In 2 Kings 15 we have a brief summary of the reign of Azariah (or Uzziah), king of Judah. He became king at the age of sixteen and remained king for fifty-two years. Verse 3 tells us: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done.” All good, right?
But here comes the curious statement. “The Lord afflicted the king with leprosy until the day he died, and he lived in a separate house. Jotham the kings’s son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land” (15:5).
Azariah, or Uzziah, was one of the good guys. So what happened that the Lord brought this affliction down upon him? The book of Kings doesn’t give us the details but a parallel account in 2 Chronicles 26 does. Uzziah, as he is called in Chronicles, was a great king. It was recorded that: “…his fame spread as far as the border of Egypt, because he had become very powerful…he was greatly helped until he became powerful” (2 Chronicles 26:8, 15). This last phrase has an ominous ring to it and we discover why in the following verse: “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar” (26:16). When he was rebuked by the priests for assuming a role that wasn’t his to assume, Uzziah got angry. At that moment the Lord struck him with leprosy and he was forced to retire not only from the temple, but from the palace.
All that good lost because of pride.
Small wonder that the proverbs of Solomon warn us: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
Pride took Uzziah into the temple but I suspect he might still have escaped the judgment of God if he had received the rebuke of the priests with good grace, recognized his sin and repented. His anger at their correction was an indication that he was not going to back down even though he was wrong.
Do you remember playing a game where you had to be careful not to step on the cracks in the sidewalk or you’d break your mother’s back? There are several thoughts about the origin of the saying (most of them are NASTY!) but here’s one that works for me as I think about Uzziah: “Back in ancient times, when people lived in very basic housing (or sometimes cliff or cave dwellings) the mothers had to teach their children how to safely traverse the narrow cliffside trails. One of the first things you learn - avoid cracks and crevasses or they can break with your weight and take you, or the person in front of or behind you, down the mountain.”
Uzziah stepped on the crack, and over the line. The weight of his pride brought down judgment on him.
There may be a barely visible line between self-esteem and self-importance. Uzziah slipped over it and then refused to step back behind it. Rather than lose a little by admitting that he had stepped across a line, he lost a whole lot more, and ended his days separated from the very things and people that had once been of blessing to him.
Lesson noted—watch for those pride lines.