|Photo courtesy burstingwithcolors via flickr
The story of Uzzah is in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13). Short version: while Uzzah is transporting the Ark of the Covenant as king David has commanded him, the cattle stumble, the Ark tips, and Uzzah reaches out to steady it. Coming into contact with the holy object was forbidden, and this action angers the Lord so much that He immediately smites Uzzah dead.
In Mormon vernacular, the phrase "steadying the ark" has come to mean "those who lack faith in the Lord and His servants and instead do things based on their own wisdom" and is a quick way to dismiss or shut down any conversations about change within the Church that make people feel uncomfortable.
Five years ago over at Faith-Promoting Rumor, Secco proposed an alternate reading of the story that flips that generally accepted meaning on its head.
Uzzah was likely killed for NOT correcting his priesthood leaders, who themselves were not following the scriptures. This conclusion is based on three items in the text:Read this fascinating explanation and supporting details from the text here.
1. King David, not Uzzah, was the responsible party, was in error, and later admits it.
2. Uzzah did what his leaders asked him to do, rather than what the scriptures said he should do, both in moving the ark, and in keeping it from falling. Thus, Uzzah’s core error was following his priesthood/political leaders rather than the scriptures.
3. Underlings were often killed for a king’s misbehavior, further supporting the idea that David, not Uzzah, was at fault; the Lord’s actions were meant primarily as a lesson for David.
This recent post about Lot's wife (Genesis 19) was eye-opening to me. The author sheds new light on the story of this unnamed woman, pointing out the half-hearted obedience and cowardly self-concern of Lot. She raises the possibility that what drew Lot's wife back to the city was not her material possessions, but instead her children and (possibly) grandchildren whom the angels charged Lot with saving, but remained in the city to be destroyed.
She also draws on the ancient symbolism of salt and pillars:
Since God’s language is the language of symbols, we must look at the symbolisms contained in the tale...Most of us are familiar with the symbolism of salt. In the old world salt was valued ounce for ounce as precious as gold. It was the means of preserving food, which is why it is such a useful gospel symbol–it preserves or saves. Under the law of Moses, sacrifices and meat offerings had to include salt, “with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.” (Leviticus 2:13) Christ tells his disciples, “Ye are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13) and “When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant with an everlasting covenant, they are accounted as the salt of the earth and the savor of men.” (D&C 101:39) “Salt is good.” (Luke 14:34) Salt signifies Christ. It is a representation of the Savior of men...
Pillar is also an important symbol. A pillar is a support and a memorial. It upholds and uplifts, and implies essential strength to elevate and bear up others. We still use this complimentary symbol today to describe people as a pillar of strength, or a pillar of virtue, or a pillar of the community. It is also a powerful symbol of Christ. In the great exodus, “The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud. . . and by night in a pillar of fire.” (Ex 13:21) Jacob set up and consecrated a pillar where he spoke with God. (Gen 35:14) Lehi saw God as a pillar of fire. (1 Ne 1:6) Nephi and Lehi (the sons of Helaman) and their converts were each encircled by a pillar of fire. (Hel 5:43) When Christ returns it will be in a pillar of fire. (D&C 29:12) Not only is it impossible to find a negative connotation of pillar in the scriptures, but, “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and he hath set the world upon them.”Great food for thought here, reclaiming this woman from the scorn and derision in which she's been held for millennia.
This next point is a brief exchange between Christ and Peter almost mentioned as a side note in a New Testament lesson plan here. (You have to scroll down almost to the end. Look for the section heading Jesus foretells Peter's denial.)
Chapter divisions in scripture are arbitrary. Someone at some point thought it would be easier to find passages if the narrative was broken up into chapters and verses, but the divisions themselves are not part of scripture. They were added for human convenience. And sometimes, the divisions break up the flow of the stories and sermons, so when you stop reading at the end of the chapter - what we consider a natural breaking point - you miss vital connections.
For example, if you read John 13:36-38 and then continue straight on to John 14:1-3, Jesus's prophecy that Peter will deny him three times takes on a completely different feel. Rather than condemnation from Christ, there is a sense of comfort and understanding for Peter. It changes the whole sense of the passage.
Finally, I love the story of Abish from the Book of Mormon (Alma 19). This lesson plan uses clues from the text to draw a fascinating picture of this woman, one of the very few named women in the Book of Mormon.
Now, it seems to me that because she is a servant, Abish is often assumed to be poor. But realistically, as a servant in the king’s house, I can only think she would be of privilege; after all, who serves Queen Elizabeth or President Obama? Certainly not an inexperienced youth or someone from the dregs of society; only a professional would be hired to do the work of the King and Queen. In addition, Lamoni would not hire someone who was sluggish in their work. He was known to kill shepherds who lost sheep, so we know that Abish was a skilled worker, who had become familiar enough with the queen to take her by the hand (Alma 19:29). In consideration of living in an age where many women need to work outside of the home, Abish’s example of religious and professional devotion is important...I've enjoyed pondering the ambiguous phrasing in Alma 19:16, that Abish had been "converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father." Many people have understood that to mean that Abish's father had a vision, but I think the text is open to a different interpretation as well. Perhaps Abish is the one who had a vision, and in the vision she saw her father.
With all of these stories, and many others in the scriptures, there's really no way to know which way is "the right one," but it's sure interesting to consider the possibilities and find new ways to liken the scriptures unto us.