Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. PREMATURE RESPONSIBILITY. "All the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king." They all agreed to set a lad upon the throne. Events seem to have justified their course; and if Zechariah the prophet, or, what is more likely, some prominent "prince of Judah," acted as prime minister or protector, he may have succeeded even in the earlier years of his administration. But it is a very great mistake to devolve large responsibilities upon the young.
1. It is bad for the estate they have to administer, whatever that may be. "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child," is a curse which has a wide application. The very young, with minds that must be immature, judge without knowledge, are swayed by persons rather than governed by principles, fall into serious and often into disastrous mistakes.
2. It is bad for themselves. It exposes them to several temptations which it is not right they should encounter, and it loads them with a weight of duty and difficulty they are not strong enough to carry. In most cases they break down, in some direction, under their burden. Responsibility is not for youth; it is for prime and for the ripe experience of later life.
II. THE INEQUALITIES OF CONDITION WHICH THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD ASSIGNS US. Uzziah "reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem." To him God gave more than half a century of power and wealth and their attendant advantages. To others he denies these larger gratifications altogether, and grants very limited comforts, and these for a very brief hour. How do we account for this? All is plain if we consider:
1. That neither justice nor kindness requires that God should give to one man as large a heritage as he has given to another; it is no injury to me to whom he has given one talent that it has pleased him to bestow ten talents on my neighbour. I had no claim to that one talent which, of his pure goodness, he has conferred upon me.
2. That the chief value of human life depends neither upon its surroundings nor upon its duration, but upon its moral and spiritual characteristics.
3. That if there be any inequalities that, in the cause of righteousness, require adjustment, there remains the long future for redress.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF MOTHERHOOD ON OUR CHARACTER AND OUR COURSE. It is not without meaning that we have the record, "his mother's name was Jecoliah." To much too large a degree in the East all that the mother contributes is maternity. But "woman, beloved of God in old Jerusalem," gave much more than this. She was not a cipher in the home; she was an intelligent, active sharer in the thought and history of her country and her time. Jesus Christ owed much to her truer appreciation, and to her more faithful ministry. It is likely that Uzziah owed as much to his mother as to his father in the way of godly training and good home influence. A very considerable number of the great and good men who have rendered conspicuous services to their race became what they were because they grew up in the atmosphere of a mother's gentle and beautiful life. "No mother knows who or what she has in her cradle," or can tell how great a share she may have, by the training of the little child that is slumbering there, in the enrichment or the reformation of the world.
IV. THE INFLUENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY ON OUR CHARACTER AND COURSE. "He sought God in the days of Zechariah" (ver. 5). No doubt this seeking of the Lord was very largely due to the prophet's influence over him. The true Christian minister is, like the Hebrew prophet, "one that speaks for God" to men. And he who speaks for his Divine Master with faithfulness, with earnestness of spirit, in true and pure affection, speaking "the whole counsel of God" as he is able to learn and utter it, has a work to do and an influence to exert second to none in the hearts and lives of men. From the court to the cottage-home the gracious power of such ministry is felt in the land.
V. THE PROSPERITY OF PIETY. "As long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper" (ver. 5). (See homily on 2 Chronicles 25:15," The folly of irreligion.")
1. There is no prosperity worthy of the name, or worthy of our ambition and pursuit, outside the fear and the favour of God. "Who hath hardened himself against him and prospered?" Many have seemed to do so, and have imagined that they did. But, in the light of Divine wisdom, they have miserably failed.
2. There can be no failure in the faithful service of the Supreme. What looks like it, there may be, there often is; but not the thing itself. For he who walks with God, and is the friend of Jesus Christ, must be what is right and good; must stand where he is secure from harm; must be witnessing for the truth of God; must be moving on towards deeper wisdom, purer joy, and a glorious estate beyond. - C.
I. A YOUTHFUL SOVEREIGN. (Vers. 1-3.)
1. His names. Uzziah, "Might of Jehovah" (2 Kings 15:13, 30, 32, 34; Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 6:1; Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5); Azariah, "Whom Jehovah aids" (2 Kings 14:21; 2 Kings 15:1, 6, 8, 17, 23, 27; 1 Chronicles 3:12); - the former, the designation taken by or conferred upon him at or soon after his accession (Thenius, Bahr); the latter, his name before that event. But if the two appellations should not be regarded as equivalent (Keil), the likelihood is that Uzziah was his personal and Azariah his kingly title (Nagelsbach in Herzog, and Kleinert in Riehm), as the latter, Azri-jahu, is the name he ordinarily bears on the Assyrian monuments (Schrader, 'Keilin-schriften,' p. 217).
2. His parents. Amaziah the son of Joash, and Jecoliah of Jerusalem. Of the latter nothing is known beyond her name and residence, except that she had been the wife, and was the mother, of a king. That Uzziah was not his father's firstborn son has been inferred (Bertheau, Ewald, Bahr), though precariously, from the statement that "all the people took him and made him king" (ver. 1).
3. The date of his accession. After his father's death, in the fifteenth year of Jeroboam II. of Israel (2 Kings 14:23). The theory that Uzziah's accession should be dated from his father's capture by Joash (Sumner) is not without support from certain circumstances stated in the narrative, as e.g. that Amaziah lived (not reigned) after the death of Joash fifteen years (ch. 25:25), and that Uzziah built Eloth after the death of his father (ch. 26:2), as if he had been sovereign before that event, Nevertheless, it is not adopted by Josephus ('Ant.,' 9:9. 3), and does not appear demanded by the text (consult Exposition).
4. The length of his reign. Fifty-two years - with one exception (ch. 33:1) the longest throne-occupancy of any sovereign of Judah. Its close synchronized with the accession of Pekah to the throne of Israel by means of conspiracy and assassination (2 Kings 15:23-25).
II. A PROMISING RULER. (Vers. 4, 5.)
1. A worshipper of Jehovah. "He did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah, according to all that his father Amaziah had done," i.e. until he declined into idolatry (2 Chronicles 25:14). "He was a good man, and by nature righteous and magnanimous, and very laborious in taking care of the affairs of his kingdom" (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 9:10. 3); but his devotion to religion, while sincere, was, like his father's, imperfect (2 Chronicles 25:2). "The high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burnt incense still on the high places" (2 Kings 15:4). See the confirmation of this in the minor prophets (Hosea 8:14; Hosea 12:2; Amos 2:4).
2. A seeker after God. "And he sought God."
(1) How? By observing his worship, keeping his commandments, honouring his prophets, and studying his Law - the only true way of seeking God still.
(2) When? In the days of Zechariah, "who had understanding," or "gave instruction" (Revised Version, margin), "in the vision of God." Nobler distinction than the former, better employment than the latter, can no man have.
(3) How long? Until Zechariah died, after which his fervour declined, the remembrance of his teacher faded, his devotion to Jehovah and the true religion diminished. So Joash behaved wisely and religiously while Jehoiada lived (2 Chronicles 24:17). Human goodness too often short-lived (Hosea 6:4).
(4) With what result? Prosperity, which kept pace with his piety. "As long as he sought Jehovah, Elohim made him to prosper" (ver. 5) - a remarkable combination of words, which perhaps teaches that, whilst prosperity or success is from God, the Supreme Being as such, it is never conferred upon good men except on the ground that they are worshippers of him as the covenant God of grace and salvation.
3. A pupil of Zechariah. "Zechariah had understanding," and perhaps gave him instruction "in the vision [or, 'seeing'] of God." That this Zechariah was neither the priest whom Joash slew (2 Chronicles 24:20), nor the prophet who lived in the second year of Darius (Zechariah 1:1), is apparent. That he possessed that special gift or capacity of beholding God in vision which pertained to the prophetic calling cannot be inferred from the Chronicler's statement, "since this beholding of God, of which the prophets were conscious only in moments of highest inspiration, cannot be thought of as a work of human activity and exercise" (Berthcau). Most probably he was one who, like Daniel (Daniel 1:17), "had understanding in all visions and dreams," and who acted as Uzziah's counsellor and teacher.
III. A BRILLIANT WARRIOR. (Vers. 2, 6, 7, 8.)
1. The fortification of Eloth. (Ver. 2.) His father's conquest of Edom (2 Chronicles 25:11, 12) had either not been pushed as far as this important harbour-town upon the Red Sea (see on 2 Chronicles 8:17), or the town, though taken, had been given up and not annexed to Judah in consequence of Joash's defeat of Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25:23). On attaining to the throne, Uzziah rectified his father's oversight by capturing the town, erecting it into a fortress, and restoring it to Judah. Without it Edom was of little consequence to Judah. This exploit, which happened in the early part of Uzziah's reign, was probably that from which he derived his name Azariah (2 Kings 14:21, 22); while its introduction at this stage in the narrative, before the chronological statement which follows it (ver. 3), may have been due to a desire on the part of the Chronicler to introduce Uzziah to his readers as the well-known monarch who had conquered, recovered, and fortified Eloth (Berthcau).
2. The war against the Philistines and Arabians. (Vers. 6, 7.) These had together invaded Judah upwards of eighty years previously (2 Chronicles 21:16), and Uzziah may have purposed to inflict upon them chastisement for that aggression (Keil); but the assumption is as rational that Uzziah either dreaded or experienced a combination against himself similar to that which had assailed Jehoram, and that, either (in the former case) taking time by the forelock, he fell upon his enemies ere they could strike at him, or (in the latter case), meeting the emergency with courage, he repelled the attacks they made upon him. His success in dealing with the Philistines was complete. He broke down the walls of Gath (see on 2 Chronicles 11:8), which, formerly taken from the Philistines by David (1 Chronicles 18:1), had latterly been recovered, most likely in the reign of Jehoram; the wall of Jabneh, here mentioned for the first time, but probably the town in Judah named Jabneel in the days of the conquest (Joshua 15:11), Jamnia in the period of the. Maccabees, at the present day Jabneh, eighteen miles north-west of Gath, "situated on a slight eminence on the west bank of the valley of Sorek (Wddy es Surar), about four miles from the sea coast" (Warren, in 'Picturesque Palestine,' 3:161); and the wall of Ashdod, one of the principal cities of the Philistines (1 Samuel 5:1), and now a village called Esdud, after which he erected cities in the domain of Ashdod and in other parts of Philistia. In like manner, he was entirely victorious over the Arabians in (Gur-baal - not the city Petra (LXX.), but perhaps the town of Gerar (Targum) - and the Meunims, who dwelt in Mann (1 Chronicles 4:41).
3. The submission of the Ammonites. These, whose settlements lay east of the Dead Sea, and who, in Jehoshaphat's time, had come up against Judah (2 Chronicles 20:1), were now so reduced that they rendered tribute to Judah, as the Moabites did under David (2 Samuel 8:2), and the Philistines and Arabians under Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:11).
4. The extension of his fame to Egypt. Not merely the report of his splendid victories travelled so far as the land of the Pharaohs, but the boundaries of his empire reached to its vicinity. An inscription of Tiglath-Pileser II. shows that the northern people of Hamath attempted to free themselves from the Assyrian yoke by going over to Azariah ('Records,' etc., 5:46; Schrader, 'Keilinschriften,' p. 221).
IV. A GREAT BUILDER. (Vers. 9, 10.) In addition to the fortress at Eloth and the cities in Philistia, he erected towers.
1. In Jerusalem.
(1) At the corner-gate, i.e. at the north-west corner of the city (2 Chronicles 25:23).
(2) At the valley-gate, i.e. on the west side, where the Jaffa gate now is.
(3) At the turning of the wall, i.e. at a curve in the city wall on the east side of Zion, near the horse-gate. This tower commanded both the temple hill and Zion against attacks from the south-east.
2. In the desert, or wilderness. The place was "the steppe-lands on the west side of the Dead Sea" (Keil); the object, the protection of his flocks and shepherds against attacks from robber-bands, whether of Edomites or Arabians.
V. AN ENTHUSIASTIC HUSBANDMAN. (Ver. 10.)
1. An extensive cattle-breeder. He had much cattle in the re,on just mentioned, in the lowland between the mountains of Judaea and the Mediterranean, and in the fiat district on the east of the Dead Sea, from Arnon to near Heshbon in the north. For the use of these animals he hewed cisterns in each of these localities.
2. An ardent agriculturist. He kept farmers and vine-dressers upon the mountains and in the fruitful fields. "He took care to cultivate the ground. He planted it with all sorts of plants, and sowed it with all sorts of seeds" (Josephus).
VI. AN ABLE GENERAL. (Vers. 11-15.)
1. He organized the army.
(1) The number of fighting men was reckoned up by Hananiah, one of the king's captains, assisted by Jeiel the scribe and Maaseiah the steward, two officials practised in writing and the making up of lists. The total force, according to their estimation, was 307,500 (370,000, Josephus)able-bodied and thoroughly disciplined troops, with 2600 (2000, Josephus) heads of fathers' houses, mighty men of valour, who acted as superior officers or divisional commanders.
(2) The entire host was arranged into bands, detachments, or army corps, each father's house, perhaps, composing a regiment, and a group of these a battalion.
(3) Whether these army corps served in rotation (Jamieson) is not stated.
2. He armed the soldiers. For all the host he prepared the necessary weapons for offensive and defensive warfare - for the first, spears, bows, and slings; for the second, shields, helmets, and coats of mail; or perhaps, for the heavy-armed troops, shields, spears, and helmets; and for the light infantry, bows and sling-stones. The mention of "sling-stones," it has been thought (Bertheau), was intended to indicate the completeness of his preparations, as in the late France-German war Marshal Leboeuf declared the French army to be ready for the projected campaign down to the "shoe-buckle." Besides furnishing each soldier with a set of weapons, Uzziah collected a store of such "that he might have them in readiness to put into the hands of his subjects on any exigency" (A. Clarke)
3. He fortified the capital This, which Joash of Israel (2 Chronicles 25:23) had weakened, he strengthened by placing on the towers and battlements of its walls ingenious machines - "engines invented by cunning men" - to shoot arrows and great stones withal, like the catapultae and ballistae of the Romans.
1. The beneficial influence of parental piety - it tends to reproduce itself in the children.
2. The true Source of all prosperity, whether temporal or spiritual - God.
3. The necessary condition of all permanent prosperity for individuals or communities - religion, seeking God.
4. The unspeakable advantage to kings and subjects of having as their counsellors men who have understanding in the visions of God.
5. The obvious wisdom of sovereigns and their people devoting attention to the cultivation of the soft.
6. The lawfulness, in nations as in individuals, of taking due pre- cautions for safety. - W.
I. THE PROPHETIC PRIVILEGE OF SEEING GOD. It might seem, at first sight, that there would be no degrees in such capacity. If God enabled a man to see him and to know his truth by granting him a vision, or by specially enlarging his natural faculty, it must be of no consequence (or of very little) what his individual capacities may be. But, thus reasoning, we should be wrong. God did not then, as he does not now, grant his Divine enlightenment independent of all human conditions. He had regard to:
1. Purity and sanctity of character.
2. Natural intellectual faculty.
3. Special training.
We cannot say that God never revealed his mind to any one who did not possess the first of these qualifications in a high degree. Remembering Balsam and Jonah, it would be impossible to maintain that view. Yet we may be quite sure that such men as Samuel and Elijah were preferred to others because of the elevation of their characters. Nor can we suppose that the second qualification was indispensable; but we may well believe that Balaam was employed as he was partly because he was a man of considerable intellectual endowment, and that Isaiah and Amos were among the "chosen" partly for the same reason. We know that there was special training for the work of prophecy, for there were "schools of the prophets" in the time of the judges. Whether Zechariah had one or all of these three advantages we do not know, but be was a man, on some such grounds, peculiarly adapted to receive communication from God, and, having received them, to deliver them.
II. THE FACULTY OF ALL SPIRITUAL MEN. We also, as those who stand among the multitude of godly men undistinguished by any office, may have "understanding in the seeing of God." What are its conditions?
1. Docility of spirit. If we would "enter the kingdom of God," i.e. if we would see God and know him as he desires to be seen and known by us as our forgiving Father, we must "become as little children" (Matthew 18:3; Matthew 19:14). Much "understanding" in the way of human learning may, as in the case of the scribes and lawyers, keep us out of that atmosphere of docility without which we shall not learn of Christ, and shall not know God as we urgently need to know him (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-29). It is the man that has come to understand his own spiritual ignorance and incapacity who will be willing to learn of God, and thus to "have understanding in the seeing of God."
2. Purity of heart. This, we know from the great Teacher himself, is an essential (Matthew 5:8). This purity of which Christ speaks includes:
(1) Simplicity and sincerity of spirit; that which is not content with passing through fleshly rites, but desires to know God himself, to come into communion with him, to gain his loving favour.
(2) A freedom from degrading affections; and therefore from debasing acts and associations - a heart that is not worn with selfish ambitions, or worried with corroding cares, or blemished by injurious excitements.
(3) Consequent elevation of affection and aim - the love of Christ, the love of man, the earnest desire to be of service to our generation.
3. Patient continuance in well-being and in well-doing. To those who thus "continue in the grace of God" will be granted "eternal life"' They who are faithful unto death shall wear "the crown of life" (see Romans 2:7; Revelation 2:10). And we are sure that this life which is consummated beyond includes such a vision of God as we do not now enjoy, even when it is most true that "the eyes of our understanding are opened," and even when we are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Then, with purer heart than we now possess, and with a holiness (Hebrews 12:14) to which we do not now attain, we shall "have understanding [and experience] in the seeing of God." Surely every one that hath this hope in him will "purify himself, even as Christ the Lord is pure." - C.
I. A VICTORIOUS CAREER. This, whether we have regard to:
1. The extension of his kingdom; he prevailed against the Edomites, the Philistines, the Arabians (vers. 2, 6-8). Or to:
2. The strengthening of his kingdom by military means - by building fortifications (vers. 9, 10), by ordering and equipping his army (vers. 11-13), by inventing or adopting the latest weapons of warfare (vers. 14, 15). Or to:
3. His attention to the national produce. It speaks very highly indeed for a monarch of that period that he dug wells, that he had much cattle, that he encouraged the vine-dressers, that he "loved husbandry. These are things which in that age of the world were too often disregarded and even despised by men in high places, especially by monarchs. But it was on such things as these that national prosperity very largely rested. Much of the power of a country comes from its wealth; and its wealth comes from the soil. No wise ruler will be indifferent to the question of the produce of the land. The king that "loves husbandry" is, other things being present, a king that loves his people, and rules for the happiness of their homes. It is probable that Judah never spent so contented and prosperous a half-century as during the long reign of Uzziah.
II. ITS EXPLANATION.
(1) It was partly due to the fact that he came under good human influence; that of his father in his better days, that of Zechariah all through that prophet's life; (perhaps) that of a godly mother.
(2) It was due in part to his own capacity and energy. Had he been a weak prince, giving way to base flatteries and to corrupt companionship, he could not have played the admirable part he did.
(3) It was due, chiefly and primarily, to the favour of Jehovah. "God made him to prosper" (ver. 5). From the Divine resources came intelligence, strength, sagacity, statesmanship. He might well have said, "Thou art the glory of my strength, and in thy favour has my horn been exalted." This is the explanation of every victorious career.
1. There goes toward it individual character and energy. Every man must "bear his own burden," and "have rejoicing in himself alone" (Galatians 6:4, 5). In some sense and to some degree we must all "fight the good fight" for ourselves, if we would gain the victory and win "the prize of our high calling."
2. There is included in it helpful influence from without; all kindly human help from the home and from the sanctuary, from the father and from the friend.
3. The all-decisive force is the power that works from above on our behalf. God must make us to prosper if we are to gain the victory in the great strife of life. From him must come the guidance and the guardianship, the inspiration and the control, without which we shall faint and fall. And this is to be secured by
(1) submission to the gracious sway, and
(2) living in the holy service of a Divine Saviour. - C.
I. A PAINFUL SPECTACLE in the person of a leprous king. In Uzziah the leper we have one who occupied the highest place in the kingdom brought to an estate which the meanest subject in the realm, who had the hue of health in his cheeks, would not have accepted in place of his own; we have one in whose presence it was once an honour to stand, and whose face it was a high privilege to behold, reduced to such a condition that it was a kindness for any one to be with him, a pain for any eye to regard him, a sacrifice and defilement for any one to touch him; we have a man whose presence once brought highest honour to the home the threshold of which he might condescend to cross, now brought so low that no humblest householder in the land could or would permit him to pass his door; we have a man who did stand foremost in every religious privilege, debarred from entering the outer court of the sanctuary; we have one who had spent his manly energies in all forms of happy and useful activity, shut up in a separate house and secluded from affairs; we have an instance of complete humiliation, and we cannot fail to be affected by it if we dwell upon all that it meant to the unhappy subject of it.
II. AN APPARENTLY HEAVY SENTENCE FOR ONE OFFENCE. We inquire - Why this terrible visitation? And we find that it was because the king invaded the temple of God and attempted, to do that which was not permitted by law. To any one judging superficially, the sentence may seem severe and indeed excessive. It may seem unjust to visit one day's wrong-doing, one act of guilt, with a heavy penalty for life - a penalty that disabled and disqualified, as leprosy did, for all the duties and all the enjoyments of human life. But we have not to look far to find -
III. THE EXPLANATION Or THE SEVERITY. This is twofold.
1. It was of the first importance that the royal power should not presume upon ecclesiastical functions. It was not a mere question between king and priest; that would have been small enough. It was a question whether God should continue to rule, through his chosen officers, over the. nation, or whether the king should set aside the divinely given Law, and practically make himself supreme. To defy and disobey one of the clearest and one of the most emphatic precepts in the Law, and to assume a prerogative which God had strictly confined to the priestly order, was a step that was revolutionary in its character and tendency, that was calculated to overturn the most sacred traditions, and to break up the ancient usage as well as to lessen that sense of the Divine separateness and sanctity which it was the first object of the great Lawgiver to fasten on the mind of the people. It was a daring and a dangerous innovation, which nothing but overgrown presumption would have attempted, and which demanded the most striking and impressive rebuke that could be administered. The sentence was judicial, and was intended to warn all others from acts that were injurious, and from an ambition that was unholy.
2. It was the punishment, not merely of one sinful action, but also of a guilty state of heart. Uzziah would not have done this sacrilegious action if he had not fallen from the humility, which is the first condition of true piety, into a state of condemnable spiritual pride. "His heart was lifted up;" "his heart was haughty, and his eyes were lofty," and therefore he wanted to "exercise himself in things too high for him" (Psalm 131:1). Much success had spoiled him, as it spoils so many in every land and Church. It had made him arrogant, and human arrogance is a moral evil of the first magnitude, displeasing in a very high degree to the Holy One of Israel, utterly unbecoming in any one of the children of men, exposing the soul to other sins, requiring a strong and sometimes even a stern discipline that it may be uprooted from the heart and life. It may be hoped, and perhaps believed, that in the "several house" (ver. 21) in which Uzziah afterwards lived, he learned the lesson which God designed to teach him, humbled his heart before his Maker, and came to bless that pruning hand which dealt so severe a stroke to save the vine from fruitlessness and death.
1. Shrink from intruding where God does not call you. But, more particularly:
2. Recognize the fact that success in any sphere is a "slippery place," and calls for much self-examination and much earnest prayer for humility and simplicity of spirit. - C.
I. UZZIAH'S TRANSGRESSION. (Vers. 16-190
1. The cause of it.
(1) Pride. "His heart was lifted up." This the inevitable tendency of too much material and temporal prosperity (Deuteronomy 8:13, 14). Exemplified in Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25:18, 19; 2 Kings 14:9), Sennacherib (2 Chronicles 32:31; 2 Kings 18:19-35), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30-34; Daniel 5:20).
(2) Ignorance. He perceived not that his heart was being lifted up "to his destruction." Had he foreseen the consequences of his rash act, he might have paused. But questions of right and wrong must be determined without regard to temporal results. Only none need remain in ignorance of this, that the path of holiness is the path of safety (Proverbs 3:17), whatever be its external issues; and that the way of disobedience, however promising to appearance, is and must be the way of peril and doom (Proverbs 4:19).
2. The nature of it. "He went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense," i.e. he took upon himself the priestly function of ministering before Jehovah in the holy place. Whether in doing so he conceived himself to be following in the steps of David and Solomon (Thenius, Ewald, Stanley) may be doubted. It is not clear that either of these sovereigns ever offered incense in the sanctuary proper, though they frequently officiated at the offering of sacrifices in the outer court on the occasion of religious festivals (Bertheau, Keil, Bahr). More likely is the view that Uzziah desired to ape the potentates of the world generally, as e.g. those of Egypt (Harkness, 'Egyptian Life and History,' p. 44), who, as supreme priests (pontifices maximi), with other priests to aid them, conducted temple-worship in honour of the gods. In any case, what he did expressly violated the Divine Law, which reserved the privilege of entering the holy place and ministering therein exclusively for the priests (Exodus 30:7, 8; Leviticus 16:2, 12, 13; Numbers 18:1-10). The statement of Josephus ('Ant.,' 9:10. 4) may well be authentic, that the occasion which tempted Uzziah to forget himself was the celebration of some high national festival.
3. The aggravations of it. He committed this offence:
(1) When he was strong; when his empire was at the height of its splendour, and himself at the top of his fame; when his kingly magnificence was in full bloom, and his regal heart had everything it could desire - in short, when he ought to have been supremely contented and happy, without aspiring after more.
(2) Against that God through whose assistance he had climbed to the pedestal of earthly renown on which he stood, thereby furnishing a proof of monstrous ingratitude quite on a level with that of his father Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25:14).
(3) In spite of the remonstrance of Azariah the priest and eighty colleagues, who, going into the sanctuary after him, courageously reminded him of the heinous character of his proposed action, as an invasion of the province Jehovah had set apart for the Aaronic priesthood, fearlessly commanded him to leave the sacred edifice, and warned him of the peril he incurred in thus defying the ordinance of God. Men who have God upon their side have no need to be afraid of kings. Nothing emboldens the human spirit like a consciousness of right (Psalm 27:1).
(4) With ebullitions of kingly rage. According to Josephus, he threatened to kill Azariah and his colleagues unless they held their peace (Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 16:14). Wrath often leads to murder.
II. UZZAIAH'S PUNISHMENT. (Vers. 19-23.)
1. Sudden. The Lord smote him (2 Kings 15:5)where he stood, within the holy place, censer in hand, attired in a priestly robe, fuming at Azariah and his eighty assistants, ready, in defiance of one and all, to go through with the unhallowed project he had in hand. Foolish Uzziah! Jehovah, who all the while was looking on (2 Chronicles 7:16; Habakkuk 2:20), simply stretched forth his invisible finger, and the daringly sacrilegious act was arrested. According to Josephus ('Ant.,' 9:10. 4), at that moment a great earthquake shook the ground, splitting the mountain on which the city stood, and making in the temple dome a rent, through which the sun's rays, shining, fell upon the king's face, insomuch that the leprosy seized on him immediately (cf. Amos 1:1; Micah 1:4; Zechariah 14:5).
2. Severe. The leprosy brake forth (or rose as the sun) in his forehead. (On the nature of this disease, consult the Exposition, and see Keil's 'Biblische Archaologie,' s. 114.) The same punishment inflicted on Miriam for speaking against Moses (Numbers 12:10), and on Gehazi for lying to Elisha (2 Kings 5:27). The severity of the stroke measured the greatness of the sin for which it fell.
3. Conspicuous. "The chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous." The signs and tokens of this plague had been laid down in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 13.). Like the mark upon Cain's brow (Genesis 4:15), the spot upon Uzziah's forehead proclaimed him an object of Divine wrath. Many suffer on account of their transgressions whose chastisement is not visible to their fellow-men; that Uzziah's was perceptible to Azariah and his colleagues was a woof of the heinous character of his offence, while it served as a warning to others. One of Jehovah's purposes in inflicting punishment on evil-doers is to convince beholders of the horrible iniquity of sin, and deter them through "the terror of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:11.) from its commission.
4. Humiliating. The priests thrust the stricken king from the sacred dwelling; yea, the king himself "hasted to go out." Moreover, he was henceforth as an unclean person, out off from the congregation of Jehovah (Leviticus 13:45, 46; Numbers 5:2), and, because of the infectious nature of his malady, lodged in "several house," i.e. a lazar-house, or infirmary. As the leprosy, in its spreading, wasting, corrupting, loathsome, contagious, incurable character, was a hideous emblem of sin, so the exclusion of the leper from the congregation, and his isolation from the society of his fellows, was an impressive picture of the fate reserved for unpardoned sinners (Psalm 1:5, 6). It must not, however, be assumed that Uzziah died in impenitence.
5. Fatal. It ended in death, as all sin does (Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23). Yet sin is not incurable by Divine power any more than leprosy was. As Miriam, Naaman, and the man who came to Christ (Matthew 8:2) were cleansed, so may the sinful soul be renewed (1 John 1:7).
6. Posthumous. Uzziah's punishment followed him after death. His people buried him, indeed, but not in the royal mausoleum, only in its neighbourhood, in the field of burial which belonged to the kings, lest his leprous dust should defile that of his fathers.
1. The danger of prosperity.
2. The sin of pride.
3. The unlawfulness of will-worship.
4. The certainty that God can punish sin.
5. The hopelessness of those who die in sin. - W.
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