by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
In Isaiah 6, the prophet is dealing with the death of Judah’s king, Uzziah. Uzziah had been Judah”s king for 52 years, the second longest reign of all the rulers of Israel and Judah. He had also been very successful, establishing Judah as a major commercial and military force. Yet, at the height of his success, the king had allowed his curiosity to motivate him to try to force his way into the parts of the Temple accessible only to the priesthood. When the priests blocked his entrance and he tried to push past them, he was struck with tzaarat, probably the dreaded disease of leprosy, causing him to be quarantined for the rest of his life. This tragic event must have been traumatic for Isaiah; Uzziah was described in the scriptures as a generally godly king, and, the death of good kings all too often led to an ungodly or ineffective successor.
In the midst of this difficulty, Adonai reveals Himself to a newer and more powerful degree.
“In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw Adonai…” The verb the prophet uses for the act of seeing is “ereh”, the imperfect tense of “raah”. The imperfect conveys the nuance of continuing action; Isaiah is not only seeing the Lord, but, he is watching the scene, apparently transfixed by the stunning sight. Wonderment at the glimpse of El Elyon, God Most High, would dominate the focus of anyone!
The text goes on to say that Adonai is “high and lifted up”. In ancient eastern cultures, high personages sat on a dais, or at the top of stairs, and no persons of lower status were permitted to have their heads higher than the ruler’s. Via the motif of Hebrew parallelism, where repetition of an idea is stated for emphasis, Isaiah further drives home the point by describing Adonai as not only “ram”, “high”, but, also, “nissa”, “lifted up”. Elohim is shown to be so much more than some government bureaucrat, but ultimate Majesty. Psalm 24 describes His Presence as so unique that, “Who may go up on the mountain of Adonai?” (verse 3). King Uzziah is buried in the ground, but, Adonai is forever exalted.
Isaiah also sees Adonai “sitting on a throne”. “Yoshev” is the participle of “yashav”, a verb that can be translated either “sit” or “dwell”. Personages of high standing in the ancient world would sit while their subjects would stand, to sit in the presence of a person of high authority was a great honor. And, Adonai can assume any stance or position He chooses, sitting or standing or reclining, and anywhere He wants. But, the throne is also His home; it belongs to Him and He has a permanent place thereon, as opposed to changeable and interchangeable human kings such as Uzziah. Uzziah had been forced by events and by death to vacate his throne; Elohim forever reigns.
“And the train of His robe filled the Temple.” The Lord cannot be contained within any building. Just the train of His robe, possibly the hem, and that just for the purposes of the current revelation, stuffed the building, the grandest structure in the ancient, and probably every, world and age. Adonai cannot be contained by any structure or entity. Verse 3 will go on to say that “the whole earth is full of His glory”, not to mention the heavens that “declare His Glory”.
Yet, the word so generally translated “Temple”, “heykal”, certainly an appropriate rendering, can also mean “palace”. While the death of Uzziah had left a human vacancy in the palace, another King was in residency there: Adonai. The palace and the Temple together could never contain Him, and still today He can fill every palace and Temple known to man.
In the news media we constantly hear of celebrities being surrounded by their associates, their “posses”. Adonai has a “posse” par excellence. “Seraphim were standing above Him. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. One called out to another, and said: ‘Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh (holy, holy, holy) Adonai Tz’vaot (is the Lord of armies). M’lo kol haaretz k’vodo. (The whole earth is full of His glory.)” The title of the seraphim is derived from the verb “saraph”, to burn. These beings are so brilliant that their faces and even their feet have to be hidden from human eyes, even those of godly Isaiah, by wings. Despite their own brilliance, they are transfixed and overwhelmed by the surpassing glory of Adonai, as expressed by the above words. And, Isaiah’s initial response, in spite of the sadness of the moment due to the death of the king, is “Oy li”, “woe is me…”, leading to repentance and new commitments to God’s cause and call.
“The king is dead; long lives the eternal King!!!”
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.