References: 2 Chronicles 26:16-21.
Heart of the Story: Only priests were permitted to burn incense in God’s temple in Jerusalem. Azariah, a courageous chief priest, confronted King Uzziah when the king attempted to burn incense in the temple.
Back Story: Azariah was the chief priest when King Uzziah ruled Judah. Azariah means “Yahwah has helped” or “Yahwah is my helper.” It was a common name in the Bible, particularly among the priest.
Uzziah ascended to David’s throne when he was 16 years-of-age (792 B.C.). As long as Uzziah’s mentor, the prophet Zechariah, lived, Uzziah sought the Lord and had great success. He is credited with achieving victory in war over the Philistines, Arabs and Meunites. Uzziah completed several building projects, e.g., repaired the Jerusalem walls, and build cisterns. He increased the security of Judah by establishing a large, well-trained and well-equipped army. He hired engineers to install war machines on Jerusalem walls.
Story Line: Eventually, Uzziah’s strength made him proud. His pride led him to become unfaithful to God. The event that precipitated Uzziah’s down fall occurred when Uzziah’s entered the temple sanctuary and prepared to burn incense on the incense altar. He had an incense censor in his hand when the chief priest Azariah and 80 courageous priests confronted him. Azariah reminded King Uzziah that only the priests, the descendants of Aaron, were consecrated to burn incense in the Temple (Exodus 30:1-10; Numbers 16:40). Azariah demanded Uzziah leave. He declared that Uzziah broke God’s law by trespassing into the sanctuary. Azariah asserted that because of his actions, King Uzziah would not be honored by God. To this point, Uzziah still had the opportunity to repent a leave the sanctuary without incurring God’s wrath.
Instead of submitting to the Azariah’s direction, Uzziah started to rage at Azariah and the priests. Immediately leprosy broke out on the king’s forehead. When Azariah and the priests saw the leprosy, they hurried Uzziah out of the sanctuary and temple complex. Uzziah’s leprosy persisted throughout the remained of Uzziah’s life. His son Jotham governed Judah. When Uzziah died he wasn’t buried in the tombs of the kings because of his leprosy.
Analysis of Azariah’s Relationships: Azariah was a strong priest who was unafraid to confront a powerful king, a king who was one of the most successful in Judah’s history. Azariah knew the roles and responsibilities of the priests. As high priest, Azariah secure enough to lead a priestly group to confront Uzziah when the he trespassed into the sanctuary.
Azariah was aware that God established a separation of church and state in Israel. As king, Uzziah, had the right and responsibility to act as head of the civilian government of Judah; however, the chief priest was God’s representative on earth. They functioned as head of the Temple or church. Uzziah had no right to declare himself head of the religious government of Judah which he did by entering the Temple sanctuary and attempting to burn incense on the altar.
The Bible didn’t record how Uzziah realized leprosy appeared on his forehead. Perhaps he felt a change in his forehead skin, saw flakes of skin falling past his eyes, or simply saw the shocked expressions and heard the outcry from the priests in front of him. Both Azariah was concerned about getting Uzziah out of the sanctuary after he developed leprosy; however, Uzziah was eager to leave the temple. Azariah’s concern was to prevent Uzziah from touching priest and temple, furniture and accessories all of which would require cleaning rituals. Possibly, Uzziah thought the leprosy would disappear as soon as he exited the temple.
The Bible contains no information that Uzziah contacted Azariah to offer sin and guilt offerings for his blasphemy of the temple. As chief priest, Azariah would have made the offerings willingly given the integrity with which he approached his position as chief priest.
Reflection: Given what we know about Azariah, do you think he reached out to Uzziah to restore him to fellowship with God and God’s temple? Is so, what do you think was in Azariah’s thoughts and heart as he reached out to King Uzziah?
The priest Azariah was a good guy — he was a conscientious and courageous priest. Uzziah was a not-so-good king. Read more about Bible priests and kings in Lesser Known Bible Characters. See http:/CarolynRothMinistry.com/ to purchase the book.
Copyright: March 30, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth