Allow me to introduce you to King Uzziah (also known as Azariah, which is also the name of the priest in the narrative, which is probably why the name Uzziah is more commonly used). Uzziah was the tenth king over Judah in the days of the divided kingdom (if you count great-grandma Athaliah). And he was a good one. He began his reign at the age of 16, and he reigned for 52 years. The first 15 verses of 2 Chronicles 26 are devoted to his accomplishments.
But – and there always seems to be a but – verse 16 goes on to say:
2 Chronicles 26:16 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.
Ooh. Bad move. Uzziah wasn’t the first king to intrude into the office of the priests (remember Saul)? And it didn’t turn out well in either case. Watch what happens to Uzziah?
In verses 17-18, Azariah the priest brings in 80 other valiant priests to rebuke the king for his wrongdoing. And in verse 19, Uzziah is smitten with the dreaded disease of leprosy. So in verse 20, the priests thrust him out of the house of the Lord. And according to verse 21, he spent the rest of his days locked up in quarantine, and his son Jotham sat as co-regent over the kingdom of Judah.
What I had always missed from the story until the last time I read it through was why, specifically, Uzziah was smitten with leprosy. I had always understood the reason to be his violation of God’s law in burning incense on the altar (a duty reserved for the priests). But verse 19 presents it differently:
2 Chronicles 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.
So God didn’t smite Uzziah with leprosy because he made a mistake. God smote Uzziah with leprosy because he got mad at the preacher who told him he had made a mistake. Uzziah’s sin didn’t have to lead where it led. God graciously provided an opportunity to repent, get right, and go on. But the pride of his heart stood in the way. And instead of getting right, he got mad. Instead of responding humbly, he bowed up. Instead of receiving correction, he was smitten with leprosy.
And there’s an important principle for each of us. None of us are (close to) perfect. We’ve all made mistakes. We’re all going to make some more before it’s all said and done. So what we need and what we will need, on a continual basis, is correction from the word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).
The question is how will we respond to that correction when it comes? Getting mad at the preacher? Ignoring the Holy Spirit? Dismissing the heartfelt rebuke of a Christian friend? Going the way of Cain? Following in the footsteps of Uzziah?
Or by praying with Job…
Job 6:24 Teach me, and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred.
We’re not always going to be right, and we’re not always going to do right. But we can always get right. And so how we respond to correction is going to be one of the most important factors in our ability to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). May the Lord help us respond with humility and repentance – unlike king Uzziah.