Uzziah, by sight, had nearly everything a man might crave – a crown, a fierce force of fighting men, a productive and prosperous land, and a long, comfortable, secure season of peace in his days.
By all measures, he was a wealthy and successful king. Uzziah’s ways of leadership and administration rebuilt his nation. He was beloved by many, including the prophet Isaiah whose heartbreak over the king’s death readied him for a vision of the glory of God (see Isaiah 6).
Uzziah’s accomplishments, however, did something to him, something deep and corrupting.
We read of this king’s exploits and his downfall in 2 Chronicles 26. Uzziah took the throne of Judah at the age of 16, following a conspiracy that led to the assassination of his father Amaziah, and he reigned for 52 years. His record is crowded with triumph and innovation; his resume reads like one of an elite leader.
A Doer of Big Things
Under his leadership, Judah became a secure and feared force in the region. It possessed money and muscle. There developed a culture of ingenuity, particularly among the military.
More than 300,000 warriors under 2,600 leaders were at Uzziah’s disposal. These men were outfitted with revolutionary slings and spears, helmets and shields, bows and arrows. Well-equipped fortresses erected throughout the land served to protect Judah from disastrous invasions that had occurred under other kings.
The towers of Jerusalem featured war machines designed by the “cunning” men Uzziah had in his inner circle. Mechanized weapons flung stones and rapidly fired arrows to repel an attack. These inventions lifted Judah’s profile in the region.Jesus spoke of true greatness and said that it is found in those who see themselves as little children. Click To Tweet
This air of security made it possible for ambitious public works and business projects. Numerous wells dug provided water – a gold standard in the arid climate of the Middle East. Flocks and herds flourished and fruitful vineyards dotted the hills.
Like the renowned strongmen David and Samson, Uzziah conquered the Philistines, persistent enemies of God’s chosen people. The army of Judah leveled the walls of principle cities and opened the way for an occupation of sorts in Philistia, as the king ordered Jewish towns to be built in enemy territory.
The armies under Uzziah even ventured into Egypt, the ancient kingdom that once shackled the children of Israel as its slaves. For, the king “strengthened himself exceedingly.”
Those last words are telling words. Such strength made Uzziah weak where it really counted – in his inner life. “His heart was lifted up to his destruction” (2 Chronicles 26:16).
Stepping Out of Place
The master of nearly all he surveyed, Uzziah became blinded by his brilliance. He had smashed many walls, and now he looked to tear through the curtain and enter into the one place off limits to him – the sanctuary of the Temple. This territory remained the domain of the priests, sons of Aaron, brother of Moses, who were anointed for service there since the days of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.
Uzziah thought to extend his authority even to this holy ground. The king strode into the sacred space, took up a censer, and advanced toward the Altar of Incense.
The king would not get far. He and his party were met by Azariah the priest and 80 other “valiant men.” These spiritual warriors withstood Uzziah. The Temple structure, its stones and walls and ceilings and ornaments may have been fashioned and constructed at the command of Solomon, Uzziah’s ancestor, but its interior was for the glory of God and the priests refused to let down their guard. To do so would have been a dereliction of duty.
Simply, Uzziah was trespassing and the priests prosecuted him according to the full authority of the Law given to Moses, which established these tribal descendants of Levi in their places of Temple service. Even Jesus tread lawfully in the compound during His days on earth. We never read of Him, of the tribe of Judah, progressing past the outer courts of the Temple.
“Go out of the sanctuary,” the priests told Uzziah, “for you have trespassed; neither shall it be for your honor from the Lord” (2 Chronicles 26:18).
Uzziah got mad and this madness got to him. The disease of his heart revealed itself at once on his forehead. There, leprosy broke out upon this king, as God struck him. Summarily, he was hustled out of the Temple and out of fellowship with his people. He would never set foot in the house of the Lord again. He would live in a separate house until the day of his death and his son, Jotham, managed the affairs of kingdom. Even in death, Uzziah met with dishonor as his body was buried in his family’s field and not entombed with the remains of the nation’s other kings.
The prosperity test is one so many of us fail, as Uzziah did. Our success gets the best of us, and we become of full of ourselves. Human hearts are always so close to deception and disease. We must be watchful and careful to know Him and to know His place for us.
Jesus spoke of true greatness and said that it is found in those who see themselves as little children. These small ones are full of wonder and trust. They cast all their cares upon Him. They rest in His purpose and allow themselves to be guided by His will.
Isaiah 66 gives us good instruction. It says that the Lord looks upon those with a contrite spirit, upon those who tremble at His Word (Isaiah 66:2). This is the essence of true humility.
May we remain small in our own eyes and see God in all of His greatness and glory.
For more words like these, check out “Calibrated to Humility,” a message from Thomas Schaller, Pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.