2 Chronicles 25:27
After the assassination of Joash king of Judah, Amaziah his son became king at the age of twenty-five, reigning in Jerusalem and doing what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet he did not do this with a whole heart. Amaziah consolidated his rule, then took up arms and began a large military campaign during which he tried to hire 100,000 Israelite warriors to help him, but he was rebuked by the Lord for doing so and sent them home. Amaziah grew arrogant and began the worship of idols which would result in his ultimate demise at the hands of those same Israelite warrior he tried to hire earlier.
Uzziah was the son of Amaziah who became king at sixteen years of age. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and it is indicated that he received instruction in honouring and fearing the Lord with the help of the prophet Zechariah. He made many great strides over the Philistines and developed a variety of engines of war which dotted the walls of Jerusalem. He grew proud in his strength and became unfaithful towards the Lord, going so far as to enter the temple to burn incense on the altar. He was confronted by Azariah the priest and eighty other priests. They warned him of the great transgression he was about to commit, and when the king grew angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead! He was hurried out into a separate house where he lived out the rest of his days.
Jotham was his son and successor, and he did well in the eyes of the Lord and did not try to enter the temple. He completed much building in Jerusalem and on her walls especially and then went on to build many cities in the surrounding country side. He fought and prevailed against the ammonites and exacted annual tribute of silver and food stuffs from them and thus became great in the land, for he had ordered his ways before the Lord his God. He reigned sixteen years and was laid to rest. Ahaz succeeded him.
Let’s focus on Uzziah and his punishment – that is, despite his good works and obedience to the Lord, he was stricken with a disease that made his body decay even as he lived for only a moment of sin. Seems a bit extreme, doesn’t it? I thought so too. Let’s look a little closer at what happened, for on one hand we have this smiting, and on the other we have a God who is slow to anger. So, what’s going on?
It is true that Uzziah had done much that was good and pleasing not only to the people over which he ruled but to the Lord as well. Many and mighty were his victories in battle, his fame and prowess spreading to the very borders of Egypt. He built many huge towers along the fortified walls of Jerusalem and also in the wilderness around it which acted as lookout and protection for the farmers and herders there. This meant they could live their lives in peace knowing the might of their king is watching vigilantly for their protection. He cut cisterns in the wilderness for the vinedressers and farmers so that their work would flourish. God helped him defeat the Arabians, Philistines, and many others. On top of this the Ammonites paid tribute to the king increasing his wealth and influence. He feared the Lord and had properly honoured Him.
With all this on his resume, you would be tempted to think that God’s punishment of leprosy at Uzziah entering the temple to burn incense a bit of an overreaction, but there is more to it than that. First of all, I do not believe that Uzziah’s pride was the beginning of his sin against God but the culmination and expression of sin that had been growing in the shadows for a long time already. We do not only sin against God in our physical actions but in our heart, mind, and spirit. It is safe to say that such an epic reputation as Uzziah’s gave him an inflated sense of self worth and he had begun to place his own importance in front of that of God’s.
As is common in scripture, a lot is said with few words, so we must read carefully. 2 Chron. 26:16a says, “But when he was strong, he grew proud ….” There is a wealth of meaning in that partial verse alone and we need to understand what it meant. We can safely assume that pride for a man such as Uzziah meant arrogance and flippancy with more and more focus on honouring himself instead of God. He would have credited himself for his many successes instead of properly seeing them as the blessings of the God to whom he was subservient. This happened slowly and carefully, like spiritual erosion, until his sin became such a part of his thinking and doing that he dared to approach the holy place of God and take upon himself the duties of the priest.
We must also consider the significance of what Uzziah had done. For him to try and burn incense himself was to subvert and abolish the holy order and covenant of God Almighty and set himself up as the ultimate authority! It was a transgression of the most extreme order and amounted to treachery and betrayal. Uzziah desired to exalt himself and defy God. Remember, too, that Korah tried to rebel against Moses and was swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16). Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, offered strange fire to the Lord and were struck down for it (Lev. 10). With this as the expectation, it is more kind to only be struck with leprosy!
Consider the severe mercy at play here: the only way for Uzziah to return to a place of humility was to have his pride and arrogance broke. Would we rather have a healthy body whose soul is cut off from God, or the gift and joy of everlasting life no matter our condition here on earth? Uzziah would have been able to speak with such clarity to his son and successor Jotham about the joy of fearing the Lord as well as the danger of pride. We see in Jotham’s account that special reference was made to the fact that he did not enter the house of God, committing the same folly as his father. It was by these means of mercy that God protected His people from an arrogant leader, the dangers of which are writ large throughout the pages of scripture.
Application and question:
Pride comes before the fall. Do you harbour pride in your heart? If you hear this question and instantly think “there’s no way I’m proud, I’m a humble person! It’s other people that are prideful, not me. In fact, I can think of a few right now,” then you may be guilty of pride. It is not always obvious, nor is it rare. In fact, Pastor Dave rightfully pointed out that pride was the underlying cause for the fall of mankind, and it is that same pride at work within each of our hearts that say we know better, we behave better, and we deserve better than others. It is that very sin that softens us towards other sins, then turns around and justifies them while blocking our ears to wiser counsel.
I challenge each one of us (don’t worry, I’m right there with you!) to make an effort to examine ourselves before the Lord, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and see where pride and arrogance has put down roots in our hearts. Are you willing to accept correction? We confess our sins regularly to the Lord and might think ourselves humbled and chastened, but there can be pride even in our humility! In the light of our God’s holy presence let us submit ourselves to His good discipline and guidance, not ever leaning on our own understanding, but only on that which is from the Lord as revealed in His word. Then we will be sure that our lives honour Him as highest in our lives, are symbols of our love and submission to Him, and fulfill the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Lord, I thank you for your discipline and patience. I thank you for calling me unto yourself, and I pray that no matter how much I know about you, I would never think myself above your good counsel. Please teach me to honour you in all that I do so that others may look and see Christ as the one who lives in me. Amen!
Song: Gracefully Broken - Tasha Cobbs Leonard
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.