Spiritual Decline: Izziah

The early days of Uzziah are marked by the same divine commendation that marked the earlier days of the kings previously considered in this series: “he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord”, 2 Chron. 26. 4. He was only a lad, sixteen years of age, when he began to reign, and the impression is gained from verse 5 that from the beginning he had the guidance and counsel of a godly man, Zechariah, concerning whom we know nothing apart from the brief mention in this verse. Clearly Zechariah was a man who knew the mind of God; he “had understanding in the visions of God”, an expression which reminds us of a similar one spoken of Daniel, Dan. 1. 17. The kindness of God is seen in His provision of this counsellor to guide the young king, and it may well be that it was in response to this guidance that Uzziah “sought the Lord”. Having begun well he continued well and “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper”. It is impossible to say how long he profited from the counsel of his godly mentor, but the steadying influence was there until it was God’s will to remove Zechariah.

The record of Uzziah’s reign in 2 Chronicles 26 brings before us an energetic, industrious man, set on improving the stability and status of his kingdom. It is doubtful if, with the exception of Solomon, there had ever been among the kings of Israel and Judah a man with such a wide variety of interests and accomplishments. He was

  1. a king, 2 Chron. 26. 1;
  2. a warrior, v. 6;
  3. a builder, vv. 6, 9, 10;
  4. a husbandman, v. 10;
  5. an engineer, v. 15.

We read of war against the Philistines “and against the Arabians … and the Mehunims”. The Ammonites gave tribute and the fame of Uzziah spread abroad. The story continues with the record of his fortifying Jerusalem, the building of towers in other parts of the country, and the development and rearming of his army with modern weapons. Then in verse 15 we read of his engineering prowess directed to the defence of his cities. This is an overall picture of progress, and it is fitting to recall here the words of verse 5, “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper”. Verse 15 shows the secret of his success in the words “he was marvellously helped, till he was strong”. The use of the term “marvellously helped” suggests that the help granted to him was of such a character that it was recognized as being the help of God. The word “marvellous” is used elsewhere to speak of God’s working in miraculous power. The nation, seeing the progress of their king, could say as it were, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes”.

“But”, v. 16. Things were going so well “till he was strong”, but something suddenly went wrong. At least there was the sudden outward manifestation of something which must have been developing over a period of time, “when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed”. No one could have known better than Uzziah the sharp division that God had made and maintained between kingship and the priesthood, but in spite of this he “transgressed” in attempting to usurp the functions of the priests, and went into the temple to burn incense. His father Amaziah had acted in the capacity of priest when, having brought to Jerusalem the gods of the Edomites, he burned incense unto them, 2 Chron. 25. 14. Uzziah was following in his father’s footsteps without introducing strange gods, and also he was copying the normal practice of the kings of the nations around, who generally were recognized as the chief priests of their people. The priests of the temple acted valiantly in withstanding the king — after all he was the king. But Uzziah would not be restrained, and God intervened and showed His displeasure by smiting him with leprosy. This disease was probably chosen because it was generally regarded as a special sign of divine displeasure. “And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death”. It should be noted that only twice in the record is Uzziah spoken of as “the king”, v. 18, 21.

Normally his personal name is used with out reference to his rank, and the reference to him as “the king” on these two occasions is significant. In the first use of the term we are reminded of the faithfulness of the priests in withstanding Uzziah “the king”. They knew that they were taking risks when they withstood the monarch, but to their credit it is recorded that they did it. The next time the term is used is to draw attention to the fact that it was “the king” who became a leper, and we are reminded that God’s hand smites regardless of status.

There are two later references to the days of Uzziah, Amos 1. 1; Zech. 14. 5; in each of these references, mention is made of an earthquake which took place during the reign of Uzziah. But we search in vain in the record of his reign for a mention of this happening. It is interesting to note that Josephus speaks of an earthquake during his reign, and links it with his act of presumption in the temple. His words are, “in the meantime a great earthquake shook the ground and a rent was made in the temple and the bright rays of the sun shone through it and fell upon the king’s face, insomuch that the leprosy seized upon him immediately”. This may well be a record of fact.

We look at verse 5 of our chapter, “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper”, and then at verse 21, “he was cut off from the house of the Lord”. What a contrast! In searching for an answer to the question, What went wrong? We are not left in any doubt: verse 16 says plainly “when he was strong, his heart was lifted up”— in one word, pride. True, Uzziah had much for which to be grateful to the Lord. He had prospered exceedingly; everything he put his hand to seemed to go well. It would seem that there came a time when he forgot that his achievements were because God had marvellously helped him, and he began to attribute them to his own wisdom and prowess. Some years after him, a Gentile king was to fall into the same trap: “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built” cried Nebuchadnezzar, and God humbled him until he recognized that it was the God of heaven who ruleth in the kingdom of men, Dan. 4.

Zechariah, the faithful servant of God and supporter of Uzziah, had been removed, and now it was not the “visions of God” which were seen, but the exploits of Uzziah. Pride is a deadly thing; it introduced sin into the universe as Satan, lifted up with pride, looked with covetous eyes at the throne of God. Proverbs 6. 16-17 reminds us that pride is a sin that God hates, but alas it is a sin that finds its place in all our lives in varying degrees. But according to the measure in which it is found in a life, so is God robbed of His honour and authority in that life. God must deal with it, for it is a divine principle that “everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased”. This attitude leads to disaster.

May we briefly sum up what we have considered in these articles, and draw attention again to what went wrong in the lives of men who started well and finished badly.

Asa. The man who reached the stage where he considered that he could now manage his own affairs, and that he did not need to consult his God. Prosperity led to independence.

Joash. The man who ran well while he had another to support him, but who seemed to have no personal spiritual development, and the removal of the prop led to serious trouble.

Amaziah. The man with a divided heart, wanting to share his life between the God of heaven and the gods of the Edomites, and finding that God would not accept this.

Uzziah. The man who was prospered by God until he arrived at the time when he became proud and presumptuous; this lead to his fall.

“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall”.


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