22nd Sunday after Pentecost
2 Chronicles 26:16-23
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. How much pride do you have? When I was in 7th grade my dad had my brother and I take hunters safety classes. They held the class once a week for several weeks at the fire station about 10 minutes from our house, so my dad would drop us off. There was probably at least 30 or 40 other boys there taking the class. There happened to be one boy in the class who we knew from somewhere else but didn’t really like, he was trying to be cool, wore baggy clothes, had this kind of mop haircut, and just asked dumb and annoying questions. And so my brother and I – and as I look back, shamefully – had some fun between ourselves at this boy’s expense. Well, the big day for the test came around and we finished the test and I ended up getting a few wrong, but was still feeling pretty good about myself. So, in a moment of pride, I went up to this kid, figuring he failed or at least did pretty bad and asked him how he did. Turns out, he did better than me!! I was shocked, then he asked how I did, then I remember feeling pretty humiliated. Pride goes before destruction, doesn’t it? I’m sure each one of us has countless personal stories that illustrate this truth. Today we’re going to look at one account that God had written in His Word for our learning.
Powerful and prosperous. That’s exactly how you would have described Uzziah’s reign in Judah. Uzziah was a king of the southern kingdom of Israel, or Judah. He began ruling when he was 16 years old and ruled for 52 years. Amazingly, it was under Uzziah that the borders of the Promised Land almost reached the same as they were at the time of David and Solomon. That’s how prosperous he was. The first 16 verses of chapter 26 detail for us all his prosperity. First, his military: We’re told that he had a very capable and powerful and well-organized military numbering over 300,000 men, with 2,600 leaders. He equipped his military with the latest military weapons including shields, spears, helmets, coats of armor, bows and sling stones. He had skilled men build special machines to use on towers and corner defenses that shot arrows and hurled large stones. He won great military campaigns extending the borders of Judah. His fame spread far and wide.
But that’s not all he did either. He was also a great builder. He rebuilt towns and established settlements, he built towers in Jerusalem, built up the fortifications in Jerusalem, built defensive towers in the desert, dug cisterns for livestock. And he was also a farmer. He had people working in fields and vineyards and even earned a title for himself, “lover of the soil.” He was not only an entrepreneur and innovative man, he was also very successful.
We’re also not left in the dark as far as why he was successful. In the verse before our text we’re told that “he was greatly helped” but in the Hebrew it actually says, “He was wondrously helped” and you could even translate it “miraculously” helped. Who helped him? Verse 5 says, “God gave him success.” Verse 7 says, “God helped him.” We’re told that a certain Zechariah instructed him in the fear of the Lord. Zechariah taught him about God, God’s Word, God’s gracious promises. Even Uzziah’s name illustrates that, his name literally means “The LORD is my strength.”
So, if you read the first 15 verses of 2 Chronicles 26 and you’re almost unprepared for what happens next. However, there were a few indications. Listen to what verse 5 says, “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.” It almost implies that there would be a time that Uzziah would no longer seek the LORD and then he would for that reason no longer enjoy success.
It’s as if in describing to us Uzziah and his reign, God is setting us up for a shock. There will be a change. And it will be abrupt, swift, and awful. But that’s the nature of pride. Pride goes before destruction. Pride is a danger that will suddenly sweep you off a cliff. What happened next?
This gifted and talented person who had mastered many different things in life thought that he could also master his relationship with God. No doubt he thought of himself as being super-pious and God-fearing as he barged into the temple one day. Not content to go there to meet God in the way that GOD had set up, he was going to do things HIS way. He was probably thinking to himself, “Wow! Look at me, see how I the king am going the extra mile in my devotion to God, I’m going to go before him and burn incense.” But courageously Azariah, the priest, with eighty other courageous priests followed him in and confronted him, “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.” That’s what God wanted.
And how did the king respond? RAGE! Rage against those who would question his intentions! Rage against those who would question his right to do whatever he wanted to do! Rage against those people who thought they knew better than he did! But God’s response? Judgment. “While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.” Can you picture that? All of a sudden there’s this white patchy skin disease emerging on his forehead! It was a disease for which there was no cure, a disease that made the person unclean, unfit for society, the person who contracted this unclean disease was forced to live separately as a leper. Azariah and the other priests quickly hurried him out and humbled and frightened Uzziah meekly went with them. The result? He was forced to vacate the king’s palace and live out the rest of his days in a “separate house.” Ironically, the Hebrew literally says, “a house of freedom.” He was free all right. Free from all the tasks of daily life and had once consumed so much of his energy, free from all his riches and power, free from all normal human contact, free from joining with God’s people to bask in God’s gracious presence in worship. What a horrible, horrible freedom!
But that’s exactly the destination of pride. Anyone who asserts himself and attempts to put himself over God, to free himself from God’s rule, that’s his destination, destruction, maybe already in this life but certainly in the life to come. Pride goes before destruction.
Wow! Pride is an incredibly deadly sin. It comes from our basic mindset born into this world. By nature each of us is egocentric, we’re turned in upon ourselves. Even as Christians it’s something we must continue to struggle with until the day we die. What does it look like? Like Uzziah, it shows up as this inability to admit you’re wrong. The fault can’t be mine! It shows up as a know-it-all attitude that doesn’t submit to authority and criticizes others. Uzziah though he knew what was right and how dare someone challenge him! And perhaps pride also shows itself in being overly busy. Yes, Uzziah was talented in many things, but he came to the point where he was going to do everything. Overly busy people tend to think that no one else could do it is as well as I can. That’s pride. Pride is a powerfully destructive force in our relationships with other people. But even worse, it’s a powerfully destructive force in our relationship with God. Uzziah clearly neglected God’s Word. No longer was he listening to God’s Word – if he had, he wouldn’t have disobeyed God’s Word in trying to offer incense in the temple. That’s the root problem of pride. We think we can make it without God and His Word. That’s the key difference. Sometimes it can be easy to mistake pride for faith. Both make someone bold and confident. But here’s the difference: Pride centers on self and what I think I can do, faith centers on God and what HE can do.
Pride goes before destruction. God matched Uzziah’s spiritual condition with his physical condition by striking him with leprosy. How much he deserved God’s wrath, how much each of us deserve God’s wrath for our pride! But notice two small details here. Notice first that it says, “the LORD had afflicted him.” Those words aren’t there by accident. Remember that the name “the LORD” is always used to indicate God as our God full of free and faithful love and grace. The LORD afflicted him. The LORD brought him low. What grace of God to do that! There’s an old saying that says, “When you’re lying on your back, you can only look up.” What’s often God’s intentions in sending pain and suffering? Is it not to stop us and get our attention? We know that whatever God sends to us is not to punish us because our punishment has already been paid for on the cross of Christ. So why would God send us pain and suffering? He does so as a dear Father. He does so to get our attention, to redirect our focus off of ourselves and back on Him.
The other detail that is important not to miss is “Uzziah rested with his fathers.” We’re told that he was buried in a different place than the royal sons of David. He was buried in a field nearby because a leper was considered unclean. But what does “He rested with his fathers” mean? It can’t mean that he was buried with them. Perhaps the most likely way to understand that phrase is that he rested with his fathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David in the heavenly rest after the problems of this life are ended. It seems that God in His grace used this affliction of leprosy to bring Uzziah to a repentant faith that once again relied on God’s strength and not his.
What a contrast between Uzziah and our real King Jesus! Uzziah achieved a lot, he rose high, and wasn’t content in the position that God gave him, he wanted even more, so God brought him low, cut him down and cut him off from people and society. Jesus on the other hand, who is God Himself, did not put His power as God on constant display, rather he put off the constant use of that power, allowed himself to be viewed as a despicable sinner, permitted himself to be cut off from God’s people by becoming a curse in death. He was at the very heights and he willingly went to the depths for our sakes. Why so? So that he could cleanse us from our filthy pride by his ultimate sacrificial love.