I Saw – Isaiah’s Vision

It was August 28, 1963, when, standing at the Lincoln Memorial with 250,000 marchers at his feet, Martin Luther King gave his famous, “I have a dream” speech. With his unsurpassed eloquence and unique passion, ignoring the advice of his staff and a prewritten speech, he electrified his followers with his “I have a dream speech.” Most would admit, that although progress has been made, his dream lies unfulfilled. Yet his dream shaped and guided his life and that of countless others since that day. Visions are not merely the stuff of visionaries and mantic dreamers but controlling principles for living.

As noble and as praiseworthy as the vision of Dr. King might be, there has likely not been as awe-inspiring a vision as that which Isaiah experienced in his youth. It was dated by “the year that King Uzziah died” (Isa 6:1). The date is given not only to establish a time frame, but to paint the landscape which served to enhance and define this “career-changing” sight.

Uzziah reigned for 52 years, among the longest in Judah’s long history of kings. Very few people living in Judah could remember another king. His had been marked by a reign of prosperity. The borders of the nation had expanded. Reforms had been instituted. His army was renowned for its victories (2 Chron 26:6-15). Judah was prospering in every sense under this wise and godly king.

Sadly, when he was “strong,” he trespassed by going into the temple of God and trying to offer incense upon the golden altar. As a result, he was struck with leprosy in his forehead, necessitating his dwelling in a separate house and being cut off from the House of the Lord. 

Uzziah had died. The throne was now empty. Men looked to this king, they had depended upon him, but he was gone. The world of the average Judean had suddenly been turned upside down. With the removal of the good king, what would follow? What would his successor be like? Insecurity, uncertainty, and worry would be the normal reaction to what men “saw.” Isaiah, however, saw higher and farther than anyone else. “I saw the Lord, high and lifted up.”

He saw another throne, another temple, another altar, another sovereign, and another army. Isaiah saw a throne that was far above Uzziah’s throne. Here was the throne of the universe and a Throne Sitter Who bore no mark of leprosy; in contrast, He was marked by absolute holiness. Here was another Temple in which the Throne Sitter dwelt and into which Isaiah was brought. There was another incense altar upon which he could look. In contrast to Uzziah’s mighty army, the One upon Whom Isaiah looked was the Lord of the Hosts of heaven.  

Events on earth may change in dramatic fashion, kings rise and fall, armies march to victory and defeat, but the Throne in heaven remains. We need to constantly remind ourselves that above the events of earth, above the major players in the drama of life, there is a throne, a temple, and an army which do not take their cue from Washington, Wuhan, or Westminster.

Isaiah also saw farther than anyone else. To his “How long” (v 11), God said, “until.” God’s “untils” remind us that God has a program, it is finely calibrated, exact in its timing and execution. He can cause a monarch to lose sleep to elevate Mordecai; He can interject dreams to fulfill His promise to Joseph;  He can bring along Paul’s nephew at the right moment to overhear a conspiracy, enabling Paul to avoid assassination.

Can I jog our forgetful porous minds to remind us that God has an “until” so relevant to our day? “I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it Him” (Ezekiel 21:27). We need not make ourselves anxious over conspiracy theories or bury ourselves under a cloud of despondency because of politicians using the crisis to promote their agendas. We have the privilege of standing on Isaiah’s shoulders and seeing higher and farther than even he saw. No, we are not invited physically into the throne room as he was, but with the telescope of Scripture to our eye, we can see a Throne Sitter Who is not only awesome in His greatness, but as our Father, abundant in His love. We can see not only the “until” of His future program for the earth, but the future He has assured for us.

Isaiah could say, “I saw.” Each of us can testify like one of old, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25). That sight should suffice and secure us amidst all the unnerving events swirling like a maelstrom around us. In a totally different context, Jeremiah could say “mine eye affecteth mine heart,” (Lam 3:51). What he saw on that occasion touched his heart, causing grief. But we can see a throne which should stabilize our hearts. Like Elisha, we can see what others cannot see; not the hills filled with the chariots of the Lord (2 Kings 6:17), but a God and Father Who sits unperturbed and undismayed, awaiting His “until.”

Quarantine (Part 2)

She might well have been the originator of “social distancing.” She did not call it that; but when she plotted against Joseph and he was consigned to the prison house, it was intended to be the end of him. This was no cushy federal prison. There were no jailhouse lawyers to work on appeals or the overthrow of sentences on technicalities. There was no prison yard for camaraderie and small talk. Joseph was as good as forgotten when he entered the prison. In normal circumstances, he would have been thrown into something which served as a cell and lived out his days in true distance from society of any kind. We know that God overruled, even in the prison. In God’s providence, he was elevated to responsibility and oversight even within the prison, and ultimately to the house of the Pharaoh. But there were long days before that occurred.

The story of the dreams of the butler and baker are well known. The butler left the prison house with the request of Joseph fresh in his mind: “Think on me when it shall be well with thee” (Gen 40:14). The sad commentary of the inspired writer, however, jolts us back to reality. “Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him” (v 22).

Two full years of days passed with only silence, fading hopes, and “social distancing.” We are not given any insight into Joseph’s reaction during those years. It is only normal that he would have expected to hear footsteps running down the corridor, a key turning the door, and a welcoming smile to greet him with the prospect of liberty. But each day passed as the one before. Monotony ensued; hopes faded; the reality of his isolation enveloped him as a heavy fog descends on the city. Did he forget the day of the week? The month? If there was no sunlight into the prison house, he may not have even known day from night. We are told in the Psalms that, they hurt his feet “with fetters: he was laid in iron” or, more literally, “the iron entered into his soul” (Ps 105:18) He knew suffering and sorrow. 

Yet, we never read of

Frustration

As day after day lengthened and morphed into weeks and months, we could well expect groans of frustration and impatience to have filled the prison cell housing Joseph. We hear nothing of that. They were days of formation and not of frustration. In isolation, God was forming the vessel which was to be a blessing, not only to his family, not even just to Egypt, but to the entire region. Genesis began with a man, Adam, who was to be a blessing to the world; he failed. Genesis will conclude with a man who is a blessing to “all the countries (that) came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn” (Gen 41:57). God was using the isolation to form the man who would fulfill His purpose and be a small glimpse of a Greater One to come.

Fuming

Even though the psalm refers to the iron entering into his soul, it had a remarkable effect. Rather than hardening, it softened. Here was a man, who would display nothing of vengeance or spite when the opportunity came. He was marked by a gentleness and grace, a majesty blended and balanced by mercy. His time of isolation produced a man who valued time and the opportunity to do good and to be a blessing to others. Will our period of isolation have a similar influence upon us?

Fretting

There is nothing in Joseph’s composure or behavior when he stood before Pharaoh to suggest that he was a man desperate to enjoy freedom, to burst loose from the chains which he had worn. There is a holy calm and peace which seems to emanate from him as he stands before the mighty monarch. He is the man in control of the moment, in touch with the God of heaven. He has been kept in “perfect peace,” dependent on his God for the fulfillment of His promise.

If I am fretting under the imposed restrictions, the social distance demanded, the limitations imposed, I am falling short of confidence in God and contentment with God amidst my circumstances.

Failure

There is no stain attached to Joseph in any of the houses which he inhabited: his father’s house, Potiphar’s, the prison, or Pharaoh’s. It appears that there were two things which sustained and preserved him: the remembrance of God’s promise in his dreams, and the reframing of all his circumstances. God had promised eventual blessing and honor. In the dignity of that promise, Joseph endured his isolation. But he, in turn, as a result of that Word from God, was able to reframe his circumstances and to refocus on his God: “Ye thought evil, against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20.

We have the assurance from God’s Word that all will be well. Can we, in turn, use it to reframe our isolation, social distancing, and inconveniences, and to refocus on how we can be a blessing to others both now, and in the future?