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The Call of Isaiah
THE long reign of Uzziah [also known as Azariah] in the land of Judah and Benjamin was
characterized by a prosperity greater than that of any other ruler since the death of
Solomon, nearly two centuries before. For many years the king ruled with discretion. Under
the blessing of Heaven his armies regained some of the territory that had been lost in
former years. Cities were rebuilt and fortified, and the position of the nation among the
surrounding peoples was greatly strengthened. Commerce revived, and the riches of the
nations flowed into Jerusalem. Uzziah's name "spread far abroad; for he was
marvellously helped, till he was strong." 2 Chronicles 26:15.
This outward prosperity, however, was not accompanied by a corresponding revival of
spiritual power. The temple services were continued as in former years, and multitudes
assembled to worship the living God; but pride and formality
gradually took the place of humility and sincerity. Of Uzziah himself it is written:
"When he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed
against the Lord his God." Verse 16.
The sin that resulted so disastrously to Uzziah was one of presumption. In violation of a
plain command of Jehovah, that none but the descendants of Aaron should officiate as
priests, the king entered the sanctuary "to burn incense upon the altar."
Azariah the high priest and his associates remonstrated, and pleaded with him to turn from
his purpose. "Thou hast trespassed," they urged; "neither shall it be for
thine honor." Verses 16, 18.
Uzziah was filled with wrath that he, the king, should be thus rebuked. But he was not
permitted to profane the sanctuary against the united protest of those in authority. While
standing there, in wrathful rebellion, he was suddenly smitten with a divine judgment.
Leprosy appeared on his forehead. In dismay he fled, never again to enter the temple
courts. Unto the day of his death, some years later, Uzziah remained a leper--a living
example of the folly of departing from a plain "Thus saith the Lord." Neither
his exalted position nor his long life of service could be pleaded as an excuse for the
presumptuous sin by which he marred the closing years of his reign, and brought upon
himself the judgment of Heaven.
God is no respecter of persons. "The soul that doeth aught presumptuously, whether he
be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be
cut off from among his people." Numbers 15:30.
The judgment that befell Uzziah seemed to have a restraining influence on his son. Jotham
bore heavy responsibilities during the later years of his father's reign and succeeded to
the throne after Uzziah's death. Of Jotham it is written: "He did that which was
right in the sight of the Lord: he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done.
Howbeit the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burned incense still
in the high places." 2 Kings 15:34, 35.
The reign of Uzziah was drawing to a close, and Jotham was already bearing many of the
burdens of state, when Isaiah, of the royal line, was called, while yet a young man, to
the prophetic mission. The times in which Isaiah was to labor were fraught with peculiar
peril to the people of God. The prophet was to witness the invasion of Judah by the
combined armies of northern Israel and of Syria; he was to behold the Assyrian hosts
encamped before the chief cities of the kingdom. During his lifetime, Samaria was to fall,
and the ten tribes of Israel were to be scattered among the nations. Judah was again and
again to be invaded by the Assyrian armies, and Jerusalem was to suffer a siege that would
have resulted in her downfall had not God miraculously interposed. Already grave perils
were threatening the peace of the southern kingdom. The divine protection was being
removed, and the Assyrian forces were about to overspread the land of Judah.
But the dangers from without, overwhelming though they seemed, were not so serious as the
dangers from within. It was the perversity of his people that brought to the Lord's
servant the greatest perplexity and the deepest depression.
By their apostasy and rebellion those who should have been standing as light bearers among
the nations were inviting the judgments of God. Many of the evils which were hastening the
swift destruction of the northern kingdom, and which had recently been denounced in
unmistakable terms by Hosea and Amos, were fast corrupting the kingdom of Judah.
The outlook was particularly discouraging as regards the social conditions of the people.
In their desire for gain, men were adding house to house and field to field. See Isaiah
5:8. Justice was perverted, and no pity was shown the poor. Of these evils God declared,
"The spoil of the poor is in your houses." Ye beat My people to pieces, and
grind the faces of the poor." Isaiah 3:14, 15. Even the magistrates, whose duty it
was to protect the helpless, turned a deaf ear to the cries of the poor and needy, the
widows and the fatherless. See Isaiah 10:1, 2.
With oppression and wealth came pride and love of display, gross drunkenness, and a spirit
of revelry. See Isaiah 2:11, 12; 3:16, 18-23; 5:22, 11, 12. And in Isaiah's day idolatry
itself no longer provoked surprise. See Isaiah 2:8, 9. Iniquitous practices had become so
prevalent among all classes that the few who remained true to God were often tempted to
lose heart and to give way to discouragement and despair. It seemed as if God's purpose
for Israel were about to fail and that the rebellious nation was to suffer a fate similar
to that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
In the face of such conditions it is not surprising that when, during the last year of
Uzziah's reign, Isaiah was called to bear to Judah God's messages of warning and
reproof, he shrank from the responsibility. He well knew that he would encounter obstinate
resistance. As he realized his own inability to meet the situation and thought of the
stubbornness and unbelief of the people for whom he was to labor, his task seemed
hopeless. Should he in despair relinquish his mission and leave Judah undisturbed to their
idolatry? Were the gods of Nineveh to rule the earth in defiance of the God of heaven?
Such thoughts as these were crowding through Isaiah's mind as he stood under the portico
of the temple. Suddenly the gate and the inner veil of the temple seemed to be uplifted or
withdrawn, and he was permitted to gaze within, upon the holy of holies, where even the
prophet's feet might not enter. There rose up before him a vision of Jehovah sitting upon
a throne high and lifted up, while the train of His glory filled the temple. On each side
of the throne hovered the seraphim, their faces veiled in adoration, as they ministered
before their Maker and united in the solemn invocation, "Holy, holy, holy, is the
Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory," until post and pillar and cedar
gate seemed shaken with the sound, and the house was filled with their tribute of praise.
As Isaiah beheld this revelation of the glory and majesty of his Lord, he was overwhelmed
with a sense of the purity and holiness of God. How sharp the contrast between the
matchless perfection of his Creator, and the sinful course of those who, with himself, had
long been numbered among the chosen people of Israel and Judah! "Woe is me!" he
cried; "for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst
of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." Verse 5. Standing, as it were,
in the full light of the divine presence within the inner sanctuary, he realized that if
left to his own imperfection and inefficiency, he would be utterly unable to accomplish
the mission to which he had been called. But a seraph was sent to relieve him of his
distress and to fit him for his great mission. A living coal from the altar was laid upon
his lips, with the words, "Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is
taken away, and thy sin purged." Then the voice of God was heard saying, "Whom
shall I send, and who will go for Us?" and Isaiah responded, "Here am I; send
me." Verses 7, 8.
The heavenly visitant bade the waiting messenger, "Go, and tell this people,
"Hear ye indeed, but understand not;
And see ye indeed, but perceive not.
Make the heart of this people fat,
And make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes, and hear
with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And convert, and be healed."
Verses 9, 10.
The prophet's duty was plain; he was to lift his voice in protest against the prevailing
evils. But he dreaded to undertake the work without some assurance of hope. "Lord,
how long?" he inquired. Verse 11. Are none of Thy chosen people ever to understand
and repent and be healed?
His burden of soul in behalf of erring Judah was not to be borne in vain. His mission was
not to be wholly fruitless.
Yet the evils that had been multiplying for many generations could not be removed in his
day. Throughout his lifetime he must be a patient, courageous teacher--a prophet of hope
as well as of doom. The divine purpose finally accomplished, the full fruitage of his
efforts, and of the labors of all God's faithful messengers, would appear. A remnant
should be saved. That this might be brought about, the messages of warning and entreaty
were to be delivered to the rebellious nation, the Lord declared:
"Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant,
And the houses without man,
And the land be utterly desolate,
And the Lord have removed men far away,
And there be a great forsaking in the midst
of the land."
Verses 11, 12.
The heavy judgments that were to befall the impenitent, --war, exile, oppression, the loss
of power and prestige among the nations,--all these were to come in order that those who
would recognize in them the hand of an offended God might be led to repent. The ten tribes
of the northern kingdom were soon to be scattered among the nations and their cities left
desolate; the destroying armies of hostile nations were to sweep over their land again and
again; even Jerusalem was finally to fall, and Judah was to be carried away captive; yet
the Promised Land was not to remain wholly forsaken forever. The assurance of the heavenly
visitant to Isaiah was:
"In it shall be a tenth,
And it shall return, and shall be eaten:
As a teil tree, and as an oak,
Whose substance is in them, when they cast
So the holy seed shall be the substance thereof."
This assurance of the final fulfillment of God's purpose brought courage to the heart of
Isaiah. What though earthly powers array themselves against Judah? What though the Lord's
messenger meet with opposition and resistance? Isaiah had seen the King, the Lord of
hosts; he had heard the song of the seraphim, "The whole earth is full of His
glory;" he had the promise that the messages of Jehovah to backsliding Judah would be
accompanied by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit; and the prophet was nerved for the
work before him. Verse 3. Throughout his long and arduous mission he carried with him the
memory of this vision. For sixty years or more he stood before the children of Judah as a
prophet of hope, waxing bolder and still bolder in his predictions of the future triumph
of the church.
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