Priests of the Bible 10 Azariah
Given there are a number of Azariahs in the Bible (indeed, different people with the same name is a common feature of the Bible), it is therefore important to make clear who we are talking about.
Our Azariah (the priest) is he who served as High Priest during the reign of king Uzziah, tenth king of the (divided) kingdom of Judah. Uzziah came to the Throne aged 16 and reigned 52 years and “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” 2Kings 15:3. Uzziah is discussed in 2Kings 15:1-7 and 2Chronicles 26:1-23 and given a brief but pertinent reference in Isaiah 6:1 (“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple”). In the Kings account, Uzziah is (confusingly) called Azariah and Azariah the priest is not mentioned by name, and nor is the incident that led to Uzziah’s demise. To find more about these, we have to turn to the Chronicles account.
But first let us check out Uzziah the king for it is he rather than Azariah the priest that people will be more likely drawn to when reflecting on these passages. Other than not getting rid of the High Places (an omission of some of the other good kings of Judah) and the incident we will get to that involved Azariah (which we will get to) Uzziah could not be faulted in these accounts and he did much good. He came under a godly influence and honoured God from early on and was blessed accordingly with the land enjoying peace and prosperity, undertaking public works projects and overcoming Judah’s enemies: “And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper” 2 Chronicles 26:5.
The tragedy though was Uzziah taking it upon himself, out of pride, to burn incense in the Temple, which was forbidden to all who were not priests offering in the prescribed manner laid out in the Law. It was here Azariah the priest comes onto the scene who, with the priests under him, withstood the King. This was brave and right act as Uzziah could have retaliated harshly. As it happened, God had the last word. Uzziah was struck with leprosy by God and he lived as a leper for the rest of his days. If there are lessons we can draw from this incident and, in particular that of Azariah’s response, if it firstly what we have seen previously as we considered the Priests of the Bible, that God is holy and cannot be trifled with. Secondly, and something pertinent down through history when the nearest equivalent to Hebrew priests, Christian priests, ministers, pastors etc., have compromised with earthly authorities in order to gain favour or a quiet life or be seen as good law-abiding citizens. This is NOT what Azariah the priest did in confronting wrong doing. He is one who put God first and can be held up as an example to follow by today’s Christian leaders. Azariah will be forever remembered as one who withstood authority in the cause of righteousness.