Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 33. Isaiah (1)
Isa 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.
From the sublime to the ridiculous! Going from a love song to a mountain of prophecy in search for highlights is probably the definition of culture shock! There is so much in this incredible mountain of prophecy that includes a short passage of history. Commentators often divide the book into
- Part 1: The Book of Judgments (Ch.1-35) which also includes a heavenly vision and Isaiah’s calling,
- Part 2: An historical interlude, which anchors Isaiah in the reign of Hezekiah (Ch.36-39), and
- Part 3: The Book of Comforts (Ch.40-66),
the titles giving a sense of the overall themes found in these prophecies.
I was originally intending to move into looking at two different sorts of prophecy in Isaiah but as I think about it, the calling of some of these prophets is so dramatic that they must feature among the highlights of the Bible. In Jeremiah it comes in the first chapter, in Ezekiel it comes in the second chapter, but in Isaiah we have to wait until the sixth chapter before Isaiah’s calling is shown to us.
Uzziah reigned from 792 to 740 and in 1:1 we are told he saw visions in the reigns of four kings of Judah (the southern kingdom), starting with Uzziah, and so it is possible that he received the contents of chapters 1 to 5 before Uzziah died. We cannot be sure but if that was so, it shows us that prophets could receive words from God (and there a number in Old Testament history of whom this is true) without having that personal encounter that we find here and in Jeremiah. (We don’t hear of it, for example, of Daniel) So why does the Lord give Isaiah such a revelation? Perhaps the answer is in the historical context and what the vision reveals.
From the verses of chapters 1 to 5 (and, indeed, many subsequent chapters) the state of Judah was not spiritually good. However, there had been a period of stability under Uzziah who we can see from above ruled for over fifty years, yet in the last five years, Assyria had started expanding its power under Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727) and had started invading neighboring areas, which included Canaan in the north at least. And now Uzziah dies. I parallel this with the death of Queen Elizabeth II in the UK (which must happen one day!). She has presided as head of the UK, as at early 2017, for 65 years, the longest reigning monarch. As such she has been and remains a figure exuding stability. When she eventually dies, there will be an enormous psychological hole in the psyche of the United Kingdom. Such is how it would have been when Uzziah died after a similarly long reign – and especially as there was an air of uncertainty about the future with the rising power of Assyria. It is into this context that this revelation comes. So what does it reveal and how does that impact on this historical context?
Note how the vision starts off: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (v.1) In the vision (and so it is a mental and spiritual picture, not actual reality) he is shown God and the picture of God is of a mighty ruler. He is seated on a throne which historically is the place from which rulers make pronouncements but it is in a temple. He is robed as a king quite obviously and the train of this robe stretches out to fill this temple. Now this is difficult to comprehend but what it does say is that the size, magnitude or length of this train is so great that if there are any other occupants of this temple, they would have to be standing on it (have you ever thought that?). If that is so it signifies a closeness but also a submission to this king. Above this king there are angels (v.2) singing or at least declaring the truth about this king (v.3) that this king is “the I AM almighty” and He is holy, thrice holy emphasizing it, He is utterly different from any other being in existence, and His glory can be seen (by those with eyes to see) throughout the earth. As they speak, the place shakes, such is the power of the revelations they speak out.
The impact on Isaiah is immediate. He feels totally unworthy, unclean, doomed! (v.5). Now there is obviously an altar in this temple with fire upon it and one of the angels takes a red-hot coal from this altar and touches his mouth with it and declares, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (v.6,7) However we may interpret this it means that before anything else, Isaiah’s past human history – and by implication, guilt – is removed by an act of God. He is put at ease before the Lord.
What follows is intriguing. The Lord implies a task and in so doing presents it before Isaiah: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (v.8a) The redeemed and cleansed Isaiah now feels able to be used by God and, “I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (v.8b) to which the Lord gives him marching orders for his future ministry. (v.9-)
Now what has all this said, this historical context and this vision? It says that naturally speaking Isaiah, no doubt like everyone else in the land, would be feeling uncertain about their future now the stability of Uzziah’s reign has gone and there are threatening noises from the north. They lacked a king, a protective ruler. And so Isaiah is given this revelation of God on high, God who is the I AM, the Eternal One first revealed like this to Moses, but also the Almighty One, the All-powerful One, the utterly different one who is THE king, the ruler over all things. Isaiah, through the experience, is transformed and knows that God has cleansed and equipped him, made him fit for the task. Isaiah, through the revelation, has been transformed in his thinking, in his understanding for he has seen the Lord of the Universe; he has a king who is supreme, he knows the Lord and in that he will be utterly secure, in the face of his own people’s unbelief and in the face of invading unbelievers. Bring it on!
Now you may not have had a vision in this form but, as a Christian, a child of God, you have had and have received the revelation of the Son of God who has come and put you right with God. The more we know of this revelation the more we, like Isaiah, see we have a Lord who is Lord over all, who is in total, supreme and sovereign control, ruling (as Psa 100 prophetically says) in the midst of His enemies. He is working out His plans and purposes and no one will stop them coming to fruition at the appointed time. You and I can have the same sense of having been cleansed as Isaiah was. You and I can have the same sense of security through revelation that Isaiah had. You and I, like Isaiah, when we have a need presented before us by the Lord, can say with him, “Here am I lord, send me,” in the sure knowledge that He has done everything that has needed to be done to prepare and equip us for whatever He puts before us. Whatever He places before us, will not be too much for us, because He is with us and He has given us all we need to accomplish it. Hallelujah!