By guest blogger Phil Hovatter

The fifteenth chapter of the book of Second Kings tells the brief and odd story of the reign of King Azariah of Judah. This man (whose name means “God has helped”) was king of Judah. That’s a pretty significant job. He reigned for 52 years. That’s a very significant amount of time. And yet the book of Kings summarizes his entire life in just seven short verses.

So what does Second Kings tell us about King Azariah?

  • He was the son of king Amaziah, one of the “good” kings of Judah
  • His mother Jecoliah was from Jerusalem. (We can presume from this that Azariah’s dad had married a nice Jewish girl instead of hooking up with a pagan princess for political reasons.)
  • He became king when he was just 16 years old
  • He reigned for a long time – 52 years
  • He “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” which is to say that he promoted observance to the Mosaic Law and proper worship of Yahweh
  • He didn’t remove the “high places” in Judah, where the people offered incense to pagan gods
  • And here’s the kicker: “The Lord afflicted the king with leprosy until the day he died, and he lived in a separate house.”
    2 Kings 15:5 (NIV)

Disney gave us the Lion King. God gave Judah the Leper King.

This is one of those passages that makes me scratch my head and wonder what the heck is going on here. Azariah was a good king, the son of another good king. Good kings were in short supply in those days (much as they are in ours). God allowed him to stay in power for over half a century. And yet Scripture is very definite about giving credit to the Lord for afflicting Azariah with leprosy.

Why would God do such a thing? What (if anything) can we learn from this?

First and foremost, bad things happen to good people.
Entire books have been written on this subject, some of them seeking to tap into the ways and wisdom of God, others being total nonsense. But the fact remains that in this fallen world, even “good” people will have to endure some degree of difficulty and trying circumstances.

Everything that the Psalms declare about the Lord being our rock, our fortress, our high tower, our shield, our defender, and our hedge of protection is true. But read the Psalms carefully. All those titles are ascribed to God by people who were facing the worst personal circumstances. It’s from within those times and places of difficulty that we see that the Lord is all of these things for us, and more.

Remember that “Azariah” means “God has helped.” That was the name his Mama gave him. He could have asked to be called by something else that denied that sentiment if he didn’t believe it. You might remember in the book of Ruth that Naomi (“pleasant”) asked people to call her Mara (“bitter”) when the chips were down for her. Her circumstances weren’t pleasant at all and she didn’t want a name that denied her reality. Azariah could have done the same thing, but he didn’t. And in fact, Azariah is known by another name in Scripture. Later on in the same chapter of Second Kings, the writer refers to him as King Uzziah. This name is also used of him by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 6 of his book, where he says that he had his vision of God on His throne in the year that King Uzziah died. “Uzziah” means “my power is Yahweh.”

The Leper King of Judah didn’t wallow in self-pity or accuse God of being unloving or unfair to him. He let God be God and he went on about the business of being king despite his leprosy.

Another lesson we might learn from this passage is that bad circumstances don’t necessarily disqualify us from significant service to God.
The Lord intentionally afflicted King Azariah with leprosy, but He didn’t remove him from the throne. If you’ve read the gospels you have some idea of what the lifestyle of a leper was and what their standing was in the community. “Unclean! Unclean!” The Leper King had to live in another house, but he still fulfilled the duties and responsibilities of ruler of the nation. His son Jotham served as his go-between so that the people could avoid contact with their diseased king.

A prevalent opinion in Old Testament times that we see even in some passages of the New Testament is that disease and affliction is assumed to be a judgment by God on the sin in a person’s life. “Who sinned? This man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” The entire book of Job was given by God to dispel this false notion that calamity only comes as a judgment on sin. Job was the most godly and righteous man of his time, and yet God allowed horrible catastrophes to afflict him.

Afflictions will test your faith, but they don’t mean that you have been disqualified for service.

Lastly, afflictions don’t have to diminish your fruitfulness. In fact, they might enhance them.
While Second Kings gives a very brief sketch of the life of King Azariah, the book of Second Chronicles goes into considerably more detail. The Leper King, forced to live in seclusion from his people, had an illustrious career as king:

He rebuilt the defenses of Jerusalem, modernized the army, and retook Gath. He pushed the borders of Judah to the southern extent of David’s empire, and fortified them. He rebuilt Ezion-geber, the Red Sea port, and got the mines of the Arabah working again, These accomplishments gave him copper products to exchange with lands to the southeast and with Tyre, and trade all through the region flourished. Agricultural lands were developed, and as a result, Judah experienced prosperity unparalleled since Solomon’s day.
New Commentary on the Whole Bible: Old Testament

This is just speculation on my part, but perhaps his seclusion allowed him to focus more on governing the nation and less on the distractions that come from being king. I heard a story recently on Moody Radio about a man who, as a child, was afflicted with a dangerous brain tumor. The tumor was surgically removed, but it destroyed his sense of smell. When he grew up, he became a missionary to a third world country, ministering to people who lived in a garbage dump. The smell was so horrible that no one else ever went there to work with the people who lived there. His affliction uniquely qualified him to be fruitful in ministry to these poorest of the poor.

And let’s not forget Joni Eareckson Tada, a promising high school athlete who severed her spinal cord in a diving accident and became a quadriplegic. God has used her and her affliction to minister to handicapped people around the world. Would she ever have taken this path without first becoming a quadriplegic herself?

So what about you? What sort of adversity or calamity are you facing in your life? Could it be that God is allowing it so that He can work something in you or through you that wouldn’t likely happen if it weren’t for the difficult situation you find yourself in now? We’re called to be witnesses for the gospel and ambassadors for Christ wherever He puts us. How can God use your lousy circumstances to bring about something of eternal value and beauty?

King Azariah could say unequivocally that “God has helped” and “my power is Yahweh,” despite his own personal affliction. He remained faithful and fruitful despite suffering from a catastrophic disease. The Leper King of Judah is one dude that I really look forward to meeting.

6 Responses to “The Odd Story of King Azariah”
  1. Mark says:

    It is clear that the reason Azariah got leprosy is because he sinned. Its right there in the passage. His sin was presumption. He presumed to stand in the place of High Priest. This was a crime in Israels days, and the reason is that it points to the Real High Priest, Jesus. In other words, Azariah tried to stand in Gods place. This is clear from the passage.

    Even if you don’t understand this perspective or view it that way, the passage still plainly states that the Priests pleaded with him not to try to enter the sanctuary to burn incense (Which is only the function of the high priest) In fact, they brought force against him to restrain him from doing it.

  2. Sandy says:

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks so much for writing, but I wonder if you’ve read a different passage. I’ve just re-read the passage in 2 Kings 15 and don’t find the things you’re saying. Which verses make the points you’re expressing?

    Again, thanks for reading and commenting.
    Blessings, Sandy

  3. Tom says:

    2 Chronicles 26 contains the rest of the story. This book records his name as Uzziah. But he did enter the house of the Lord to offer incense against the warnings of the priests and the Lord struck him. He was proud but perhaps the leprosy turned his faith back!

  4. Lauren says:

    I’m so glad I fou d this post. Was reading this same passage today, and was a little stumped by verse 5, now I’ve been so encouraged by this!!! Thanks so much! And I agree with you Sandy, I can’t find where azariah tried step in the place of the priest either!

  5. Sharon says:

    This is rather long but I think it clarifies the point that Mark was trying to make. There’s a lot for us to learn from it. I read it on Google while researching on the life of King Azariah (which was how I stumbled on Sandy’s writeup as well). I decided to copy and paste it here for the benefit of Sandy and anyone else that comes upon this forum.

    2 Chronicles 26
    The danger of success is very real in the case of fallen creatures, even though they be children of God, and devoted in their measure. The Lord’s word to Baruch, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not,” (Jer. 45:5) may well be pressed upon every one of our hearts. We cannot be trusted. It is humiliating, but it is true; and because true, it becomes intensely important that Christ and His glory be alone before our souls in any service done or attempted for God.
    King Uzziah, as he is called in 2 Chronicles 26, or Azariah, as his name is given in 2 Kings 14:21 and 15:1-7, is a striking case in point. He began well but ended badly. Succeeding his father, Amaziah, at the tender age of sixteen years, he from the beginning sought the Lord, “and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him to prosper” (2 Chron. 26:5).
    It was a most remarkable thing for a lad of this age to come out so boldly for God and His truth. There can be no question but that there had been a real work of grace in Uzziah’s soul, doubtless as a result of the faithful instruction received from his father, who in spite of considerable lack of wisdom was nevertheless a man whose ways in general had the divine approval. The mention of the mother’s name, Jecoliah of Jerusalem, would also suggest that she was probably the guide of her son in his early years, directing his footsteps in the way of righteousness. It is a wonderful thing for a child to have godly parentage. How strikingly this comes out in the Word of God, as also in the experience of hundreds of outstanding Christian leaders in our own dispensation.
    But beside parental help, we learn that there was a man of God who had a commanding influence over Uzziah for good, namely Zechariah, “who had understanding in the visions of God” (2 Chron. 26:5). We do not know much about this man of prophetic insight, as he does not seem to be mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. We are told that in his days all went well with Uzziah. Evidently he was the kind of a man who needed a check and a helper or counsellor, and he found both in Zechariah. The danger came when he had to be cast, as people say, upon his own resources; though no child of God should ever be cast on aught but the power of God.
    For a time Uzziah’s life was one long record of success such as few kings have known. He went out to war and was everywhere a victor. Through his prowess Judah assumed something of her Davidic and Solomonic glory. He built towers in the desert for defense, thus enlarging his borders; and digged many wells for refreshment and blessing. In the gentle art of husbandry he was likewise active; a man who delighted to till the ground and cause it to bring forth what would be for cheer and nourishment. His was not the field of the slothful, bringing forth thorns and briars, but the tillage of the diligent receiving blessing from God.
    All this is most suggestive and may well speak to us, we who are called to contend for the faith in the present difficult days. Like Uzziah, we need to be concerned about the defense of the gospel. We are called upon to stand unflinchingly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We need to be nourished and builded up with words of sound doctrine. This is no time for carelessness or indifference in regard to the truth of God, that great deposit which has been committed to us. Enemies there are on every hand who would seek to rob us of our rightful heritage, but as we go forth in humble dependence on the Lord, feeding upon His Word and devoted to His interests, we can be sure of triumph and victory over every foe.
    Uzziah recognized the importance of the principle later enunciated, “In time of peace prepare for war.” Therefore he fortified Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah. And he made provision for the storing up of food in case of siege. He had, too, a great army of 307,500 men led by valorous and efficient officers numbering 2,600; an army we read “that made war with mighty power, to help the king against the enemy” (ver. 13). Nor was this army an unorganized mob, but it was well-drilled, properly accoutred. An army without ammunition would be a failure indeed in the face of an enemy, and it is to be feared that many in the army of the Lord today are poorly provided with weapons wherewith to meet their spiritual foes. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood,” we are told in Ephesians 6:12, “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” And in order to stand against them, we need the whole armor of God. All this seems to be suggested by the preparations that Uzziah made in order properly to equip his great army, as a result of which he went from victory to victory in happy dependence on God.
    For how many years he went on in this godly, orderly manner we know not; but in verse 15 we find a sudden break in the happy record: “He was marvelously helped till he was strong.” While he was little in his own eyes, God could trust him with success; but when he was strong he forgot, in some sense, that the victories were not of his own prowess and that he had nothing that he had not received. “When he was strong his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense” (ver. 16).
    It is very evident that something had been working in the heart of Uzziah which had not hitherto come to the surface. Even his very success had fostered to a certain degree a feeling of self-satisfaction with a desire for self-exaltation. What a warning is this for every one of us. Who can trust his own heart? We are so corrupt by nature that even the very blessing of God upon our service may but minister to the pride of our natural hearts if we do not go through everything in fellowship with Him who has called us to minister in holy things. How easy for us to forget that we have no might, no power, no sufficiency in ourselves! “But our sufficiency is of God, who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament” (2 Cor. 3:5-6). Therefore we have no reason to boast in anything we accomplish, for has not our blessed Lord said, “Without Me ye can do nothing”?
    But Uzziah forgot this. So used had he become to success that he seemed to have reached the place where he felt that whatever he attempted to do must be right, and would be owned of God. He must have known that it was the prerogative of the priests alone to burn incense in the Holy Place. But he sought to usurp this priestly service though he had no title to do so. That God should have called others to do something in which he had no part was apparently gall and bitterness to the haughty king. Instead of being content to use his own gifts in subjection to the Lord and fill the place allotted to him, his restless nature made him yearn to do what God had forbidden.
    Azariah the priest sought in vain to show him his error. He would not be humbled or hindered. God had declared that none but an anointed priest should approach to offer incense. Uzziah was king but not priest; therefore to persist in going in was rebellion against the Lord. Faithfully, Azariah warned and entreated, rebuking him too in Jehovah’s name. But all was in vain. Puffed up with pride, he would not be persuaded so he angrily caught up a censer and proceeded to carry out his intention.
    Then God intervened. As the king in his haughty self-will pressed forward to mingle with the priestly company the leprosy rose up in his forehead! He was smitten of the Lord, as Miriam and Gehazi had been before him. It was hardly necessary now for the priest to “thrust him out;” for “himself hasted also to go out,” realizing in that awful moment whose hand it was that was laid upon him.
    The law as to leprosy in Leviticus 13 distinguishes between leprosy of the body and leprosy of the head. Both speak of sin: the former in its grossness as the lusts of the flesh; the latter in its more subtle, though less obnoxious form in the eyes of man, but even more hateful to God — the lusts of the mind. This was Uzziah’s case. His mind was exalted through prosperity. Therefore he was smitten in the head.
    To the day of his death he dwelt apart from the congregation of the Lord; cut off from Jehovah’s house. He remained to the end a sad testimony to the fact that God is not mocked. He will be sanctified in them that come nigh Him.
    We are told that Jotham, his son, was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land. This means, of course, that while Uzziah was still living and unable to fulfil the kingly office because of the result of his rashness and folly, his son was made regent and administered the government in the place of the father. If we dare allow our imaginations play, we may think of Uzziah diseased and crushed, sitting in front of the separated house in which he dwelt, as an unclean leper, looking out toward the city of Jerusalem, saying to himself, “I should be there; I ought to be ruling this people; I was anointed as king over Israel. But here I am a castaway, and all because of my own self-will and foolishness.” Or one might even think of a day when the armies of Israel went marching by on their way to battle, led by Jotham, the Prince Regent, while Uzziah gazed from afar, his heart breaking with grief to think how terribly he himself had failed, as he exclaimed in anguish, “I should have led the hosts today; I should be going out against the enemies of the Lord; but here I must remain as one disapproved of God, utterly set to one side, because I forgot that those who walk in pride He is able to abase.” Think of the disappointment and of the loss to all Israel occasioned by the self-confidence of this mighty king. And as we think of it, let us tremble lest we too should have to prove some day the truth of the words, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”(Prov. 16:18).
    It was in the year of Uzziah’s death — still under the governmental hand of God — that Isaiah saw the Lord as related in Isaiah 6:1. How different the attitude of the two men. The one, a prophet, taking the leper’s place, covering his mouth and crying, “Unclean!” The other, taking the place of a holy priest, rushing unadvisedly into the presence of God and made a leper thereby! He was buried in the field of the tombs, but not, I judge, in the tombs of the kings themselves, “for they said, He is a leper” (ver. 23).
    His early life of dependence on God, his terrible failure, his judgment and his death may all alike speak loudly to our souls. Oh, for grace to imitate his virtues, and avoid his error, that thus we may be kept in the hand of our God for blessing, and not have to fall under His government because of pride and disobedience!

    Copied from Care for God’s Fruit-trees and Other Messages by H.A. Ironside. Rev. ed. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [1945].
    More Information on H. A. Ironside

  6. Sandy says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this message from Ironside. It is a caution and challenge to all of us – our actions have consequences – remain faithful! Blessings!

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