Leaders come and go. Kings rise to power, dictators rule with an iron fist. There is nothing new under the sun. God rules the rulers, though, as this little tale will tell.
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it wherever he will. ~Proverbs 21:1
Wherever you live on this earth, no matter if you have a kind and benevolent Prime Minister or a ranting, raging Ayatollah in charge, remember that God is always in control. This is illustrated in the lives of two great kings of the Old Testament.
The prophet Isaiah mentions Uzziah very briefly. "In the year King Uzziah died."
It seems strange that as Isaiah describes his call from God to be a prophet, he mentions Uzziah's death. King Uzziah had been a strong and powerful man, intelligent, gifted, a good leader and commander. He had a gentle side - he loved the soil, and planted vineyards and gardens.
He was 16 years old when he came to the throne, and he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He sought God. He listened to the prophet Zechariah, and followed his counsel.
As long as he sought God, the Lord made him prosper. God helped him win against the Philistines in battle. His fame spread. He became very strong. He built towers and cisterns, and had a well-prepared army that used the latest "engines" to defend Jerusalem.
BUT. Don't you hate that word? We Christians can live righteously and do justice and love mercy, but if we aren't careful, if we don't hate sin and kill it, we can end up like Uzziah.
But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. He was unfaithful to God, and attempted to usurp the role of the priest. He dared to go into the temple and burn incense.
Judgment was swift and permanent. The chief priest Azariah confronted King Uzziah, and said,
“It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.”(2 Chronicles 26:18 ESV)Uzziah was angry.
He had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when the chief priest told him to get out of the temple, that he had no business taking on a duty that belonged only to the priests, he was furious. The Bible doesn't say so, but I imagine he came at the priests with the censer. Pride took over; then God stopped him in his tracks. Leprosy broke out on his forehead.
Judgment and Mercy
And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's household, governing the people of the land. (2 Chronicles 26:21 ESV)King Uzziah lived the rest of his days in isolation. The words "separate house" literally are translated "house of freedom". Because of his pride, Uzziah was given freedom from responsibility. He no longer could live in the palace, visit the temple, manage his armies, survey his fields. He was stuck in a separate house.
There is mercy in this judgment. Do you see it?
In his house of freedom, Uzziah was free to read, free to worship, free to think about what he'd done, free to repent.
Afflictions are often a gift from God. Isolation can be a mercy.
A house of separation can be turned into a house of freedom.
The second leader in this tale is Nebuchadnezzar, who praised God when the three friends of Daniel were saved from a fiery furnace. You can read the first few chapters of Daniel to get the full story. The fourth chapter opens with Nebuchadnezzar's words of praise to Almighty God:
King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation. (Daniel 4:1-3 ESV)
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a great and beautiful tree, filled with abundant food, providing shade for beasts and a home for birds. But there was a Watcher from heaven who ordered, "Chop down the tree!"
Chop down the tree! But leave the stump. (Judgment mixed with mercy.)
Daniel was dismayed. He had to tell the King, "It is you, O King." You are the One who has become strong, and because of your pride you will be driven from men and live among beasts. Break off your sins! Practice righteousness. Show mercy to the oppressed!
The King listened to Daniel, but failed to repent. Perhaps he did not believe it would really happen. He likely thought "I'm not a bad guy." As day after day and week after week went by, he put the dream from his mind.
Twelve months went by.
A prideful boast.
A voice from Heaven.
Nebuchadnezzar was struck with lycanthropy. Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary describes it as a kind of erratic melancholy. He lost his mind, and lived for years as a beast.
Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws. (Daniel 4:33 ESV)Afflictions are often a gift from God. Isolation can be a mercy.
God's judgment of Nebuchadnezzar's pride was good and right altogether. At the end of the appointed days of affliction, Nebuchadnezzar's mind was restored.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:34-37 ESV)
Two leaders. Two great men. Powerful kings who had it all going for them.
But they were filled with pride, and very needy.
They needed to be humbled.
So God did it.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
( Romans 11:33-36 ESV)