2 Chronicles 26 – The Reign of Uzziah
A. The years of blessing and strength.
1. (1-5) The overview of Uzziah’s reign.
Now all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah. He built Elath and restored it to Judah, after the king rested with his fathers. Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecholiah of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. 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 prosper.
a. He did what was right in the sight of the LORD: The reign of Uzziah was largely characterized by the good he did in the sight of the LORD. His godliness was rewarded with a long reign of 52 years.
i. Uzziah came to the throne in a difficult era: “Following the tragic events that brought King Amaziah’s reign to an end, Jerusalem was in disarray, a major section of its protective wall destroyed, its temple and palace emptied of their treasures, and some of its inhabitants taken away to Israel as hostages.” (Dilday)
ii. Knapp suggests that Uzziah became king in an unusual manner: “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 Chronicles 24:23), leaving the people a free hand.”
iii. Now all the people of Judah took Uzziah: “The idea that the king could be chosen by the will of the people was never entirely lost in Judah.” (Selman)
b. As long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper: This generally mixed review of Uzziah’s reign is also indicated by 2 Kings 15:1-4, which tells us that Uzziah (also called Azariah in 2 Kings) did not remove the high places, traditional places of sacrifice to the LORD and sometimes doorways to idolatry.
i. “The two names are best understood as variants arising from the interchangeability of two closely related Hebrew roots.” (Selman)
2. (6-15) The strength, security, and fame of Uzziah’s reign.
Now he went out and made war against the Philistines, and broke down the wall of Gath, the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod; and he built cities around Ashdod and among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines, against the Arabians who lived in Gur Baal, and against the Meunites. Also the Ammonites brought tribute to Uzziah. His fame spread as far as the entrance of Egypt, for he became exceedingly strong. And Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate, at the Valley Gate, and at the corner buttress of the wall; then he fortified them. Also he built towers in the desert. He dug many wells, for he had much livestock, both in the lowlands and in the plains; he also had farmers and vinedressers in the mountains and in Carmel, for he loved the soil. Moreover Uzziah had an army of fighting men who went out to war by companies, according to the number on their roll as prepared by Jeiel the scribe and Maaseiah the officer, under the hand of Hananiah, one of the king’s captains. The total number of chief officers of the mighty men of valor was two thousand six hundred. And under their authority was an army of three hundred and seven thousand five hundred, that made war with mighty power, to help the king against the enemy. Then Uzziah prepared for them, for the entire army, shields, spears, helmets, body armor, bows, and slings to cast stones. And he made devices in Jerusalem, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and large stones. So his fame spread far and wide, for he was marvelously helped till he became strong.
a. He went out and made war against the Philistines: Uzziah was active in opposing the ancient enemies of the Israelites. The Philistines may also have been active against Judah in the not too distant past, perhaps being among those who came with the Arabians and massacred many of the royal family of David (2 Chronicles 22:1).
i. With this heart to make war against their ancient enemies, no wonder that God helped him against the Philistines.
ii. “The Philistines lost two of their major cities, Gath and Ashdod as well as Jabneh. The latter was formerly Jabneel of Judah (Joshua 15:11) and later became Jamnia where the Sanhedrin was re-formed after Jerusalem’s destruction in a. D. 70.” (Selman)
b. The Ammonites brought tribute to Uzziah: This was another example of the strength of Uzziah’s kingdom. He exacted tribute from the Ammonites, which was like a tax that recognized their lower place under Judah.
c. His fame spread.… he built towers.… He dug many wells.… Uzziah had an army.… he made devices in Jerusalem: Uzziah was a remarkable king, who had a broad interest in the improvement of his kingdom. Because of his many achievements, it was fitting that his fame spread among other nations.
i. “The reality of Uzziah’s ‘towers of the desert’ (of arid southern Judah) has been validated by the discovery of an eighth-century tower at Qumran.” (Payne)
ii. “Repairs in Jerusalem were necessitated by the damage incurred during the previous reign (note the specific mention of the Corner Gate in 2 Chronicles 25:23) and possibly by an earthquake (Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5).” (Selman)
iii. One unique description of Uzziah is that he loved the soil. This shows that he had a mind and a heart for more than technology and fame; he also had an interest in practical matters and things that benefited the majority of his people.
iv. “This is a perfection in a king: on husbandry every state depends. Let their trade or commerce be what they may, there can be no true national prosperity if agriculture do not prosper; for the king himself is served by the field.” (Clarke)
d. He made devices in Jerusalem, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and large stones: There is some debate and even controversy as to whether these were defensive or offensive inventions. If it does describe the invention of catapults, it is a remarkable thing that Uzziah and his men invented such things more than two hundred years before archaeological evidence suggests.
i. “His (literally) ‘inventions’ were probably protective shields or screens on city walls enabling archers and others to operate in comparative safety.” (Selman)
ii. Yet Clarke quotes a Targum at 2 Chronicles 26:15: “He made in Jerusalem ingenious instruments, and little hollow towers, to stand upon the towers and upon the bastions, for the shooting of arrows, and projecting of great stones.”
iii. “This is the very first intimation on record of any warlike engines for the attack or defence of besieged places; and this account is long prior to any thing of the kind among either the Greeks or the Romans…. The Jews alone were the inventors of such engines; and the invention took place in the reign of Uzziah, about eight hundred years before the Christian era. It is no wonder that, in the consequence of this, his name spread far abroad, and struck terror into his enemies.” (Clarke)
e. For he was marvelously helped till he became strong: At the end of this extended section praising and promoting the goodness of Uzziah’s reign, we read this ominous word. At some point in his success, he began to turn from God’s help and began to trust in his own strength.
i. “The chief reason for Uzziah’s success is God’s help. This is a special word in Chronicles (cf.e.g. 1 Chronicles 12:19; 2 Chronicles 14:11; 25:8) whose meaning is equivalent in the New Testament to the enabling work of the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8:26; 2 Timothy 1:14; cf. Acts 26:22; 1 Thessalonians 2:2).” (Selman)
B. Uzziah’s sin and punishment.
1. (16) The proud heart of Uzziah.
But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.
a. When he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction: Uzziah is a prominent example of a man who handled adversity better than success.
i. “The history of men affords persistent witness to the subtle perils which are created by prosperity. More men are blasted by it than by adversity…. Prosperity always puts the soul in danger of pride, of the heart lifted up; and pride ever goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Morgan)
ii. “God cannot trust some of us with prosperity and success, because our nature could not stand them. We must tug at the oar, instead of spreading the sail, because we have not enough ballast.” (Meyer)
b. He transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar: Azariah violated what had become a general principle in God’s dealing with Israel: that no king should also be a priest, and that the offices of prophet, priest, and king should not be combined in one man – until the Messiah, who fulfilled all three offices.
i. “Uzziah is unfaithful (2 Chronicles 26:16, 18). This is the most important expression for sin in Chronicles, and it can bring down a dynasty (1 Chronicles 10:13) or take a nation into exile (1 Chronicles 5:25; 9:1; 2 Chronicles 33:19; 36:14). The term has not appeared since Rehoboam’s time (2 Chronicles 12:2) but now will become a regular theme to the end of the book.” (Selman)
ii. “Uzziah’s problem was that he was not content with the authority God had given him and wanted to add more priestly functions to his royal power. Absolute power, however, has no place in God’s kingdom.” (Selman)
2. (17-21) Confrontation and a fitting punishment.
So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the LORD; valiant men. And they withstood King Uzziah, 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 are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the LORD God.” Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the LORD, beside the incense altar. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and there, on his forehead, he was leprous; so they thrust him out of that place. Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the LORD had struck him. King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death. He dwelt in an isolated house, because he was a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD. Then Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land.
a. So Azariah the priest went in after him: It took courage to confront a king, an heir of King David, a commander of the armies of Judah. Yet Azariah the priest knew that King Uzziah’s crime was so great that it justified this confrontation.
b. It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests: Azariah simply called Uzziah to recognize this long-standing principle. God clearly declared that only the descendants of Aaron could come to Him as priests (excepting the priesthood according to Melchizedek, which priesthood Jesus belonged to).
c. Then Uzziah became furious.… leprosy broke out on his forehead: With his head full of pride and fury, Uzziah began to see leprosy break out upon his head. No doubt he first saw the problem in the faces of the horrified priests who looked at the leprosy as it first appeared on his face.
i. “The leprosy even rose up in his forehead; so as he could not hide his shame; though it is probable it was also in the rest of his body.” (Poole)
ii. “Despite the seriousness of what Uzziah had done, God still does not act until Uzziah becomes ‘enraged’, an emphatic word occurring twice in verse 19. God’s righteous anger only breaks out against human rebellious anger.” (Selman)
d. Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the LORD had struck him: Uzziah would not listen to the Biblical commands and customs that forbade him to enter the temple and offer incense. He would not listen to the rebuke and warning from the priests. Yet he did listen to the judgment of God against him, and he finally hurried to get out.
e. King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death: Uzziah came into the temple as an arrogant king, and he left as a humbled leper and stayed that way for the remainder of his life. He could not even go into the outer courts of the temple which were once open to him as to other worshippers (he was cut off from the house of the LORD). In overstepping this boundary, he found his freedom more restricted than ever before.
i. “It was a fearful stroke from God. Death was the actual penalty enjoined by the law for his crime (Numbers 18:7), and leprosy was really that – a living death, prolonged and intensified.” (Knapp)
ii. “He who could not content himself with God’s allowance, but usurped the priest’s place and office, is now deprived of the privilege of the meanest of his people, a just and most suitable judgment.” (Poole)
3. (22-23) The death and burial of King Uzziah.
Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz wrote. So Uzziah rested with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the field of burial which belonged to the kings, for they said, “He is a leper.” Then Jotham his son reigned in his place.
a. The rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz wrote: This connection between Isaiah and Uzziah is noted in Isaiah 6:1, when the death of the king contributed to the call of the prophet: In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne (Isaiah 6:1).
i. It is important to consider the reign of Uzziah in totality:
· He began his reign at only 16 years of age.
· He reigned for 52 years.
· Overall, he was a good and strong king who led Israel to many military victories and who was an energetic builder and visionary.
· Despite all this, Uzziah had a tragic end.
ii. Therefore, when Isaiah wrote that he was called in the year King Uzziah died, he said a lot. It is to say, “In the year a great and wise king died.” But it is also to say, “In the year a great and wise king who had a tragic end died.” Isaiah had great reason to be discouraged and disillusioned at the death of King Uzziah, because a great king had passed away, and because his life ended tragically. Yet despite it all, he saw the enthroned LORD God who was greater than any earthly king.
b. For they said, “He is a leper”: This is a sad and somewhat unfortunate summation of a mostly great king of Judah, yet it shows the great expense and tragedy of not finishing well, and that late mistakes and scandals can color a whole lifetime or career.
i. “This is the last of three successive reigns which concludes with a period of disobedience and disaster, and it seems that nothing is able to prevent Judah and their kings sliding into sin and judgment. Idolatry, rejection of the prophets, violence, and pride repeat themselves with devastating regularity.” (Selman)
ii. “Though Uzziah’s pride did not cause the exile, it is an excellent illustration of why the exile eventually came about. From now on, Judah’s end is definitely in sight.” (Selman)
iii. “Reference to a separate burial place may be confirmed by an ossuary inscription of the Hasmonean period: ‘Here were brought the bones of Uzziah, king of Judah, and not to be moved.’” (Selman)
iv. “I have lived long enough to observe that the greatest faults that are ever committed by professedly Christian men are not committed by young people. Most painful is it, to me to remember that the worst cases of backsliding and apostasy that I have ever seen, in this church, have been by old men and middle-aged men, – not by young people; for, somehow or other, the young people, if they are truly taught of God, know their weakness, and so they cry to God for help; but it often happens that more experienced people begin to think that they are not likely to fall into the faults and follies of the young; and I care not how old a man may be – even if seven centuries had passed over his head:, – if he began to trust in himself, he would be a fool, and soon he would have a grievous fall.” (Spurgeon)