2 Kings 15:1-7
In the twenty and seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel began Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah to reign.…
The contrast between the opening and the close of Uzziah's reign - here so sharply set before us - has few parallels in history. There is, indeed, no lack of monarchs who have risen to proud positions of authority and power, and then suddenly have fallen ignominiously from their pinnacle of pride. Memory at once recalls such names as Nebuchadnezzar, one day surveying with pride great Babylon that he had made, and the next dwelling among the beasts of the field, his body wet with the dew of heaven; or Napoleon, one day with all Europe at his feet, and but a few days after, like a caged lion, a baffled, helpless prisoner on the lonely island of St. Helena. But Uzziah's early career was different from that of most monarchs who have fallen. To all appearance he promised well. He did right in the sight of the Lord. He did indeed continue that dangerous compromise of which Amaziah, his father, had been guilty, of permitting the high places to remain. But still he worshipped the true God. He sought God's help and guidance. He honored God's prophet. Moreover, he used his power well, not as a tyrant, but for the good of his people and for the prosperity and strengthening of the nation. And God prospered him in his efforts, as he will prosper all those who seek his help and blessing (2 Chronicles 26:5-15). But in an evil hour Uzziah (he is also called Azariah in this chapter) forgot that, though he was a king, he owed allegiance to a greater King. His prosperity turned his head. He forgot how much he owed to God. There was an old command of God, given after the rebellion of Korah and his sons, that none but the sons of Aaron - the priestly family - were to offer incense before the Lord. The obvious lesson was that special fitness, special holiness, was required of those who would stand as representatives of the people before God. But Uzziah disregards both the letter and the spirit of the command. He - poor weak mortal! - dares to defy the living God, and enters into the sanctuary to burn incense. It is another case of compromise and its consequences. He had been so accustomed to the violation of God's command in the matter of the high places, that now he thinks very little of this flagrant act of high-handed defiance. The priests remonstrated, but in vain. The proud king seizes the censer, and thrusts the priests aside with gestures of impatience and anger. But stay! What means that growing whiteness in his forehead? Ah! the symptoms are too well known. The hand of God is upon him. He is a leper. The censer falls from his hand. He can resist no longer. The priests thrust him forth from the holy place, and beyond the very precincts of the temple. Henceforth he is a king and yet an outcast, separated and secluded from the haunts and enjoyments of men (see 2 Chronicles 26:16-21).
I. PROSPERITY AND ITS UPWARD PATH. For a long time the career of Uzziah was an upward path. His motto would seem to have been, as the motto of every young person, of every one of us, ought to be, "Excelsior!" There were three elements in his progress, three sources of his prosperity, three steps in his upward path. Along these three steps every one of us may fairly and with advantage follow Uzziah.
1. First of all, there was the fear of God. As a young man, unquestionably he had the fear of God before his eyes. We read of him in 2 Chronicles that "he sought the Lord." This implies that he honored God's worship. He honored God's house. He honored God's Word, and sought guidance from the Divine Law. And what was the consequence? Just what the consequence of a God-fearing life will always be. "As long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper." It is so still. God keeps his word. He has never yet broken that promise, "Them that honor me I will honor." This was the starting-point in Uzziah's prosperity, and, so long as he prospered, the secret of it was that he sought the Lord. Godliness is the best foundation of all true and lasting prosperity. Men like the late Samuel Morley, or the late Sir William McArthur, were not less successful because they were God-fearing men, and their business did not suffer because of the large amount of time and attention and money they devoted to religious work. To seek God's guidance in everything, God's blessing on every undertaking and every event of life - that is the secret of true prosperity and success.
2. The second step in Uzziah's prosperity was a good man's influence. We read in 2 Chronicles that "he sought the Lord in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God." While the Word of God and our own conscience are to be our chief guides, there are many details and plans of daily life in which we shall be greatly the better for the experience and advice of others. To what kind of men do you go for your advice or guidance? Go by all means to those who have best experience of the business or subject in question. But if you are to choose between the advice of a practical Christian man and that of a practical worldly man, surely for a Christian the Christian man's advice will carry most weight. Some one has well said, "You can never rise above the level of your companionship." Cultivate the society, seek the advice, look for the sympathy, of good men and good women.
3. The third step in Uzziah's prosperity was his diligence in business. Uzziah was no idler. He realized the responsibility of life. He realized the responsibilities of his high position. So we find him improving the defenses of Jerusalem and building towers; improving also the condition of the country and digging wells, so useful to the traveler and the husbandman in the East; and, as it was a time of warfare, providing suitable equipments for his soldiers, and encouraging new inventions of military engines and weapons. No success is won without hard work. Whatsoever our hand findeth to do, we should do it with our might. By these three methods, then, Uzziah attained to great prosperity. "He was marvelously helped, till he was strong," are the words of the writer in 2 Chronicles. His name and fame became well known. If you want to attain to prosperity and success in your business - and it is a desirable thing to see wealth, honorably earned and wisely spent, in the hands of Christian men - then, with the strong arm of a vigorous resolution, cut these three steps in your upward path, and plant your feet firmly in them - the fear of God, the influence of good men, and diligence in business. This is prosperity and its upward path. But we have reached the summit of Uzziah's career. Hitherto all has been progress upward. Hitherto all has been bright as the path of the just. But the scene changes. The shadows gather. The footsteps that pointed upwards now are turned downwards. We must look now at the other side of the picture, at -
II. PROSPERITY AND ITS DOWNWARD PATH. We may gain prosperity by rightful means, but sometimes the difficulty is to keep our prosperity and our religion at the same time. Riches bring with them their own temptations and dangers. We see in Uzziah's case the way to prosperity, which we should follow; we also see the dangers of prosperity, which we should avoid.
1. Prosperity leads to pride. We read of Uzziah in 2 Chronicles: "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction." He became filled up with ideas of his own importance, and, instead of giving God the glory, reflected with complacency on all the great deeds that he had done, and all the benefits he had conferred upon the nation. When he was younger, and in the beginning of his career, he was humbler. He was very glad then to seek God's guidance, to have the help and influence of Zechariah. But now he has got beyond all that. His whole character is completely changed.
"For lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber upward turns his face;
But, when he once have gained the topmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend." Pride of riches, pride of rank, how vain, how foolish they are! Riches may bring with them bodily comforts and enjoyments. But if health goes or troubles come, what comfort can they bring us? Can they give us any satisfaction or peace of mind? Can they banish care or sickness? Can they arrest the skinny hand of Death? Yet this is a common danger to those who are prosperous in worldly things - to be puffed up with this empty and unreasonable pride. How much we all need, in any time of prosperity, to pray for humility! If our business prospers, let us ask God to keep us humble. If our Church prospers, let our sincere utterance ever be "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name be all the praise."
2. Prosperity leads to presumption. It is a step further than pride. Uzziah's pride was bad enough, but when it led him to trample on the Law of God and to violate the sacredness of God's holy place, his presumption was a bad example to others. Yet how many there are whose prosperity or whose wealth leads them to violate the laws of God! They think anything becomes them. They have become inflated with success, and the Law of God is a very small matter indeed in their eyes. Look at Claverhouse, inflated with his triumphs over the Scottish Covenanters, as with his dragoons he surrounded the cottage of John Brown of Priesthill. Touched by the prayers of John Brown, and the sight of his wife and helpless children gathered round him, the dragoons, with moistened eyes, refused to do their deadly work. Snatching a pistol from his belt, Claverhouse himself shot the good man through the head. Turning to the wife whom he had widowed, he said, "What do you think of your husband now?" "I always thought much of him, sir," replied the brave woman; "but never so much as I do this day. But how are you to answer for this morning's work? To men," he replied, "I can be answerable, and as for God, I will take him in my own hands." Four years afterwards, in the Pass of Killiecrankie, Claverhouse died by an unknown hand. How many think as Claverhouse did! Because they have rank, or wealth, or power, there- fore they imagine they can trample on God's laws, or trample on morality. Napoleon the Great thought that when he divorced his innocent and faithful wife; and be afterwards testified that that false and guilty step was the beginning of his downfall and disgrace. Because, by their wealth or their position, men think they can defy public opinion, therefore they imagine they can also disregard the commands of God. But it is a great mistake. No prosperity, no riches, no position in life, can ever lift us above the Law of God.
"In the corrupted currents of this world,
Offences gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law. But 'tis not so above.
There is no shuffling; there the action lies
In his true nature; and we ourselves compelled,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence." Ah! yes; that is the one message for rich and poor alike. "For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Such, then, are the dangers which prosperity brings with it. There is a strong temptation to presumption and to pride. If we have much prosperity, then we need to be much in prayer. If riches increase, the responsibility to use them well increases also. If we look at worldly prosperity in relation to eternity, on the one hand it will seem very poor and insignificant. What are all the riches of this world compared with the "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth not away"? What are all the honors and privileges that worldly rank and prosperity bring with them, compared to the privilege of being one of God's children? What is all the society of earth in comparison with the fellowship of Jesus? If you are making worldly prosperity the be-all and end-all of your existence, sacrificing for it, as many do, health and conscience and your spiritual life, pause and think! Is it worth it? Put the two worlds in the balance. To an unsaved soul, with a dark and hopeless eternity, earthly prosperity is only a mockery. But, on the other hand, worldly prosperity, won by Christian efforts, guided by a Christian heart, and used by a Christian hand, what a blessing it may become! Let Jesus be in your heart first. Let him abide there - his love your motive power, his Word your guide - and then there will be no danger in prosperity. - C.H.I.
Parallel VersesKJV: In the twenty and seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel began Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah to reign.