The prophets provide a window into the divine and Isaiah provides a panorama into the heavenly in chapter 6.
I think one of the reasons it can be hard to read through the prophets is because they are generally NOT linear stories or narratives. They appear to be eclectic messages strewn together in what ever order they were shoved into a notebook.
Another thing that can make it a challenge is that the same message, the same doom and gloom message, is often repeated over and over and over again. You can feel like you are stuck in a loop, like a bad gif that keeps repeating on your screen.
Our society has also trained us to always look for the application in a passage, and, frankly, there is not always a lot of application in the doom and glom messages. It is possible, by our modern “standards” to feel like we are wasting time if we read and do not come away with some action points.
Though the prophets by definition are simply the mouthpieces of God, and not future tellers, they provide some of the greatest insights into the nature and being of Yahweh as well as his mission of redeeming mankind through a messiah.
Chapter 6 is a pivotal chapter in the book of Isaiah. This is a passage I heard a LOT when I was in college. It seemed most of the mission agencies used this as the famous “call” passage because of verse 8:
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord asking: Who will I send? Who will go for us? I said: Here I am. Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8, CSB)
First, can I just say this is probably NOT a great passage for missionaries to refer to, for the message Isaiah is going to give is one of doom and gloom!
Second, I am not sure this is really a calling at all. I believe we established that Isaiah was called by God back in chapter 1 – otherwise, why was he giving ANY message on God’s behalf? Though the book does not start out with, “The Word of the Lord to Isaiah”, it is Isaiah speaking the words of Yahweh that were revealed to him. He was a prophet in chapter one.
In both of those instances, I think we have missed to greatest value of the chapter, for it is NOT a missionary calling chapter nor is the chapter much about Isaiah at all. In focusing on either of these we are focusing on the mere mortal, the human and his actions. What a small perspective indeed.
Let’s start back at verse 1 of chapter 6 and see what this chapter is REALLY about – because it sets up much of the rest of the book of Isaiah as well as the hope that we celebrate at Christmas.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above him; they each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies; his glory fills the whole earth. The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke. Then I said: Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Armies. Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said: Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for. Then I heard the voice of the Lord asking: Who will I send? Who will go for us? I said: Here I am. Send me. And he replied: Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Make the minds of these people dull; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed. Then I said, “Until when, Lord?” And he replied: Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants, houses are without people, the land is ruined and desolate, and the Lord drives the people far away, leaving great emptiness in the land. Though a tenth will remain in the land, it will be burned again. Like the terebinth or the oak that leaves a stump when felled, the holy seed is the stump.” (Isaiah 6, CSB)
King Uzziah was a “good” king. He “mostly” followed the Lord. He was actually inflicted by God with a skin disease (perhaps leprosy) because he tried to offer incense to the Lord in the temple. He died around 740bc. That means that chapter 6 takes place around the same time that Israel is being taken into exile.
Remember, the focus is NOT on the king. The king is simply a marker for the dates and times of the events of God.
Isaiah had another vision: "I saw the Lord."
While we have focused on the Hebrew words “Yahweh” (the name of God”) and “Elohim” (Yahweh’s supernatural being), this passage uses the word “Adon” which means “lord” or “master”. This is a title of position or supremacy. To call someone your lord was to admit that they are greater than you are and that you are subservient to them. It was not just any lord, it was THE Lord.
“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awe-inspiring God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe.” (Deuteronomy 10:17, CSB)
“For Yahweh your elohim is the elohim of elohim and adon of adon, the great, mighty, and awe-inspiring el, showing no partiality and taking no bribe.” (Deuteronomy 10:17, Mike Modified 😉)
This title, Lord of Lords, is ascribed to the Father in 1 Tim 6:15 and of Jesus in Revelation 17:14 and Revelation 19:16.
There is a throne which is further imagery of the Lordship being of royalty and in rule. The throne was high and lifted up and the hem of the Lords robe filled the temple.
The temple was the earthly dwelling place of God at the time. Or, we could more accurately choose to say, it was the place where God chose to have his name and his glory reside.
While we cannot fully understand the image that must have filled Isaiah’s mind, we see an intersection of heaven and earth. We have a throne (or judgement in this case) with the Ruler of all rulers sitting on it showing his dominion over both heaven and earth. And BOTH realms are represented in this passage:
The heavenly realm is represented by the seraphs and a divine council, and earth is represented by Isaiah.
We are then introduced to a being called a “seraphim”. The NASB Dictionary calls them, “fiery serpents”. Though the meaning of fiery is more in line with poisonous serpents than one being on fire, literally.
While the word is used a few other places in the Bible, this is the only reference we have to these heavenly beings.
They had 3 pairs of wings:
And they had a message, so apparently they also have mouths and a vocabulary. These divine attendants sang a song:
“They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”” (Isaiah 6:3, NLT)
Our English translations use LORD here. It is the Name of God in the original. Yahweh of Armies, or Yahweh of Hosts.
“And the one called to the other and said, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory.”” (Isaiah 6:3, LEB)
Though we are certainly not able to comprehend all that is meant in this vision, we can certainly comprehend that Isaiah has come on contact with the supreme ruler of heave and earth, who also commands the armies of heaven and who sits as judge of the nations. This supreme being is declared to be “holy, holy, holy”.
I must confess that I have often heard this phrase and even sung it in songs for many years, but I have not really stopped to ponder what it really means.
Holy means set apart from the common. It can also imply purity, respect and truth.
God is holy – he is set apart from all of creation both in heaven and on earth. Though his glory fills the whole earth, he is not of this earth. God is pure and completely without sin. God is righteous and is the only judge that is right and true all of the time and worth of judging the nations.
Perhaps the threefold message of holiness is meant to show us how God fulfills every possible aspect of holiness that we can imagine?
Or, perhaps the repetition is meant to show us just how much holier he is than anything or anyone else. Not only is God holy, he is the holiest of the most holy ones from among all the holy ones!
IMAGINE: that you are Isaiah! You are seeing God in the temple (which you are not supposed to see) You see creatures serving God that no one has ever described, and they are singing the praise of God who is far holier than anything you can ever dream of!
You see a bright light, a throne, a huge robe, seraphim, the temple and if there is one thing that does NOT belong in this picture, it is a human!
“And I said, “Woe to me! For I am destroyed! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I am living among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the king, Yahweh of hosts!”” (Isaiah 6:5, LEB)
“Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”” (Isaiah 6:5, NLT)
Did you notice another title for God here? KING. It is the word that is used for kings all throughout the OT. It means ruler. We read that he is the King of Kings earlier, and that title is implied here as well.
However, like so many things in this chapter, this reference to king is meant to connect us to a previous event:
“But the Lord told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Samuel 8:7, CSB)
“But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your troubles and afflictions. You said to him, ‘You must set a king over us.’ …” (1 Samuel 10:19, CSB)
God WAS their king, but the hardness of their hearts made them want a human king instead of Yahweh. They wanted to be like all the other nations. This hyperlink shows that this rebellion goes way back in the history of Israel.
Isaiah commented on his lips. Isn’t that interesting? He didn’t say he was doomed because he was not holy, because of seeing the holy one of Israel. He said he was doomed because of his lips and seeing the king, the lord of armies.
Perhaps he realized that WE were created to speak the praise of Yahweh and that we are called to shake the foundations of the world with the declaration of his holiness and THEN realized, our mouths are not even capable of such things.
“People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:7–10, NLT)
When we encounter the holiness of God, we are first and foremost made aware of the unholiness of our own selves. Not only that, we also are painfully aware of the reality that our sinfulness must result in our doom because of God’s holiness.
But God did NOT invite Isaiah to this vision to show him his own doom, but to reveal the nature, character and work of Yahweh or armies into whose army he is being recruited as an active human participant in a divine campaign.
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said: Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6–7, CSB)
This verse is beautiful.
The attendant of Yahweh becomes an attendant of the human. The altar is the place that sacrifices for sin were made, and the seraph takes a coal and touches it to the lips of Isaiah. The declaration is this:
Your iniquity is removed, your sin atoned for.
The impurities of your life are gone and your relationship with God is renewed. THIS is the work that God wants to do with Israel, as well as with each of us!
A holy Elohim has the right destroy all unholiness. Yet, it is the desire of Yahweh Elohim to cleanse sin and restore our relationship with him. This has been his mission all throughout scripture.
“I will turn my hand against you and will burn away your dross completely; I will remove all your impurities. I will restore your judges to what they were at first, and your advisers to what they were at the start. Afterward you will be called the Righteous City, a Faithful Town.”” (Isaiah 1:25–26, CSB)
Notice the message from chapter 1? It has not changed, and it does not change, ever.
Rather than wiping out Isaiah, God wipes away Isaiah’s sin; his impurities removed. It is not until the cleansing takes place that he hears the voice of God. I think that is significant.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord asking: Who will I send? Who will go for us? I said: Here I am. Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8, CSB)
NOW we can tackle this verse! Did you catch the pronouns?
While some use this verse, along with the 3 holies of verse 3 as a scriptural basis for the trinity. I am not convinced that is a good way to argue the trinity, and I think there are other way to do that from the OT that are much more concrete.
The “I” is obviously Yahweh. So who is the “us”?
Well, we know there was a throne with Yahweh on it, and we know there were heavenly attendants there, the Seraphim. I believe what Isaiah is envisioning is the “divine council” or the “heavenly council” as some call it. Never heard of it? Yeah, it is something that I do not remember learning about in Bible college either. But let’s take a look at a few other verses together:
Jeremiah, when speaking about false prophets of his day, says this:
“For who has stood in the council of Yahweh, that he has seen and heard his word? Who has listened attentively to his word and heard it?” (Jeremiah 23:18, LEB)
“But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have caused them to turn from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.” (Jeremiah 23:22, LEB)
There is this passage that sets up the entire book of Job:
“One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them.” (Job 1:6, NLT)
Perhaps the most explicit reference to the divine council is in the book of 1 Kings:
“Then Micaiah continued, “Listen to what the Lord says! I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left. And the Lord said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead so he can be killed?’ “There were many suggestions, and finally a spirit approached the Lord and said, ‘I can do it!’ “ ‘How will you do this?’ the Lord asked. “And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all of Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’ “ ‘You will succeed,’ said the Lord. ‘Go ahead and do it.’” (1 Kings 22:19–22, NLT)
I bet you haven’t heard may sermons on that set of verses 😉 I know I have not! Notice the details: there was a throne and a host of heavenly armies. The Old Testament seems to teach that there is a divine court or council of Elohim (spiritual beings) both good and bad, that answer to Yahweh.
Picture Isaiah 6 again. In verse 1 we have a throne with the Lord on it. In verse 2 we have heavenly beings who refer to Yahweh as the Lord of Armies in verse 3.
“Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.”” (Isaiah 6:8, NLT)
Can you picture Yahweh talking to the seraphim and the armies of heaven asking this question to the council? Who will I send? Who will go for us?”
And the seemingly least significant of all the creations present says, “pick me!”
Isn’t it amazing that this holy, powerful God would allow a human to enter his presence and even more amazing that he was invited there to be the mouthpiece of God himself?!
Go! God says.
“And he said, “Yes, go, and say to this people, ‘Listen carefully, but do not understand. Watch closely, but learn nothing.’ Harden the hearts of these people. Plug their ears and shut their eyes. That way, they will not see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their hearts and turn to me for healing.”” (Isaiah 6:9–10, NLT)
God gave Isaiah a very hard and painful message. He was to tell the people that God would harden their hearts to they could not repent.
The hardening of the heart by God is a topic I do not think I can cover adequately at this time and it has challenged theologians for centuries. Suffice it to so that God is going to make sure his punishment on the people is carried out.
However, this message, the one of the people not listening, not seeing and not changing, is the passage that will be repeated by other bible authors the most.
Isaiah’s response is not quoted. The Seraphs are not mentioned anywhere else. BUT, this passage on the hardening of their hearts is mentioned repeatedly.
Once again, we see the use of the chiasmus literary style to draw attention to this section, as well as repetition.
This passage is quoted in Luke 8:10, Matthew 13:14–15, Mark 4:10–12 and John 12:40 – all four of the gospel writers include a reference to this passage.
“Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You will listen and listen, but never understand; you will look and look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn back— and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:14–15, CSB)
The Apostle Paul also references it in Acts 28:26-27 where he declares that it is because of the hardness of heart of the Jews that salvation has also come to the Gentiles.
So we are reminded that not only is this message in Isaiah referring to the immediate situation of Israel and the coming exile, but also of the promise of the Messiah who is yet to come.
“For how long” will I have to give this message to the people? Until the destruction is done. And there is hope:
“Then I said, “Lord, how long will this go on?” And he replied, “Until their towns are empty, their houses are deserted, and the whole country is a wasteland; until the Lord has sent everyone away, and the entire land of Israel lies deserted. If even a tenth—a remnant—survive, it will be invaded again and burned. But as a terebinth or oak tree leaves a stump when it is cut down, so Israel’s stump will be a holy seed.”” (Isaiah 6:11–13, NLT)
The stump and the holy seed. Hang on to that! I mentioned that this chapter is a pivotal chapter for the entire book. It is here that we understand the divine counsel, the hardening of hearts, the extent of the devastation that will take place and the promise of a remnant and a “holy seed”.
In this chapter, the only thing that was declared holy was Yahweh. The seed is meant to take us back to the garden in Genesis 3:15. This holy seed is the one from Yahweh who will restore the relationship between humans and Yahweh. But THAT is another message (on December 20th I believe)
So the message of Hope through Judgement continues, as it does for all of the Bible. As evil persists, God confronts it as David pointed out with the Day of the Lord.
However, chapter 6 gives us some insights into The God we call “Father”.
This chapter is not about Isaiah’s call. It is about Yahweh of Armies, the Holy One. He is sovereign, he is just, and he is compassionate. He chooses to reveal himself to us so we can know him better.
This supreme judge, commander in chief and transcendent God chooses to invite flawed humans like you and me into his presence – offering to purify us, make us holy so we can be in his presence – so that we can be his representation to the world – his image bearers.
And he has always been interested in being among us – humans, and his divine plan of providing a Messiah shows his compassion for us and his sheer desire to be in relationship with us.