Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6:1-10)

This morning’s passage from the book of Isaiah contains phrases which are echoed in many other parts of the Bible and as such, I suppose you could call it one of the pivotal texts for the whole Christian message, but before we look at it in more detail, let’s try to set it in context.

The first thing to notice is, it is time-stamped.

This story, this vision which was presented to Isaiah, happened the year King Uzziah died so we know roughly when it was written. In recent history, and by that I mean during the last 5-600 years, we have fairly good records which means that we have an exact dates for the death of our own kings and queens. For example, King Henry VIII died on 28th January 1547, he was 55 years old and he died at Whitehall Palace. However, when we go further back in time, things get a little more hazy!

Uzziah was also known as Azariah and, according to the 2nd Book of Chronicles and the 2nd Book of Kings, he was king of Judah for 52 years. Experts date his reign between 791-739 BC, so obviously he died in 739 BC … QED!

However, Assyrian records suggest that Uzziah only reigned for 42 years, in this case from 783 to 742 BC and this implies that he may have died in 742 BC, so the only thing we can infer is that Uzziah died somewhere around 740 BC.

But what else do we know about Uzziah’s reign?

Uzziah came to the throne at the age of 16 but under his rule the nation of Judah prospered. Desert areas were reclaimed using water conservation, Jerusalem’s walls were reconstructed and defensive towers were added. He also maintained a large army which he used to fight successfully against other nations such that the territories of Judah expanded westward. In general, and in relative terms compared to today’s expectations, while Uzziah was on the throne, life for the people of Judah was good … but his strength became his downfall.

According to the 2nd Book of Chronicles, this proud man attempted to burn incense in the Temple, an act which was strictly reserved for the priests, but when the priests tried to remove him and told him to get out he became angry, and as a result (2 Chron 2619), he was immediately struck down with leprosy which broke out on his forehead. (Those of you with a medical background may question the causal link between overinflated self importance, anger and disobedience with leprosy, but that is how it was interpreted and reported.)

The leprosy meant that Uzziah had to be isolated. He could no-longer worship in the Temple and he had to live in a separate house. His son, Jotham, took over charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.
Outside the palace, many other people turned their backs towards God leaving but a few faithful followers, those who are sometimes referred to as the Remnant.

Isaiah outlined the issue back in chapter 3,
11 Woe to the wicked! [he said]
Disaster is upon them!
They will be paid back
for what their hands have done.
12 Youths oppress my people,
women rule over them.
your guides lead you astray;
they turn you from the path.

And there is a particular reference to hedonism and materialism.

16 The Lord says,
‘The women of Zion are haughty,
walking along with outstretched necks,
flirting with their eyes,
strutting along with swaying hips,
with ornaments jingling on their ankles.
17 Therefore the Lord will bring sores on
the heads of the women of Zion;
(Was this a veiled reference to the plight of King Uzziah who’s leprosy had started on his forehead?)

Isaiah continues,
18The Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, 19the earrings and bracelets and veils, 20the head-dresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, 21the signet rings and nose rings, 22the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses 23and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls.

Reading between the lines, I have a feeling that God was saying he had had enough so, having outlined the problem, let’s return to Isaiah’s vision and the proposed solution.

The first thing you may already have noticed when we turn back to chapter 6 is that Isaiah’s vision of heaven was later echoed in the Book of Revelation. God was on his throne, surrounded by the six-winged seraphim who were shielding their faces, presumably from God’s glory, but at the same time they were praising him with the words,

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’

This view of God provided Isaiah with a sense of God’s greatness, mystery and power, and faced with this he came to a recognition of his own sinfulness.

5 ‘Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips,
and I live among a people of unclean lips,
and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’

At this realisation Isaiah was purified: one of the seraphim (whose very name is derived from the word ‘burn’), carried a burning coal which had been taken from the altar, and touched Isaiah’s lips and saying,

‘Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’

A true baptism of fire!

But then God asks a question, ‘Whom shall I send?’

Notice, there is no indication so far of what the task actually is, but in his vision and without hesitation Isaiah replies,

‘Here I am. Send me!’

It is clear from the dialogue that follows that God had reached the end of his tether with those who had turned away … those who had heard God’s message but hadn’t understood it or had chosen to ignore it, and those who had seen God’s greatness and mercy in the way he had protected them and allowed them to prosper but were not able to perceive the link back to their creator.

So the punishment was to be that their hearts would become hardened and calloused, their ears or sense of perception would become dull and they would no longer be able to hear God’s call to the faithful. Added to that, their eyes would be closed so that they would no longer would no longer be able to see or recognise God’s great works — If only they had been willing to listen and follow they would have been healed just as Isaiah had been healed.

If you where to continue reading beyond this morning’s passage you would also see that the punishment was intended to be absolute. The people’s cities would become ruined and desolate, the fields would be ravaged, the land would become utterly forsaken and laid waste.

But even in this, the darkest of times, God provides a glimmer of hope.
All that remains when trees they have been cut down are the stumps, but those stumps are capable of throwing up new shoots, and here, we are told that the holy seed will be in the stump of the land.

Those trees are a metaphor for the people, and the holy seed is those who have remained faithful, the remnant, the tenth, the hope for the future and the ancestors of the Messiah.

I hope this is a message we can all take to heart!

If we are faithful, we too will be assured of God’s mercy and we can be healed and purified from the ravages of our past. Something to consider perhaps, before time runs out.

Please pray that we may be part of the faithful remnant.

Alan Dowen