A Tale of Two Kings
There are two Old Testament kings that seem to get often overlooked, yet when their lives are viewed in contrast they exemplify a key concept that must be learned by all who wish to follow God. The Bible says that, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). This can be demonstrated in the lives of Uzziah and Manasseh, kings of Judah.
King Uzziah is listed as one of the good kings of Judah. We find his life recorded for us in 2 Chronicles 26. He did what was right in God’s eyes, and God caused him to prosper in everything he did as long as he sought God’s way (v. 5). Pay close attention to that qualification, because it is pivotal in the life of Uzziah. Verse 16 says, “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.” It appears that Uzziah let his success and the blessings of God go to his head. He seemed to think he could do whatever he wanted and still be acceptable to God. After all, hadn’t the Lord been with him in all of his other endeavors? But when he decided that he wanted to worship God by burning incense in the Temple, he was usurping a position that God had specifically given to the priests. Azariah the priest, with 80 others priests to back him up, warned Uzziah that God had specifically consecrated the priests, the sons of Aaron, to the responsibility and honor of burning incense in the Temple, and that it was not Uzziah’s place to encroach on this. Instead of humbling himself to submit to God’s will, Uzziah became angry at Azariah, and so God immediately struck Uzziah with leprosy. His son then took his place as king and Uzziah had to live out the remainder of his life in isolation.
Now contrast the life of Uzziah with that of Manasseh as recorded in 2 Chronicles 33. Manasseh is listed as one of the “bad” kings of Judah. Although he was the son of Hezekiah, one of the best kings Judah ever had, he rebuilt the pagan idols that his father had torn down. Among his many sins, the Bible says he sacrificed his own son in fire, set up an image of Asherah in the Lord’s Temple, and led Judah to sin against God. Consequently, God brought in the armies of Assyria, who dragged Manasseh captive to Babylon. Here was Manasseh’s pivotal moment. In prison, Manasseh humbled himself and prayed to God. The Lord heard his prayer and returned him to Jerusalem. Manasseh then spent the rest of his life repairing the damage he had done. He removed the image of Asherah from the Temple and repaired the altar of the Lord. He cast the foreign idols out of Jerusalem, and led Judah to worship only the Lord.
What can we learn from these two kings?
My daughter was commenting a few weeks ago about how good God is to give everyone a second chance. How true! If God can forgive someone like Manasseh, then surely He can forgive us if we will likewise humble ourselves before Him. Hopefully, though, we can learn this from reading about Manasseh and not have to suffer such severe chastening in order to learn humility and obedience!
We can learn two things from Uzziah. First, when we are prospering in God’s grace we must guard our hearts from pride, lest we begin to think that our own desires are equal to or superior to God’s expressed Will. Even if our desire is to worship God, we must make certain that our actions are in accordance with God’s Word. Second, if someone brings to our attention that we have transgressed God’s commands, we need to respond with humility. Puffed up with pride, Uzziah responded to Azariah’s correction with anger. You see, God was giving Uzziah a second chance, but Uzziah’s pride would not accept it. When we are corrected by an elder or by another Christian, we must not respond with pride-filled anger but instead submit ourselves to God’s chastening. Only in humble submission to God can we expect to receive the blessings of the Lord.
- Tim Morrison