2nd Chronicles 26; Uzziah – The King Who Attempted to be a Priest

2nd Chronicles 26; Uzziah – The King Who Attempted to be a Priest

Whenever I took my A Level in Political Studies, I learned that the United States political system is based upon a strict separation of powers. In fact I recall receiving a commendation from the principal, the only one I ever received at Coleraine Inst, for a twenty-five page essay contrasting the USA and British systems. In the United States the legislature, comprising the House of Representatives and Senate, and the executive, which is the Presidency, and the judiciary, presided over by the Supreme Court, are kept constitutionally separate. These institutions are replicated in every state within the union. This balance is so carefully struck, that in many areas a President has less power in certain circumstances than a British Prime Minister. Mr Boris Johnston, for example, is not just part of the executive, he is a member of the legislature and because he has such a large majority, he controls the House of Commons. Mr Biden has no such luxury. Therefore historically the United States President gets locked into monumental struggles with the legislature, and there is much by way of wheeling and dealing to get legislation passed.

Separation of powers, however, is a healthy thing in any democracy because it prevents one person or group from assuming too much power. This is particularly true of the relationship between the Government and Judiciary; while politicians make law they have no influence over the courts and the police in the implementation of that law. Not only must the courts be free of political interference but the media likewise must be independent in their reporting and criticisms of the Government. There are lines in a democracy that no politician can overstep and if he or she does so, the penalties will be severe.

As Presbyterians, there is something else we believe, in terms of separation of powers within the administration of our nation; the total separation of Church and State. The Church of Christ must be free to exercise jurisdiction over its own affairs without political interference while the Church must take care not to meddle in matters which are the reserve of the civil government, an institution ordained of God. The Church must take care not to become political while the Government likewise should not dictate to the Church what it should believe, who its ministers should be and how it ought to govern itself.

We are living in times when the Government is certainly overreaching its powers defining morality, transgressing the laws of God in so doing. This gives us serious concern for the future as the standards of Scripture become increasingly unacceptable. The freedoms that we have within the Church were won at a great price. We often talk about the sacrifices of the Scottish Covenanters. That band of people chose persecution and suffering rather than be forced to worship within the Church of Scotland. All they wanted was freedom to worship according to their conscience and for the Church to be independent under Christ. We are the inheritors of their legacy. We enjoy our freedoms because of their sacrifices. We owe it to our forefathers as well as our children and every future generating to defend the independence of the Kirk.

All of this is relevant because Uzziah goes down in history as the King who over reached and over stepped. He crossed a line that no King had passed over before.

In ancient Israel there was a clear line of separation distinguishing the role of the King and the High Priest. These were the two most important positions in the land. The King made laws, managed the economy, raised taxes, was responsible for the defence of the realm and all of the other responsibilities that we associate with a civil leader. The High Priest was responsible for the work of the temple and was the custodian of the sacred oracles, the inspired Scriptures.

The temple had witnessed many dramatic events over the years. In fact, Chronicles is largely the unfolding drama against the backdrop of this famous old building. The stones of the temple had witnessed Solomon’s prayer of dedication, the great reforms of Asa and Jehoshaphat, the overthrow of Athaliah and the tragic martyrdom of Zedekiah the High Priest. In the days of Uzziah, however, something new and terrible occurred. Defiantly this King of Judah walked into the temple, striding past the brazen altar, through the magnificent doors leading into the holy place. He walked into the hallway lined with gold, treading on floors that no King had ever previously walked. He walked past the tables filled with the shew bread until he stood before the Altar of Incense. The veil stood beyond this altar and the King was within a few feet of the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant. He was in a place that no other non-Levite had ever occupied. If he was to step forward he would enter a chamber that only the High Priest could enter. There was good reason for this. What Uzziah was doing was unconstitutional; the constitution was drawn up up by God. There was a separation between the King and the High Priest, between the monarchy and the temple. Uzziah was stepping over the line. He was disrupting the holy order established by God.

Standing before the Altar of a Incense Uzziah prepared himself to burn incense and do the work of the Priest. At this point the golden hall was filled with ae group of 80 priests, valiant men, led by Azariah the High Priest. These brave men are among the unsung heroes of the Chronicles account. They would defend their constitution. They would stand up for the independence of the Temple. They would resist their King, if he violated their holy rights.

Azariah, confronting Uzziah declared:

It appertaineth 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 honour from the LORD God.

2nd Chronicles 26:18

Remarkably, there was no immediate judgement, only a word of warning calling upon the King to stand back. Tragically Uzziah had set himself for this course of action and so he would not be deflected. He acted with anger lifting up the incense preparing to defy the God of Israel and as he did so the disease of leprosy started to spread across his forehead. He is ignominiously driven from the temple in shame, not to return to his throne room but to a house where he would live in isolation until the day of his death.

There are some practical lessons to be gleaned from Uzziah’s tragic failure.

The Wreckage of a Ruined Testimony

Uzziah reigned for 52 years in Jerusalem, receiving the crown when only 16 years of age. After the disastrous reign of Amaziah, his Father, the coronation of Uzziah was regarded with a sense of optimism, a new future had arrived. His was a reign which was given time to make a difference for God in the kingdom.

It is reported that Uzziah “did that which right in the sight of the Lord” (26:4) and he was especially influenced by the prophet Zechariah during these early years. The success of Uzziah’s early reign is attributed to the blessing of God.

One catastrophic decision, however, ruined all the good that he had accomplished. He entered the temple on that fateful day as in health and he came out a leper. He approached the gates of God’s House a proud man but when he was seen again he was broken and humbled. He entered the sanctuary an absolute ruler but he returned powerless, with the right to reign on his behalf delegated to his son Jotham.

Uzziah’s fall finds echoes in the solemn warning of the Apostle Paul:

“But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”

1st Corinthians 9:27

The good that is accomplished in a lifetime of service can be quickly lost through one poor decision, one moment of dropping the guard, one surrendering of the spirit to the works of the flesh.

The Destructiveness of a Proud Spirit

The inspired historian, however, is quite clear as to the cause of this calamitous turn of events:

“But 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.”

2nd Chronicles 26:16

Uzziah was a dominant and powerful leader. He had subjugated the Philistines, he had strengthened the the ramparts of Jerusalem and he had restored much pride that had been lost during the reign of his Father. There was one part of the kingdom which he did not control and this was the temple, the most glorious edifice within the city. It would seem that he was prepared to put this right and so he walked into the precincts of the House fo God. In his pride, he felt that he could do whatever he wanted.

A spirit of pride is the ultimate reason why people backslide. This spirit lies at the root of every sin.

Pride was the first sin in the universe as Lucifer attempted to overthrow God and it was the first sin in the world as Adam and Eve attempted to be like God. Pride comes naturally to the heart of every man and woman but it must be resisted as a poisonous evil. Let us pray for and nurture the spirit of humility.

Uzziah’s pride was his problem, his achilles heel. Every Christian has a tendency to sin in a particular way, due to our own constitution, mentality and circumstances we have our own unique temptations. Let us take care and take heed, carefully guarding our testimonies lest we also undo all the good we have ever done for the Lord.

The Inflexibility of God’s Law

The court that Uzziah entered into was the reserve of the priests. It was never known in the history of Israel for anyone who was not a priest to enter these halls. The brazen altar was as far as the regular worshiper would travel as he or she entered within the walls of the temple grounds. The pattern for the temple worship had been established for hundreds of years since the inauguration of the priesthood in the days of Moses and Aaron:

“Therefore thou and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest’s office for every thing of the altar, and within the vail; and ye shall serve: I have given your priest’s office unto you as a service of gift: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.”

Numbers 18:7

God gives us parameters for life and service, these boundaries are not to be altered by us. The standards of God’s law are set in stone, morality is fixed and is not to be violated – we have no right to refine what God defines as sin. She today laugh at certain beliefs and practices because they are old. Much of what is old is true not because of its age but because its truth is grounded in the authority of God’s word.

Let us live our lives, therefore, in fear of God, knowing that there is not a word that He does not hear and there is not an action that He does not see. We are measured constantly according to His truth.

The Faithfulness of Spiritual Leadership

The priests of God were taken by surprise at the King’s sudden violation of proper procedure. While they were present to stop Uzziah, they hastily mobilised and were ready to confront him before further damage occurred. The actions of these 80 men led by Amaziah the High Priest, is nothing short of heroic. They confronted the most powerful Israel had seen in several generations and they did so with the authority of God.

We need spiritual leaders who will speak the truth with this sense of authority, exposing sin where it exists. In particular we need leadership that will quickly defend the Church when her independence is under threat.

The Stubbornness of a Sinful Heart

Uzziah’s refusal to accept the earnest rebuke of God’s servant, only served to accentuate his guilt.

The toughest thing in life to accept is criticism. It goes against the grain of human nature to put our hands up, saying “I’m sorry”. Our response to the rebukes of God’s Word and of God’s servants, very often reveals the true state of our hearts.

When the sermon rebukes us and finds our sin, when our pastors give us private advice in admonition may God give us the grace to accept the Word as from the Lord himself.

Live in fear of the stubborn, heard heart, which becomes increasingly defiant the more it is rebuked.

The Chastening of a Jealous God

With the censer lifted in his hand, as the King prepared to cast the incense onto the flame of the golden altar, the leprosy began to rise on his forehead. It was evident to everyone that God was dealing with the King in a most severe way.

The greater our privilege the harsher God will deal with us in this life when we sin and bring shame upon the witness of Christ.

The pastor has an awesome responsibility in his walk with God; and I feel that every day as I you for your prayers. Those in office in the church, those entrusted with work to do in the Lord’s vineyard must walk carefully, because our sin will dishonours the body of Christ in a most public way. The same is true of every professing Christian.

With a profession comes responsibility and those whom the Lord loves He will chasten. The world expects the non Christian to sin but the Christian has a higher standard even in the eyes of the most irreligious person. God will defend His glory by not allowing His child to dishonour His holy name without consequences.

The Danger in Seizing the Glory of God

Uzziah ultimately stole God’s glory and attempted to seize it for himself.

Whenever we allow our spirits to inflated so that we are self reliant, self sufficient and full of self praise – we are seizing the glory of God for ourselves. We must be careful of this.

All must be for Jesus, Jesus only, or it would be better not to lift a finger in Christian service.

Uzziah, however, sinned in that he destroyed the Gospel pattern. The priests by their work and ministry represented by type the ministry of Christ in all its various aspects. Uzziah in doing the work of the priest was claiming that God’s way was unnecessary. He could intercede Himself without the work of a mediator. In so doing he corrupted the ministry of Christ and the plan of salvation.

Uzziah sin is replicated every time a preacher advocates a gospel without the shedding of Christ’s blood and the new birth. Every time a congregation is told that the work of Christ as mediator is not essential and that we can somehow merit our own salvation, Uzziah is at work.

It is no wonder the Apostle Paul declared that those who reach another Gospel will be accursed. May the words “Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel”, burn deep into our hearts, that we might always be faithful to the old Gospel, the only way of salvation.

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