In the Year That King Uzziah Died...
Personally, I don't like books or movies that make use a of the literary device of the "flashback." You know what I’m talking about— they start the story then jump back in time (maybe several times) and then flash-forward to the present and then back again a couple of times so that you never quite sure whether your reading what is happening, what has happened or what will happen. I like stories that start at the beginning, end at the end, and have the middle in the middle. Well, some authors don’t write that way… authors like Isaiah (whose book we started reading together yesterday). Isaiah’s book is organized into oracles or sermons that are not presented in chronological order. There are a lot of flashbacks and (Isaiah is a prophet after all) flash-forwards.
Today’s reading in Isaiah 6 flashes back to tell the beginning of Isaiah’s career as a prophet. Isaiah call as a prophet was a vision of God high and exalted with His robe filling the temple and angelic seraphs flying above covering both their faces and their feet (you don’t show the king your face or your feet... you bow) crying “Holy, holy, holy” as their voices shake the temple. And all that was just Isaiah’s first day on the job!
But it is important that we don’t miss the flashback. Isaiah dates his call, “In the year that King Uzziah died” (which would have been 740 BC or so). With this impressive vision of God to describe, why does Isaiah bother to date the flashback? The point here really isn't the date so much as the fact that this was the year that King Uzziah died. Uzziah was the greatest and most powerful of Judah's kings since the time of David and Solomon. He raised and equipped a large and powerful army (2 Chron 26:11ff) and built great war machines for his archers (2 Chron 26:15a). Uzziah defeated the Philistines and exacted tribute from the Ammonites. The fame of King Uzziah spread all the way to Egypt (2 Chron 26:8b). Judah didn't have many politically powerful kings after David and Solomon, so the death of the great King Uzziah would have been devastating. What was going to happen now that the great king was gone? That’s why Isaiah vision of the exalted God was dated "in the year King Uzziah died."
You see, before Isaiah could fill the role of prophet, he had to know which king was really the King. Isaiah's faith could not be in kings like Uzziah; his faith had to begin with God Himself. The Jews would have seen Uzziah's throne more clearly than they could see the throne of God. And when the great king died, they wondered whether their world had fallen apart. And we make the same mistake! When we put our trust in the things of this world, then what happens when those things let us down? If Isaiah was writing today, he might begin his book with something like...
- “In year of the great recession following the banking collapse...”
- “In the year that the Twin Towers were destroyed…”
- “In the year that that Republican or Democrat was elected…”
- Or more personally, "In the year that I got cancer..."
No matter what it is that happens that seems to make our world fall apart, what is important is that we continue to see the Lord, high and exalted. His throne is above all thrones, and his rule is sovereign and supreme. He is the One who rules over all creation as the Lord of all lords and the King of all kings. If we with Isaiah will see the Lord high and exalted, then we will never be so wowed or worried by the things of this earth. When we truly see the Great God, we won’t take ourselves or our desires so seriously. If we see God high and exalted, then we cry out with the seraphs, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” And we say with Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me!”