An ancient king's bad example illustrates the danger in desiring more than we should have.
Are you content? Most people in this world aren't! When you consider your present situation — your home, your job, your personal possessions — do you feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction? Consider some accomplishments that many people feel would produce contentment bordering on bliss. Would you be content to be one of the wealthiest people in the world? Perhaps you would like to be a high level executive. Maybe you dream of never having to work, just spending all your time in leisure and relaxation. Perhaps your dream is to be a famous politician, with your picture splashed throughout newspapers and magazines. Maybe you'd like to be a television or movie star. Many have spent their lives striving for such elusive goals, toiling away for personal treasures, trying to create their own heaven on earth. Others fight and claw their way up the corporate ladder, scrambling for a greater share of wealth and influence. All are supremely confident that the fulfillment of their goals will reward them with contentment. But would it? Not necessarily. All too often, those few who do reach the pinnacle of what this world considers success still do not find real satisfaction. We could all benefit from the story of a man who reached the height of success in the world of his time. He was a widely respected national leader who enjoyed vast military power and personal wealth. Yet, sad to say, he never learned to be satisfied with enough. He fell victim to greedy aspirations that eventually cost him everything he had!
The story of King Uzziah
II Chronicles 26 tells the life story of Uzziah, king of Judah. This man literally "had it all," thanks to the benevolence of God. Verse 3 tells us that, beginning at age 16, Uzziah reigned 52 years as king in Jerusalem, a lengthy time in office. At a young age, Uzziah assumed a throne occupied by a long line of kings beginning with David. Sad to say, most of those who inherited David's throne presided over moral and religious decline in Judah. Few seriously inclined their ears and hearts to God. What made Uzziah different? We read the answer in verse 5: "He sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper." Uzziah developed a zeal to understand and obey God and as one result he was blessed with a broad base of political support in Judah. He was a popular monarch. With God's help, Uzziah asserted himself as an ardent military leader. With a standing army of more than 300,000 men, Uzziah succeeded in reversing the humiliating defeats Judah had suffered during previous administrations (verses 6, 8, 11-15). His prowess in the Middle East was unquestionable. Aside from his considerable national stature, Uzziah also possessed considerable wealth (verse 10). Even by today's standards, Uzziah had just about everything a person could hope for. You might assume, therefore, that because of this affluence Uzziah was a fulfilled, satisfied person. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Somehow, it just wasn't enough. The fact is that a person can allow power and wealth to do strange things to him. The more he has, the more he wants. The cancer of covetousness has a way of feeding upon itself. Few things were denied Uzziah during his long reign. Yet there was one field of responsibility that lay outside his reach. In his latter years, it began to eat on his pride. After all, God had given him everything else. Why, Uzziah thought, should he be denied this one area of power?
The pitfall of coveting
The functions of officiating at God's Temple in Jerusalem were the sole responsibility of the tribe of Levites. Among the Levites, only the descendants of Aaron were allowed to serve as priests. Uzziah, being a Jew, was therefore denied any priestly role. During the Holy Days, it was the high priest, not the king, who officiated before the people. The king was forced to take a backseat to the Levites in ecclesiastical matters, something he came to find repugnant. Ultimately, Uzziah let his pride and covetousness get the better of him: "But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense" (verse 16). Uzziah attempted to seize the responsibility of burning incense to God, a function delegated only to the sons of Aaron. The priests presiding at the Temple that day refused to compromise their responsibility, and ordered Uzziah to leave the Temple immediately: "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 sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the Lord God' ", (verse 18). Uzziah was dumbfounded. Didn't those priests know that he was Judah's great king, known far and wide? Had they forgotten his vast power and prestige? Uzziah's shock quickly wore off and turned into explosive anger. He let fly a furious outburst, possibly even threatening the priests' lives. God responded immediately: "Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the incense altar" (verse 19). God's rebuke of Uzziah was swift and decisive. The king was forced to beat a hasty retreat out of the Temple and public life as well. As a leper he was forced to vacate his palace and to live out his days in quarantine. His duties as king were assigned to his son Jotham.
A warning for us
Uzziah's story is one of riches to rags in a single day. In his lifetime God had withheld little from him. However, God would not transgress His own laws and provide Uzziah with responsibilities ordained for others. Uzziah's unfortunate experience continues down to our time as a warning against covetousness. Jesus said our heavenly Father knows what we need even before we ask (Matthew 6:8). But while God most certainly is concerned with our physical welfare, He is far more concerned with our spiritual well-being. Throughout the centuries God has witnessed countless people who let their physical possessions and power rule over them to the point of self-destruction. What motivated Uzziah to demand a position he knew he should not have? The apostle James put a finger on the spark that led to Uzziah's rebellion: "You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:2-3). It was not Uzziah's wealth that led him astray. Those physical blessings came from a God who gives only good gifts (James 1:17). The fault lay not with the blessings, but rather with the one blessed. Uzziah broke the Tenth Commandment, which says we shall not covet anything that is not rightfully ours (Exodus 20:17). We must take care to worship the Creator, rather than the creation (Romans 1:25). Have you read the scripture that says, "First seek your own welfare, and then the Kingdom of God will be added to you"? There is no such scripture! Matthew 6:33 says exactly the opposite. If we will first seek God's Kingdom, He will see to it that we receive abundant blessings, both spiritual and physical. It is not that God does not want us to improve our physical state, if it is reasonably within our power to do so. Rather, it is a matter of perspective. We must avoid being obsessed with our physical desires, lest we become possessed by them.
The greatest accomplishment
The greatest accomplishment God's people can experience is the attainment of eternal life, along with the power to help the rest of humanity achieve eternal life. Rather than being consumed by a drive to gain physical wealth, fame or position, all of which are fleeting, let's invest in the eternity God has prepared for us. As the apostle Paul said in Hebrews 13:5, "Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have." The things of this world are not our ultimate goal. The things of God are. As we read in I Corinthians 2:9, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him."