One of the most traumatic experiences that any nation can go through is the death of its leader in office. This is especially true when the official is assassinated. When President John F. Kennedy, for example, was killed in 1963, there was a tangible outpouring of grief on the part of the American people, even from those who had not voted for him. But even when a leader dies of natural causes while in office, the effect on the nation he governs can be profound.
The death of Judah’s king provides us with the context for today’s passage. Just over 2,700 years ago, King Uzziah died after a reign that was characterized overall by his service to the Lord, though he did suffer God’s discipline for attempting to offer incense in the Jerusalem temple (2 Chron. 26). Yet Uzziah’s death was less significant than something else that happened that year: the call of Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets in the history of God’s people and author of the biblical book that bears his name. In the year that King Uzziah died, we see in today’s passage, Isaiah received a vision of the Lord, viewing Him seated on His throne, with the train of His robe filling the temple (Isa. 6:1).
The size of the train of God’s robe conveys His sheer majesty. Throughout human history, rulers have used their garments to put their royal status on display. Commonly this has been done by wearing a robe with a train so long that several officials have to carry it as they walk behind the monarch. Of course, God as an invisible, immaterial being does not wear any clothing, so the vision of His train filling the temple is a sign meant to communicate a spiritual truth to us. That God’s train fills the temple demonstrates His immense majesty and glory, His transcendent holiness.
So glorious is the refulgent beauty and holiness of God in Isaiah’s vision that the seraphim cannot even look upon the Lord as they sing God’s praises (Isa. 6:2). Their hymn of worship thrice declares that the Lord of hosts is holy, with the threefold repetition serving as a way to take God’s holiness to the utmost degree (Isa. 6:3). In other words, calling the Lord holy three times is how Scripture conveys that our Creator is the holiest of all beings, that He is so transcendent and set apart from creation that nothing else can compare to His majesty. The concern of God’s Word to magnify God’s holiness teaches us a key lesson: we must never fail to set the Lord apart as holy.