April 25, 2011

"I saw the Lord": Isaiah 6


1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.

2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.

3 And one cried to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

The whole earth is full of His glory!”

4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.

5 So I said:

“Woe is me, for I am undone!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King,

The LORD of hosts.”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

“Behold, this has touched your lips;

Your iniquity is taken away,

And your sin purged.”

8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“Whom shall I send,

And who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand;

Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

10 “ Make the heart of this people dull,

And their ears heavy,

And shut their eyes;

Lest they see with their eyes,

And hear with their ears,

And understand with their heart,

And return and be healed.”

11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?”

And He answered:

“ Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,

The houses are without a man,

The land is utterly desolate,

12 The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

13 But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.”

In chapter 6, Isaiah pauses briefly in his written prophecy to describe his experience of his call to ministry. In chapter 1, Isaiah calls his prophecy a “vision . . . which he saw” (1:1); now, in chapter 6, is fills in some details. Today we will consider Isaiah’s vision (1-4), his reaction (5), his forgiveness (6-7), his commission to prophesy (8), and the message God gave him to preach to a hard-hearted people (9-13).

One remarkable aspect of Isaiah’s account of seeing the Lord is that John notes in John 12:27-41 that the vision Isaiah saw was the glory of Jesus Himself:

27 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

34 The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:

“ Lord, who has believed our report?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[f]

39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:

40 “ He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,

Lest they should see with their eyes,

Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,

So that I should heal them.”

41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.


Isaiah’s vision (1-4)

Isaiah gives us the date of his call: the year King Uzziah died, which historians pinpoint to 739-740 B.C. In addition, he reports his ministry spanned the time of four kings—Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. This is about 50 years, from about 739 B.C. until about 689 B.C.

The first part of chapter 6 is Isaiah’s account of his vision and call to prophesy. In writing this record of his call to prophetic ministry, Isaiah interrupts his prophecy. He may have chosen to interrupt briefly the prophecies to reinforce, by his testimony, how God called him and inspired him to speak.

“Sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (6:1)

In the vision, Isaiah saw the Lord in the temple, perhaps a vision of the temple in Jerusalem or a heavenly temple. Since Isaiah does not go further in his description, my view is that he sees the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem. Most of his readers had been in the temple, and simply noting that he saw the Lord in “the temple” would have been sufficient. The Lord and his throne were “high and lifted up,” a position of power and judgment, like a king on his throne or a modern-day judge in a courtroom.

Isaiah saw Seraphim (2-3) around God. Seraphim are a class of servants or attendants at God’s throne. Their main role seems to be to worship and offer praise. All we know about seraphim comes from Isaiah 6:1 and 6:6. They are beings with six wings, two covering their faces, two covering their feet, and two for flying. Their position is above and around the throne. All we can infer from these two verses that the seraphim are a type of attendant hovering over and around God and praising Him.

Seraphim are not to be confused with cherubim, which are mentioned numerous times in the O.T. and N.T. Cherubim carry out missions given by God and are seen carrying Him on His throne. In Genesis 3:24, we find that God sent cherubim to prevent mankind from re-entering the garden of Eden. In Exodus 25:18-21, gold statues of cherubim with outstretched wings were placed on the top of the ark.

The seraphim are most likely the “four living creatures” of Revelation 4:8. In both places in scripture, we find them worshiping and praising with the words “holy, holy, holy” giving emphasis to His sinless perfection and His position above His creation.

Isaiah says the seraphim’s cry of praise to God shook the doorposts, and the temple was filled with smoke. I think this may be the glory cloud, which represented the Lord’s presence to the Israelites in the wilderness. Regardless, however, the scene Isaiah saw was magnificent and captivating to him.

Isaiah’s reaction to the vision of being in God’s presence (5)

Isaiah had an immediate and full realization and understanding of his guilt before holy God (Verse 5—So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.”).

He fully realized his sinfulness by just experiencing the vision of being in God’s presence. He knew he was unworthy before God—unworthy to be in His presence, unworthy to join the seraphim in praise, and unworthy to be His prophet.

The forgiveness and purification of Isaiah (6-7)

The forgiveness of Isaiah’s sins is symbolized in the text by one of the seraphim taking a live coal from the altar of incense and flying to him to touch the live coal to his lips. The incense was a symbol of the prayers and intercession of the people going up to God as a sweet fragrance, a symbol that people could approach Him. In the temple in Jerusalem, the altar of incense was made of gold and positioned just in front of the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant was located. God instructed (Exodus 30: 1-10) the priests to keep incense burning in the altar all the time, symbolic of the pleasing aroma of His people’s prayers. The incense was put on smoldering coals brought from another altar, where burnt offerings were given for forgiveness of sins. The symbolism is a little complex—sins forgiven (the burnt offerings) related through use of the same smoldering coals to the burning of incense, which symbolized the sweet aroma of prayer and communion with God.

The seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with the smoldering coal, declaring “Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged” (purged could be translated “atoned for” or “removed”).

With his sins forgiven, Isaiah could now serve His Lord as holy and pure

Isaiah’s commission as prophet (8-13)

God asks the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Note that even here, the true nature of God is affirmed as one God in more than one person or nature—who will go for Us. This is a truth consistent throughout scripture. In Genesis 1:26, God says “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .”; John 1:1, 14 tells us: “the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . “

Isaiah’s response: “Here am I! Send me.” In the vision, Isaiah had seen God’s power and holiness and experienced His complete forgiveness. He was free from guilt and ready to serve. His ministry was to deliver God’s word to a people whom God knew would not respond:

9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand;

Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

10 “ Make the heart of this people dull,

And their ears heavy,

And shut their eyes;

Lest they see with their eyes,

And hear with their ears,

And understand with their heart,

And return and be healed.”

How many people would tell others about their faith if they knew in advance they would never listen? How many missionaries would go to the mission field if they knew in advance that when they retired, not one person would have been converted from their ministry? God is telling Isaiah that they will hear but not understand. His words will make their hearts dull, their ears heavy (tired of listening), and they will shut their eyes to the truth. They will do this on purpose and willingly for the purpose of not seeing, not hearing, not understanding, and not being reconciled to their Lord.

So the question comes to mind: Why bother to preach to people God Himself has told me will never listen, that all of my efforts to get them to turn away from their sin will be rejected? The reason is that so when the time for judgment comes, those who willingly turn away will know why they were being judged. Even more important, since we know “the rest of the story” from scripture, there are always a few people—the Bible calls them a remnant—who are listening.

Isaiah asks “Lord, how long?” (11). There is a sense of anguish. Isaiah seems to be horrified that the people will willingly turn their backs on their Lord in the face of the coming judgment.

2) Verses 11 and 12 give a brief summary of the judgment to come to the nation—cities laid waste and abandoned, desolate land, the people sent into exile (“removed . . . far away,” v. 12), the land forsaken:

11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?”

And He answered:

“ Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,

The houses are without a man,

The land is utterly desolate,

12 The LORD has removed men far away, And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

Verse 13 gives both despair and hope:

13 But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.”

The bad news is that even if 10% of the Judeans remain, they, too, will fall prey to the invaders. My guess is this refers to a kind of “mopping up” operation by an army that has invaded and conquered.

The good news is that out of the few “stumps” left, the “holy seed” will come, the Messiah. (An alternate interpretation of the “holy seed” is that it refers to the remnant of faithful Jews, who will return to the land and faithfully follow their Lord. I do not subscribe to this interpretation, which is not the majority interpretation.)

If you are a little confused in v. 13, welcome to the club! It is difficult to interpret in Hebrew, let alone translate to English! The main message in verse 13 is that while God would judge His nation because they willingly turned from Him, He will not abandon them totally and forever. There will be a few stumps left, even after the land is laid desolate.

1 comment:

Toyin O. said...

Amen, thanks for sharing:)