What’s the difference between fame and honor? Are they the same thing? Perhaps there are places of overlap, but we probably can intuit some distinction between the two ideas. The story of Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26 offers helpful insight on this point.
Uzziah Becomes Famous
Uzziah assumed the throne of Israel at sixteen years old and reigned for fifty-two years. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and so “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (26:5). In what ways did he and Israel thrive?
In nearly every respect one can imagine, Uzziah found success. Militarily, the Lord helped him to defeat multiple enemies. Economically, both he and the nation flourished. They built cities and towers. The king was able to outfit a robust army. Technologically,
“he set up machines, invented by skilled workers, on the towers and the corners for shooting arrows and large stones.” (26:15)
Whether it be wealth, power, or status, Uzzah had it. As a result, he became famous. The writer of 2 Chronicles 26 stresses this point by repeating it twice.
God helped him against the Philistines, against the Arabs who lived in Gur-baal, and against the Meunites. The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong. (26:7-8)
Then again, 2 Chronicles 26:15 says,
In Jerusalem he set up machines, invented by skilled workers, on the towers and the corners for shooting arrows and large stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped until he became strong.
Uzzah gain a reputation among the nations because he was strong.
But why was Uzziah strong? The text is quite clear: it was the Lord who made him prosper in various ways. If you’ve read the Bible or have lived more than 40 years, you know what’s coming next.
Second Chronicles 26:16 marks a turning point:
But when he had become strong he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was false to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to make offering on the altar of incense.
Uzziah’s pride stemmed from his position and prosperity. His power led to presumption. Like scientific naturalists, so too Uzziah decided it was more convenient to forget God as the “middleman,” the one who makes things happen. Instead, he presumed that his actions were the sole cause of whatever resulted thereafter.
In a sense, Uzziah confuses his status with his significance. He supposes that his resume made him immune from censure or wrongdoing. We are not different much of the time. After a long period of success and well-doing, we forget that foolishness and sin can still get the best of us.
Uzziah Forsakes Honor
We then see how Uzziah settled for fame and sacrificed honor.
Second Chronicles 26:17-18 explains,
But the priest Azariah went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor; they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to make offering to the Lord, but for the priests the descendants of Aaron, who are consecrated to make offering. Go out of the sanctuary; for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.” (26:17-18)
First of all, and as an aside, it’s noteworthy that making an offering in the right way would normally be something that brings honor to the worshipper. I won’t explore that here but it’s worth chewing on.
Second and more to the point, Uzzah allows his reputation to cloud his judgment, as though status in one sphere conferred rights in another. As a result, he confuses fame and honor.
In effect, he didn’t distinguish between renown from the world and high regard from God. Our social status is not an indicator of our position before God. It is more than possible to be considered important by one set of people yet still be insignificant in another.
How our pride hates this!
Whether concerning yourself or someone else, what about you? When have you confused status and significance? Or fame with honor?