Uzziah's Sin and Leprosy; Israel an Assyrian Vassal State (2 Chronicles 26:16-21; 2 Kings 15:5, 19-24) March 2
In Judah: The demise of Uzziah's (Azariah's) spiritual life should serve as a warning to us all. We can't continue living on the basis of our past good works and faithfulness. Our loyalty to God must continue to the very end of our human existence. Uzziah's pride in his power was such that he tried to usurp the role of the priests. "In parallel Near Eastern cultures, semidivine kings also served as priests. Perhaps Uzziah's determination to burn incense reflected an arrogant intent to exalt himself" (Lawrence Richards, The Bible Reader's Companion, 1991, note on 2 Chronicles 26:16-23). The king soon learned that God would not tolerate intrusion into service He had reserved for the sons of Aaron, and the Almighty dealt him a severe blow, afflicting him with leprosy. As mentioned in the highlights for Amos 1, Josephus says that the huge earthquake of Uzziah's reign (Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:4-5) accompanied this punishment. According to Scripture, Uzziah's leprosy lasted the rest of his life, which lasted more than a decade beyond this.
It isn't clear whether Uzziah repented. The Bible does say he knew he couldn't remain in the temple with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:20), a fact laid down in the law God gave (see Leviticus 22:2-6; Numbers 12:10, 15). Of course, Uzziah's "obedience" at this point may have simply been a knee-jerk reaction to flee further divine wrath rather than a desire to now obey what was right. Yet it is hoped that, on further reflection, his newfound fear of God helped to restore him to a right state of mind. We are not told that he turned to a life of wickedness—only that he sinned in this matter. And God did not bring him to the grave by violent death as He did certain other rebellious rulers of Judah. Rather, Uzziah was allowed to live many more years in his humbled condition. The situation, then, appears similar to that of Moses when he disobeyed God (see Numbers 27:12-14)—and David when He sinned (see 2 Samuel 12:13-14). A degree of punishment had to be meted out to the leader as an example to everyone else, even when he himself repented.
During Uzziah's house quarantine, his son Jotham took over the official duties as coregent. Again, the Bible doesn't give details, but it is possible that Uzziah still remained in control, working through his son. In its note on 2 Kings 15:1-2, The Nelson Study Bible states: "The nature of Jotham's duties (v. 5), the assigning of a full 52 years of reign to Azariah, and Isaiah's dating of his call to the year of Azariah's (or Uzziah's) death (Is. 6:1) may indicate that Azariah retained the power of the throne until the end."
In Israel: "Pul" was another Babylonian name for the Assyrian emperor Tiglath-Pileser III (see 1 Chronicles 5:26; Nelson, note on 2 Kings 15:19). "To understand the complex events of the late eighth century bc, a word must be said concerning the Assyrians. After nearly a half-century of decline, Assyria reawakened with the usurpation of the throne by Tiglath-Pileser III in 745 bc. Indeed he and his successors in the Neo-Assyrian Empire were to effect a drastic change in the balance of power in the ancient Near East. Having solidified the kingdom in the east, Tiglath-Pileser turned his attention to the west in 743. Although the exact course of his western campaign is difficult to follow, it seems clear that all of Syro-Palestine submitted to the Assyrian yoke. Among those nations and kings whose tribute is recorded in his annals is the name Menahem of Israel, thus confirming the biblical account" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, 2 Kings 15:16-22).