(2 Chronicles 26; 2 Kings 15.1-7)
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Uzziah, the ninth king of Judah, will always be known as the monarch who ruled so well for so long but sinned disastrously when pride took hold of him. He is a warning to all - "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10.12).
His father, Amaziah, also commenced his reign in a promising manner, but at the end sank into idolatry and shame, although Uzziah did not reach such depths of departure. His father was assassinated after the time that he "did turn away from the Lord" (2 Chr 25.27). There was, therefore, the warning of what had happened to his father to keep Uzziah in mind of the fact that sin exacts a price and God does not ignore it.
When he did obey the Lord he was much helped and "God made him to prosper" (2 Chr 26.5). He sought the Lord, as his concern was not only to obey Him, but also to get to know Him, and obedience is the pathway to that objective.
He was helped in the fortifying of Jerusalem, as defensive towers were erected. Defence for the countryside was not ignored and towers were also erected in these areas. The heart of the king, however, lay in agriculture "for he loved husbandry" (2 Chr 26.10). The low lying areas and the plains were stocked with cattle, and farmers and vine dressers were busy in other areas. It was the purpose of the king to ensure that the produce of the land could be enjoyed to the full. Clearly, the land could realise its potential to a greater extent when it was cultivated with care.
The armies of Judah were strengthened and 2,600 senior officers controlled an army of 307,500 men. To back them up, weapons were manufactured and great engines of war, capable of firing arrows and large stones, were put in place. In all this Uzziah was "marvellously helped" and "his name spread far abroad" (2 Chr 26.15).
It is also clear that Uzziah was greatly influenced by the prophet Zechariah (2 Chr 26.5). This Zechariah is not the writer of the book that bears that name. That Zechariah lived many years later. Neither was this the prophet bearing the name Zechariah who was the son of Jehoiada the priest who had been instrumental in preserving the life of Joash during the time when Athaliah usurped the throne. Joash put that Zechariah to death. We know little, therefore, about this particular prophet, but he had an understanding of the things of God and gave wise counsel to the king.
One would have thought that Uzziah would understand that the reason for his prosperity was his obedience to the Lord. Underneath the surface, however, other thoughts were forming in his mind. We do not know whether the prophet Zecharaiah had died, as is probable due to the long tenure of Uzziahs reign, or whether the king simply felt that he could now act independently of him,
So Uzziahs "heart was lifted up to his destruction" (2 Chr 26.16). The danger highlighted is that of any who have prospered, feel that this has been their achievement, and forget that the Lord has been with them. Those who are leaders can also fall into the same trap, with pride in their position filling their minds. This is what Paul has before him when he writes to Timothy regarding those who aspire to be leaders of the saints, "Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil" (1 Tim 3.6).
Uzziah looked around his kingdom and felt that there was nothing which should be beyond him to do. He obviously considered it to be an insult to his abilities, and perhaps a slight against the monarchy, that he could not enter the Holy Place in the Temple to carry out the functions of a priest. But this ignored the word of God and the precise instructions that only the sons of Aaron could carry out priestly functions. It should be noted that there is only one man who has the right to be priest and king, and that is the Lord Jesus. Under the Law these offices could not be combined in one man. David, for instance was king and was also a prophet (Acts 2.29-30), but he was never a priest, and did not attempt to occupy that place.
So, Uzziah entered the Temple, bearing the censer with which he planned to burn incense before the altar of incense. This action was resisted by Azariah the High Priest, and by eighty priests. In the years that followed Uzziah must have remembered his actions with despair, although at the time he was exceedingly angry at the conduct of these priests, daring to oppose their king. As he held the censer, leprosy appeared on his forehead. This was what had taken place when Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, thinking that they could usurp the office which Moses occupied with honour (Num 12). As Miriam was the leader it was she who was stricken with leprosy. Now it is Uzziah who is stricken.
The question must be asked, "Why did the leprosy appear on his forehead?". The High Priest wore a mitre, and on his forehead was a golden plate on which were written the words, "Holiness to the Lord" (Ex 28.36). The very place where these words were to be found on the person of the High Priest was the place where the leprosy appeared. The action of the king was a rebellion against the Lord and His holiness.
The character of the day of grace in which we live is often misunderstood. Because of the free offer of salvation through grace it is sometimes thought that the Lord now takes a very light view of sin, as it has been dealt with at Calvary. Such a view is a complete misunderstanding of what took place at the Cross. Sin is still abhorrent to God and there is a price to pay for indulging in it. The words of Paul to the Galatians, written in the day of grace, are worthy of note: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal 6.7).
The salutary lesson for us is that we can in an instant commit a sin which compromises our ability to serve the Lord. One moment of self-gratification can destroy a testimony that has been built up over a long number of years. This was what befell the erring monarch who dared burn incense before the altar.
As a leper, the king was now excluded from the house of God and from society. The Law was strict on this point: "All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be" (Lev 13.46). For Uzziah there was to be no day of cleansing, no occasion to approach the priests to display the fact that he was free from leprosy and to be ceremonially declared to be clean. For the remainder of his life he lived as a leper in a separate house and his son Jotham acted as regent.
When he died at the age of sixty-eight he was not buried in one of the royal graves. His grave was to be found in the field in which the royal tombs were placed, but separate so that the tombs would not be defiled by the presence of a leper in their midst. How sad this was for a king who had ruled so well for so long. His time as a leper must have been short for his son ascended the throne when he was twenty-five years old (2 Chr 27.1), so his godly rule had probably lasted for almost fifty years. Let us determine to avoid such sin and failure, and to finish our course in a manner which is pleasing to the Lord.