Old Testament Passages Good for Every Christian to Know, Part 18
Old Testament Passages Good for Everyone to Know, Part 18
Our 18th passage is from 2 Chronicles, one of my favorite books in Scripture. Setting aside the rulers of the northern kingdom of Israel, 1-2 Chronicles focus on the kings of Judah (the dynasty of David). Most of 2 Chronicles is devoted to a handful of monarchs: Solomon (chapters 1-9), Jehoshaphat (17-20), Hezekiah (29-33), and Josiah (34-35). Besides these extended biographical texts, there are also numerous verses with practical points—like 25:9, which shows us the wisdom (sometimes) of breaking unwise financial commitments. But today we are going to look at one of the longest-reigning kings of Judah, Uzziah.
Then all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king... Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years... He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord... 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... His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful (2 Chron 26:1, 3, 5, 15).
- During his long reign, Uzziah does right, especially as he receives spiritual input. Never underestimate the impact of spiritual training.
- God blesses him with tremendous success, until he becomes powerful. Then things begin to change. Lord Acton's observation is apropos: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. 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. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That 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 Chron 26:16-18).
- Success goes to Uzziah's head. His sense of his own importance is seriously inflated. For another king who did well as long as he had a mentor—but failed miserably once this influence was removed—see 2 Chron 24:14-19.
- He acts arrogantly—arrogating to himself the prerogative of the priests: to offer incense. It takes courage to confront a king. Yet a sizable group of priests call the king out. In Judaism, kings were not to assume the roles of priests. (The priests had to be from the tribe of Levi, the kings from the tribe of Judah.)
- The king is not the ultimate authority. It is God's Word to which we are called to submit.
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 in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead... King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house—leprous, and banned from the temple of the Lord. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land (2 Chron 26:19-21).
- Despite the consensus of godly men that he is violating God's law, the king is not humble, but reacts poorly. He becomes "incensed," rejecting the priests' censure. Power and influence often leads to disrespecting others, once leaders feel they are somewhat above the law.
- As a result, the Lord strikes him with leprosy. Uzziah loses face (literally). He is not only banned from the temple, but from all public life. He becomes Judah's leper king.
Time to make practical application. When we read the Old Testament, remember that the text isn't only about the persons we encounter there. The text is also for us. And it usually points to Christ, directly or indirectly.
- Has success or power exaggerated our sense of self-worth? Has anyone told us our egos are inflated?
- Do we accept input—especially when it has required courage on the part of others to challenge us?
- Is there someone in our lives (a "Zechariah") who is concretely helping us to follow God's ways, or are we off on our own (the later Uzziah)? Do we have mentors?
- If we are leaders, do we appreciate how vital it is to stay humble—meek, gentle, and pure-hearted (Matt 5:3-12)?
Only Jesus Christ remained totally unaffected or corrupted by power. We will fall short, but all the same, let's take him as our example of humility (Matt 11:28-30). In fact, he is the one who, ultimately, should be our mentor—"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me" (Matt 11:29). Furthermore, Jesus is the only one in God's Word permitted to serve as both king and priest—not you, or me, or any "Uzziah."
Next week: the penultimate passage in this series, from Ezra.