Description / Transcription
Would you take your Bibles please and turn with me to 2 Chronicles chapter 26. We’ll be looking this morning at what began as the very promising reign of Judah’s king Uzziah and its unfortunate and tragic conclusion. And from our study, I hope we’ll see several applications that’ll help us think carefully about finishing our own lives well and avoiding shipwreck of them. I have provided you sermon notes with some detail that I hope will be helpful to you today.
When Kevin DeYoung first arrived as our senior pastor last summer, we discussed his upcoming first Discovery class, and since he was new to Christ Covenant, I offered to help him teach that first quarter. It was the fall of 2017, and on that first Sunday of class we introduced ourselves. Kevin introduced himself and Trisha, gave a little bio of their lives, and my wife Pat and I did the same thing.
Now in my introduction, I mentioned that I had been on the pastoral staff at Christ Covenant for around 27 years, but that my actual involvement with this church began when I arrived 40 years ago in 1977 as a recent college graduate and met the only other single person, happened to be a girl in the church, whose name was Pat Connelly at the time; it’s now Pat Lawrence, I’m glad to say. And I was continuing this introduction, Kevin, who was sitting on the front row with something of an impish grin, raised his hand. He wanted to make a comment, so I recognized him. Kevin is senior pastor after all [laughter] and he said loudly enough for all to hear, “Bernie, the year you came to Christ Covenant was the year I was born.” [laughter] That was a humbling moment for me [laughter] and we’ve gotten a lot of laughs out of that, and all I can say to Kevin, if he’s listening, is Kevin, you’ll be where I am in a heartbeat. Buckle up. [laughter]
But out of that humorous moment lies a sobering reality. Life is fleeting.
Many of you know that Pat and I are planning to retire right around two years from now. Some days it seems far off, other days I realize it’s just around the corner. Do you know what occupies my mind as much as anything else these days? I want to finish well. I want Christ to be honored with my life.
My life verse reflects that. It comes from Acts 13:36, where we read “for David, after he’d served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep.” And I realize that the world, the devil, and my own flesh conspire against that desire I have for me and for Pat. It certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion that I will finish well even as close as we are.
The Lord has been very gracious to my family over the years. It never escapes my notice that whatever I have become as a husband and a father and a pastor is almost in spite of me. And yet I have made thousands of decisions and choices over my lifetime that help explain who I am today. You’d think after all this time I’d be more comfortable with the thought that finishing well might be a cinch, but I don’t see it that way. I’ve seen many men, many pastors, in fact, make life-altering choices, some early on, some later on, that keep them from finishing well. I know how easy it would be join their ranks.
And so I remain as vigilant now in my late 60s as I was in my early 20s when I first came to Christ. I became a Christian at the age of 23 through the ministry of the Navigators while I was serving in the Air Force. If you don’t know, the Navigators are very serious about discipleship and holiness. I’ve never forgotten a talk that I heard early on by a Nav leader by the name of Walt Henrichsen. It was titled “Many Aspire, Few Attain.” I commend that talk to you; it’s still available after all these years. And Walt was speaking to a room full of idealistic, highly motivated young college students who were Christians, much like our own campus outreach students, and he said to them “if I ask you what your purpose and priorities in life are today, every one of you would say to take the world for Jesus Christ, nothing short of that will do.”
But Henrichsen goes on to say this: “But I’m here to tell you that in not too many years from now fewer than five of you will be giving yourselves to the same priorities and goals.” And he goes on to list 14 life commitments that they must make well and sustain if they are to achieve their ambitions for Christ in their lifetimes. “For,” he says, “in the final analysis many aspire, few attain. Many begin well, but precious few end well.” I’ve never forgotten those words, and to keep me honest, I continues to listen to that talk once a year or so.
Sadly, in our text this morning, King Uzziah is the third Judean king in a row whose life begins well, looks promising, but ends poorly. Both his grandfather Joash and his father Amaziah had similar trajectories in their reigns. The chronicler says of them, as it says of King Uzziah, that they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but goes on to describe that after a time and for different reasons, all three of these kings made choices that resulted in calamity for them and for their legacies. It would seem that the Lord is providing us warning after warning that how we live, the decisions and the choices that we make, matter a great deal. To begin well it’s not enough. The Lord wants us to finish well, too.
And so this morning let’s look together at King Uzziah’s reign and see what made him great and ask what happened that altered his entire reign and legacy so that we might avoid his calamitous end. And to do that, I would like to read our text and then ask and answer several questions.
First, who was King Uzziah? Second, what were King Uzziah’s achievements that made him a great king of Judah? We’ll see that in verses 1 to 15. Third, how does the chronicler explain Uzziah’s remarkable successes: He gives us several hints in the same verses. Fourth, we’ll ask what happened? How and why did Uzziah fall? What were the dire consequences? All of that will be clear in verses 16 to 23. And finally we’ll look for some life lessons for us that I hope we’ll all find helpful.
But look with me now please at 2 Chronicles 26. Remember, this is God’s holy inspired Word. Moses reminds us that it isn’t an idle Word, it’s our very life. I’ll begin reading in verse 1.
“And all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah. He built Eloth and restored it to Judah, after the king slept with his fathers. Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.”
“He went out and made war against the Philistines and broke through the wall of Gath and the wall of Jabneh and the wall of Ashdod, and he built cities in the territory of Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians who lived in Gurbaal 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. Moreover, Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and at the Valley Gate and at the Angle, and fortified them. And he built towers in the wilderness and cut out many cisterns, for he had large herds, both in the Shephelah and in the plain, and he had farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil. Moreover, Uzziah had an army of soldiers, fit for war, in divisions according to the numbers in the muster made by Jeiel the secretary and Maaseiah the officer, under the direction of Hananiah, one of the king’s commanders. The whole number of the heads of fathers’ houses of mighty men of valor was 2,600. Under their command was an army of 307,500, who could make war with mighty power, to help the king against the enemy. And Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging. In Jerusalem he made machines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.”
“But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “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.” Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the Lord had struck him. 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.”
“Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz wrote. And Uzziah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the burial field that belonged to the kings, for they said, “He is a leper.” And Jotham his son reigned in his place.”
Thus ends the reading of God’s Word.
First question we want to ask is who was King Uzziah. Uzziah reigned as king over Judah from 792 to 740 B.C., a long reign of 52 years. It was second only to the reign of Judah’s King Manesseh’s reign of 55 years. Uzziah was anointed king by the people of Judah at the young age of 16, likely when his father King Amaziah was still a prisoner of Israel and the north. King Uzziah co-reigned with his father for 25 years, from 792 to 767 B.C. due to Amaziah’s failed reign, and King Uzziah reigned with his son Jotham for 10 years, from 750 to 740 B.C. due to the failure of his own leadership. This left Uzziah only 17 years of a sole reign of Judah.
Nevertheless, Uzziah was considered a great king in Judah. R. C. Sproul says of Uzziah’s reign that he was among the top five kings of Judah. Uzziah was his throne name; it means “the Lord is strong.” His birth name, however, was Azariah, which is the name used for him in 2 Kings 14 and 15. Azariah means “the Lord helps.” Both those names are appropriate for Uzziah.
Interestingly, 2 Kings reserves only nine verses for Uzziah’s reign compared to 2 Chronicles’ 23 verses. And 2 Kings makes very little mention of all that he accomplished, nor does it involve any of the specifics of Uzziah’s failure as a king. It only mentions that the Lord afflicted Uzziah with leprosy until the day he died. It’s left to 2 Chronicles to provide us more details about Uzziah’s achievements and his life with God along with a thorough explanation of his sin that brought him to ruin.
In verses 2 to 15 the chronicler provides us a substantial list of achievements that made King Uzziah great. The first is listed in verse 2. We read there that Uzziah rebuilt Eloth and restored it to Judah after Amaziah’s father died. Eloth was an important seaport in Edom, and it gave access to trade with the east. It had been used by Solomon but had been lost during the reign of Jehoram over 100 years earlier. And so Uzziah’s restoration of Eloth as a seaport was very good for Judah’s economy.
In verses 6 through 8 we see more international achievements of Uzziah. He took on several long-term enemies of Judah, the Philistines, the Arabs, the Meunites, and he defeated them all. In doing so, he also gained the fear and tribute and perhaps the vassalage of the Ammonites, and as a result we read in verse 8 that Uzziah’s fame spread as far as the border of Egypt because he had become very strong.
These were the sorts of things we remember reading of Solomon. These were the sorts of things that were said of Solomon in his own generation.
In verses 9 and 10, the chronicler continues to boast about Uzziah’s domestic achievements. He built towers in Jerusalem, at several of the gates entering the city. He built towers in the wilderness, in the foothills, and coastal plains around Jerusalem. He also constructed many cisterns for water retention for the large herds of livestock that he owned. The towers Uzziah built in Jerusalem and all around Judah provided fortification and protection for royal workers as well as storage. We read that he employed farmers and vinedressers in the hills and the fertile lands, for we’re told he loved the soil.
Finally in verses 11 to 15, the chronicler draws attention to Uzziah’s military buildup. He had a well-trained army that was highly ordered with capable leaders. This was no simple militia. It was a large army of 307,500 who could make war with mighty power. Add to that Uzziah made very significant provisions for his army. In biblical times it was typical for soldiers to provide their own weapons. Not Uzziah’s army. The writer mentions that Uzziah made shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows and stones for slinging for every soldier. Uzziah also had what the ESV calls engines invented by skillful men to be used on the towers to shoot arrows and great stones. This was a very modern and enviable army that would put fear into Judah’s enemies. And one more we read in verse 15 that Uzziah’s fame spread far.
It isn’t hard to see from all this why R. C. Sproul would conclude that Uzziah was one of the great kings of Judah. More importantly, we should ask now how does the chronicler explain Uzziah’s remarkable achievements. Well, the chronicler provides a number of clues to Uzziah’s greatness. We read in verse 4 that Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. This is one of two typical assessments of the kings of Judah and Israel from both Chronicles and Kings. The other typical summary assessment rendered for a king is he did evil in the eyes of the lord.
During the divided monarchy after Solomon, there were 20 kings in the northern tribes and 20 kings of Judah. It is sad, but not one of the kings of the northern tribes were assessed as kings who had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord. And of the 20 kings of Judah, only eight were assessed positively, and most of them had qualified positive assessments. What a sad legacy of leadership for Judah and Israel. That puts Uzziah in a more positive light.
But if Uzziah was able to please the lord during his reign, the chronicler provides a greater insight into how that was possible. Look at verse 5. We read “he set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah who instructed him in the fear of God and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.”
There are two things noteworthy. First, in those years that Uzziah flourished, he set himself to seek God. To say that one sets himself to seek the Lord is a way of answering the first Catechism question: What is man’s chief end? You know the answer, don’t you? Will you say it with me if you do. What is the answer? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And that meant that in all his pursuits as king, whether it was internationally or domestically or militarily, Uzziah made it his ambition to please the Lord, and it seems clear that the Lord prospered everything that Uzziah put his hand to.
But secondly, Uzziah had help. We also read in that same verse that he had a religious advisor named Zechariah who taught Uzziah to fear the Lord. Today, we might call such a person a mentor. We don’t know much more about Zechariah than this, but he was to Uzziah what Jehoiada was to Uzziah’s grandfather Joash. In addition to teaching Uzziah to fear the Lord, one can assume that Zechariah appropriately held Uzziah accountable for his life with God.
You know nothing has really changed. We all need godly mentors and friends in our lives to spur us on toward holiness and to keep us accountable for that purpose. In a fallen world, as fallen men and women, it’s foolish for us to think that we could sustain a Godward life long-term on our own. That principle is validated many places in the Old and New Testaments, but if there is any doubt, let me read Hebrews chapter 3, verses 12 and 13. It makes it perfectly clear.
There the writer of Hebrews says “take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart leading you to fall away from the living God, but exhort or encourage one another day after day, as long as it’s still called a day, lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
And it seems that as long as Zechariah was there for Uzziah he sought the Lord.
Further we read in verse 7 that God helped Uzziah fight his battles with his enemies, and in verse 15 the author says that Uzziah’s fame spread far for he was marvelously helped until he was strong. But something went dreadfully wrong. Who would have anticipated anything from King Uzziah but the continued favor of God, and success in all his pursuits? We must now ask what happened.
And the chronicler answers that question in verses 16 to 21. There is a big picture answer given in the first half of verse 16. Look at it, would you? “But when he was strong he grew proud to his destruction, for he was unfaithful to the Lord.”
Something radically changed in Uzziah’s life. It seems likely that Zechariah was no longer an influence in his life and had not been replaced by another mentor. The author is clear: When Uzziah became strong, he grew proud, and we read sadly to his destruction.
Uzziah was ambushed by pride, and with that he ceased fearing the Lord.
There is a verse in Hosea 13:6. It comes to mind here that I’ve found to be a timeless template to explain how such a thing happens. Hosea is summarizing how Israel had fallen away from the Lord, and we read there, Hosea writes, “as they had their pasture, they became satisfied; and being satisfied, their hearts became proud; therefore they forgot me.” There’s an inherently grave danger in the affluent and successful wife, where all her needs are met and many if not most of her wants as well.
This is what happened to Uzziah. He was at the top of his game as a king. He had great power. His enemies feared him. He had achieved great things for Judah, and at some point he forgot that it was the Lord’s doing, not his. His pride swelled and he forgot the Lord, and Uzziah fell away.
This was Moses’ warning to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 8, and it’s a timeless warning to God’s people to this very day. Nothing, nothing has changed.
Would you turn with me to Deuteronomy 8 and look with me as I read verses 10 through 20, and see how Moses’ anticipated this, not only in Uzziah’s day, but in our own time. Moses writes:
“And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”
“Take care, take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His rules and His statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do good to you in the end. Beware, beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may confirm His covenant that He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget, if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
Brothers and sisters, do you see the predictable danger that Moses anticipates? When we begin to forget, when we fail to gratefully remember all the Lord has done for us in the past, that explains our achievements and success, the vacuum in our soul that remains is swiftly occupied by sinful pride, and when that happens we, like Uzziah, are doomed because pride makes one self-absorbed and pride does not tolerate faith and humility.
Proverbs 16:18 puts it this way: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”
One commentator describes pride’s DNA well. He writes “the essence of pride arises in our hearts when we shift confidence from God to self, and this basic attitude of pride is manifested in insolence, scoffing, presumption, stubbornness, wilfulness, and hardness of heart.” And he continues “as a result, a person does not seek God, becomes quarrelsome, and his or her life ends in loneliness and isolation.”
And so we might sum this up by saying continually forgetting to remember God’s gracious and kind favor and protection in our lives is a certain pathway to pride that leads to unfaithfulness and ruin.
The chronicler goes on to describe in detail how King Uzziah’s pride manifested itself in verses 16 to 21: Uzziah in his pride was not satisfied to be a great king. He determined to take to himself the responsibilities of the office of priest as well by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. This duty was strictly limited to the priests in Exodus 30 and in Numbers 16 and Numbers 18. To violate this was a capital offense.
I’ve often said that there’s a certain degree of insanity associated with sin. Uzziah had to know that what he was doing violated God’s law and would have consequences, but he, he did it anyway. The 80 priests who joined Azariah to courageously confront King Uzziah and attempt to prevent him from taking the priest’s role to himself speaks to the seriousness of Uzziah’s sin.
You may recall Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16 over who should be able to offer incense to the Lord. He and many others with him lost their lives due to their pride. It’s not wise or safe to violate God’s precepts around proper worship.
Rather than repent, what does Uzziah do? Verse 19 tells us: He became angry with the priests. Angry with the priests. And although what Uzziah had done was worthy of death, the Lord spared his life, but there were severe lifelong consequences for him.
Verse 20 we read that the Lord struck Uzziah with a skin disease described as leprosy that rendered him unclean and unqualified to continue as king for all practical purposes. Verse 21, the chronicler says Uzziah remained a leper the rest of his life and was required to live in a separate house, away from his residence and the temple. Jotham, his son, became a co-regent to rule the people from that time forward.
And this took place around 750 B.C. after Uzziah had reigned for 42 years. He was around 58 years old. This was no act of a zealous youth. This was an act of a seasoned king, and it should give those of us in this season of life pause. If living the rest of his life as a leper and removed from exercising his duties as king wasn’t enough, we read in verse 23 “and Uzziah slept with his fathers and they buried him with his fathers in the burial field that belonged to the kings, for they said he is a leper.” Uzziah rested in royal land, but not in the tombs of his fathers. It’s a final dishonor. Even in death, says one commentator, Uzziah did not lose the shame of the skin disease which he received as a result of his infidelity.
What are we to learn from this ancient story about a great king of Judah who began well but ended in disgrace?
I think there are several lessons and opportunities for us.
First, pray for your leaders, both spiritual and political. Your elders and deacons, along with your political leaders, are no better than Uzziah without the Lord. I think we see the evidence of that all around us, don’t we? When leaders fall, the collateral damage is often great.
And that’s one reason the apostle Paul urges us to pray. Listen to how he puts it to Timothy and to us in 1 Timothy 2. He says there: “First of all then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good and it’s pleasing in the sight of God our savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”
By my friends, praying for our leaders is not native to us, is it? What comes naturally to us? To complain about our leaders. Your elders and deacons are not perfect men. We make our share of mistakes, but praying for us would be a much more productive endeavor than complaining about us to others. And if the apostle Paul is to be trusted, praying for your leaders would also please the Lord.
Second, become literate. Become familiar with the DNA of pride. It’s a very frequent theme and cause for warning in the Scriptures. We’ve already mentioned some of its qualities, it’s a sin that’s native to us. We don’t need to practice pride, like we do humility. It’s just in us. Pride, like all sin, is birthed in the heart before it ever shows up in our behavior. Read Mark 7 21 to 23 to confirm that and see what Jesus has to say. And so we must become more familiar with our hearts and do mortal combat there with our sin using the Word of God and prayer and other means of grace.
One helpful step would be make yourself accountable to another person as Uzziah wisely did with Zechariah in his earlier days. Another would be to intentionally cultivate a heart of gratitude and thanksgiving towards God that remembers His acts of kindness a grace. A grateful heart leaves little room for pride.
Third, this passage reminds us that we never outgrow our need for the Gospel. As I said, Uzziah was 58 or thereabouts when he allowed his pride to conquer him. No, as long as we are alive, we will require the benefits that the Gospel affords sinners, the benefits of repentance and forgiveness.
Finally, it occurs to me that there are some here this morning that may be thinking “it’s too late for me. I may have begun well, but I have finished poorly. I have a track record of sins that disqualify me from being able to say I will finish well.” And if that’s where I left you this morning, I’d be failing you as a pastor. For in Christ, there always remains the opportunity to finish well. Praise God. The power of repentance and forgiveness that Christ offers can restore a man or a woman so profoundly that their sins, that their sins that may have spelled ruin can be redeemed.
Think with me of King David. Truly, we would have concluded that with his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah that he was finished. But David repented. And his prayer of repentance is preserved for us in Psalm 51 along with his prayer of restoration in Psalm 32. In fact, David isn’t remembered primarily as an adulterer or a murderer, is he? No, he’s remembered as a man after God’s own heart.
Think with me also of the apostle Peter, who denied Christ publicly three times in the crucial hours of Christ’s suffering and death, the ultimate treachery. And yet, and yet we know from John 21 that Christ restored Peter, and he became among the most effective of the apostles.
And if David and Peter aren’t convincing enough, then I point you to the thief on the cross beside the Lord Jesus. In his dying hours, he repented and believed in Christ and was that very day with Christ in paradise, and that is how that criminal whose crimes deserved death on the cross, that’s how he is remembered. He finished well.
And so if you are among those who wonder if you have any hope of finishing well, let me assure you: Christ has made that possible. He’s only asking that you return to Him, confess your sins, and be forgiven.
And my dear friends, in the final analysis, that is true for every one of us, who hope for the legacy of King David that is summed up as I quoted earlier in Acts 13:36: “For David, after he’d served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep.”
Would you pray with me?
Heavenly Father, thank you for this important warning and lesson from the life and the reign of King Uzziah. Father, we have much in common with him. We often forget to remember the countless ways You have provided for us, protected us, demonstrated Your favor. Instead of gratitude leading to faithfulness, our hearts migrate to pride and discontent that render us more often than we want to admit, living in the flesh, without thought for you. Thank you as well for the remedy of repentance and forgiveness that is ours in Christ. Help us to become competent in repentance, Father, that we may indeed finish this life well for Your glory. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.