Capture the Vision
You can listen to this meditation here:
‘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. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”’
It was Helen Keller, who had been born deaf and blind, who once said, ‘Worse than being blind is a person who can see but has no vision’. It is especially in the midst of crisis, difficulty and confusion that our greatest need is vision. ‘Without vision, the people perish’, says the biblical writer (Prov. 29:18).
This was the situation in Isaiah’s time. When, in 740 BC, the news arrived that King Uzziah had died there would have been many fears pulsating through the minds of those living in the tiny, vulnerable state of Judah and the royal city of Jerusalem. The anxiety and sense of foreboding for some would have been almost unbearable. It is at this point, the point of greatest perplexity and deep uncertainty, that Isaiah had his vision, ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple’.
At the crucial moment the King died, Isaiah saw the real King - and what a King he is. Here is the one who holds the future and shapes the future; the one who has plans for his people and who will fulfil those plans. He is the one beside whom all earthly rulers appear weak and pathetic in the extreme - after all, they die - but he reigns for ever. Isaiah was forced to appreciate the overwhelming reality, which many people then and now refuse to appreciate, that it was not upon Uzziah’ s successor Jotham that he was to pin his hopes any more than it is upon our government or ecclesiastical leaders we are to pin our hopes - but God. It is the Lord who occupies the throne and, so exalted is this throne and the one who is seated upon it, that all Isaiah can see is the mere hem of his robe. At this time kings didn’t have trains - the word is better translated ‘hem’. So great and mighty is this King that the mere hem of his robe entirely fills the Temple. Isaiah wants to say to us that when you have glimpsed the true King then everything will look different, the way you view things will never be the same again.
Let me focus on one outstanding feature of this vision, God’s holiness - 'Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty the whole earth is full of his glory."' No one is quite sure what a seraph is - it is a word which means ‘fiery ones’. Isaiah in his vision sees these flaming creatures flitting about the heavenly throne in one continuous activity. They have six wings, with one pair they fly, with another pair they cover their faces (even they can’t look directly at the face of God, and anyhow it is their ears which are important not their eyes, for their duty is to obey God’s commands), with another pair they cover their feet, perhaps signifying that they don’t intend to move anywhere without the Lord’s direction - they will only go where he says to go. But it is what they are saying to each other that is the most important element of the vision - "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty the whole earth is full of his glory". Why is that so significant? If you wanted to say how superlative a thing was in the Hebrew language, you didn’t say, ‘This is great’ or even ‘This is very great’, you simply repeated - ‘great, great’. To declare that God is Holy and could not be conceived of being any more holy, the only way that could be expressed was by saying ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty’. The central, overwhelming, heart-gripping truth about the real King is that he is holy. He is so utterly different and ‘other’ to all else that exists or could exist. This is the way the 18th century American theologian Jonathan Edwards puts it, ‘Holiness is a most beautiful, lovely thing. Men are apt to drink in strange notions of holiness from their childhood, as if it were a melancholy, morose, sour and unpleasant thing; but there is nothing in it but what is sweet and ravishingly lovely. It is the highest beauty and amiableness, vastly above all other beauties; it is a divine beauty’. What Isaiah saw, and what the seraphs were consumed by so that they could not stop declaring it, was divine beauty.
This is the God we worship and in whom we gladly put our trust.
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art -
Thou my best thought, by day or by night;
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father; thine own may I be,
Thou in me dwelling and I one with thee.
For Jesus’ sake,