This is it! Having completed his indictment and discourse to the people of Judah (and any of us here for the end times), the timeline seems to shift and Isaiah goes back to describe the events of his calling as a prophet of the Lord.
It's an abrupt transition. To us, or at least to me, I wonder why he wouldn't include headings or other transitions. Then it occurred to me that these were probably completely separate scrolls, each written in different times and places over the course of Isaiah's life. Someone along the way combined them, having to choose an order.
Verse 1 starts with the timeframe, the year of Uzziah's death. My Ryrie Study bible footnote says that was 740 b.c. The Wiersbe commentary uses this fact as part of the bleak picture Isaiah was facing. His great king had died, his country was abandoning God, and his outlook was bleak.
In the same sentence, Isaiah jumps right into his vision. Or I assume it's a vision. I wish he had given us a little more context for such an amazing experience.
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.Isaiah 6: 1b
I cannot fathom what this privilege was like. John 1 tells us that no one has ever seen God; but the Son. So I'll be curious to see what the commentaries say about this apparent discrepancy. My husband and I discussed it and he pointed out that John saw the Lord in Revelations. I pointed out that that was Jesus, who is God. So maybe that's what Isaiah was seeing as well.
But apart from the theoretical or theological analysis, to close my eyes and meditate on seeing the Lord on His throne- high and lifted up- is overwhelming. To see actual perfection. To understand ourselves as both made in His image and dreadful wretches contaminated by sin. I can only imagine.
Next in Isaiah's description, in verse 2, are Seraphim, standing above the Lord, with six wings. Two covered his face, two covered his feet, and with two he flew.
The Ryrie Study Bible footnote states that the root of the word seraphim is "fire" and this is also the word used in Number 21. The people of Israel, just saved from Egypt, were complaining again and the Lord send fiery serpents to bite them and they died. Many died. And then Moses formed a figure of a fiery serpent on the pole that they could look to for salvation if they were bitten.
There is a lot to unpack there. The angel surrounding him are also the beings that bit and killed those Israelites complaining on the way to the Holy Land. Ryrie notes that these being are agents of cleansing. That's the beauty of fire. While it is know for destruction; it also cleanses. We see that kind of cleansing in Revelations as the Lord is purifying Jerusalem for the King to return.
The part that blows my mind a little bit is that I've been taught, and believe, that the pole with the serpent on it is a foreshadowing of Jesus. Look up and be saved once you've been bitten by sin. Although, He is referred to as the Angel of the Lord elsewhere in the Old Testament as the pre-incarnate Lord. So I should not be surprised by HIs willingness to cleanse by fire.
Ryrie also notes cross references for the cherubim, such as Genesis 3:24, Ezek 1:5, and Rev 4:6-- although cherubim aren't mentioned in this verse and seem to be distinct from seraphim. The biggest distinction I see, at a glance, is the lack of "fiery". They both protect and surround the Lord and His spaces; but cherubim have fiery swords, but aren't fiery themselves.
Wow. I'm only on verse 2!
In verse 3, Isaiah hears one seraphim call out to another:
Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is filled with His glory.Isaiah 6: 3b
I think I had always pictured that as an announcement. Sort of a sentry calling out to everyone. But this states that one seraphim called out to another. I'm sure it's a small difference; but it colors it differently for me. It's not just a town crier doing his job; but one being calling out to another. It's a more personal message. An observation; not just reading from his prescribed job script.
It's also worth noting that the name this being used for God was Jehovah Saba, the military title for the Lord of all of the angelic warriors. He wasn't speaking of God's creative characteristic or His provision or peace or any other name. He referred to his leadership over heaven's war machine. That seems significant.
Whatever the case may be, in verse 4, when this seraphim called out, the foundations under the entryways began to shake and the temple filled with smoke.
And then, in verse 5, we shift from what Isaiah saw to how it all affected him. In this famous verse, Isaiah is overwhelmed with an accurate perception of himself apart form God.
Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined. Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."Isaiah 6:5
I know what it feels like to be convicted by the Holy Ghost. I know the internal cringe and shriveling of my spirit when I'm being reprimanded by the Lord in my spirit. But I cannot image the weight of that in His presence. It must be impossible to bear.
Wiersbe points out that we cannot pronounce woe on others until we've seen ourselves in light of a holy God and pronounced woe on ourselves.
And then we have verses 6 and 7, two of my favorite and least favorite verses in the Bible.
6) Then one of the seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7) And he touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven."Isaiah 6: 6-7 NASB
"...your sin is forgiven."
That sounds familiar.
In Matthew, we see and hear about this forgivenness:
But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” —then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”Matthew 9:6 NKJV
And again in I John:
And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.
I John 3:5 NKJV
How have I missed Jesus in this passage until now?
The Wiersbe commentary and the Ryrie cross-references seem to acknowledge that it was Jesus whom Isaiah saw, specifically. Specifically, see John 12:41.
How did I miss this?
The reason I agonize over this verse is because I, also, have unclean lips. I used to curse like a sailor, and was even a little b it proud of my willingness to do it. I thought it made me colorful and a maverick or something. Now I hear someone doing the same thing and I see how childish and rebellious it seems. So, by the grace of God alone, I do find that my language has cleaned up considerably. But I quick glance at James, chapter 3 shows how far I have to go. Gossip, complaining, criticizing...all bad...all still on my lips far more often then I am comfortable admitting.
And so, I do want to have my lips cleansed; but fear the coal.
However, if this is Jesus. If my sins have been forgiven by my Lord and Savior, as I truly believe, then He is the coal and He has cleansed me. I am working out what he has worked into me.
How freeing and wonderful.
A couple of side notes form the commentaries on these important verses:
- Both the Wiersbe commentary and the MacArthur, emphasize that unclean lips denote an unclean heart.
- The MacArthur commentary seems to disagree with my interpretation of verse 7. It states that the iniquity is taken away for special service, not salvation.
It's also worth noting, as inspired by a comment in the NIV Chronological Study Bible, that the seraphim cleansed Isaiah before Isaiah was able to hear or interact with the Lord. They guarded the throne room and kept anything unholy from the Holy One.
The news gets better- for Isaiah, for me, and for all believers saved by the grace of God. Check out the amazing verse 8:
The I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom should I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!"Isaiah 6:8
Wow. wow. wow. A couple of quick observations:
- The use of "Us". My beliefs resolve that by the understanding of the Trinity. God as One; but also three: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In light of my perceived insight as Jesus somehow a part of the forgiveness of sins vision, this seems even more significant than previously.
- The Ryrie footnote agrees that "Us" could support the Trinity, but could also be God including His Counsel surrounding Him. The MacArthur commentary says something similar.
- Now that Isaiah has been cleansed and forgiven, there is no hesitation. In college, we used to joke, knowing the rough road that Isaiah had before him, we might have said, "Lord- Here I am, send someone else." A little irreverent, but the point being that we don't have control of the journey; just faith in the sovereign God leading us. I've come a long way in my faith in the last few years and hope that my heart is in the same place as Isaiah's. Now I want whatever God wants of me.
- It's also pretty stunning that Isaiah had the confidence to answer God, when not directly asked a question. Maybe it was more obvious in the moment; but to answer God at all, especially the God of the Old Testament, must have been motivated by the Holy Spirit.
Verses 9-13 are the Lord's response to Isaiah's offer to go.
The first half of verse 9 is the mission, "Go and tell this people." The second half starts a description of the lost state of His people. Listening without perceiving; seeing, but not understanding; hearts growing dull.
Verse 10 does offer hope; but in a way that tells us it's a lost cause for now. They could see, hear, and understand with their hearts, and return to the Lord. In which case, He would heal them.
Once again, it's the heart that God examines.
In verse 11, Isaiah has some follow-up questions about the assignment. Isaiah asks how long? And the lord tells him that it's going to last until everything is destroyed. He also goes on in verse 12 to explain that the men will be carried off and many places will become forsaken.
But as always with the Lord, there is hope given in verse 13. He explains that a tenth will remain. There will be a remnant that survives. He uses a very interesting metaphor. He says they will be subject to burning like when a stump remains, the thing that unleashes the (holy) seed is fire. That's one benefit of forest fires. They release seeds that offer hope for a new day.
This chapter is just chalked full of references to fire and it's cleansing an igniting benefits.
My little family had a year with many, many blessings; but also some challenges that tested us. Long rough patches, medical issues, and work-related stuff. Life. But we've really seen the other side of the tunnel with some of it and it makes me think of God's use of fire. To cleanse, to refine, to bring tremendous pressure that causes holy seeds to burst and bring forth new life.
We are entering 2022 with a lot of unknowns ahead of us. But we know Who is on the throne and we know His plans are perfect. He has made us for good works that He planned before the beginning of time. Here we are, Lord. Send us. And please help us with our unbelief. Amen.
My Ryrie Study Bible footnote states, for verse 13, that the terebinth tree is an oak-like tree and when you cut is, a fragrant, resinous juice flows. I think that I like my interpretation better; but this also paints a hopefully, lovely picture.
The Wiersbe Commentary closes out the chapter by reminding us that God's command is still, "Go and tell."