Ending Badly

January 20, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: 2 Chronicles 23–28, Psalm 20, Proverbs 20.

Who can say, "I have made my heart pure;
    I am clean from my sin"?

(Proverbs 20:9, ESV)

Yet again, the annals of the kings of Judah point to the need for a different kind of king—one who is faithful in the long run. Joash was a boy when he became king, rescued from the threat of death at the hands of his own power-mad grandmother by a faithful priest. For the days of that priest, he remained faithful, but after his death, he fell so far that he had that priest’s son murdered for daring to “speak truth to power” in pointing out the folly of Joash’s idolatry. How far must one fall to kill the son of the man who saved your life and put you on the throne? Yet this is how idolatry works. It corrupts and twists our senses, until we call evil good and good evil.

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. (2 Chronicles 26:16, ESV)

Uzziah follows the same pattern laid out by so many kings of Judah before him. He started well, but finished badly. Of the many themes of the book of Chronicles, one that comes home time and again is the risk of setting out to follow God and being turned aside in the course of life. Deadliest of all the lures for these kings was always the temptation to pride and confidence in their own strength. I see this, watching successful men and women today. How often do we choose people to lead us because we recognize their godliness and character, and then see them stumble into folly as pride consumes them? Too often. The example stands as a warning to all of us, but especially to any who wish to lead. If God grants us success—especially the kind of success so prized by the world and by our flesh—we must be doubly wary against the poisonous seeds of pride that so easily take root in our hearts.

Perhaps most striking here is the particular way in which Uzziah fell. In this case, it was not as in so many others a matter of folly in battle. Rather, it was folly in worship. Uzziah seems to have come under the impression that his military victories indicated such a degree of God’s favor—such a degree of his own righteousness before God—that he could disregard the ways God had commanded his people to approach him. He disregarded the supreme holiness of God, and took lightly the laws that Yahweh had laid out. It cost him everything on which he had prided himself; he spent the end of his life a leper alone. God’s response to Uzziah’s actions here serve as a stark reminder to me not to take worship lightly, and not to dishonor God by taking him lightly. He is holy, and we ought never dare to trifle with him.

Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king
    and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.

(Proverbs 20:28)

Whose steadfast love and faithfulness preserve a king, and whose steadfast love upholds the throne of a king? It is Yahweh: a God merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. It is the king who is above all the other kings. Proverbs points in unison with the Chronicles to the Messianic king. Praise be to God for his work in Christ Jesus. Hallelujah for a king who will not turn his back on his God or on his people, who will not lead the people into idolatry or presumptuous worship, but who is himself able to serve as priest, prophet, and king.