“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1)
People – even good and godly people – can sometimes obscure our view of God. That Isaiah begins by dating this awe-inspiring vision to “the year that King Uzziah died” suggests that this is not an incidental detail. On the contrary, I’m convinced that the timing is significant and enables us to see more clearly the glory of the “high and exalted” one. Because there’s a contrast here between two thrones. The one human, frail and temporary. The other divine, all-powerful and eternal.
King Uzziah was one of Judah’s more successful kings. The historical record of his impressive reign is recounted for us in 2 Chronicles Chapter 26. He came to the throne at the tender age of 16 and reigned for a total of fifty-two years (v 3). He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and as long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success. In particular, great military success. At the height of his powers he had a mighty army of 307,500 trained men (v 13). No wonder “His fame spread far and wide” (v 15).
Tragically, Uzziah eventually went the way of the other kings of Judah (and of Israel). After he “became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God…” (v 16).
Powerful yet flawed King Uzziah points us forward, of course, to another king. To the King of Kings, born into this world as a child. The one who, as the prophet later declares, will have the government on his shoulders and “will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Unlike Uzziah, King Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). So King Uzziah, a mere man, gets proud and exalts himself. Jesus, by very nature God, humbles himself and is ultimately exalted to the highest place.
Back to Isaiah. He receives his vision of the Holy, Holy, Holy God seated on a throne in the very same year that a hugely successful and powerful – but ultimately sinful and weak – human king dies. The temptation with people who are famous, successful, powerful or influential is that we put them up on a pedestal. We can move from healthy respect to unhealthy reverence and idol worship. I might do this with a Christian leader, for example, or a political figure, or even a friend or family member who has huge personal influence in my life. Easy to forget that even the very best human being is ultimately flawed and weak – an ordinary man or woman, just like the rest of us.
Sometimes it’s only when such people are no longer around that our view of God comes into sharper focus. So when human influence, power, or success fades or is stripped away, or when someone significant in your life passes away – be ready. God may well take this loss and, in his mercy, turn it into great gain. Into an opportunity to see the Holy, Sovereign Lord more clearly.