Seeing God, Seeing Me (Mar – Apr 1996)

By Matt Dabbs

by Charme Robarts
March – April, 1996

Jerusalem, 8th Century BCE

22“My son, do not fix your eyes only on what you see. A man’s vision is not clear unless he sees the Lord God. You must see him, and you must see as he sees.”

Though I was accustomed to my father’s warnings, his words confused me. These days the voices all around Jerusalem were mirthful. Life was good. We held the Philistines at bay, and the crops all around Jerusalem were bountiful. Even Egypt envied our prosperity. Why was my father always so serious?

Uzziah had been king for decades. In the minds of the young, his reign rivaled the reign of King David himself. The Lord was with Uzziah; surely we could all see that. The domestic improvements alone spoke the truth. Ornate towers now stood at the Valley Gate and the Corner Gate. At the angle of the great city wall stood another finely crafted tower, this one with beautiful carvings of grapes and pomegranates. Uzziah had even built towers out in the desert, and all around there were new cisterns—water in the desert—surely a sign that God was with us.

The king’s army was the finest among the nations. Our teachers told us of times when the Philistines owned all the weaponry, when no one in Israel could even sharpen his own plow. All the smiths had been in Philistia. But now we laughed at those stories. Every Judean soldier had shields and spears and even helmets and coats of armor. Uzziah had seen to that. He had also made great war machines which could fling large stones and burning arrows. Enemies no longer laughed at the Judean army. Even the bloodthirsty Ammonites brought tribute to Uzziah. Still, my father spoke his words of warning.

My father was Amoz the songwriter, a musician in the king’s court. His compositions were soothing to the ear. However, his real gift was in the crafting of words. No melody was more beautiful than the message of his songs. He wrote of hope in the midst of hopelessness, flowers in the wasteland, and of the Holy One who brought such things about. But even though his songs gave him special favor in the royal house and though family and friends lauded his talents, Father always seemed a bit morose for he feared that no one really heard his message.

Growing up in these prosperous times had been a delight for a young boy. My school friends and I hurried through our morning lessons and our early afternoon chores so that we could spend the rest of the day roaming the streets, playing boyhood games and hoping for a glimpse at the lovely neighborhood girls who carried water pitchers to and from their houses. There was little to worry about.

But as I dallied in the streets of Jerusalem, my father’s teachings often haunted me. Friends teased me for my concern for the beggars at our gates. “Isaiah, your father’s complaining about injustice to the poor is getting to you. Let the priests worry about the beggars. Lighten up now, or your beard will be as gray as Amoz’s before you even grow one!” For a moment I pondered their words about the responsibility of the priests and thought of my father’s devotion to providing for the poor, but in the carefree manner of youth, I laughed as we went on our way.

We often stopped by Eliab’s father’s produce business. Acaliah was a wealthy man who enjoyed the profits of Uzziah’s emphasis on agriculture. The fields were full of farmers, and Acaliah’s pockets were full of their money. I had learned that my father’s suspicions about Acaliah’s integrity were well founded. Once I had seen him tip the scales in his own favor as he measured a poor farmer’s grain. The farmer was uneducated and didn’t seem to notice that he had been paid much less than the agreed-upon price. When Acaliah caught me staring at him through the lattice dividing the weighing room from the rest of the store, his black eyes flashed a warning. His usually smooth tongue stammered something about the poor quality of the grain he had just received, implying that he had done the man a favor to pay him at all. Acaliah turned his back on me and counted his money. He placed it in a small box that had a figure of Baal on top of it. Eliab said the idol meant nothing to his father. “He just likes to feel like all the holes are plugged.” I knew what my father thought about this.

The years passed, and Jerusalem continued to prosper. As I passed from boyhood to manhood, I felt more and more confused by the tension between what my father said and what my eyes could see. The vats brimmed with wine, and women of the city wore the finest dresses this side of the Nile. Yes, there were poor people, but what could I do about them? The idols I had seen from time to time concerned me, but I always felt that my father was unrealistic to expect that people wouldn’t be a little superstitious about the gods of the Amorites. Besides, the Lord God was with us, and Uzziah’s successful reign was witness to the fact.

Uzziah’s reign had been almost flawless. Once there had been rumors about his contracting leprosy, and some had even said that he had profaned the temple in some way. But the royal court recorder had issued a proclamation which had quieted the rumors. The good king was sick, and his son Jotham would manage the affairs of state until the king was well. No one needed to worry about anything at all. As we stood in the street that day talking about the proclamation, Amoz, my father, stroked his gray beard and stared at the horizon looking like he knew more than he was willing to say.

******

My father dressed in his mourning robes as he had done for the past several days. After 52 years on the throne, King Uzziah was dead. Amoz and the other musicians would again lead the procession of mourners and sing the songs of lament. This day Jerusalem would bury her king. The funeral procession took a detour enroute to the burial ground to a field nearby which was owned by the kings. Uzziah would sleep near his fathers, but not with them, for he died a leper. Father feared for the priests who had revealed the truth of the king’s condition. The Lord had struck Uzziah some years ago when he tried to burn incense in the temple, a privilege reserved for the consecrated priests of Aaron. Many of the priests had been courageous enough to stand against Uzziah’s sacrilege, but it had not gone well for them. Father said that for every God-fearing priest there were two whose faithfulness wouldn’t fill a libation cup. “Judah is full of thieves and murderers,” he said, “and the priests love bribes more than righteousness.”

Trying to deter my father from another sermon, I asked about Uzziah’s achievements. “Father, isn’t it true that Uzziah’s successes were from the hand of the Lord? Don’t we enjoy more wealth than ever and aren’t our borders safer than they have been in years? Surely God is with his people!

”Yes, my son, God has given the king and all of us these good things, but how have we responded? Uzziah grew proud. I saw with my own eyes his change in demeanor. Many of our people respond to God’s goodness with greed and idolatry. The Lord’s patience may grow thin. We must humble ourselves.”

He picked up his lyre and went to join the funeral procession. I followed him, taking my place among the mourners.

******

Several weeks of ritual mourning followed the funeral of the king. I made frequent visits to the temple during that time. Though I had grown up in its shadow, the magnificence of the structure always awed me. Two bronze pillars outside the temple porch stood strong and sturdy, gleaming in the morning sun, almost boasting of the glory that was ours. The splendor of the bronze sea and the statues of the bulls it rested on was like nothing else in Jerusalem. The gold and silver on the walls and beams and the intricate carvings of cherubim and pomegranates were truly a feast for the eyes.

The priests went about their regular business of morning prayers and daily sacrifices. A few worshippers milled about in the courtyard, and I, still gazing at the beauty of the furnishings, wandered slowly into the outer temple court near the altar of burnt offering. This massive bronze structure about fifteen feet high and seven and a half feet wide symbolized for me the strength and stability of Judah.

Suddenly I felt the floor begin to shake. Without warning, smoke filled the room, and there was a deafening noise, louder than I thought I could bear. I struggled to keep my balance and to shield my ears from the roaring, relentless sound. I fought to see through the smoke, anxious to find my way out, yet helpless to know which direction to turn. A stifling, controlling presence filled the place. I could scarcely move, yet I continued to feel as if I would lose my balance at any moment. Where the other worshippers were, I had no idea. The noise grew louder and louder, but I was at last able to distinguish the sound: voices chanting over and over,

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty.
The whole earth is full of his glory.

The smoke never subsided, but somehow I was able to see the creatures as they repeated their chant. These frightening creatures, winged seraphs, flew around and around, high and low, commanding the air that I was trying to breathe. As suddenly as they had appeared, they suddenly gathered in the rafters of the tall ceiling, hovering without perches, their voices stilled. Their great wings touched each other so that they formed a circle. Did the circle include me in whatever was going on or did it shut me out? I could not fix my mind on this question or any other, for even though the noise had stopped, I still felt a loss of equilibrium—I think my feet were still on the floor but I lost all sense of up and down. Time seemed to have no meaning.

I had lost all control but suddenly the light of stark realization pierced the darkness of my confusion. But the blessedness of light in darkness was not yet mine. I was stunned by what I saw. The vision forced me to my knees. I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

The image shook me, and I strained to comprehend. I saw just his train, in essence only the lower half of his body. How could he be so large? Where was the rest of his body? Where were the temple furnishings? Dare I even wonder? I now understood Solomon’s query so many years before. “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” Though these questions assaulted my mind, they were forced out by a more terrifying question—how could I live another moment in the presence of such power?

In a flash, all of the sinfulness of my heart was brought to my mind. All of the presumptuous notions I had about myself and our chosen people were forced into my awareness. All the apathy toward his holiness and insensitivity to the heart of his laws which lived in my heart seemed to be written all over me and the Holy One could read every letter. I felt as if my body might burst open for fear or shame or for the mere ugliness of myself. His presence was like a reflecting glass and my own image was despicable. Though I was afraid to even speak, I could not keep silent. So frantic to confess, I found myself screaming, “Woe to me. I am ruined for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King the Lord Almighty.”

With this confession barely leaving my lips, one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal from the altar. He touched my lips with the burning coal and pronounced my sins atoned for and my guilt taken away. The dizzying effect of all I had seen about the King and about myself was matched by the incomprehensible forgiveness and healing I was granted. I had seen his glory—and its greatness could only scarcely be described in human words of seraphs and smoke and his great train! My sinfulness was so devastating in the light of his glory that I despised my own life. I knew that I neither had the power nor the desire to approach his holiness, and yet he had let me live!

Solomon’s confession and my own were the same. When I pondered God’s greatness I was forced to admit that he cannot be contained. I now knew my own smallness and abject poverty before him. And yet he had called to me! This new understanding would guide my life for the rest of my days.

******

That day the Holy One gave me a fearful work. I must preach to his people a message of destruction. The cities we all love will lie in ruins and the only survivors will be those who are willing to see God as he is and return from their blind pride and deaf arrogance. My countrymen must learn to confess as I had. But none of us can merely speak the right words and hope to survive. Our lives must confess that God reigns—he must be seen in all of our affairs. The scales in our shops, the bracelets on our ankles, the plows in our fields must speak the glory of God. Only the foolish put their trust in chariots and horses and weapons of war or alliances with foreign kings. Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, the Redeemer will come to Zion to those who repent of their sins.

When the vision ebbed away, and as I felt my legs and feet supporting me again, I began my new life. But the newness was not just in beginning the task of preaching. Now I see the foolishness of humanity as we try to make our own way, shaping and reshaping our gods, making rules of the heart that bring sorrow and bloodshed to our streets. I see myself as a woefully inadequate creature halting between good and evil, easily tempted to trust myself for deliverance. My salvation is in seeing myself in this true light, in learning to confess who I am and who he is, and in awaiting his healing.Wineskins Magazine

Charme Robarts

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About...

Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1584 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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