It seems a ridiculous question, but if you read the account of King Uzziah’s life just from 2 Kings 15, you are left with three possible conclusions. Either God is a vindictive being with a twisted and evil sense of humour who thinks giving someone a serious disease after years of faithful worship is funny (Not true!). Or, He is a loving God, and leprosy is actually a good thing (Also not true!). Or, there is something more to this than these brief verses convey.
2 Kings 15:1-7, “In the twenty and seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel began Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah to reign. Sixteen years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned two and fifty years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jecholiah of Jerusalem. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done; Save that the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places. And the LORD smote the king, so that he was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the house, judging the people of the land. And the rest of the acts of Azariah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? So Azariah slept with his fathers; and they buried him with his fathers in the city of David: and Jotham his son reigned in his stead.”
This passage doesn’t even tell us half the story.
One of our principles at Know My Faith is to dig deeper into the historic, cultural context of the Christian faith. That means not reading scriptures out of context and never making assumptions based on a single verse or passage.
There is a saying that goes, “A text without its context is a pretext for a proof text.”
A ‘proof text’ is one of those ipso facto texts. Like when someone says, “How can you tell me I can’t do something? The Bible says I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s making Philippians 4:13 say something that the Apostle Paul never intended it to say.
Let’s get some context to our passage.
2 Chronicles 26:1-5, “Then all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who 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. 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. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah did. And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him to prosper.”
Note carefully the last statement in that passage… “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper”. That hints that there was a time when Uzziah DIDN’T seek the Lord.
The next ten verses simply talk about Uzziah’s military victories, so let’s jump to verse 16 and note that little three letter word that opens the passage.
2 Chronicles 26:16-2, “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. 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 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. 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 house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD: and Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land.”
By looking at this second passage we get more context, and the reason God smote Uzziah with leprosy becomes clearer. Not clear, just clearer.
A couple of character traits of the king reveal themselves; pride and a fierce temper.
In 1 Kings 21, when Elijah proclaimed God’s punishment on Israel’s King Ahab – which was that his entire lineage would be wiped out – Ahab repented and humbled himself so much so, that the Lord said He wouldn’t bring it about until after Ahab had died.
Uzziah did not humble himself.
He got angry.
Now, let’s ask a couple of important questions.
Did God smite Uzziah with leprosy because he got angry?
Did God smite him with leprosy because he was burning incense to Him?
The answer is in 2 Chronicle 26:19, “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.”
What does this verse tell us that we may not see on an initial read?
Uzziah was wroth, very angry, but he still had the censor in his hand which means that he was still going to go ahead and burn incense, even though God’s appointed representatives had told him not to.
God smote Uzziah because he rebelled against God’s delegated authority.
The verse says, “while he was wroth with the priests.” “Who do you think you are to tell me what I am and am not allowed to do? Who put you in charge? I’M THE KING!!!”
Actually, God put the priests in charge.
God had a High Priest in charge long before he allowed Israel to have a king. And remember, it was the priests who anointed the king and, as Hebrews 7:7 says in relation to Melchizedek and Abram, “without a doubt the less is blessed by the greater.”
We’ll look at the question of why Uzziah wasn’t allowed to offer incense shortly, but first, let’s look at another incident of someone rebelling against God’s authority hierarchy.
Numbers 12:1-10, “And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it. (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.) And the LORD spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out. And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth. And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all my house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed. And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.”
Aaron and Miriam rebelled against the Lord’s designated authority (God had chosen Moses as the leader). The ‘reward’ for that rebellion was leprosy. In Miriam’s case temporary because of Aaron’s confession of their sin, and Moses’s intercession.
Let’s return now to Uzziah and ask another question.
What’s wrong with a king burning incense to the Lord?
When the angel Gabriel appeared to John the Baptist’s father Zecharias, and then six month’s later to Mary, they both asked what was essentially the same question; “How can this be? What you’ve said is not physically possible.”
In Mary’s case, she had a valid point; up until that time, virgins just didn’t get pregnant. But in Zechariah’s case, he was forgetting his history, because I’m pretty sure Abraham and Sarah were a lot older than him and Elizabeth. As an Israelite, let alone as a priest, he had no place asking that question. That is why Mary was blessed and Zechariah was struck dumb.
Uzziah had obviously forgotten what had happened to Israel’s first king when he overstepped his authority at Gilgal and sacrificed before the Lord. You can read the account in 1 Samuel 13. Because Saul did something he knew he shouldn’t do, (and in his case, in strict disobedience to previous instructions from Samuel), God stripped him of the kingdom.
Uzziah, being the god-fearing son of a god-fearing father, should have remembered his place. It was not for him to burn incense to the Lord.
But here’s the big question: Why not?
The short answer is: Because it wasn’t his privilege to do so. It was the privilege of the descendants of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi.
Now we get into territory that the average Christian doesn’t even think about. And even those of us who have read the Bible many times tend to breeze over details like this.
Why were the Levite’s the only tribe that was allowed to minister in the Tabernacle (and later the temple)?
The answer lies in the book of Exodus and the case of the golden calf. It would be a good idea to reacquaint yourself with the story, as it is too long to reprint here. You can find it in Exodus 32.
Let me share one verse here.
Exodus 32:26, “Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.”
It is possible that the Levites had not taken part in the idolatry. It is more probable, though, that they were quick to recognise that they had sinned before the Lord and immediately consecrated themselves – set themselves apart – to ONLY worship the Lord.
And so God accepted that and gave them the great privilege of serving him in the temple.
Numbers 8:16-18 says that God told Moses: “For they [the Levites] are wholly given over to Me from among the children of Israel; instead of those that open the womb all the firstborn of Israel I have taken them for Myself . . .”
The Levites got no land inheritance, their reward was that they, and only they, were allowed to participate in the duties of the tabernacle and later the temple. That meant folding the curtains, sweeping the floor, and carrying the trays and basins when the camp moved. “Oh yay,” we would say sarcastically, “what a privilege.”
And yet they thought it so.
Look at what the Psalmist says:
Psalm 84:1-2, 10, “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God…
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness”.
The writer of that psalm understands the privilege of serving the Lord.
And it’s interesting that today, the only tribe of Israel who is able to accurately trace its lineage is the Levites. Through the names associated with the surname, Cohen. All other official tribal records were lost when the temple was destroyed in 70AD. (Which, by the way, is another proof that Yeshua is the Messiah. But that’s a whole different Bible study).
Finally: Why Aaron?
I don’t know! The Bible and the commentators are a little silent on that regard. I do have a theory, but Know My Faith is all about digging into the Bible to find answers, not coming up with answers outside of scripture.
I will say this about Aaron though. I think he is hard done by in Hebrews 11 where he doesn’t even appear in the list of heroes of the faith.
In Exodus 3 and 4 we read about Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush and his feeble excuses for why he can’t go back to Egypt and confront Pharaoh. But in Exodus 4:27 it says this; “And the LORD said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went..”.
And the Lord said to Aaron, “Don’t worry about the fact that you are a slave and severely oppressed and the guards might see you and arrest you, I want you to head off into the wilderness and find your brother who went walkabout, who knows where, 40 years ago. And Aaron said, “Yep! On to it.”.
While Moses is busy complaining to God that he couldn’t possibly do what God had commanded, Aaron just up and leaves home to look for a brother he hasn’t heard from in four decades. No questions asked. That’s faith. That’s biblical faith. Faith that is followed by action.
Acts 10:1-8, “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked at him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. And when the angel which spoke unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa”.
God says to Cornelius, “Send some of your men to a different town to ask for a guy you’ve never heard of who’s apparently staying at the house of another fella who’s got the same name that’s well known to everyone in town.”
And Cornelius responds, “Yep! on to it.” That’s biblical faith. Faith that is followed by action. That’s faith. And without faith, it is impossible to please God.
James 4:6-10, “But he [God] giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. … Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
Uzziah did not humble himself. This is not stated directly in the scripture but is implicit in the fact that the leprosy did not leave him. That is a very sad ending for a great king. A bit like his great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather King Asa who, in his later years, was diseased in his feet, but for some reason chose to seek help from the physicians and not from the Lord. Why would that be? The only possible answer is pride.
So I hope you can see from all of this that we need to know the Bible in its entirety, or, as we say at Know My Faith, we need to know the historical and cultural setting of the scriptures we read, and then they will make so much more sense to us.
Jesus says in Matthew 18:3-4, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
No one can approach the cross with pride. We must do so humbly. On our knees, admitting our guilt like David.
Confessing: “I have wronged You. I have sinned against You and there is nothing I can do to fix that. So I humbly come to the foot of the cross to receive Your grace and mercy.”
Will you do that today? Right now. Humble yourself before the Lord. Admit you are a sinner. Confess any sins that particularly come to mind and accept God’s saving grace.