II Kings 14:23–29; 15:1–7. II Chronicles 26. Jeroboam II and Uzziah.
a Respite From Defeat and Ruin.
the Issue of Sacred Space.
Key Notes: Two successful kings. The great earthquake. King and priest? New Testament and sacred space.
In this lesson Jeroboam II is a minor player, merely a competent military commander. The focus of the study is on Uzziah, a good king who came to a surprisingly bad end. His error raises many questions for us about usurping sacred office and intruding into sacred space.
IIK.14:23–29 Jeroboam II was the fourth king after Jehu, Ahaziah and Jehoash. He reigned 41 years in Samaria. Little is known about him except that he reconquered territory lost to Syria and other northern kings. Eventually his reach extended north to Hamath and Damascus. He finally conquered Syria after a hundred years of warfare. It is believed that the northern borders of Israel now reached the territory originally conquered by David (IK.4:21), although for only 30–40 years.
Jeroboam’ success was not a reward for good that he had done. The respite was God’s mercy on His people. He continued the golden calf cult as every king had since Jeroboam I.
IIK.15:1–7 Details of the reign of Uzziah/Azariah son of Amaziah of Judah are surprisingly brief in IIKings. He did right in the eyes of the Lord, although idolatrous practices continued on a minor scale (high places and incense). Why he was struck with leprosy is not explained. We turn to IIChron.26 for a fuller account.
IIChron.26:1–6 Uzziah was given the crown at 16, while his father was in disgrace. He rebuilt the port city of Elath on the Gulf of Aqaba, opening to the Red Sea and ports to the east in India and China. He set himself to seek God. Zechariah [not the writing prophet nor the son of Jehoiada (IIChron.24:20–22)] was his mentor, teaching him the fear of God.
It is intriguing that the great earthquake which occurred during Uzziah’s reign was not mentioned by the writers of Kings and Chronicles. Amos used it as a time-marker (Amos 1:1), and it was still remembered 200 years later by Zechariah. Zech.14:5
26:6–15 What is recalled is his success in putting down rival powers, the Philistines, the Ammonites, Meunites and Arabs.
He built up the defenses of Jerusalem and invented catapults to shoot arrows and large stones. [Catapults are recorded in history from about 400 BC. Uzziah lived around 750BC.]
He had a standing army of 307,000 with 2,600 leaders. The army was well-equipped.
He cultivated the land, and built cisterns for water collection in the desert. He had extensive herds, employing farmers and vine dressers. He loved the soil.
God made him prosper. He was strong, very strong, marvelously helped, and famous. It is a great success story and should have stopped right there.
26:16–23. But, alas, Uzziah, brought up in the fear of God, was false to God and tried to take on the role of the priest. The priests caught him in the Holy Place at the altar of incense with an incense censer. Eighty big men of the priesthood went in after him.
He had intruded into the Holy Place, sacred space limited to the priests.
Was he intending to worship God in a special way? Was God his focus?
Did he think he was entitled to be priest as well as king? (Only Jesus fulfills that role.)
Was he trying to break the authority of the priests, to start a spiritual uprising?
He was “false” to God (Gr.; adikeo, to do unjustly or wrongly; from dikeo is to do justly); he transgressed. The priests said this act “will bring you no honor from the Lord God .”
Uzziah was furious. He had a great investment in what he was doing. Then leprosy broke out on his forehead, and he rushed out of the temple. He stayed in quarantine for the rest of his life. The kingdom was given over to his son Jotham.
In death he lay in the kings’ cemetery but not in the tombs of the kings because of the leprosy.
Uzziah is the third of three kings of Judah with a similar story of late failure.
Joash did well under Jehoiada’s teaching until later in life when he was seduced to idolatry by the princes. He was assassinated by his servants.
Amaziah was subject to the law of Moses, and was successful until he erred in worshiping the gods of the Edomites and was condemned by a prophet of God. Pride led him to attack Israel and he ended in disgrace. He was assassinated by his own people.
Uzziah had a great career under Zechariah’s instruction. His pride drove him into a conspicuous and foolish sin. He died in isolation as a leper.
Uzziah intruded into sacred space and sacred office. There are several other examples in the Old Testament of such intrusions and their severe consequences.
*At Mt. Sinai, no one was permitted to go up the mountain or touch the border of it on pain of death. (Ex.19:10–14)
*Nabad and Abihu, two of Aaron’s four sons, took incense censers and burned incense with “unholy fire”. Fire came out from the Lord and they were consumed. Lev.10:1
*Miriam and Aaron, brother and sister to Moses, challenged Moses’ leadership. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also? “ God came before the three in the pillar of cloud and said “With him (Moses) I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in dark speech; and he beholds the form of the Lord.” Then He asked “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” When the cloud disappeared, Miriam was leprous. Aaron and Moses pled for her healing. Num.12:1-
*Korah, Dathan and Abiram confronted Moses and Aaron. “You have gone too far. For all the congregation are holy, everyone of them and the Lord is among them. Why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” Korah was in the priestly line. The revolt involved 250 men carrying incense-burners. All died. A larger rebellion then broke out against Moses and Aaron and 14,700 died of plague. Num.16
*David refused to touch Saul, the Lord’s anointed. ISam.26:9
*Uzzah touched the ark of the covenant when the ox pulling the cart stumbled. He died instantly. IISam.6:6-
*Jeroboam made a false altar that collapsed when a young prophet denounced it. He lost the use of his arm when he attempted to intercept the prophet. IK.13:1–10
The New Testament created a drastic change, a spiritual revolution. Worship no longer would have a physical focus and priests no longer would have a unique function.
Jesus said “…neither on this mountain (Mt . Gerizim of the Samaritans) nor in Jerusalem shall you worship the Father.” “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshiper shall worship the Father in spirit and truth….” (Jn.4:21–23)
Jesus said “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.” (Matt. 23:8–10)
Jesus, the Holy One of God, was touchable. (I Jn.1:1). They touched Him. He encouraged it. Jn.20:27
When Jesus died, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom (Matt.27:51), making a way into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies (Heb.10:20). After 70AD the temple ceased to exist.
Paul said “Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?" (ICor.3:16)
Peter said “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people….” (IPet.2:9)
In the New Testament, the believer is the temple, and the believer is the priest. Christ decentralized, desacralized the Faith. The concept of sacred space and sacred office was internalized. Lleadership for the Church was minimal--elders and deacons.We are reminded of the small governance spelled out in the OT: heads of tribes and heads of families, priests, and eventually kings.
In the first century, people met for worship in the catacombs, the tombs of Rome.
The Church could not handle that. It resacralized Christianity, gradually recreating the Old Testament system– the Altar, the Sacrifice, the Priest, the sacred space (sacristy), the holy water, the sacred wafer, the sacred wine. We had holy orders, holy days, fasting, penances, pilgrimages, and self-flagellation. For another thousand years people labored under the new system which is really the old levitical system.
When the Reformation came, and the priesthood of all believers was rediscovered, the changes were drastic. Priests married nuns. Images were destroyed. Altars were desecrated. Stained glass windows were shattered. The excesses led to wars and persecution.
There is some concern that the trend which still continues will lead to total desacralarization of the church. It may be the church as community, as cultural center, polling place, gymnasium, dance-hall, bingo parlor, coffee house.
What can we 21st century Christians learn from Uzziah and other Old Testament lessons of desecration? Their sins were very serious and often resulted in death.
Now there is no sacred space to violate; there is not sacred office to intrude into. We are the temples of the Living God. Christ alone is our master. How might we intrude? Most of our sins are sins of omission—not praying, not witnessing, not reading Scripture, not giving tithes, not loving our neighbor as ourselves. What are sins of intrusion? Of trespass? There is little information on this question.
The chief word for sin in Greek is hamartao and means to be weak or fall short. It is a description of inability, not intrusion. The word “trespass”, crossing the line, is much less common in the New Testament.
There are some specific NT trespasses:
- Intercourse with a prostitute (ICor.6:12–20) is desecrating the temple of a Christian’s body.
- Unchastity. “…that no one transgress (Gr. overstep) and wrong (take advantage of) his brother in this matter because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you." (IThes.4:6).
- “Apostasy. …if they then commit apostasy…they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.” (Heb.6:6). We think of apostasy as an intrusion, but crucifying Christ afresh is a violent aggression.
- Ananian and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit. Acts 5:1–11
Violation of any of the Ten Commandments involves an trespass.
- Another god(dess).
- An unlawful image.
- An abuse of His Name.
- Working on Sunday.
- “Rescuing” parents’ heirlooms.
- Words that kill.
- Lust that consumes.
- Income tax not paid.
- Slanderous gossip.
- Worshiping stuff at the mall.
Uzziah, instructed in the fear of God, lost the fear of God.
That may be the best way to look at the whole issue.