In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah 6:1.
In the year that King Uzziah died. I have always rushed passed that introductory phrase, thinking it was only recorded to anchor a supernatural event in natural time. While it most certainly does that, it always provides a powerful juxtaposition between the earthly king that Isaiah had seen and known and the heavenly one he would spend the rest of his life serving.
The King Isaiah Saw
In this epic moment, we find a young Isaiah experiencing a powerful moment with God through a vision of His throne room (similar in imagery to John’s vision on the Island of Patmos which became the book of Revelation). He sees the glory of the Lord on His throne as the seraphim worshipped him for His thrice-fold, complete holiness.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
In the presence of such power and purity, Isaiah cries, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
Shortly thereafter, one of the seraphim, looking to the coming sacrifice of Christ, cleanses his lips with a hot coal and announces his guilt taken away. Having thus been cleansed, he was then willingly commissioned into the service of the Lord, saying, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:7-8).
The King Isaiah had Seen
Isaiah grew up during the reign of King Uzziah of Judah. For a time of incredibly monarchal instability due to warring factions and usurping sons, Uzziah reigned for a long fifty-two years. Having replaced his father (who had turned away from the Lord and been driven away and killed by the people) at the impressionable age of sixteen, he started well.
And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of the God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper (2 Chronicles 26:4-5).
Following this summary statement, the list of accolades from his early reign continue. Uzziah seemed to be a renaissance man long before the renaissance gave us that term. He led his people to military victories over the Philistines (as in the people group who had birthed Goliath). He strengthened the city to protect his people by building towers and fortifying walls, which was no small deed in a time of marauding people groups and unexpected attacks. As an agrarian who “loved the soil” (v. 10), he dug cisterns to water the flocks in the wilderness. He created an unbelievable army with an unthinkable armory of “shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows and stones for slinging (v. 14). He was even an inventor, as he created machines to hurl stones and shoot arrows (v. 15).
King Uzziah must have seemed larger than life to a young Isaiah who watched as the king grew in strength and fame. Until he began to trust in himself rather than the Lord who had strengthened him.
But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction (v. 16).
Just as his strengthening had been public, so was his demise.
Thinking himself invincible and above accountability, he marched himself into the Temple and attempted to burn incense unto the Lord. While that doesn’t sound anathema to our ears, it would have to Hebrew ears, for only the chosen and consecrated priestly line of Aaron were to burn incense to the Lord.
He overstepped his bounds and was publicly confronted by 80 priests, in a scene that would do well on the silver screen. In that moment, he was struck with leprosy, much like Miriam when she sought to overstep her boundaries as recorded in Numbers 12.
He spent the rest of his years living in exclusion and was remembered only for being a leper (vs. 21-23).
The King Isaiah Spoke of but Never Saw
Thus, in the year that this failed king had been laid to rest, a likely confused and devastated Isaiah saw the great and holy king who would commission him as a prophet that would speak of the coming king.
Hopelessness over failed king after failed king would give way to a vague hope that one day, God would send a better king, a suffering servant. Isaiah gave his life to being the mouthpiece promising a king who would usher in a different and lasting kingdom. He died not seeing that king reign.
That king would not only start well, but would continue until the end as one who did right in the sight of the Lord. Far more than King Uzziah, this king had power to do anything and everything. Yet, He let himself be nailed to an instrument of shame, dying a death more ignoble that than of King Uzziah. He took upon His pure and perfect self our disease of sin. And then, He rose to destroy that which had destroyed us.
In an age of failing and flawed rulers, we can learn from Isaiah. Rather than look forward to the King as he did, we look back upon His life, death and resurrection. We remember with hope that He will one day consummate His kingdom and reign without rival.