Danger - God is here

Uzziah. Everyone in Isaiah's world would know what that name meant: "Caution. Danger ahead. Watch your step."

Uzziah was king for fifty-two years in Jerusalem. He was a good king by all accounts — he subdued the Philistines, built up a strong defense system and an impressive and well-equipped military, developed the country economically, and learned the fear of the Lord from his pastor, Zechariah: "And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped until he became strong" 2 Chronicles 26:15.

Then Uzziah did a terrible thing: he desecrated the holy temple. His power went to his head and one day he arrogantly walked into the temple and took it over for his own purposes. He decided to take charge of his own spirituality, manage his own religion, put God to his own uses.

Uzziah went to the holy altar of incense  . . . and proceeded to run things according to his own tastes and desires. The priest Azariah, accompanied by eighty other priests, came after him in alarm to prevent the sacrilege (only priests were permitted to offer sacrifices).

Uzziah already had the censer in his hand and was about to make the holy offering. He lost his temper and angrily told Azariah and his priests to get lost. He joined the ranks of those who "close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly . . . whose portion in life is in this world" (Ps. 17:10,14, italics added).

He was king, after all — a very successful king with a long string of accomplishments — and he would deal with God how and when he wanted to deal with him as one sovereign to another. Uzziah,  . . . proud and angry and willful, took over the holy temple for his own purposes. Royal vandalism. Violent desecration.

The desecration had immediate repercussions: Uzziah turned leprous. The dread disease that in the Hebrew mind symbolized sin gave public visibility to the inward profanity.

What in Uzziah's mind was royal prerogative was in fact inexcusable sacrilege. It would be like one of us entering our home church with a can of black spray paint and spraying graffiti on Pulpit and Communion table: "Under new management. From now on, I'm in charge here!

Uzziah spent the rest of his life in isolation, banned by his leprous condition not only from the holy temple but from all contact with the community of holy people . . . Uzziah posts a most necessary warning: hanging around the holy is risky business. Holy ground is dangerous ground. The holy is never, never something of God that we can take as if we owned it and use for our own purposes. [adapted from The Jesus Way, A conversation in following Jesus  by Eugene H. Peterson pp  129-131]

Dr Keith Graham

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