And the Lord smote the King.1. The character and conduct of King Uzziah are very full of instruction. His life was marked by one fault, and by one signal act of punishment from God. His fault was the offering sacrifice, that which only the priest might do; and his punishment a leprosy, inflicted on him by the word of a priest on his persevering in his fault. This is the more remarkable as he is on the whole described as a good character. One notable circumstance is, that in the Book of Kings he goes by the name of Azariah, and is there also described as a good king, and all that we are told is that he died a leper, having dwelt in a several house until the day of his death. He made constant reference to Zachariah the prophet, and we are told, as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper. He made war on Philistia, and prospered. Again, we are told that God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians. Having come back, he built towers in the desert, and he had much cattle. It appears that in his campaigns he won a high name for courage. He transgressed against God by going into the temple and offering incense on the altar. The priest went in after him with fourscore other priests — all valiant men; and they withstood Uzziah, saying, "It appertaineth not to thee, O Uzziah, to burn it." Uzziah, having a censer in his hand, was wroth; and while angry, holding the censer in his hand, the leprosy rose up into his forehead, and the priests thrust him forcibly out; and he himself hasted to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.
2. It seems clear that Uzziah was a man whose life throughout, until the finishing act of it, was in conformity to God's will, and blessed with God's mercy. That crowning act of his life — the offering the incense, we are told, was the result of a presumptuous spirit brought on by the success of his life. But while this cause is assigned for the fault, and the fault is mentioned to explain the punishment in the Book of Chronicles, in the Book of Kings the punishment only is mentioned; and we are simply told that the Lord smote the king till he was a leper; and that he dwelt in a several house; so that any one reading the account in this book, without referring to Chronicles, would be in the dark as to the motive of the Almighty in afflicting the king. We must refer to one portion of God's counsels to understand the other. The light shed from one page of His will, will irradiate and explain that which hitherto may have appeared to be obscure; and how often is this the case in daily life!
3. And this leads us to consider that particular form of sin in King Uzziah which called out the vengeance of God, and which developed itself into so singular an act, and one, at first sight, so little in keeping with the former portions of his life. His early career was one of a good and religious man, blessed by God with prosperity on that account. Trusting to his success as a sign not only of God's favour, but of his own moral security, he became inflated with pride and self-sufficiency, and his temptation was to fall into that very sin, so natural to those who, having once been earnest or sincere in their religion, have by degrees familiarised themselves with it; so that they think they may play with it as a bauble, or use its influence to serve their own ends, and, like Uzziah, thrust themselves into the very office of the priest, by a profane and irreverent handling of holy things. This familiarity with the things of religion is the natural result of that precocity of spiritual knowledge which belongs to many. It ends in more than one false condition of mind. Familiarity itself quickly shades off into irreverence, pride and self-sufficiency, and independence of those means of grace and elevated helps to the religious life which are so inseparably mixed up with the life of the earnest Christian. Into these faults Uzziah fell. A disposition of independence, which his seems to have been, would naturally lead him to think very much for himself in things religious; and thinking for himself would naturally lead him to too subjective a view of religion generally.
4. There are many forms which this particular error takes that come before our eye — familiarity with holy things and holy names, which look upon reserve with the same eye as they look on hypocrisy, and on reverence with the same feeling with which they regard superstition. Many sad conditions result from this so great a familiarity of treatment of the external objects of religion, that, by degrees, such men lose sight of objective religion altogether, and blend it into themselves. In the realms of faith, where the shadowy forms which pass before the mind's eye are matters of apprehension more to the mind than to the sense, there is ever a danger of our ignoring the separate existence of those forms, making them after all but the idols of our own creation. The attitude necessary towards those objects is one of reverence and reserved delicacy. The forms of the unseen world are in themselves to our eye infinitely fine; the rude touch, the over-curious gaze, may dissipate them as far as our perception of them goes. So that some have dealt with the Second blessed Person of the Trinity, till they have denied His Divinity, and with the Holy Spirit until they have denied His Personality. With an unauthorised touch they have entered the holiest place, and dared to intrude upon scenes for which they have neither warrant nor commission. Another end in which this kind of spirit results is, very naturally, pride and self-sufficiency. In proportion as we melt off the outlines of the objects of our creed, we lower our estimation of them; and in proportion as they are made parts only of our own interior self, we by degrees find nothing on which we can place reliance, save on our own opinion or personal energy. It is to this condition of mind that our familiarity with religious subjects will judicially bring us, and those whose intentions were best, may in this life have to bewail Uzziah's end.
And carried them captive to Assyria.
(J. Parker, D. D.)