the ark of God when we trivialize sin, when we think to ourselves, “Well, you know that’s not too big an infraction.” And in our day when the grace of God eclipses the judgment and the righteousness of God, it is very easy for us to take God for granted, and to take forgiveness for granted, and to use forgiveness as a rubber band that encompasses all that we want to do, because actually God is so merciful and so kind. And He is, but He’s also just, and He’s also holy.

I think we can touch the ark of God when we trivialize sin. Yes. We can also do it when we (catch this) accept credit for something that God does through us, and where our sense of self-worth is so closely wrapped to our achievements, and we think it is the strength of our own right hand that has begotten us, our success. (Planes fly over the church.) I think God agreed with that statement. (laughter)

Maybe there ought to be a sign in church that says... (More planes fly over.) Yeah! We heard it once, Lord. There ought to be a sign in church that says, “Beware of God! Beware of God!” And I want to warn all of us, and I warn myself because we are living in a day of the trivialization of God. We are living in a dangerous illusion with a manageable deity, a very manageable deity. And as a result of that, we want to take charge of God. We want to say that God fits what I think God really is.

I frankly do not know how God, in His grace and mercy, puts up with some of the talk shows that we have today, where everybody is creating God in his own image. How does God stay His hand, that He does not do with many people what He did with Uzzah. Smite them dead. Smite them dead.

“Oh, my god would never allow people to go to hell.” Well, isn’t that wonderful. Where did you get your god from? Do you carry him around? Do you bring him to school with you?

I believe that Calvin was right when he said the human mind is an idol factory. We just keep spinning out a god all the time that we want to have, and we do not look in the Word and see the living and the true God who is holy and said, “Uzzah, you are done. You touched the ark.”

So David had to relearn who God is. He also had to relearn who he was and is. After all, God is the potter; we are the clay. You’ll notice that it says in verse 8, “David became angry because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzzah.” Verse 9: “David was afraid of the Lord.” And three months later, David decided to finally bring the ark of God to Jerusalem, because there in the home, I should say of Obed-Edom, God was blessing the home because the ark was resting there. “And so it was (in verse 13), when the bearers of the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.” Notice very carefully that David’s doing it right this time. There’s no ox cart. Priests are carrying the ark of God back to the city of Jerusalem, and the ark finally makes it where it should be.

What I’d like to do is to look at some lessons that this text teaches us about anger. And listen very carefully because it might apply to you, and it might apply to me. You men, particularly. We as men, you know, we have a problem with anger. Women do too, but they handle it differently.

Number one, when we are angry with God, and if we back away from God because of our anger, we cut ourselves off from the very source of help we need. You need God when you are angry. Do not keep Him at arm’s length. You come to God when you are angry. Do not walk away from Him.

As long as David was angry with God during that three-month period before he read the manual on how to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem, and before his heart was calmed and he began to understand that God is not out of control, He does not act irrationally... During that period of time, David had a change of heart. He came back to God, and a psalm was written as they began to rejoice about the bringing of the ark back to the city of Jerusalem.

Listen to me very carefully because I speak today to some of you who have been wounded by God. Will you remember that God ruins in order that He might heal? He cuts us in order that He might be able to sew us back together. Don’t keep yourself from God just because you’re angry.

And some of you may have deep wells of anger. You see, anger is like a well because when you’re walking on the surface, you don’t even know that the well is there, even though the well may be deep and the water may have many different tributaries. Some of you, it may be, because of a father who neglected you, rejected you, abused you. Others because of unresolved guilt in your life because of some experiences. Some of you have been abused. You have anger because of circumstances. Things have not worked out. And down deep inside there is this well of anger. And your family knows about it. It is a well-kept secret because it does not go beyond your home. And so in church we sing songs together, we listen to the Word together, we listen to a message together, and we go home and we can be very, very, very angry.

Watch it! When angry do not sin. Do not give the devil a foothold, the text says, because it is through that means that the devil wants to destroy, he wants to disrupt, he wants to demean. All of those things happen when anger is out of control.

That’s the first lesson. Come to God. In fact, that’s the second lesson.

Come to God and express your anger to Him. Now, do so carefully. Don’t have an outburst of anger, but it’s perfectly fine, you know, to tell God what you are angry about. God is able to handle it. I said to somebody who was angry, “Why don’t you tell God.” And they said, “Well, I wouldn’t want Him to know how angry I am.” Well, think that one through.

Listen to David.

How long, O Lord, will Thou forget me? Forever?
How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day long?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, oh Lord, my God.
Enlighten my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death.

But the psalm ends by saying,

But I have trusted in Thy loving kindness.
My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation.
I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Let it all hang out. God can take it. David was not struck down. Uzzah was. You see, because God is Lord, He understands that we struggle with these matters. He knows and He is a therapist who can listen to the deepest, deepest hurts of the soul. And many of you who are listening have never taken out the time that is needed, maybe over a period of several days, to spend time in God’s presence, to finally get to the root of your anger and your hostility, and the awful way in which it manifests itself under certain conditions, and how well you keep it under control under the right circumstances. When we cut ourselves off from God when we are angry, we actually are hurting ourselves because God is there to help us

Secondly, we must express our anger to God, and when we do, God restores us. In chapter 6 of 2 Samuel we continue the story. David brings the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem, and it says in verse 14, “And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet.” And as he was entering the city of Jerusalem, one his wives, (and David had many of them), Michal, Saul’s daughter (she was a piece of work)...

What happened is, she was married to David, and then she married somebody else, and David took her back. And the relationship was not good. And you’ll notice it says in the last part of verse 16, “and she despised him in her heart.”

And later on, after the ark was brought there and all of the celebration was over, she had what could be considered a family quarrel. It says in verse 20, “But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, ‘How the king of Israel distinguished himself today. He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants’ maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovered himself.”

David had taken off his outer garment. It was not an immodest dance, I am sure. And David said, “Well, lady, if that’s the way you feel about it, goodbye.” And the text says in verse 23, “Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.”

Things were not always pretty in those days. It wasn’t all wrapped up in a nice little box. And what she was saying was, “I don’t feel like dancing, and you had better not dance either, David.” And so she was upset, and David handled it perhaps insensitively. He didn’t take sensitivity training and could have handled this better, but that’s the way that relationship ended.

Now, the point is this. In this chapter you have death, but you also have dancing. There is a side to God that is just, that is exact, that is holy, that is demanding, and God has not changed. He has not changed. People think to themselves, “Well, you know, we’re dealing with a different God, or God has evolved. He has mellowed over the centuries. This was Old Testament.” Yes, of course it was Old Testament, but “I am the Lord and I change not.”

God today is merciful, and it says in the book of Ecclesiastes that people today think that because God does not execute His justice swiftly, they think it is okay to do wrong. But God is still God. He has not changed.

In grace, when we come to Him through Jesus Christ, He grants us mercy. He grants us strength, (I understand that) and forgiveness and cleansing, and we are restored to Him, but that’s only because Jesus Christ absorbed the penalty for us. Had not Christ done that there would be no way that we could be reconciled to a holy God. And when we come to Him, He responds and He restores us and gives us hope. “It is we,” said Nietzsche in a sane moment, and he had many insane ones. But in a sane moment he said, “We have gelded God. We have taken the raging bull and turned him into a listless ox.” God is God, and God is holy. David had to remember who God was and who he was.

Are you angry at God as a believer? Tell God in detail and over a great period of time about your anger and why. He has wounded you. Let Him heal you. As an unbeliever, you are angry because of the atrocities that have been committed on God’s watch. I urge you to come to Him with all of your questions, but come as you are through the name of Christ, and you will also be healed.

There is a story of a woman who gave this testimony on television. I don’t know her but this is her story. She said she was brought up as an atheist, and she lived her life without God, without reference to God, hated those who belonged to God, and then her daughter was in a car accident and severely injured, expected possibly not to live, at best to be in a coma for a long time. And she handled this grief, this woman did, by going into a bar, by drinking heavily, and getting in her car and driving home. And she said it was raining, and the windshield wipers could scarcely keep up with the rain. So she pulled off on the side of the road and there in anger she pounded the steering wheel, and began to curse God. And she said, “In those days I was really, really able to curse.”

She estimates that she cursed God for about a half an hour, and she just let out all the venom and all the anger of the years spill out. And when she was finished the car was silent. And she said she heard a voice that said, “This is the first time you’ve talked to Me, and I love you.” And through that she became acquainted with the Scriptures and saving faith in Christ.

When we are angry with God, we switch places with Him. We forget who He is. We forget who we are. Resolve that. Resolve that at the foot of the cross.

Let’s pray.

Our Father, today we ask that in mercy You might take these few words and use them. Use them, Father, to help Your people. Help us all to understand that You are the Lord. In humility we pray that You might enable us to come to You in faith, granting, oh Lord, our petitions and the desires of our heart. Father, hear the prayer of all those that are bowed in Your presence we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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