Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 93. Uzziah King Of Judah

Prophets And Kings
Day 93
Uzziah King Of Judah

A new king is on the throne of Judah, hims father Amaziah having beens killed by men who rebelled against hims rule. This new king is Azariah, also known by hims more familiar name of Uzziah.

2 KINGS 15:1-5, 2 CHRONICLES 26:5-20
The man whom the author of 2nd Kings calls Azariah is the same man whom the author of 2nd Chronicles calls Uzziah. He is also mentioned in the genealogy of Christ in the gospel by Matthew, Chapter 1. To prevent myself getting confused I'm going to refer to him as Uzziah since the longer account of his life is found in 2nd Chronicles, whose author uses that name.

"In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Uzziah son of Amaziah king of Judah began to reign. He was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years. His mother's name was Jekoliah; she was from Jerusalem." (2 Kings 15:1-2) Uzziah has one of the longer reigns of the kings of Judah. We also see that his mother was a Judean woman; Uzziah's father marrried a woman of his own people and not a pagan woman as some kings did.

"He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and incense there." (2 Kings 15:3-4) Having his faith compared to his father's faith is not a great compliment. His father Amaziah began well but ended poorly, becoming an idolater. Uzziah is likely going to the temple as commanded, making all the proper offerings and sacrifices, and is judging cases by the Law of Moses. 

We find a bit more information about his faith from the author of 2nd Chronicles, "He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success." (2 Chronicles 26:5) 

"He went to war against the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh and Ashdod. God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabs who lived in Gur Baal and against the Meunites. The Ammonites brought tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread as far as the border of Egypt, because he had become very powerful." (2 Chronicles 26:6-8) During his father's reign the wall of Jerusalem was broken down by the Israelites and the city and the temple plundered. This left Jerusalem vulnerable to her other enemies, and she had many. But Uzziah is a great warrior king, defeating major cities of the Philistines and even making the Ammonites subject to Judah. As long as he seeks the Lord, the Lord gives Judah relief from her enemies.

"Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate, at the Valley Gate and at the angle of the wall, and he fortified them." (2 Chronicles 26:9) The king is quick to rebuild what the Israelites tore down. The towers provide added security because watchmen can stand guard in them, ready to shoot arrows at anyone who tries to attack. 

"He also built towers in the wilderness and dug many cisterns, because he had much livestock in the foothills and in the plain. He had people working his fields and vineyards in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil." (2 Chronicles 26:10) I like this about Uzziah. He's a man who enjoys nature, who doesn't just sit in the palace devising war strategies and defense strategies. He loves to stride through the fields, enjoying the smell of the earth, enjoying the sight of his sheep and cattle. We all can benefit from breaking free of planning and paperwork, getting away from all our electronic devices, and taking a walk to enjoy the majesty of God's creation. Maybe this is why he was closer to God than his father was, because he took the time to immerse himself in nature away from the noise and the busy tasks of everyday life.

"Uzziah had a well-trained army, ready to go out by divisions according to their numbers as mustered by Jeiel the secretary and Maazeiah the officer under the direction of Hananiah, one of the royal officials. The total number of family leaders over the fighting men was 2,600. Under their command was an army of 307,500 men trained for war, a powerful force to support the king against his enemies. Uzziah provided shields, spears, helmets, coats of armor, bows and slingstones for the entire army. In Jerusalem he made devices invented for use on the towers and on the corner defenses so that soldiers could shoot arrows and hurl large stones from the walls. His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful." (2 Chronicles 26:11-15) Some scholars believe the devices invented for hurling large stones were catapults. 

The most important phrase in the passage above is that Uzziah was helped until he became powerful. Until he became powerful, Uzziah relied on the Lord. He took heed to the words of the prophet Zechariah who was his spiritual adviser. After he becomes powerful he falls into the same trap that caught his father: pride. "But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall." (2 Chronicles 26:16a) We've all heard the expression, "pride goes before a fall", and that expression is borrowed from King Solomon who said, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18) In the thesaurus we find that the words "prideful" and "haughty" are synonyms of each other. Both mean to be conceited, contemptuous, high and mighty, self-important, and superior, Does this sound like the attitude of a godly person? The Scriptures tell us that the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives is, "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23a)

God has done great things for Uzziah and for Judah, yet for some reason once he becomes powerful Uzziah thinks he doesn't need the Lord anymore. He deceives himself into thinking he did these great things on his own. He is so lifted up in his own self-importance that he performs the office of a priest, which is against the law of God. The only king who will also be a priest is the Lord Jesus Christ. For any other man, it's important that these duties not be combined. We have seen how prideful simply being the king has made some men of the Bible. If a man held the office of both king and priest, imagine how prideful his heart would grow. Imagine the power he would hold over the nation. He would be a dictator both of the law and of religion. Only a perfect man, the Lord Jesus Christ, will be able to fulfill both these offices in the right spirit. It takes a holy and righteous person to hold such power and not be overcome by it. The author goes on to say, "He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the Lord followed him in." (2 Chronicles 26:16b-17) Picture how horrified these priests are. The king has taken it upon himself to perform a duty it is not lawful for him to perform. He is not consecrated to the Lord's service. He is defiling the temple.

"They confronted King Uzziah and said, 'It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. This is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.'" (2 Chronicles 26:18) The Bible calls these men courageous because it took a great deal of courage to confront such a mighty king. He could have had them killed for daring to point out his sin.

"Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar at the Lord's temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead." (2 Chronicles 26:19) Uzziah is caught in the very act of defiling the temple but is not repentant. Instead he flies into a rage. I picture him screaming threats and waving his hands dramatically, as many world dictators have done in their angry impassioned speeches. 

Until the Lord Jesus serves as high priest forever, only the descendants of Aaron have the right to burn incense on the Lord's altar. But the priesthood of Jesus is not after the order of Aaron but after the order of Melchizedek, which is why it will be lawful for Him to be both priest and king. Those of you who did the study of Genesis with us may recall this mysterious character, a man who came out to meet Abraham, a man who was both priest and king not by genealogy but by God's anointing. The author of the book of Hebrews goes into a great deal of detail about the priesthood of Melchizedek and the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. He points out that it is lawful for Jesus to be both king and priest because He is not descended from Aaron but from Judah. And although no king of Judah could ever be a priest, a man appointed by God to the order of Melchizedek can be both king and priest. This priesthood is established by God's sovereign choice and His choice trumps all laws and all genealogies. God, because He is God, has the right to anoint the man of His choosing as both king and priest. But only God can do this. King Uzziah cannot declare himself a priest.

I think if Uzziah had listened to the priests and repented, things might have been alright for him. If he had been sorry for his sin of pride and for the sin of defiling the temple, and if he had turned back to the Lord, I believe he would have found restoration of spirit. But instead, confronted with the truth of his wicked heart, his anger spews out on godly men who had the courage to tell him the truth. It's at this point the Lord defiles Uzziah with leprosy. Uzziah has defiled the temple and is not sorry; therefore, the Lord gives him a disease which makes him unclean. "When Azariah and the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the Lord had afflicted him." (2 Chronicles 26:20) This man who was so eager to enter the temple and defile it can't get out fast enough now. 

The author of 2nd Kings tells us, "The Lord afflicted the king with leprosy until the day he died, and he lived in a separate house. Jotham the king's son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land." (2 Kings 15:5) Uzziah has the contagious form of leprosy and can't live in the palace with his family. He can't sit in the judgment hall and hear legal cases. He's forced to live in isolation while his son attends to the business of the nation. Because of his condition he is also "banned from the temple of the Lord". (2 Chronicles 26:21) It may be hard for us to fully understand the enormity of Uzziah's sin in our times. We didn't grow up with the priesthood and the temple of God. We may not be able to grasp how holy the office of a priest was and how holy the temple was. Uzziah's sin is so great that the Lord has to separate him from the people. He cannot be allowed to influence them. The best way to separate him from the people, other than killing him outright, was to afflict him with leprosy. 

I want to put forth the opinion that God is being merciful to Uzziah, to Uzziah's son and heir Jotham, and to the nation. If God had struck Uzziah dead in the temple, he wouldn't have had years to be reminded daily of his sin. He wouldn't have had years to think about his sin and repent. We are not given any indication that he ever does repent, but he won't be able to accuse God of not giving him the opportunity. Removing Uzziah from his household is merciful to Jotham, who will be a good king, faithful to the Lord. It is a mercy to him that his father is removed from the home and is unable to draw him into his wicked attitudes. It is a mercy upon the nation that a king this prideful is forced into seclusion with his godly son taking on the position of king in all but title, which he will have at his father's death. God is merciful by showing the people what happens when a person begins to think more highly of himself than of the Lord. This likely brought the fear of God upon the people, reminding them He is a holy God who demands holy living. 

As Solomon said, pride goes before destruction. I would be willing to bet all our sins are based on pride. Any time we make a choice that we know violates the word of God, we are in pride. We are in pride because we think our wants and desires are more important than the holy laws of a holy God. We are choosing ourselves over Him, essentially becoming gods to ourselves. I've been there and I can tell you the worst situations I've ever found myself in have been the result of pride. I've often said I learned every lesson the hard way and, sadly, I will likely make more mistakes because of pride. Pride was Satan's sin and he loves to encourage it in us. Since our carnal natures find pride attractive, Satan's schemes sometimes work on us. We enjoy thinking highly of ourselves. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel powerful and capable and talented. But it also puts us in the wrong spirit, as Uzziah was in the wrong spirit. As we studied above, pride is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is far more satisfying to our souls than pride. Satan tries to deceive us into believing the fruit of the flesh is a lot more fun, but it will lead to destruction. The Lord Jesus wants to open our eyes to the truth that the fruit of the Spirit fills our hearts and lives with love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Doesn't that sound like a better deal?

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