In Exodus 4 we are told that God sought to kill Moses for not circumcising his son in accordance with the law given to Abraham in:

Genesis 17:11 KJV

And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

but he relented on killing Moses when Moses' wife Zipporah took a sharp stone and circumcised the child, even though Moses himself did not circumcise the boy.

Exodus 4:24 through 26 KJV

24And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.

25Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.

26So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.

It seems strange that God relented with Moses and yet killed the men of Bethshemesh:

1 Samuel 6:19 KJV

And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.

and Uzza for using his hand to keep the Ark from falling off thee cart:

1Ch 13:9 & 10 KJV

9And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled.

10And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God.

While I full well understand that God does not need to explain his reasons, it would seem that a just God would treat both Moses and Uzza the same.

God must have had his reasons for doing it this way; are there Biblical reasons for believing his behavior in this case was consistent with the other behavior I've mentioned?

  • Moses' sin was corrected by his wife, which saved him in the nick of time; the other two sins were thoroughly carried out.
    – Steve
    Nov 4, 2013 at 14:17
  • 1
    You may want to asked this on judaism.stackexchange.com as well. Nov 4, 2013 at 14:24
  • One of Uzziah's mistakes was that he permitted the ark to continue being carried on a cart, which was not what God prescribed. It was supposed to be carried by people using poles. The injunction against touching the ark was still the sticking point, but the ark shouldn't have been on the cart once it was in Israel's possession. It should have been carried.
    – mojo
    Dec 27, 2013 at 2:24
  • God 'is the same, yesterday, today, and forever', and His character is spelled out in the Bible, He does explain Himself in detail in scripture, He is not 'a random act-er, where you 'never know what God is going to do', we can know by seeing what He Himself has said.
    – Hello
    Nov 17, 2014 at 15:55
  • 1
    @BYE You know full well that questions are required to request a specific doctrinal view to be on topic, and "does anyone know [God's] reason" is practically the definition of a truth question. You are not required to agree with the criteria, but you are required to follow them if you wish to participate.
    – ThaddeusB
    Dec 17, 2015 at 14:47

3 Answers 3


The Bible "stories" teach us about the nature of God. They sometimes serve as a warning and other times they encourage a closer relationship with God.

These stories are not casual happenings; they are recorded in the Bible as an everlasting message to God’s children. So in the case of Uzza, the Ark is the presence of God on Earth. When Uzza reached out to save the Ark this is in complete contrast to the “truth”, God saves man, man does not save God. So while this seems harsh and Uzza may have reacted out of instinct the eternal-stakes were much greater than Uzza’s life. We also must realize that just because God took Uzza’s life it does not follow that Uzza went to Hell, but may have gone to be with the Lord.

Once Moses’ son was circumcised God no longer sought to kill Moses. God instructs Moses to tell Pharaoh that Israel is God’s first-born son. Israel ultimately bore the “only begotten Son” Jesus Christ. Obviously Moses’ neglect regarding his own son was inexcusable and compromised the validity of God’s full message to humanity. God will not compromise; He is not tolerant but patient (long-suffering), which is an attribute of God’s love.

The same is true with the people of Beth Shemesh that compromised these sacred articles of God, by looking into the Ark of the Covenant. All of these stories send a message even to this day.

  • +1 for a good answer. Though I don't think we see eye-to-eye in the salvation of Uzzah. If in fact, one goes to heaven or hell immediately after death, then this means that God was well pleased with Uzzah and took him to live with Him as He did with Elijah and Enoch. From the text, however, this does not seem to be the case as the LORD's anger was kindled against Uzzah. Nov 4, 2013 at 14:05
  • Anger against own child = not saved? Anger against own child = lose salvation? Not sure either formulation be verified. I can be angry with my child without disowning him (or killing him, ha ha ha).
    – Steve
    Nov 4, 2013 at 14:09
  • To me the point is that the Bible records Uzza"s first death, but it does not record nor tell us the outcome of Uzza regarding the "second death".
    – Rick
    Nov 4, 2013 at 14:13
  • @ christianity.stackexchange.com/users/4746/rick Thank you for your answer, every point6 is well taken and does clear up a lot for me up to the point about Bethshemesh where he killed so many people of whom I am sure not all of them looked into the Ark.
    – BYE
    Nov 4, 2013 at 14:32
  • @Steve yes, and that's the point. God is long-suffering, patient, and merciful. If Uzzah's life was taken, it was a serious offense and sin. Every time someone's death is directly caused by God, it is because they have sinned against Him, and have gone too far. You cannot go to heaven with sin, and if Uzzah's life was taken, God must have known that he would not repent or else he would not have taken it. Nov 4, 2013 at 14:46

The judgments of the LORD are always done for the good of the people. They are God's desperate cry for them to come back to Him so that they will not suffer by their own hands. God will not protect those who willingly put themselves in harm's way because they put themselves out of God's reach by living in sin. All that God does is for people to hear His voice and come back to Him. He is more harsh with the leaders, because they could lead people astray. this was the case of Moses.

Moses was to be the leader of the nation of Israel. People were to look at him and he'd be their intermediary. He was a type of Jesus. He was to be obedient in ALL things including the ritual for the covenant with God, which was circumcision. Moses had to see the extreme importance of this, for if he had not been circumcised, he would have been a stumbling block for all of Israel.

On the way from Midian, Moses received a startling and terrible warning of the Lord's displeasure. An angel appeared to him in a threatening manner, as if he would immediately destroy him. No explanation was given; but Moses remembered that he had disregarded one of God's requirements; yielding to the persuasion of his wife, he had neglected to perform the rite of circumcision upon their youngest son. He had failed to comply with the condition by which his child could be entitled to the blessings of God's covenant with Israel; and such a neglect on the part of their chosen leader could not but lessen the force of the divine precepts upon the people. Zipporah, fearing that her husband would be slain, performed the rite herself, and the angel then permitted Moses to pursue his journey. In his mission to Pharaoh, Moses was to be placed in a position of great peril; his life could be preserved only through the protection of holy angels. But while living in neglect of a known duty, he would not be secure; for he could not be shielded by the angels of God. In the time of trouble just before the coming of Christ, the righteous will be preserved through the ministration of heavenly angels; but there will be no security for the transgressor of God's law. Angels cannot then protect those who are disregarding one of the divine precepts.

Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 255-6

As far as the people of Bethshemesh, this paragraph explains it best.

The men of Beth-shemesh quickly spread the tidings that the ark was in their possession, and the people from the surrounding country flocked to welcome its return. The ark had been placed upon the stone that first served for an altar, and before it additional sacrifices were offered unto the Lord. Had the worshipers repented of their sins, God's blessing would have attended them. But they were not faithfully obeying His law; and while they rejoiced at the return of the ark as a harbinger of good, they had no true sense of its sacredness. Instead of preparing a suitable place for its reception, they permitted it to remain in the harvest field. As they continued to gaze upon the sacred chest and to talk of the wonderful manner in which it had been restored, they began to conjecture wherein lay its peculiar power. At last, overcome by curiosity, they removed the coverings and ventured to open it.

All Israel had been taught to regard the ark with awe and reverence. When required to remove it from place to place the Levites were not so much as to look upon it. Only once a year was the high priest permitted to behold the ark of God. Even the heathen Philistines had not dared to remove its coverings. Angels of heaven, unseen, ever attended it in all its journeyings. The irreverent daring of the people at Beth-shemesh was speedily punished. Many were smitten with sudden death.

Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 589

As for Uzzah, he was punished for his distrust in God and his impatience.

The ark remained in the house of Abinadab until David was made king. He gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand, and went to bring up the ark of God. They sat the ark upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, drave the cart. David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of musical instruments. “And when they came to Nachon’s threshing-floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.” Uzzah was angry with the oxen, because they stumbled. He showed a manifest distrust of God, as though He who had brought the ark from the land of the Philistines, could not take care of it. Angels who attended the ark struck down Uzzah for presuming impatiently to put his hand upon the ark of God.

The Truth About Angels p. 126

  • @christianity.stackexchange.com/users/5568/jlaverde While your answer is good there are several things which give me reason to doubt. For instance where does one find that Moses was confronted by an Angel, and not God himself?
    – BYE
    Nov 4, 2013 at 14:50
  • Did Ellen G. White author all of the above books?
    – Rick
    Nov 4, 2013 at 15:30
  • @CecilBeckum I'm glad you asked this. God works through His messengers, and His messengers do not do anything unless it is commanded by God. So they are an extension of the LORD. Whether it is angels or prophets that are speaking, it is not their words, but the Word of the Father. In Scripture, you have many places where this is evident. Take for instance, Judges 6. The angel is speaking to Gideon, in v. 12 it says the angel spoke to Gideon, and in v. 14 it says the LORD spoke to Him. Nov 4, 2013 at 15:42
  • It is both the angel of the LORD and the LORD HIMSELF who are speaking because the angel of the LORD was sent by the LORD Himself. This is why no one has ever seen the Father, except Christ, because God works through his messengers. To act and speak as an extension of Himself. Nov 4, 2013 at 15:44
  • @Rick yes, correct. Nov 4, 2013 at 15:45

What the question is trying to do is measure two different sins with the expectation that they should result in equal judgments. When we try to do this we are making a implicit and incorrect assumption that the sins have equal degrees of profanity and require equal reactions from God's law and justice over the people under the Old Covenant.

The two situations are both grave but not equal. The first has to do with Abraham and the only external rite that was established to represent God's covenant with him. It seems that Abraham neglected for whatever reasons his duty yet in his heart may have not been as negligent as might appear, for when God was about to kill him, possibly under some disease, his wife (possibly in submission to Abraham's wish who was too weak to argue about it) cut the skin. Interpreters have various views about this because there are a few difficult passages involved but what seems to stand out is under the chastisement the heart of Abraham and his wife are corrected and the situation restored.

The second case has to do with a high profanity in disrespecting the holy instruments of the tabernacle under the Old Testament. The tabernacle was the visible pledge in those days of God's protection and kingship over his called out people. Having any disrespectful attitude towards those holy instruments was outlawed under the penalty of death. In fact the death penalty under Moses was so further established and made known for many offenses, that one answer to your question is already provided herewith. For Abraham was not threatened with death under so many laws as was developed under Moses. As Abraham was before these laws his conduct would not necessarily be judged by the letter of them.

With regard to this 'profane' high handed disrespect of the arc of the covenant it is worth looking at some language of the law regarding the death penalty. We can see the seriousness when looking at the instructions concerning the Kohathites who were basically the tabernacle manual moves, when camp was moved.

And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. .....Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things. (ESV, Numbers 4:15-19)

Now with the death penalty clearly prescribed prior to this incident of gazing upon the ark with some un described profane curiosity, and because we can also understand God could have also seen deeper into a hideous degree of that profanity in the hearts of those who were gulty. And because this sin could have quickly become a disease spreading into the whole camp, being a public sin, we find many reasons why the sins may have been very different and requiring a very different correction from an infinitely wise and all knowing judge.

The bottom line is God weighs different sins, circumstances, peoples sate of heart, consequences on the public and many other things into a balance beyond our comprehension. Even from a human standpoint we can perceive differing aspects of these sins requiring some difference in an all-wise judgement of them.

  • @christianity.stackexchange.com/users/1743/mike It is hard for me to accept that any one sin is any more despicable than another, since the penalty for any sin is the same as for any other sin.
    – BYE
    Nov 5, 2013 at 22:13
  • @CecilBeckum - not really true. all sin may be equal when of the same degree to God, as all sin is punished eternally but some sins deserve much more punishment on earth for the degree that they have attained and also there are degrees of blessing and punishment in heaven too. Look at your boss the wrong way, or cut his hand off in rage, both might be anger yet of different degree and with a different response from what is just. It is unjust to punish the same sin of differing degrees with the same penalty.
    – Mike
    Nov 5, 2013 at 23:49
  • @ christianity.stackexchange.com/users/1743/mike How do you compare that to James 2:10 KJV For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. Your example cites Earthly judgment and not Heavenly judgment.
    – BYE
    Nov 6, 2013 at 14:31
  • To quote possibly the most famous commentary on James in English history: "You cannot conclude hence, that all sins are equal. They are all damning, not all alike damning. ... one allowed, wilful, deliberate breach and violation forfeiteth our righteousness, and maketh us become obnoxious to the curse of the whole law; and the sinner shall no less die, than if he had broken all by an actual transgression. So that, although all allowed sins deserve death, yet there is a difference still remaining in the several degrees of guilt and the curse". (Thomas Manton)
    – Mike
    Nov 7, 2013 at 10:06

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