GOD HELPS THOSE WHO CANNOT HELP THEMSELVES
2 Chronicles 26:15-21
Isaiah’s glorious vision of the Lord God begins in Isaiah 6:1 with these classic words: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Unfortunately, this passing time-reference is basically all many of us know about Uzziah, King of Judah. But it is definitively not all that scripture has to say about him. A fuller record of Uzziah’s story is told in 2 Kings 15:1-7, where he is called Azariah, which was probably his personal name. And it’s also told here in 2 Chronicles 26, where he is called Uzziah, which was probably his royal name. The story of Uzziah is a cautionary tale about the necessity of divine help, the power of living contingently, and the danger of human pride. The life, reign, accomplishments, sin, and punishment of King Uzziah teach us an importance lesson: God helps those who cannot help themselves.
Some of you may be surprised to know that the old axiom, “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” is not in scripture. This familiar saying comes from BENJAMIN FRANKLYN’S Poor Richard’s Almanac, not the Bible. Franklyn may have remembered it from a similar proverb in Aesop’s fable, Hercules and the Wagoner, which said, “The gods help them that help themselves.” Either way, this emphasis on self-reliance reflects Ben Franklyn’s deistic worldview, not biblical theology. Scripture does not promote self-confidence. It encourages confidence in God, not self. It teaches that God helps those who cannot help themselves.
That’s the message of the story of Uzziah. In typical fashion, the chronicler tells the story in two scenes. 26:1-15 records Uzziah’s great success. The rest of the chapter records his tragic downfall. And the progression of the text from success to failure reminds us of the importance of finishing strong. Indeed, it’s not how you begin life journey that counts; it’s how you finish. And if you going to end this life successfully, you must remember that God helps those who cannot help themselves. Let me teach you this important lesson by retelling the story of Uzziah.
I. GOD HELPED UZZIAH
There are many high-profile religious personalities around today who are deceiving the church into believing that it is our spiritual birthright to be happy, rich, successful, healthy, and celebrated. But those of us who know and understand biblical Christianity reject these teachings as worldly foolishness dressed up in religious language. Following Jesus does not guarantee success in this world. And you need go no further than the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus himself to verify this fact. The Lord Jesus is the blending of deity and humanity, the meeting place of time and eternity, and the intersection of earth and heaven. Yet, the life and ministry of Jesus would be considered a failure, according to the warped standards of this sinful world. And we have no reason to expect the world to treat us any better than it did Jesus Christ.
So we rightly reject the dangerous extremes of prosperity theology. But in so doing, we must be careful to avoid the opposite extreme of reactionary theology. In other words, if we are going to be faithful to the truth, we must be clear with people that following Jesus does not guarantee that you will you will be successful in this world. But it is likewise true following Jesus doesn’t automatically mean that you will be a failure in this world. 1 Timothy 6:7 says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riche, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Mark it down. God delights in blessing godly people. God delights in rewarding righteous people. God delights in promoting faithful people. And that’s what we find in the story of Uzziah. 2 Chronicles 26:5 states it bluntly: God made him prosper.
A. THE SCOPE OF HIS SUCCESS
The scope of Uzziah’s success is recorded in the first half of this chapter. 26:1 says: “And all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah.” Amaziah was a foolish king who went to war unadvisedly. He was defeated in battle and taken captive to Samaria. Ultimately, Amaziah’s was dethroned by conspiracy, rebellion, and assassination. But the people of Judah did not hold Uzziah responsible for his father’s mistakes. They made him king when he was just sixteen years old. And he reigned for fifty-two years, longer than any other king of Judah. And his reign was filled with successful accomplishments.
• He organized a mighty army.
• He was victorious in battle.
• He reclaimed lost territory.
• He developed Judah’s national defense.
• He planned strategically.
• He built the economy.
• He turned little Judah into a world superpower.
No wonder 26:15 says “his fame spread far.” Of course, a king is famous in his own land. But Uzziah was internationally recognized as a king of the Jews whose greatness, success, and accomplishments could only be rivaled by the reigns of David and Solomon. Unquestionably, King Uzziah was a great success.
B. THE SOURCE OF HIS SUCCESS
26:7 tells us the source of Uzziah’s military success: “God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians who lived in Gurbaal and against the Meunites.” Take note of that. Uzziah didn’t conquer his enemies merely because he was a trained, skilled, and experienced military leader. He defeated his enemies because God helped him. And 26:15b records the reason behind the international prestige King Uzziah enjoyed: “And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.” Uzziah was not famous simply because he was a great king. He was respected, admired, and celebrated around the world because he was sovereignly helped by almighty God. In fact, not only did the Lord help Uzziah, he marvelously helped him. He helped Uzziah in an abundant and amazing fashion. The source of Uzziah’s success was the fact that he was the beneficiary of divine help, grace, favor, wisdom, and blessings. God helped him.
Now, the fact that the Lord helped Uzziah does not discount Uzziah’s real success, legitimate accomplishments, and remarkable prosperity. Uzziah was a godly man, a visionary leader, and a military hero. And it would not be right to ignore his personal accomplishments. And the same thing applies to you. You are not being humble when you deny your accomplishments. When a person denies his or her accomplishments in order to appear humble, it’s usually a veil that covers pride under a veneer of modesty. To say that you didn’t do it when you actually did it is not humility. It’s dishonesty. It’s humility when you admit that you did it, but also acknowledge the fact that you didn’t do it by yourself. Humility is when you look past your accomplishments and see that what you are, God made you. What you have, God gave you. What you know, God taught you. Where you are, God brought you. And where you’ll go, God will have to take you. Humility is when you acknowledge that your success is rooted in the God’s help. That’s the fact of Uzziah’s life. And it’s a promise for yours.
• If you seek the Lord, he will help you.
• If you call on the Lord, he will help you.
• If you trust in the Lord, he will help you.
• If you obey the Lord, he will help you.
• If you submit to the Lord, he will help you.
YIELD NOT TO TEMPTATION, FOR YIELDING IS SIN;
EACH VICTORY WILL HELP YOU SOME OTHER TO WIN;
FIGHT MANFULLY ONWARD, DARK PASSIONS SUBDUE;
LOOK EVER TO JESUS, HE’LL CARRY YOU THROUGH.
ASK THE SAVIOR TO HELP YOU, COMFORT STRENGTH AND KEEP YOU;
HE IS WILLING TO AIDE YOU, HE WILL CARRY YOU THROUGH.
II. GOD HUMBLED UZZIAH
God help Uzziah. Then God humbled Uzziah. More specifically, he humiliated Uzziah. In fact, the words humility and humiliation are connected. And the two usually go together in our lives. This is why we should follow the pattern of the DR. MARTIN LLOYD-JONES. According to a biographer of the late Bible expositor, Lloyd-Jones prayed the same prayer every day: “Lord, keep me from pride.” And you ought to regularly ask the Lord to keep you from pride, so that you won’t experience the kind of tragic downfall Uzziah’s experienced.
A. THE CRISIS OF PRIDE
26:16 says: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his own destruction.” Uzziah’s crisis point was his own proud heart. And his crisis experience teaches us two things about sinful pride. First, PRIDE IS ROOTED IN SELF-SUFFICIENCY. We often define arrogance in terms of how a person treats other people. But arrogant treatment of other people is a secondary result of a proud heart. Primarily, pride is about how you view yourself. An arrogant man treats others as if they are beneath him because he is convinced that he is greater than he really is. In other words, there was a time when Uzziah would look at his kingdom, possessions, and accomplishments and declares, “What a mighty God we serve.” But at some point, Uzziah begin to look at those very same things and declare, “What a great king I am!” At some point, Uzziah forgot about the source of his success. And he began to credit himself for all that he had accomplished.
When I was still a boy preacher, I read a series of articles by MANUEL SCOTT, JR. entitled “Preacher Wait Your Turn.” In one of those articles, Scott warned against what he called “plagiarizing the Holy Spirit.” It’s when you take credit for things that only the Spirit of the Lord can do. I submit to you that preachers are not the only ones who are guilty of plagiarizing the Holy Spirit. Many of us fall in this sin without even being aware of it. That’s the danger of arrogant self-sufficiency. It’s deceptive.
• It causes you to think that you are something you are not.
• It causes you to think that you are more than you are.
• And it causes you to think that you are better than others.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me., that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’”
The other thing we learn from Uzziah’s crisis experience is that PRIDE RESULTS IN SELF-DESTRUCTION. Again, 26:16 says, “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.” In the first half of this chapter, you meet a king who was a military hero with strategic brilliance, a strong, large, and well-prepared army, and state-of-the-art weapons. And God helped Uzziah turn little Judah into a world superpower. Consequently, Uzziah was unbeatable. But in the later part of this chapter, Uzziah will tragically lose his great kingdom. But it is not a political foe or military enemy that brings Uzziah down. Uzziah lost it all because of destructive force of his own sinful pride. Uzziah grow proud to his own destruction. And if you are not careful, your own sinful pride can easily destroy what your steadfast devotion to the Lord has built up. Proverbs 16:18 is right: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
B. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF PRIDE
Uzziah’s downfall teaches us several things about the nature of pride. First, it teaches THE ESSENCE OF PRIDE. 26:16 says: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his own destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God…” Again, this statement corrects our understanding of pride by telling us that pride is not merely a human matter between self and others. Ultimately, it’s a spiritual matter between self and God. Pride makes a person become unfaithful to the Lord, transgress against the Lord, and rebel against the Lord. “It was through pride that the devil became the devil,” wrote C.S. LEWIS. “Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” And that’s exactly what happened to Uzziah. In fact, one of the disturbing details of Uzziah’s story is that there is no place in this chapter that explicitly records where Uzziah acknowledged for his success. His pride had blinded him to all the evidence of God’s power, goodness, and faithfulness that surrounded him. So he never thought to honor God for where he was and what he had accomplished. His pride made him unfaithful to the Lord. And you ought to be careful when the blessings you enjoy become an excuse for being unfaithful to the Lord.
Likewise, it teaches THE EXPRESSION OF PRIDE. The first expression of Uzziah’s pride was his rebellion against God’s authority. Notice 26:16 again: “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.” In the Old Testament economy, God established a clear separation of powers between prophets, priests, and kings. Prophets represented the truth of God. Priests represented the holiness of God. And kings represented the authority of God. And although their roles were established to complement each other; there was a limited overlap. For example, a prophet could speak truth to the king. But he was not to usurp the king’s authority. Likewise, a king had the right to rule the nation. But he was not to intrude on the ministry of the priests. There was a clear separation of powers. In fact, this separation of powers in the Old Testament points to the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament declares that the Lord Jesus is our all-sufficient Prophet, Priest, and King.
• We need no other prophet but Jesus to revel to us the will of God.
• We need no other priest but Jesus to intercede on our behalf.
• We need no other king but Jesus to rule over our lives.
Did you get that? Jesus is both priest and king. But Uzziah did not have the divine right to function in both offices. Kings were not permitted to offer sacrifices to the Lord. Yet, Uzziah decided to go into the temple to sacrifice an incense offering to the Lord. It was an expression of naked pride. A proud heart most clearly reveals itself when you know what the Lord would have you to do but you rebelliously choose to do what you want to do anyway. James 4:17 says: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
Likewise, pride expresses itself in rebellion against godly accountability. 26:17-18 says, “But Azariah the priest when 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 son of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.’” We really don’t know anything about Azariah the priest outside of his sudden appearance in this story. However, I submit to you that every one of us needs a friend like Azariah in our lives. Now, I know that the text does not say that Azariah was a friend. And by the way Uzziah responded to him, it’s clear that Uzziah didn’t view Azariah as a friend. But I tell you, Azariah was definitely Uzziah’s friend. He was a man of conviction, character and courage, who was willing to tell Uzziah the truth. And I submit to you that we all need people in our lives that have the conviction, character, and courage of Azariah. Proverbs 27:6 says: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” In other words, it’s better to be hurt by a friend than it is to be kissed by an enemy. Enemies are people who stab you in the back. But friends are people who stab you up front.
C. THE CONSEQUENCES OF PRIDE
26:19-20 tells how the Lord responded to the sinful rebellion of King Uzziah: “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.” Notice the graphic terminology the chronicler uses to describe Uzziah’s downfall: “The Lord had struck him.” And the great warning is that the Lord knows how to put you in your place. In Luke 18:14b, Jesus says: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” And 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” The key there is that we must humble ourselves. It’s much better for you to humble yourself than to have God to humble you. Mark it down. You don’t want God to have to put you in your place.
Because of Uzziah’s sinful pride, God struck him with leprosy. In the United States, leprosy is not a real threat to us. But in the ancient Near East, leprosy was a dreaded disease. It was the AIDS of its day. A leper was declared unclean, which meant he could not have access to the house of God or the people of God. He was separated from the rest of the society. And that’s what happened to Uzziah. When leprosy broke out on him, the priests drove him from the temple. And he himself was trying to get out of there. And he was placed in an isolated house outside of the nation for the rest of his days. Think about that. Uzziah was the great king that built the nation of Judah into a world superpower. But when he forget his place, God moved to that Uzziah couldn’t even step foot into the nation that he built. And this humiliation followed Uzziah to the grave. 2 Chronicles 26:23 says: “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.’” When Uzziah died, they did not bury him with the kings. They buried him in a field that belonged to the kings. And their reasoning was straightforward: “He is a leper.” When Uzziah died, they did not put on his tombstone that he was a great king. They put that he was a leper. I repeat: God knows how to put you in your place.
Now, there’s two ways to view this situation. On one hand, the striking of Uzziah with leprosy is an expression of God’s holy wrath. God put Uzziah in his place. But on the other hand, the striking of Uzziah with leprosy is an expression of God’s amazing grace. I know that may sound strange. But it’s true. The striking of Uzziah with leprosy was an act of grace. Leprosy was grace in that God could have issued a punishment much worse than leprosy. The law prescribed that those who went into the temple illegally were to be put to death. God could have killed Uzziah on the spot. But he did not do that. Instead, even though he struck Uzziah, he still gave Uzziah an opportunity to repent and come back to him. And I have good news for you. No matter how bad your situation may be, you’re still here. And the fact that you’re still here means that God still have you in his plans. And today you have another chance to get it right with him. It is an act of amazing grace that you are still in the land of the living.
Let me close by giving you the remedy for pride: It’s praise. If you want to make sure that pride does cause you to be unfaithful to the Lord and bring you down, learn to give God the praise in everything. Psalm 100:4-5 says: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In order to make your heart and mind does not forget what the Lord has done for you, make sure you give him thanks and praise for all that he has done for you in Jesus’ name.
During an interview, the late evangelical scholar, Carl F. Henry – who at the time was in his seventies – was asked how he had managed to remain so humble for so many decades. Dr. Henry replied, “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?”
DOWN AT THE CROSS, WHERE MY SAVIOR DIED
DOWN WEAR FOR CLEANSING FROM SIN I CRIED
THERE TO MY HEART WAS THE BLOOD APPLIED
GLORY TO HIS NAME
I AM SO WONDROUSLY SAVED FROM SIN
JESUS SO SWEETLY ABIDES WITHIN
THERE AT THE CROSS WHERE HE TOOK ME IN
GLORY TO HIS NAME