Uzziah

(Strength of Jehovah)

(2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chron. 26)

Contemporary Prophets: Zechariah, Of 2 Chron. 26:5; Isaiah; Hosea; Amos.

“He (the Lord) shall cut off the spirit of princes: He is terrible to the kings of the earth.”—Psalm 76:12.

“Then all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who I was sixteen years old, and made him king in the room of his father Amaziah. He built Eloth, and restored it to Judah, after that the king slept with his fathers.” He is called Azariah {helped by Jehovah) elsewhere: the names were so nearly equivalent in meaning as to be applied interchangeably to him. He seems to have come by the throne, not in the way of ordinary succession, but by the direct choice of the people. The princes had been destroyed by the Syrians toward the close of his grandfather Joash’s reign (2 Chron. 24:23), leaving the people a free hand. “For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof,” wrote Solomon, more than a century before; and this weeding out was not altogether to be regretted: perhaps, nor entirely unnecessary. If the princes selfishly “seek their own” things, they are incapable of judging aright; whilst a needy, suffering people instinctively turn to a deliverer. Their choice here of Azariah was a good one, as the sequel proved. His first recorded work, the building, enlargement, or fortification of Eloth (Elath), and its restoration to the crown of Judah, was an early pledge of the great industrial prosperity of his reign. It belonged to Edom, and was lost to Judah during the reign of Joram (2 Kings 8:20). It was a seaport on the Red Sea, near Ezion-geber (1 Kings 9:26), and must have made a most important mart for the extensive commerce in his administration. It was taken by Rezin king of Syria fifty years later, who expelled the Jews, and occupied it permanently. (See 2 Kings 16:6.) “Sixteen years old was Uzziah when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Jecoliah of Jerusalem.” His was the longest continuous reign (Manasseh’s, fifty-five years, was interrupted by his deposition and captivity by the king of Babylon) of any of the kings of Judah. His mother’s name, Jah will enable, might indicate that she had pious expectations of her son, by the help of God. And in this she would not be disappointed, for “he,” it is said, “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah did”; that is, during the earlier portion of his reign. “And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God (in the seeing of God, marg.): and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper.” “Understanding in the visions of God “is not equivalent to having prophetical visions from God. LXX, Syr., Targ. Arab., Kimchi, etc., read, “who was (his) instructor in the fear of God,” which is probably the general sense of the expression. Nothing more is known of this prophet, but his record is on high; and the coming “day” will declare what else, whether of good or bad, was accomplished by him during his earthly life. So shall it also, reader, in the case of you and me.

From city building for the peaceful purpose of commerce, Uzziah turns to retributive warfare. “And he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and brake down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities about (or, in the country of) Ashdod. And God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians that dwelt in Gurbaal, and the Mehunim.” Thus he avenged the Philistine invasion during the reign of Jehoram (2 Chron. 21:16, 17), and punished their allies. It says, “The Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines, and of the Arabians,”etc. This did not excuse them for their wrong-doing. “ God helped Uzziah against the Philistines, and against the Arabians.” They were the unconscious instruments used by God in the chastening of His people. Their motive was entirely of another kind, and after eighty years God metes out to them the punishment their attack on the land of Judah deserved. This is an important principle which must be borne in mind in any study of God’s ways in government, with either men or nations. (See Isa. 10:5-19.)

“And the Ammonites gave gifts to Uzziah: and his name was spread abroad even to the entering in of Egypt; for he strengthened himself exceedingly.” He “built towers” in Jerusalem, and fortified them. He also “built towers in the desert” (“the steppe-lands west of the Dead Sea”), and cut out many cisterns; “for he had much cattle, both in the low country” (literally, “the Shepheleh,” the low hills between the mountains and the Mediterranean), “and in the plains” (east of the Dead Sea). His wealth seems to have been chiefly in stock and agriculture. He had “husbandmen also, and vinedressers in the mountains, and in Carmel: for he loved husbandry.” He was an earnest and successful agriculturist. He probably gave special attention to the tillage of the soil because of the prophecies of Hosea and Amos (his contemporaries) concerning the scarcity about to come. (See Hosea 2:9; 4:3; 9:2; Amos 1:2; 4:6-9; 5:16-19.)

He also gave attention to military matters, and thoroughly organized his army, “that made war with mighty power, to help the king against the enemy.” He saw too that his army was thoroughly equipped, as we read: “And Uzziah prepared for them throughout the host shields, and spears, and helmets, and coats of mail, and bows, and even slinging-stones. And he made in Jerusalem machines invented by skilful men, to be upon the towers and upon the bulwarks, wherewith to shoot arrows and great stones.7 And his name spread far abroad; for he was marvelously helped, till he became strong.” (N. Tr.) But alas, what is man! After all this well-doing, Uzziah’s heart is lifted up with pride. Then came his act of sacrilege—the dark blot upon the record of this otherwise blameless man’s life. “But”—alas, those “buts” in so many life-records of God’s saints!—”when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense”—explicitly forbidden by the law. (See Ex. 30:7, 8; Num. 16:40; 18:7.) “And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the Lord, that were valiant men: and they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertained not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honor from the Lord God. Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, from beside the incense altar. And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the Lord had smitten him. And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several [separate] house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord.” It was a fearful stroke from God. Death was the actual penalty enjoined by the law for his crime (Num. 18:7), and leprosy was really that—a living death, prolonged and intensified. “Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed,” was said of Miriam, who was smitten with a like judgment, and for a similar offence. God is holy, and must vindicate His word against every transgressor. He is no respecter of persons, and brings to light, sooner or later, every man’s work and purposes of heart—not excepting His best servants. (See Num. 12:10-12; 1 Tim. 5:24, 25.)

The actuating motive in this audacious act of king Uzziah’s is not made known. It has been suggested that he wished, like the Egyptian kings, to combine in himself both the office of king and high priest, so arrogating to himself the religious as well as the civil power. But whatever the immediate impelling motive, we know the primary cause of his profane deed. It was pride, the really “original sin,” that hideous parent-sin of all succeeding sins, whether among angels, or among men (1 Tim. 3:6; Ezek. 28:2, 17). “He was marvelously helped till he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction.” “Strength of Jehovah” was the meaning of his name; and happy would it have been for him had he realized that only in His strength is any really strong. “My strength,” says He who is “the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8), “is made perfect in weakness.” “When I am weak, then am I strong,” wrote one who knew his own utter powerlessness and his Lord’s sufficient strength. “Be strong in the Lord,” he cautions his fellow-weaklings. Uzziah prospered; and because of his prosperity, his foolish heart was lifted up with pride: and in him was fulfilled his great ancestor’s proverb, “The prosperity of fools shall destroy them”: and another—”Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 1:32; 16:18). “Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, first and last, did Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, write. So Uzziah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the field of the burial which belonged to the kings; for they said, He is a leper: and Jotham his son reigned in his stead.” They would not lay his leprous body in their “Westminster Abbey,” but buried him in a field (in earth, perhaps) adjoining the sepulchres of their kings. He died about the time of the founding of Rome. It was “in the year that king Uzziah died” that Isaiah entered upon his full prophetic ministry. The moral condition of the nation during the close of Uzziah’s reign is revealed in the first five chapters of his prophecy. He was also the historiographer of his reign. It is not known in just what year of Uzziah’s reign he was smitten with leprosy. Nor is it certain just when the great earthquake occurred (Amos 1:1; Zech. 14:5). From Amos 1:1, compared with other scripture chronological references, it is quite certain that it was not later than seventeen years after Uzziah’s accession to the throne, and not when he was smitten with leprosy, as Josephus mistakenly affirms.

7 In these details, by which Uzziah’s kingdom was strengthened and his people blessed and enlarged, God would call our attention, surely, to what will strengthen and bless His people now: first, the precious and abundant food of the land we occupy—the precious fruits of His grace appropriated through patient cultivation on our part, by which our souls are richly fed and strengthened; then, that watchful care against inroads of the enemy—uniting and strengthening God’s people against the assaults and wiles of Satan.— [Ed.