How to Turn Success Into Failure

Reading Time: 9 minutes

The kingdom of Judah was in a bad way. Athaliah—wife of the late king Jehoram (who lived wickedly until he was struck down by God) and mother of the late king Ahaziah (also wicked; also struck down by God)—had taken control of the kingdom, slaughtering every heir to the throne she could find. (She was, if you can believe it, also a wicked ruler—and eventually struck down as well.)

The royal family of Judah had, in other words, an unfortunate proclivity toward being very wicked and, subsequently, very dead. It was something of a vicious cycle—but Joash was the king with the opportunity to turn it all around.

While Athaliah was busy slaughtering the royal heirs, at least two of them slipped through her fingers—Jehoshabeath and her baby brother, Joash. For six years, Jehoshabeath raised her brother in secret with the help of her husband, Jehoiada the priest. Meanwhile, Athaliah continued her tyrannical reign, leading the people of Judah deeper into idolatry and wickedness.

Jehoiada and his wife were doing more than just hiding Joash—they were planning a revolution. After Joash turned seven, Jehoiada organized a band of soldiers and Levites to stand with him as he installed Joash as the rightful heir to the throne of Judah.

The coup was a surprisingly clean affair—the only recorded casualty was wicked queen Athaliah herself. After setting Joash on the throne, “all the people of the land rejoiced; and the city was quiet, for they had slain Athaliah with the sword” (2 Chronicles 23:21). After two wicked kings and one wicked queen, the people of Judah were ready for a change.

* * *

For a while, Joash was that change. When he came to power, the temple of God was in shambles, and Joash set his heart on repairing it. Under his leadership, it was rebuilt, reinforced, and refurbished. For the first time in a long time, the priests were able to offer sacrifices to God on a regular basis—at least for “all the days of Jehoiada” (2 Chronicles 24:14).

Coincidentally, that’s how long it took for Joash to go off track. After Jehoiada—Joash’s father figure and moral guide—died, the corrupt and idol-worshipping leaders of Judah encouraged Joash to serve their gods instead.

It worked.

After restoring the worship of the one true God, Joash wandered off to worship the wooden statues of the pagans. And it only got worse from there. God sent prophet after prophet to Joash with warning after warning, but the king refused to listen. Eventually, God sent Jehoiada’s own son to reprimand Joash and the people of Judah. He stood in the court of God’s temple and told his audience, “Thus says God: ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He also has forsaken you‘” (2 Chronicles 24:20, emphasis added).

Rather than listening—rather than repenting and changing course—Joash called for an execution. The people stoned Jehoiada’s son to death, watching his lifeless body crumple to the floor of the very temple Joash had dedicated himself to rebuilding.

* * *

Imagine what might have been if Joash had listened to the warning of Jehoiada’s son—or if he never listened to the idolatrous rulers of Judah in the first place. It wouldn’t have just been a better story for Joash—things would have gone better for the entire nation.

Maybe, if Joash had remained faithful to God, the Syrians wouldn’t have shown up in the spring of that year. Or maybe God wouldn’t have allowed their tiny little army to rout Judah’s superior military force. Or maybe they wouldn’t have left Joash wounded and near death. Or maybe his servants wouldn’t have been so disillusioned that they killed their king on his death bed (2 Chronicles 24:23-25).

Maybe.

Joash could have been the king who steered his people away from idolatry and into a renewed relationship with their Creator—the king who led Judah into its next golden age. Instead, he’ll be remembered as the king who forgot where his strength came from—the king who turned his success into failure.

If only he’d been the only one.

* * *

I wish I could say that this is the part where things turn around and get better. But it isn’t. That moment never comes—and that’s the saddest part for me. The books of Kings and Chronicles aren’t just filled with the stories of bad decisions and tragic outcomes—they’re also filled with reminders of what could have been.

After Joash died, his son Amaziah took the throne—”and he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a loyal heart” (2 Chronicles 25:2). You can probably guess where this is going. God helped Amaziah win a major battle against the Edomites, but rather than give the credit to God, Amaziah decided to start worshipping the gods of the people he’d just defeated.

Like Joash, Amaziah’s initial success became the foundation for his downfall. He too ignored the warnings of a prophet, deciding he was strong enough to pick a fight with Israel. He lost—badly—and the last thing we read about Amaziah is how he was hunted down and assassinated.

* * *

The story of Uzziah, Amaziah’s son, follows a similarly tragic arc. He also “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 26:4). He even “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” (2 Chronicles 26:5).

“As long as he sought the Lord.”

Again, you can probably guess where this is going.

Uzziah did better than his father or his grandfather. With God’s help, he crushed Judah’s enemies. He built up and beautified his kingdom. “His fame spread far and wide, for he was marvelously helped till he became strong” (2 Chronicles 25:15).

Like his fathers, Uzziah got cocky. He forgot he was being helped, grew proud, and paid dearly for it. When he walked into the temple to offer incense to God, the priests strongly objected. Burning incense was a job God had only authorized the priests to perform. But rather than repent, Uzziah persisted, and God struck him with leprosy.

There’s no happy ending here, either. “King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death. He dwelt in an isolated house, because he was a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 26:21).

* * *

Joash. Amaziah. Uzziah. Three generations of kings who managed to take God-given success and turn it into abject failure.

What’s the lesson? What are we supposed to walk away from this story understanding?

Here’s my take on it:

Success isn’t the end of the story.

We like to think it is. That’s where our fairy tales, our rom-coms, and our action-adventure movies end-with success. Victory. And they lived happily ever after. Roll credits.

But in real life, the credits don’t roll after our major successes. Life continues on, the same as before—except that now we’re winners. And that’s where the trouble can start.

We beat the odds. We put in the hard work. We grappled with fate and came out on top.

That makes us special.

It’s really easy for success to change us—to change how we look at ourselves and how we look at life. If we’re not careful, we can forget where that success really came from and who made it possible in the first place. (Hint: not us.)

Like Joash, we can start to think that we’re doing God a service instead of the other way around. Like Amaziah, we can convince ourselves that our strength alone is enough to take on the world whenever and however we want. Like Uzziah, we can let ourselves get too comfortable in the presence of Almighty God, forgetting our place and our role. Three kings, three tragic lives, all with the same central message:

There are a lot of wrong ways to handle success.

So what’s the right way?

* * *

God wants to see us succeed. He wanted to see Joash, Amaziah, and Uzziah succeed, too—but what we do with the success He gives us makes all the difference in the world.

So how should we handle success? We’ve seen how to turn it into failure, but what does the Bible say about handling it correctly?

In a word: perspective.

The very best thing we can do for ourselves in the middle of great success is to allow God to give us a reality check before our heads start inflating. Here’s one such reality check:

“Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
Where is the house that you will build Me?
And where is the place of My rest?
For all those things My hand has made,
And all those things exist,”
Says the Lord.

(Isaiah 66:1-2)

It’s almost like God is saying, “I’m glad you’re doing well, but the universe you’re busy succeeding in? I made it.”

He continues,

But on this one will I look:
On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,
And who trembles at My word.

(Isaiah 66:2)

Success is a blessing—if we respond to it the right way. If we start by acknowledging God as the source of that success and remembering where we stand before Him, we’re on the right track. If we can do all that while continuing to look to Him for guidance and direction, then we’re slated to succeed where Joash, Amaziah, and Uzziah failed.

Happy Sabbath. May God grant us all success in life—and, more importantly, the capacity to handle it with a humble heart and a contrite spirit.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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