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Uzziah (known in 2 Kings as Azariah) was very nearly one of the great kings of Judah. Unfortunately, his pride and reckless ambition got in his way. Uzziah’s father, Amaziah, had died at the hands of his own people in the twenty-ninth year of his reign. But unlike Israel, where new (and often short-lived) dynasties routinely replaced one another, Judah had been promised an unbroken chain of kingly succession.
So Amaziah’s death did not bring the end of his dynasty. Instead, Uzziah—who had probably reigned as coregent for several years—was crowned king of Judah.
Uzziah got off to a good—albeit not great—start. He received a largely favorable assessment from the writers of both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, even though he failed to remove the “high places” where people offered their own sacrifices. On the military front, Uzziah was an unqualified success—perhaps the greatest warrior-king since David.
With God’s help, he subdued two of Judah’s longstanding enemies, the Philistines and the Ammonites. He even extended Judah’s territory, regaining access to the Red Sea via the Gulf of Aqaba. His country secure, Uzziah set about strengthening Jerusalem’s defenses.
Unfortunately, Uzziah—who had once taken counsel from a godly teacher named Zechariah—let his success go to his head. He became proud and sought to inject his influence into the priestly arena. Uzziah paid dearly for his overreaching. God struck Uzziah with leprosy, a humiliating disease that rendered him ceremonially unclean—unable to fulfill his kingly duties or to set foot in the temple ever again.
The English historian Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Therein lay Uzziah’s downfall—and perhaps the reason that God had separated the duties of priest and king in the first place. The Bible reveals that human beings cannot be trusted with too much power over others.
As the writer of 2 Chronicles reminded his readers, Uzziah was a success
“until he became powerful” and forgot the Lord (2 Chronicles 26:15).