UZZIAH: Good, not Great

Uzziah struck with leprosy

2 Chronicles 26

Does the cream always rise to the top? Does the hardest working person always get ahead? Where does success really come from? If you believe the Bible, the “self-made” man is a myth; there is no such person. Nobody can “make” themselves. The Bible clearly teaches that every good thing in our lives descends from above; from God. The fact is, you may work hard, exert yourself, practice the much revered “protestant work ethic” until you are blue in the face, but at best all you are doing is co-operating with God because He has the plan for your life. As Christians, we are participants in our lives, not the directors of them. Solomon understood this:

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. (Proverbs 16:3)

Contrary to how some people interpret this verse, it does not mean that the Christian is free to plan whatever they want, pray about those plans and simply assume that God will bless those plans on the basis of the promise of that verse. What that verse is talking about is making sure that your plans line up with God’s plans, and if they do, there is no possibility of failure.

Because none of us is perfect, none of us is successful 100% of the time nor are we complete failures. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day! The fact is, most of us are like King Uzziah; he was a good king, but he was not a great king. We’ll find out why in this study.

1. His ascension, 26:1—3

Judah’s tenth king was a man named Azariah, whose name means “Yahweh has helped.” Azariah is also known as Uzziah, “Yahweh is my strength.” Bible readers may wonder why this king had two names. In all likelihood, Azariah assumed the name Uzziah when he assumed independent reign of Judah. Prior to that, he was a co-regent at 16 years of age, with his father, Amaziah, while Amaziah was in exile. Uzziah’s weaknesses as a ruler really began long before he was the king. Here is what the Chronicler wrote about his father:

He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, but not wholeheartedly. (2 Chronicles 25:2)

Amaziah experienced some great military victories, but it was great victory over the Edomites that led to his exile and downfall. After the victory, instead of giving glory to God, Amaziah brought back the gods of the Edomites and burned incense to them, just as the heathen rulers did. He refused to heed the warnings of the prophets and plowed ahead with an ill-conceived plan to make war against Joash, king of Israel. The result of this battle was a devastating defeat for Judah; Joash took King Amaziah captive, destroyed part of the wall of Jerusalem, and carted off the treasures of the Temple.

For 15 years, his son Uzziah ruled from Jerusalem while Amaziah was in exile in Israel. This was the example Uzziah had: a lukewarm ruler who preferred to do things his own way at the expense of God’s will. It is very difficult to overcome a bad example.

Still, Uzziah ruled during Judah’s and Israel’s “golden age.” This was a long period of peace and prosperity for both the northern and southern kingdoms, at least on the surface. The prophets of the day, though, chided the rulers of both kingdoms for the vanishing middle class; the wealthy got wealthier but everybody else became poorer. Isaiah, who became a prophet during Uzziah’s reign, thought a lot of Uzziah’s reforms, as imperfect as the king himself may have been. He saw the king’s death as a national tragedy.

So we might say that Uzziah is very much like the average Christian today. He may not have had the greatest upbringing, but on balance he was more or less faithful to the Lord. The thing that ruined him, however, was the great success God gave him as king. In our own lives, how many of us are blinded by the blessings God gives us? How quickly we forget that without Him we would be nothing.

2. His claim to fame, 26:4, 5

He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Amaziah had done. He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success.

Uzziah ruled for over 50 years, counting his co-regencies. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. In a sense, no believer could as for a better summary of his life than that. Yet notice the same thing is said of his father! We know that Amaziah most certainly did not always do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. This reminds us of another spiritual truth: believers are known for the times they got up after stumbling, not for their stumbling. It’s a good thing God isn’t as hard on us as we are on ourselves, or on other believers! He knows we are human and He never expects more from us than we can deliver. He knows our strengths but He also knows our weaknesses. Not that this is an excuse to sin or for sin, mind you. God simply knows what we often forget; no one is perfect 100% of the time.

Uzziah’s rare long reign may be accounted for by several reasons. First, the dreaded Assyrians, perennial enemy of God’s people, were in a state of disarray. After the death of the mighty king Adad-Nirari III, three very weak kings came and went in succession and the nation experienced a perfect storm of bad leadership, poor military planning, and internal unrest caused by many things including two horrible plagues.

Second, the relationship between Judah and Israel was restored and now very cordial; vastly different than during Amaziah’s time. In fact, both Israel and Judah enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity unparalleled since the time of Solomon.

Third, because Uzziah had understood the spiritual heritage he had gained from his father, the Lord blessed not only him but the whole nation under his rule. His fame spread throughout the world. Though we don’t know who this prophet named Zechariah was, Uzziah listened to him. It is always prudent to listen to godly counsel, and because Uzziah did, history views most of his rule favorably. In fact, historians have referred to the years under Uzziah as “Israel’s Indian summer.” The prophets, however, knew what lay ahead for both kingdoms in spite how good times were at the moment.

Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?” And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.” (Isaiah 6:11, 12)

Isaiah wrote those words at the end of Uzziah’s reign, during the good times. Israel had yet to be taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and during Uzziah’s day, Assyria was of no concern to Israel. Only a very foolish person thinks things will always stay the same or that the future may be predicted with certainty. Conditions are always in a state of flux, nothing and nobody ever stays the same. Even as Israel and Judah basked in the sunlight of their blessings, the storm clouds were gathering just over the horizon, and only the prophets saw them.

3. Military greatness, 26:6—15

Uzziah fought and subjugated three Philistine cities in a successful western offensive. He built watchtowers in Jerusalem and in the desert. Under his rule, food was plentiful and apparently the king understood well agriculture, as verse 10 seems to indicate.

Verses 11—14 spell out how Uzziah built up Judah’s military. Though not huge in numbers, so skillful and powerful had his army become, that the world knew of Judah’s military might:

His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. (verse 15b)

Who helped Uzziah? Obviously the Lord did because Uzziah ruled in obedience to His Word and the king listened to what the prophets said. If we look at how Uzziah’s rule is summarized in 2 Kings, however, we read this:

The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. (2 Kings 15:4)

In spite of how good the people had it, their hearts were not changed. If this oft-repeated verse proves anything it is that peace and prosperity do not lead to religious revival. In fact, in the case of Uzziah especially, the enviable way of life the Lord allowed Judah to enjoy led to a kind of spiritual lethargy, which ended in an awful death.

4. His sin and punishment, 26:16—23

The latter section of chapter 26 details Uzziah’s spiritual and religious deviation, caused by pride, which led to his downfall. How well king Solomon understood this:

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

A person’s greatest enemy lives between his ears! Enemies of flesh and blood may be defeated, but pride and arrogance are not so easily brought under control.

Uzziah’s downfall began like this:

He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. (verse 16)

This reminds us of what Saul did; he took the priestly duties on himself, in defiance of the Law of God. However, this also shows us something of how Uzziah began to view himself. Pagan kings viewed their positions as divine; the king was their god’s representative on earth and the king could do no wrong as he was acting as god. Scholars see some of this attitude in what Uzziah did that day at the temple. Because he had become so great and powerful, he began to see himself a man coming from God and ruling the people in God’s stead.

When he was caught in the Temple by the high priest, he arrogantly refused to leave and withstood the efforts of 80 priests, who tried to stop him, saving Uzziah from himself. But, because Uzziah tried to approach God his own way, thus going against the express will of God, even while he stood there arguing with the priests, he broke out in leprosy.

Driven from the Temple and his own palace forever, Uzziah remained a leper until his death. He lived in total isolation for the last decade of his tenure as king. His son, Jotham, was made co-regent.

Times of plenty and ease all too often lead to spiritual lethargy where God’s blessings are taken for granted and become commonplace. It is one thing to pray in faith believing, but it is another thing to assume God will bless simply because He did before. It is during those times that faith degenerates into mindless formalism or worse, open apostasy and moral decadence.

Uzziah had been given so much, and yet he managed his blessings so poorly. His successes proved to be his undoing. His great power lead to an overweening pride and arrogance that took him down.

The prophet Isaiah was also Uzziah’s biographer, and he notes this:

Uzziah rested with his fathers and was buried near them in a field for burial that belonged to the kings, for people said, “He had leprosy.” And Jotham his son succeeded him as king. (verse 23)

Of all the great things Uzziah did, the one thing his people remembered him for was his leprosy.

(c)  2010 Witzend
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