“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” Isaiah 6:1
It is often the case in times of crisis or widespread uncertainty the Lord uses that challenging environment to summon His people to the work and opens them to a greater revelation of Himself. Let’s be careful not to miss this moment!
Isaiah was quite a young man as King Uzziah neared the end of his 52-year reign over Judah. He was likely sensing the prophetic call, and disturbing events in the nation were shaping his outlook and message. Decades before, Uzziah had ascended to the leadership of Judah with a great deal of promise. Crowned at 16, he immediately set about turning the nation away from the idolatrous practices of his father Amaziah. “And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord.” (2 Chron. 26:4)
In fact, Uzziah was zealous for the service of the Lord, aligning himself with men of prophetic vision, and so the Lord prospered him in all the many ambitious enterprises he undertook. For example, he engineered massive construction projects, both in Jerusalem and far into the outlying areas of his influence. And because “he loved the soil” he had a vast agricultural expression, including livestock, crop farming, and wineries, both in the lowlands and the mountains near Carmel.
Uzziah was also powerful militarily, subjugating the surrounding nations. His army was highly trained, disciplined, and unusually well-equipped, numbering over 300,000 men, and he deployed them in regiments throughout his domain under the command of 2600 officers. His fortifications at Jerusalem were spectacular. “And he made devises in Jerusalem, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers to shoot arrows and large stones.” The fame of King Uzziah “spread as far as the entrance to Egypt, for he strengthened himself exceedingly.” (6:8-15)
Uzziah’s story could have been one of the stellar examples of righteous leadership in the checkered history of Israel and Judah. During his reign Israel suffered one idolatrous king after another. Judah’s king Uzziah had been the bright spot in an otherwise dark time for the people of God. But, like so many powerful leaders, he gradually became very self-absorbed and prideful, wanting to indulge his whims and extend his influence into areas outside his authority. Not content with a successful political, economic, and military career, he turned his attention toward the Temple. ‘Why not ordain myself High Priest as well, and ‘run the show’ in the house of the Lord?’
It is precisely here that we encounter a great example of character and courage; men who knew their ordination from God and who stood their ground against an ‘out-of-control’ leader. Uzziah presumed to enter the Temple, seized an incense censer, and prepared to offer incense on the altar. “You don’t belong in here!” shouted Azariah the priest. “Eighty priests of the Lord, who were valiant men” confronted Uzziah in the court of the Lord. “You are not consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! This is dishonorable to the Lord God!” A bold example of speaking truth to power, these servants of God put their lives on the line for the integrity and sacredness of their holy office, and what it represented for the nation.
Having surrendered his ability to hear the voice of truth, Uzziah became furious. His anger echoed through the Temple, but the priests held the line . . . . and so did the Lord God. As the priests watched in wonder, leprosy slowly began to break out on the forehead and face of the King. As the realization of his plight seized him, Uzziah ran from the Temple, the holy men in pursuit. Of course, in the ancient world a leper was a complete outcast, and this mighty king was quarantined to an ‘isolated house’ for the rest of his life. His son Jotham was thrust into the administration of his father’s affairs and called on to provide oversight and justice for the stricken nation. Later, Isaiah was the one who would document the events of that difficult time (26:22)
When Uzziah finally passed away, there was a deep need for prophetic leadership in Judah, for the people were far from the Lord, unable to hear and respond. (Is. 6:9, 10) Temple rituals continued, but the people also burned incense and worshipped at the idolatrous high places throughout the land. While surveying that barren spiritual landscape, young Isaiah was arrested by God! “Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?” Caught in the trauma of a glorious vision, Isaiah audibly heard the call that had been building in his inner being! Having been touched by the mighty angel of God, Isaiah answered that call; “Here am I! Send me!” Receiving the Lord’s instruction and prophetic timeline, the young prophet was launched into a ministry that would span the reign of four kings of Judah! (Is. 6:8)
Isaiah’s calling was born in the fires of national uncertainty, spiritual and cultural ambivalence. But through it, and partly because of it, this young man developed into a clear and powerful poetic voice that still enriches our hearts today. No prophet understood more deeply the heart of God for His people and the holy secret that would be unveiled at the advent of the One they would call Immanuel! (Is. 7:14)
I suggest this present moment in our history is ripe for another outpouring of God’s power and glory and we should prepare ourselves to become immersed in it! As it was in Isaiah’s day, God may again be voicing His prophetic call to men and women hungry for the next unveiling of God’s presence among us. (Rev. 19:10) Confusion, unrest, and violence hang in the air, as we stare in wonder at the leprous faces of leader after leader, decaying inside for lack of character and trying to exercise power outside their ordination. Integrity is hard to find in many quarters, and our nation is divided by conflicting versions of reality. Lies flourish when men begin to prefer them to the truth.
This is a season when men and women of conviction and courage must step forward to be considered for a divine assignment. We cannot look to others for clarity and guidance, for they are mere men as we are. We need a different mind-set, a more vigorous expectation.
“Woe is me, for I am undone!” Isaiah cried. “Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips!” (Is 6:5) Of course, we look at ourselves, our wobbly and whacky selves, and despair of being useful for some truly holy calling. I get that. The equipping for any calling begins with God’s mercy and grace. Just as the angel took a burning coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s ‘unclean lips,’ the fire of the Holy Spirit will sear divine wisdom and instruction in our hearts and on our lips as we seek Him . . . . as we seek Him . . . . enabling each of us to meaningfully participate in His unfolding plan.
Few of us will be widely recognized as Isaiah was. That business is entirely in the Lord’s hands. But remember, when Azariah the priest confronted King Uzziah there were 80 unnamed men of courage and character behind him whose mere presence arrested the King’s advance! The need for lesser, quieter voices throughout the land is as vital to God’s cause as His more prominent ones. What kind of man or woman is God looking to use? As Isaiah concluded his great prophetic volume, he made God’s preference clear; “But for this one I will look; on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word!” (Is. 66:2)
That being the case, by God’s grace, many of us may qualify! I am trying to prepare this old heart to hear again the summons to the new battle lines; the instruction for positioning and weaponry. (2 Cor. 10:4) How will I know when I am called, and how will I know what the assignment is? Please, don’t worry about that! Making His presence known and His intentions clear is God’s prerogative. It is not our ability to hear that we rely on, but God’s ability to speak!
In the meantime though, we may indeed audition for our part and post by strapping on our marching shoes and going out daily “praising the beauty of the Lord and His holiness!” The praisers have always been a vital part of God’s arsenal! (2 Chron. 20:20-23)