In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about. They shouted to each other, saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces! All the earth is filled with God’s glory!” The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke.
I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!” Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.” Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” I said, “I’m here; send me.”
God said, “Go and say to this people: Listen intently, but don’t understand; look carefully, but don’t comprehend. Make the minds of this people dull. Make their ears deaf and their eyes blind, so they can’t see with their eyes or hear with their ears, or understand with their minds, and turn, and be healed.” I said, “How long, Lord?” And God said, “Until cities lie ruined with no one living in them, until there are houses without people and the land is left devastated.” The Lord will send the people far away, and the land will be completely abandoned. Even if one-tenth remain there, they will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, which when it is cut down leaves a stump. Its stump is a holy seed. (CEB)
King Uzziah died in 739 BC. He was the king of Judah for 42 years and it was the height of Judah’s prosperity second only to King David and Solomon’s reign 300 or so years before. His armies expanded Judah’s territory, fortified Jerusalem’s walls and added watch towers. He was a powerful king and all were convinced his success was due to God’s favor. But King Uzziah got a big head and thought he could do anything he wanted. He WAS the king after all. He decided he would make the incense offering in the temple. He didn’t need the priests to do it for him. When the priests confronted him about overstepping his bounds, he got angry. God’s punishment was swift. He immediately got a bad case of leprosy. He could no longer be out in public. He could no longer rule. His son Jothan ruled in his place until Uzziah died.
So that is the environment to which Isaiah was called to be a prophet. The people were prosperous. The country had been strong. But as they do, things started to deteriorate as the people took their strength and prosperity for granted, started to expect their success was due to their own value and power rather than God’s and not only that, they started to take advantage of the poor, practice corruption and forget to honor God. And that never goes well. The people reading or hearing the scriptures who knew their history would get all that with just the phrase “In the year of King Uzziah’s death.”
King Uzziah was a prosperous and powerful king, but he never had a throne room like that. Uzziah had powerful bodyguards, but he never had bodyguards like that! “Seraphim” is the untranslated description that became their name. It means “six winged creatures.” They must have been magnificent. Their shouting shook the building. They said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces! All the earth is filled with God’s glory!”
“Holy” means ‘set apart,’ ‘divine,’ or ‘not of this world.’ That it is repeated three times is a reaffirmation of the emphasis that this is not just any old holiness… this is that you are in the presence of THE MOST POWERFUL HOLINESS. God is the greatest king of all; the most powerful, the most just, the most everything.
The prevailing wisdom was that if you saw God, you were dead. No one could live to tell about it. Isaiah was no different. Even though it was in a dream, he believed he was a dead man. He knew he was an ordinary man. He knew he had nothing special to say, and in fact, had said many things he shouldn’t have said. He just knew this dream was judgment on him… judgment and destruction.
God had other plans though. The winged creature seared Isaiah’s lips with a white hot coal, purifying him and preparing him. Remember from last week it was not a gentle touch. (If you missed it on Feb 2, you can read it here. ) Isaiah was going to be called to do a hard thing, so he needed a strong vision to sustain him. “
You see, Isaiah was called to invite the people of Judah to repent of their corruption, their love of power, their arrogance and their willingness to worship other gods. God told Isaiah the people wouldn’t listen, but he was to preach to them anyway. He needed to know that he would not be ‘successful’ as Jonah had been… the whole city turned to God and escaped God’s judgment, even though he didn’t want to be successful. Jonah didn’t want those foreigners to receive God’s mercy, but they would. Not so for Isaiah’s people. His people would end up being overrun by the enemy and taken into exile. Their present prosperity would not be able to save them. Only repentance could save them, but they were unwilling to change their ways. And Isaiah knew from the beginning he was going to have to keep giving the same message even though the people wouldn’t listen. He would have to give it while his whole civilization fell apart. That is a hard thing to have to do.
But even in all that, there is a tiny seed of hope. Isaiah is told that even as thoroughly as they would be destroyed, like an oak tree that is cut down, a shoot will come up by the side of the stump. The people of God will never be completely obliterated. Death is never the end. There will always be resurrection of some sort. That is just God’s way… even 742 years before Jesus was even born. And so we can be reassured. There is always hope. There is always a chance for resurrection. That is just God’s way. That has always been God’s way.
blessings to you,
Common English Bible (CEB)
Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible