Summary: This is the vision of God we all need to see.
In the Year King Uzziah Died
For as long as I have lived, Queen Elizabeth has set on the throne of Great Britain. Considering that I am nearing retirement age, this is quite a feat. She has been an inspiration to her subjects for 65 years. Even though her powers are constitutionally limited, she still is the social glue that keeps Great Britain together in turbulent social and political times. I remember when at a large football stadium the people sang God Save the Queen for the 50th anniversary of becoming Queen, you could see the tears and the great emotional outpouring of 100,000 people there. Even here in America, I can remember at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York the church singing “God Save the Queen.” The sun may indeed set on the British Empire, but it does not set on those who admire her.
Recently, the tabloids have reported about her health setbacks as she nears 91 years of age. There is a sense of fear in the people because she unifies the people. With the Brexit looming, what will happen to Great Britain? What will become of the monarchy? Will King Charles or as some suggest King William be able to bring stability in a time of upheaval?
This brings us to this morning’s text which begins with: “In the year King Uzziah died.” At first it might be seen as a time marker to date the prophecy, but it is worth taking a deeper look at this statement. Uzziah was king over Judah for over fifty years. Only a few people there could remember any other king than Uzziah. Uzziah was seen as a source of stability in turbulent waters. Political, social, and religious threats threaten to engulf and swallow Judah. Even so, it was a time of prosperity for the nation. Isaiah lampoons Judah for her improper use of this prosperity and neglecting the needs of the poor, but it was generally good times for many.
Uzziah wielded more political power than Queen Elizabeth, but there were limitation to his power as well. The Israelite monarchy was not meant to be absolute. For the great kink Solomon, Uzziah’s ancestor had been anointed King by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet. This by the way is the text of Handel’s great coronation anthem “Zadok the Priest” which is played at the coronation of a monarch in Great Britain. I remember Prince Edward commenting on this that the British people wanted the monarch ruled by the grace of God, the church and the people of Britain. Even the coins of the realm bear the motto in Latin which is translated “Queen by the grace of God.”
Uzziah is recorded to have been a pretty godly king, but he made one costly mistake. This is recorded in 2 Chronicles 26. He became angry with the priests and took the censor from them to offer the priestly service himself. The priesthood was established by God and the priests were separated from the people of Israel. Uzziah was king and not priest. It says that God struck Uzziah with leprosy. In a great irony, God separated Uzziah from the people of Israel, by his being shut up as a leper.
It is in this context that Isaiah has a great vision. He saw the Lord in His majestic splendor, surrounded by cherubim and seraphim proclaiming” Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Armies! The entire earth is full of His glory.” There was overwhelming light, thunderous sound, and the Lord appeared larger than life. Like the few that have been allowed a glimpse of the Lord’s majesty have been completely overwhelmed, even to the point of death. Moses had to be covered by the Lord’s hand, but recounted his fear to the people of Israel about the experience. Samson’s father thought they were as good as dead then they saw the Lord ascend in the flame of the sacrifice. Daniel falls before His feet as a dead man. Here Isaiah trembles at the majesty of the Lord ad cries that he is a dead man for seeing the Lord of Hosts. But instead of dying physically, the Lord gives Isaiah a commission to be his prophet and warn the people of Judah. It is most unsettling that it also records that the people would hear and not understand and see and not perceive the message he brought from the mouth of the Lord.
In the New Testament, we see Jesus at His baptism and the voice of the Father and the Holy Spirit rest upon Jesus. The question is what did the multitudes see and understand by this. John records the voice from heaven coming to Jesus. But to others it was thunder. They heard Jesus and saw Him, but Jesus Himself quotes this passage from Isaiah as do other New Testament writers as demonstrating the spiritual blindness and deafness of Israel.