The Kaddish for King Uzziah
He had quietly slipped into the Holy Place to offer up prayers and find some solace. The smoke of incense drifted over and around the censor in the center of the darkened room, the burnished golden stand gleaming softly by candlelight. To his right stood the symbol of God’s Shekinah, solid gold almond blossoms and fruit ornately wrought along the six arms and sturdy base of the sacred menorah. Gently flickering flames, ever burning, shed a golden glow throughout the room. Underneath the heady spice of frankincense, myrhh, onycha, and galbanum, he could smell the rich aroma of the freshly baked Bread of the Presence.
The warm scent enveloped him as he looked at the loaf for Judah, the tribe of his cousin the king. The tribe of Messiah to come, the tribe of Israel’s Most Beloved.
His cousin had spent eleven long and lonely years in seclusion, for the Lord had struck him with leprosy for entering this very place. And now those years had come to their close.
Their prayer of mourning over his cousin, sung through their tears only a few hours earlier, now flowed like a river of sorrow through his mind.
Magnified and sanctified is the great name of God throughout the world, which was created according to Divine will. May the rule of peace be established speedily in our time, unto us and unto the entire household of Israel. And let us say: Amen.
May God’s great name be praised throughout all eternity. Glorified and celebrated, lauded and praised, acclaimed and honored, extolled and exalted ever be the name of thy Holy One, far beyond all song and psalm, beyond all hymns of glory which mortals can offer. And let us say: Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, with life’s goodness for us and for all thy people Israel. And let us say: Amen.
May the One who brings peace to the universe bring peace to us and to all the people Israel. And let us say: Amen.The Kaddish
Please, O Lord our God, Creator of the Cosmos, King of all kings, and Lord of all lords, please answer our prayers, Isaiah silently whispered. For Uzziah had been a good king, but corruption from Israel to the north had been seeping into Zion, and the young priest feared the worst for God’s people.
Both in the Book of Isaiah, and in the life of the prophet Isaiah, Chapter Six represents a pivotal moment in time.
It was 740 BCE, the year King Uzziah died.
Only sixteen when he succeeded his father Amaziah to the throne, Uzziah went on to become a great king who reigned for fifty-two years, and restored Judah to a time of strength and prosperity. The Prophet Zechariah became the young king’s personal counselor, instructing Uzziah to reverence and obey God.
. . . as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.2 Chronicles 26:5 (NRSV)
God did indeed lavish blessing and success on both King Uzziah and the people of Judah, triumphant in war, lucrative in commerce and acquisitions, with agricultural abundance, Judah’s cities and towns built up, strong ramparts, robust armies, tribute from surrounding nations, and the City of God a jewel among the nations.
But it seems the people did not handle their affluence very well. They continued to affirm the traditional faith, but as their physical bounty grew, their sense of God’s presence and reality appeared to diminish in equal proportion.
Unfortunately, even King Uzziah lost sight of his place before God.
When he had become strong he grew proud, to his destruction.
For he acted unfaithfully toward the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to make offering on the altar of incense.
But the priest Azariah went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor; they withstood King Uzziah and said to him,
“It is not for you, Uzziah, to make offering to the Lord, but for the priests the descendants of Aaron, who are consecrated to make offering. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have acted unfaithfully, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.”
Then Uzziah was enraged!
Now he had a censer in his hand to make offering, and when he became enraged with the priests a defiling disease broke out on his forehead, in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense.
When the chief priest Azariah, and all the priests, looked at him, he was diseased on his forehead. They hurried him out, and he himself hurried to get out, because the Lord had struck him.
King Uzziah had a defiling disease to the day of his death, and being diseased lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord. His son Jotham was in charge of the palace of the king, governing the people of the land.2 Chronicles 26:16-21 (NRSV)
Imagining himself both King and High Priest, Uzziah had attempted to usurp the priestly role in the temple, and contracted leprosy. During the final eleven years of his reign, Jotham, his son, acted as co-regent while Uzziah went into seclusion.
Now, Uzziah’s death marked the end of an era.
Vision of God
Remember that Isaiah was probably Uzziah’s cousin. Because of the way Chapter Six introduces the timing of his vision, it is highly likely Isaiah had gone to the temple for the purpose of praying. His heart would surely have been heavy over the death of this good king. Isaiah would have wanted to lay before God his concerns about how the nation was even now slipping into moral and spiritual turpitude.
God met Isaiah in his sorrow, and in that moment of personal bereavement and spiritual concern, gave the young prophet a Christophany—a vision of Christ.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw
– the Lord
– sitting on a throne, high and lofty,
– and the hem of his robe filled the temple.Isaiah 6:2 (NRSV)
We know, from the apostle John, the Lord Isaiah saw was in fact Jesus Messiah. John, along with two other disciples, had also seen the Lord in His true glory when they were up on a mountain with Him. As Jesus was talking with two heavenly visitors, Elijah and Moses, beams of light had begun to glow from within Him so brightly it was indescribable.
John also saw Jesus in a vision, at the end of his life, and gave a fuller description of the risen King in Revelation, robed in white and gold, a pure and glowing white, blazing as if with fire, with a voice as loud and thundering as a waterfall.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet . . .
. . . Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw:
– seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man,
– clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest.
– His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire;
– his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace,
– and his voice was like the sound of many waters.
– In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.Apostle John, Revelation 1:10, 12-16 (NRSV)
Just as Isaiah, a priest (his familial connection to the king must have been maternal, and his father of the tribe of Levi), had entered the Holy Place, so John had been transported in his vision to the heavenly Holy Place. Both saw the golden lampstand that was kept always lit, symbol of God’s Shekinah and the ever-flowing Holy Spirit, and both saw Jesus in His royal robe.