Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 18, 2012

Isaiah 6: The Vision of Isaiah in Light of the Sin of Uzziah

Many sermons have been preached on Isaiah 6, and I’ve heard my share of them, but I hadn’t made the connection I read about this evening between the sin of Uzziah and the vision of Isaiah as  I was working through Robert Cole, “Isaiah 6 in Its Context,” Southeastern Theological Review 2/2 (2011): 161-80.  Cole demonstrates that Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 appears to be purposely contrasting with the narrative of Uzziah’s downfall in 2Chr 26:16-23.  For convenience, here are the two passages:

[16] But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. [17] But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, [18] and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.” [19] Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. [20] And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. [21] And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.
[22] Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz wrote. [23] And Uzziah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the burial field that belonged to the kings, for they said, “He is a leper.” And Jotham his son reigned in his place.
(2 Chronicles 26:16-23 ESV)

[6:1] In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. [2] Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. [3] And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
[4] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. [5] And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
[6] Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. [7] And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
(Isaiah 6:1-7 ESV)

Notice a number of connections:

1) Isaiah carefully dates his vision to “the year that King Uzziah died,” not the year that King Jotham began to reign (vs. co-reign).  “Historical notice of that year served not simply chronological or historical purposes, but rather those illustrative, contrastive, and indeed theological.” (172)

2) Uzziah entered the temple to burn incense on the incense altar (26:16); the temple of Isaiah’s vision was filled with smoke (6:4, presumably from incense) and his lips were cleansed with a coal from the altar (6:6). (172)

3) The Lord in Isaiah’s vision is portrayed as both king (“throne”, v. 1; “King”, v. 5) and priest (“temple”, “robe”; the term for “robe” is used in 6 of its 11 appearances in the MT to reference the high priest’s robes — cf. Exod 28, 39).  “His priestly dress and designation as ‘the king’ seated on a throne indicates he is the ultimate replacement of Uzziah” (173), for while Uzziah’s “pride led him to offer incense in the temple, a duty reserved exclusively for the priests,” the Lord (whom John identifies with Jesus) “is able to perform both sacerdotal and royal duties in direct contrast with Uzziah” (172).

4) Isaiah’s condemnations of Judah and Jerusalem preliminary to the vision of Isa 6, highlight the very sin of which Uzziah was guilty: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.” (2 Chr 26:16)  In Isaiah 2, Isaiah looks to the future and notes that

[11] The haughty looks of man shall be brought low,
and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled,
and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.
[12] For the LORD of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low;
(Isaiah 2:11-12 ESV; also cf. Isa 2:15, 17; 3:16)

 

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  1. […] “Isaiah 6 in Its Context,” Southeastern Theological Review 2/2 (2011): 161-80.  See “The Vision of Isaiah in Light of the Sin of Uzziah.”  In addition, instead of being surprised that John finds Jesus in the vision of Isa 6 (John […]


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