We find Uzziah right in the middle of the divided Kingdom. Solomon is about 200 years earlier, and the Exile is about 200 years later.
For us, Solomon would be about as far in the past as Napoleon Bonaparte, King David around the time of the Glorious Revolution. The days of a united Israel's glory and power were long in the past. People would be saying: God used to act in power; He used to do wonderful things; but things like that don't happen any more. Some people might identify with that feeling. I've heard more or less the same thing said on various occasions - not here.
This morning, let's be traditional. A standard three part sermon on Uzziah:
Uzziah did not have a good start. His father, King Amaziah, made some disastrous decisions which led to him fighting Jehoash the King of Israel. He lost the battle, Jehoash tore down two hundred yards of the wall around Jerusalem, and plundered both the Temple and the Palace.
It seems there was a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the reign of Amaziah, so he was eventually murdered, and at the age of sixteen, Uzziah was placed on the throne.
Can you imagine what that must have been like for Uzziah? Your father, with all his experience, has just been killed for doing a lousy job. Over to you - now you try.
So, if you ever fear that you are being held back spiritually because you do not come from a devout and godly family - take heart! Uzziah had a poor start in life, and God used him in a wonderful way.
The secret of Uzziah's success is given in verse 5: 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. There is a whole sermon in this verse, but just two quick points for now.
First, there is no magic involved here. Seeking God will not give you success in the things you want to achieve. It is not success for you, but success for God.
And second, things do not always work out as neatly as this. Sometimes we are faithful and success still does not seem to come.
But, given those two points, I can offer no better to anyone here today. If you want to be successful - seek the Lord and accept instruction. Be willing to listen, and willing to learn.
We see Uzziah's success being worked out in very practical ways. Four areas are highlighted in the story:
If you want to learn about spiritual warfare, it's all here!
Firstly, he fought the right enemies. He fought the Philistines, not the people of Israel, at the beginning of his reign, and then moved on to other groups as God directed him. I would like to spend a whole sermon on this vital principle - fight the right enemy.
Secondly, as well as attack, Uzziah concentrated a lot of energy on defence. He built towns, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, built towers in the countryside between cities. Don't attempt to fight if your defences are weak.
Thirdly, he concentrated on providing a good supply of food. You can't fight if you are not being fed properly - and we could spend a long time describing what makes for a healthy and balanced spiritual diet.
And, lastly, he prepared beforehand for battle. He introduced a military invention which was, as far as we can tell, way ahead of his time - this takes a real commitment to preparation. Interestingly, this technological advance was used for defence, not offence.
We can see something of the size of Uzziah's achievement by mentioning briefly two points.
Firstly, during his reign, the boundary of the Kingdom of Judah was extended out as far as it had been under David and Solomon. No other King of Judah achieved this. Under Uzziah, Judah was the most powerful nation between the ever-increasing might of Assyria in the East and the Mediterranean in the West. From here on, in terms of territory and international influence, it is all downhill.
And, secondly, when the infamous Assyrian conqueror Tiglath-pileser III decided to extend his territory to the West, Uzziah united the nations in his path, and successfully led them to halt his expansion. At this moment, Uzziah was at the central hub of world politics.
If you look at where Judah had been when he came to the throne 40 years earlier, it is incredible what had been achieved through one leader who was being faithful in seeking God and continuing to learn. He had achieved so much, he must have thought he could do anything.
And there, in a nutshell was the problem. He thought he could do anything.
Uzziah is one of the people in the Bible who lost it. He started well, but didn't finish. You can probably think of others. Saul is one obvious example, Solomon another.
But these stories, although they all share the same basic plot, tell us different things about the nature of Christian service and the dangers we need to look out for.
Solomon began well, but was seduced. He allowed the people he loved to come between him and the Lord. That's one danger we all face.
Saul is quite different. I would like to suggest that he never had it in the first place. He worked hard, he did his best, but he never operated at anything more than the purely human level. He allowed Samuel to take care of the religious bits - relating to God, discerning His will, and so on - and he got on with the practical stuff of winning battles. Some Christians follow his example.
Uzziah, on the other hand, fell to pride. [Read 2 Chronicles 26:16-19]
I would like to suggest it was not his pride that God judged him for - not in the sense that we usually use the word. In Christian circles, pride is assumed to be a sin. Traditionally, it is one of the 'Seven Deadly Sins'.
But pride is not always wrong. God takes pride in us. A workman is supposed to take pride in his work. If we don't take pride in what we do, there is something wrong.
The problem is not in what you feel, but what you do with that feeling. Sometimes, you fail to acknowledge God. 'Look at all I have achieved with God's help' becomes 'Look at all I have achieved on my own.'
With Uzziah, it was a different problem. For him, 'I have achieved so much' led to 'I can do anything', which means 'The normal rules don't apply to me.'
You don't need to be an international politician to fall into this trap. It is a danger for anyone in Christian leadership. Time and time again, I have heard leaders saying things like this: "I have proved myself trustworthy, so I don't need to be accountable to anyone else for the way I use time or money." They have not all gone wrong, but it is a dangerous position to be in.
Before we move on, I have to touch on a question which is always raised by stories like this. On the face of it, Saul or Uzziah are doing fine, then they commit one sin, and their entire ministry is taken away. Saul is replaced by David, Uzziah has to hide away and eke out the final ten years of his life as a leper.
All sin is important, but some sins are more important than others. And the sad fact is: if you are in a high-profile public ministry, one sin can be all it takes to bring that ministry to an end.
But please note - we are talking here about ministry, not eternal destiny. One slip can end a career, but nobody is going to end up in Hell on the basis of a single slip.
And where people put themselves in a place where they cannot be forgiven, they do so by means of sustained and deliberate action, repeatedly rejecting what is clearly of God, denying the obvious truth in order to sustain a mistaken belief. One step is all it takes, but only if you have crossed the boundaries God has placed around you - only if you have taken step after step against His advice and guidance.
And this is also the way it works when Christians find themselves disqualified from ministry: you can pass the warning signs and be quite safe. You can take step after step towards the cliff edge and no harm is done. You can reject God's guidance time and time again, and it appears not to matter. But eventually these steps take you to the edge of the cliff, and at that point, it only takes one step to take you over.
Uzziah might have sinned, failed and fallen, but we will see him in Heaven just the same. He will be there on the basis of His faith in God, just as you and I will. We have the advantage over him that we know Jesus, the image of the living God, and faith in God is a lot more straightforward when it mean following Jesus as your Lord and master, acknowledging Him as the absolute Lord of the universe and the one to Whom you bow the knee. And, I urge you, if you have any concern or doubt about your position with God, please talk and pray with someone after the service. Do not leave this place until you are sure of where you stand with God.
The one thing most Christians remember about Uzziah is that he died - from the famous passage in Isaiah chapter 6. "In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lordů"
Uzziah had given his people a time of peace and stability through his wise and godly leadership. He wasn't perfect, but the kingdom prospered under his rule.
Then he dies, and the political certainties suddenly disappear. In a time when the spiritual life of the nation depended crucially on the spiritual life of the King, the one question in everybody's mind and on everybody's lips would be - what will the new King be like?
I cannot help but see a parallel with our situation in Sea Mills.
In this context, Isaiah has a revelation of God, and is given a mission. I cannot say that this moment is a massive turning point in the Bible, but a massive turn does take place, it happens around this time, and we can see it here as clearly as anywhere.
Isaiah's mission is to speak to the people. He is not to anoint and depose kings as Elijah and Elisha did. His job is to communicate God's heart to the ordinary people of the nation. It is not that national leaders have become unimportant, but the emphasis has shifted from the leader to the people.
For us, too, the danger is that we look to a new Pastor, when God is saying to the individual members of the congregation: I want to anoint you for ministry. I want you to speak to people on My behalf. Will we respond to His call as Isaiah did, and allow God to speak and act through us, touching the lives of the ordinary people we meet in our lives day to day?