The Punishment of King Uzziah

In 2 Chronicles 26, there’s an account of a rare type of king among the kings of Israel and Judah, a king who did “what was right in the sight of the Lord.” If you read 1 Kings and 2 Kings, you will find that so many of the kings of Israel did not please God, because they always dabbled (and often more than dabbled) in the idolatry of the nations surrounding them ( and the horrendously immoral practices that went with it). Uzziah, however, did right:

He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, in accordance with everything that his father Amaziah had done. He continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding through the vision of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him successful.

2 Chronicles 26:4-5

He fought the Philistines and God gave him success. His “fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped until he was strong.” (2 Chronicles 26:15). However, the story of Uzziah doesn’t end on a positive note.

But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly and he was untrue to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Then Azariah the priest entered after him, and with him eighty priests of the Lord, valiant men.  They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been untrue and will have no honor from the Lord God.”  But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was enraged with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the altar of incense. Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they quickly removed him from there, and he himself also hurried to get out because the Lord had stricken him. King Uzziah had leprosy to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, afflicted as he was with leprosy, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord. And his son Jotham was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land.

2 Chronicles 26:16-21

It’s interesting here that the writer emphasizes very explicitly that all of Uzziah’s strength came from the help God gave him (verse 15), and then emphasizes that when he was strong, he became proud. This may mean that he attributed God’s strength to himself, which is a terrible mistake. Both Herod (Acts 12:22-23) and Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28-33) were also rulers who, when they did not give glory to God but rather to themselves for their rule, they were punished. It’s dangerous to come to the presence of God trusting in yourself and in your own goodness. It’s not clear if King Uzziah’s actions in the Temple was the result of pride in his own righteousness or just a general inflated view of himself, but that is certainly something we should look out for. The only way we can stand before God is based on his mercy, based on Jesus’s work on the Cross. Consider two more scriptures based on that theme.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our wrongdoings, like the wind, take us away.

Isaiah 64:6

Also relevant is Galatians 5:4:

You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the Law; you have fallen from grace.

Galatians 5:4

The person who is trusting in his own righteousness will not exhibit holiness, because he will come to the presence of God with pride. He will not have due respect and reverence for the things of God, because he will think he deserves to be in the presence of God. This attitude will probably lead to other moral failures. For the person who takes pride in his own righteousness, the judgment of God ceases to be a real danger to be avoided, which then leads to acting in a way that does not take that danger into account, which in turn leads to the judgment of God. Trust in one’s own righteousness may lead one to think that there is no or little danger in one’s sinful desires, or to minimize the sinfulness of those desires ( and therefore increase the likelihood of indulging them). If you’re so great and so moral and so holy, then no desire in you can be that bad. King Uzziah’s pride led to a disobedience of the Hebrew law, instituted by God, and defiance and anger when he was rebuked for it. We come “boldly” to the thrown of grace (Hebrews 4:16), but our boldness is based on the generosity of God’s mercy, not on our own righteousness. Jesus specifically rebuked the attitude that our acts of obedience gives us some claim on God in the following passage:

“Now which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him after he comes in from the field, ‘Come immediately and recline at the table to eat’? On the contrary, will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which were commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

Luke 17:7-10

So we shouldn’t think that even our greatest acts of obedience give us a claim on God or generate just desert to be in God’s presence, to enter heaven or some other reward. We are unworthy servants who have only done our duty. But the good news is that it is much better to receive something from mercy than it is to receive something from desert. To receive from mercy means there is no limit to what you can receive from God whose love has no boundaries. If you depend on what you deserve, even in the best case scenario, what you receive from God will be very limited. So put your trust in God’s mercy, in the Cross of Jesus, and your reward is eternal and without limit.

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