A monthly column by Michael Cassidy, evangelist, author, Christian leader and founder of African Enterprise whose ministry in Africa and the world has spanned more than 50 years.
I am often struck by that great passage in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Isaiah the prophet writes: In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon the throne high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah then continues on to tell us that the Heavenly Hosts surrounded the throne and were singing out the words: Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory (6:3).
Why should it be, I have wondered to myself, that Isaiah should see the Lord in the year that King Uzziah died? (Approximately 740 BC).
The death of all our idols
The answer may be tied up in everything that the King represented to Isaiah and his people. King Uzziah had reigned for some 52 years. It was a time of tremendous economic prosperity. It was also a time of great military might, to the point where King Uzziah’s military stratagems, plans and weaponry were exported throughout the Middle East. It was a time when the arts and literature flourished. It was a time when agriculture was in abundance. Uzziah had done incredibly well, though he did mess up in the last few years of his life.
Anyway, because of all the great successes he had had, everybody’s eyes during this 52 year reign had become fixated upon Uzziah. Uzziah was the saviour. Uzziah was the one who had made everything great. Because of this, Jehovah had had to take a kind of back seat and was no longer really much in purview.
Then, suddenly, the unthinkable happened. King Uzziah died. Now all of this military might was in threat. All of this economic prosperity could not be counted upon. It was as if some of the props were kicked out from under people. It was as if some of their idols fell. It was as if King Economy, King Military Might and King Safety and Security suddenly died.
It was then that they saw the Lord.
When I was in the States in 2001, I pointed out to the Americans that what had happened at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre and at the Pentagon was a moment in which King Money died, King Safety died, King Security died, King Military Might died, and King Technology died. Not one of these things had been able to prevent the terrible things that happened on September 11.
So too in South Africa, when Mandela couldn’t oversee how we could carry on. Our hopes were dashed. But we didn’t then transfer our hopes onto the Lord. We transferred them to his successors. And we now know where that has got us. Into a right royal pickle and a full-blown socio-political and economic crisis.
All the more need then, and it is greater than ever, to turn our hearts back to the Lord in new repentance and in fervent prayer from the whole church of Christ for the whole nation of South Africa. And mercifully this is starting to happen as so may realise now the secular and political leadership has failed us.
Seeing God on the throne
As with the Israelites, and post 9/11 for many Americans, and now for all of us in South Africa, our props have been kicked out from under us. Our idols of technology, money, military power and political freedom have fallen. That’s why this is now a moment for us to see the Lord afresh. When these other things finally die in our lives, when we see the Lord afresh, we see Him as the prophet Isaiah saw Him — on a throne. We see Him as King and as Lord. We see Him as in charge of history. We are not caught up in a mad, runaway, chaotic political or economic situation. Nor do we have to pray like the little girl who prayed by her bed one night, saying: “Dear Lord Jesus, please look after yourself because if anything happens to you we’ll be in a terrible mess.” When we see God on His throne we realise that nothing is going to happen to Him. Our God is in charge. He is high and lifted up. And He is not baffled by South Africa, as we are.
Seeing God afresh means we also will see Him, as Isaiah did, as Holy, Holy, Holy. We have a God who has standards of behaviour, principles and ethics not only for personal and social life, but for political life which we are meant to follow. The Ten Commandments are not The Ten Suggestions, dear friends, and we are obliged to live the way this Holy God wants us to live, both as individuals, and as a nation.
Then Isaiah saw this God as filling the whole earth with His glory (v 6b). King Uzziah had filled Palestine with his glory, that tiny, tiny corner of the world, but here was a God whose glory filled the whole earth. This is a God of greatness! This is a God of power!
A call for self-examination
It is at this time, when our former props and idols have fallen, when we see the Lord anew in His glory, power and might that we also need to see ourselves afresh. When Isaiah saw God he said: Woe is me, I am lost. I am a person of unclean lips, and I dwell in the middle of people of unclean lips (6:5). Isaiah experienced a time of self-scrutiny, a moment of seeing his own sin and his own lostness. Then he called on God and confessed his sins to the Lord. If we in South Africa are going to cope in these times of uncertainty, we also need to see ourselves afresh. As Isaiah did, may we then come in confession and ask God to forgive us. He will surely say, as He did to Isaiah: Your guilt is taken away, your sin is forgiven (v 7).
This can and must happen for us not only as individuals and families, but as a country. We are full of a lot of sin, wickedness and corruption. But if we see it, and confess it, there is hope for South Africa. There really is.
So may the Lord bless us as we go into next year with our consciences cleansed, our sins forgiven and a fresh vision of God always before us — a God on a throne high and lifted up, in charge of all of history, and of the Beloved Country.