This devotional is about Isaiah 6.
King Uzziah was one of the most enigmatic kings Israel ever had. He reigned over Judah (the Southern Kingdom after Israel was divided following Solomon’s kingship) for over 50 years. In terms of the economy and military, Uzziah was successful. But it was his spiritual leadership that made him such an enigma. At the beginning of his reign, when he was assisted by the prophet Zechariah, he was a righteous ruler, leading God’s people back toward obedience to God’s word. But, as he became more successful and more powerful, he became arrogant, even entering the Temple like a priest to burn incense before God. God punished Uzziah with leprosy and his reign, which started with so much promise, ended disappointingly.
As we saw in Isaiah 6:1, the year of Uzziah’s death was when Isaiah saw his vision of God. For the good of his people, who were so lacking in spiritual leadership, God raised up one of Israel’s greatest prophets by giving him a compelling vision of our God. The theme of Isaiah’s vision is stated in verse 3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The word “holy” means “separate, set apart,” and when the Bible talks about the holiness of God, it does so in two distinct (but related) senses.
One way in which God is “holy” or “set apart” is in his nature. Because he is the Creator, he alone is uncreated and uncaused. That means God is unique from everyone else in creation. The Bible says that we were created in God’s image, so we are like God but he is not like us. His power, his glory, his eternal existence, the fact that he is everywhere present in the fullness of his being—these truths and others make God unique; they make him holy in the deepest essence of his being. That is the primary thing Isaiah saw in his vision of the Lord. Verse 1 says he was “high and exalted, seated on a throne,” which describes God as separate from his creation. He is exalted, he is ruling, he is distant because no created thing has any business coming near him. In fact, verse 1 ends by saying, “and the train of his robe filled the temple.” I’ve always wondered about that phrase, but as I think about it today I think I see the point. The temple was the place where God said his presence would live among his people. It was the place people could go to worship and to have their sins forgiven. It was a place where they could learn about God and talk to him in prayer. It was a special place, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word. And, yet, does God really live there? According to Isaiah’s vision, no; only the tails of his tuxedo reside there. The most worshipful, awesome day a Hebrew person had in the Temple was just a mere coattail experience of who God really is. Why? Because he is holy; we can understand who he is and what he is like, but never from the lofty perspective that he occupies.
The first aspect of holiness, then, is the difference between the creator and the created ones. He is exalted in ways that we never will be nor could be. He is unique, set apart, different from any and all of us by his very nature as God.
The second aspect of God’s holiness is the one we usually think of—his complete freedom from sin in any way. Isaiah felt this deep in his spirit when he saw the first aspect of God’s holiness. His response to this vision in verse 5 was “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.” When Isaiah saw God depicted in his naturally separate state, he became acutely aware of his own sin. To put it another way, when Isaiah saw the holiness of God’s nature, he became aware of his own lack of moral holiness and feared the consequences.
This vision prepared Isaiah to become a man who railed against the godlessness of his culture with very few results (vv. 8-13). It was a difficult calling, but his understanding of God in this passage and the purifying God graciously did for him gave him everything he needed to be faithful. Isn’t this what we need when living the Christian life becomes so deeply taxing? We need to see God in the scriptures and understand how magnificent, how powerful, how utterly other-worldly he is. Knowing that gives us the power we need to live an other-worldly life for him.