Our Holy, Fearsome God

by Eleanor Gustafson

King David is one of the most fascinating characters in the Bible. A man of multiple personnas—shepherd, musician, warrior, lover of God, king, ladies’ man—he gallops through the entire Bible with startling relevance for us today.

David was a mighty warrior who fought only in the name of and for the honor of God. He freed the nation from its enemies, completing the task begun by Moses and Joshua, and also drew tribal factions together—an even more daunting task. In my book (The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David), I tried to portray David as the first national leader who truly understood Israel’s holy destiny. The nation of Israel, her land flowing with milk and honey, finally began to look and act like the treasured possession God had promised through Abraham and redeemed from Egypt. And, of course, David was the shepherd/king archetype of Jesus, the true Son of David.

Any discussion of the David story must include a number of sticky issues—David the sinner, David the man of blood—in some cases obeying God’s command to wipe out entire populations, including infants and livestock.

And both of those point up yet another issue—the fear of God that put David flat on his face on a number of occasions. We generally don’t like the concept of fearing God. Too Old Testament, we say, so we “translate” fear into reverence or awe, more in keeping with the New Testament’s God of love, grace and mercy. David, though, knew raw fear—when Uzzah touched the ark and was struck dead, when Nathan nailed David over his sin with Bathsheba, and when he saw the angel of death after numbering the fighting men.

Let’s look more closely at Uzzah. Years earlier, the Philistines had captured the ark but found it too hot to handle and sent it back to the Israelites. For 70 years it remained in the care of a Levite family until David decided to give it a permanent home in Jerusalem. An excerpt from my book shows the deadly implications of having that holy Presence in their midst.


David circulated among the musicians, leading the singing and shouting. Then, at the height of land . . . an ox stumbled. No obstacle, no unevenness. A misstep, perhaps. The hand of God, perhaps. Whatever, the cart lurched, and without thinking, Uzzah put out his hand to steady the ark.

From all reports, he seemed to swell and then deflate as though he had popped, as though his body tried but could not contain such a strong infusion of life.

David’s face went deathly white. Then dragging a wheezing, constricted breath from deep within, he howled against this outbreak against Uzzah.

It seemed clear in retrospect what went wrong. Uzzah obviously did not think carefully about what he was doing. He had grown up around this object. When the ox stumbled, he reached out to steady it. A reflexive act. His last act.

The ark of God, the holy God; the ark called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty; the ark of the Presence that can kill… (2 Samuel 6:2, not verbatim)


Striking people dead puts God in a bad light that we on this side of the cross find uncomfortable, if not dismaying. But even in the New Testament, we find a clear example of fear in the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Stay tuned for our continued discussion (on Wednesday), along with the other side of the coin.

Eleanor K. Gustafson (aka Ellie) began thinking up stories when she was five or six years old. When she started to read, God grabbed her with—yes—a story that had an invitation at the end, and she was hooked for life. But after reading her early attempts at writing, friends and even her mother told her straight out to stick to music as a career. She pushed manfully along, however, and began publishing both fiction and nonfiction in 1978.

The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David is her fourth novel and builds off the biblical account of David, bringing the characters and dramatic elements to life and full color. A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, she has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. Additional experiences—riding horses, gardening, house construction, tree farming, and parenting—help bring color and humor to her fiction. One of her major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story.

Website – http://www.eleanorgustafson.com

Amazon reviews – http://www.amazon.com/The-Stones-Eleanor-Gustafson/dp/1603740791/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342304125&sr=8-1&keywords=gustafson+stones

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