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Isaiah 6:1-13

Daniel Tan

Isaiah 6:1-13 (NKJV)

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. 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. And one cried to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

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

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.”

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. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

“Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.”

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.”

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

‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

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.”

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,

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

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.”

Today we look at how Isaiah was called to become a prophet. Isaiah 6 takes a very strange break from the prophecies and the literature to introduce Isaiah's experience in being called by God. I have absolutely no idea why Isaiah 6 isn't just Isaiah 1 and for the stark contrast between the writing styles, but it is what it is and we shall look through it. Vs. 1 mentions that this vision occurs the year Uzziah died, which technically places it after Isaiah 1 in chronology, should the previous chapters have been referencing Uzziah's reign. Due to this, Isaiah 6 may not be referring to Isaiah’s initial calling to become a prophet but a reinstatement of his role as a prophet with the passing of one king to the next. It is known that Uzziah died quite tragically. In 2 Chronicles 26, it notes that Uzziah had become arrogant in his later years due to his strength. Taking the position of the priest, Uzziah had went against God's instructions and burnt incense on the altar of incense, which was basically blasphemy. God in turn struck Uzziah with leprosy and let him live an isolated life till his days ended. The way that Uzziah had died was quite disappointing despite his otherwise good reign. Perhaps it was due to knowing this that God had decided to call Isaiah once again to the role. Vs. 1 continues to depict how the Lord appears. Yahweh sits on a throne, as a king would, lifted up in the heavens and so great that the train (trailing part) of his robe filled the entire temple. That’s a pretty imposing stature if I've ever heard of one. The depiction of God as king is not new either, nor is the vision of His throne. Many of Isaiah’s contemporary prophets had witnessed God’s majesty in this manner. Long trains were symbolic of power, because they were hard to move in and therefore someone with a long train had immense dignity and honour. A train long enough to fill the temple itself was a VERY long train. Following this depiction, seraphim are described. The whole idea of angels is very interesting because the Bible rarely mentions them. However, we know that cherubim exist and seraphim exist. Whether or not these are separate terms for two different types of angels may be debated. I think that if they have different names, they are likely to be different, but your opinion may vary on this. This is not particularly important, but intriguing nonetheless. Each had six wings, two to cover their face, two to cover their feet. The two to cover their face was to hide themselves from the blinding glory of God. Remember Moses was not allowed to see the glory of God full force because otherwise he would just die (Exodus 33). Meanwhile feet might have been covered because feet were usually dirtier or less honourable to show, since your feet were going to have the most exposure to the dust of the ground (people wore sandals then rather than Adidas). The seraphim thereafter proclaim God's glory, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”. There's a couple of ways to interpret this part. It could be because of God's status as the trinity, but more likely it is because of emphasis. During those times, repeating a word was tantamount to emphasising it. There was no such thing as bolded text, or italics, or capital letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Hence, repetition was one of the best ways of reinforcing an idea. To repeat it thrice however... that was going beyond just mere repetition and emphasis. Therefore God isn’t just holy or very holy. He is the holiest; the definition of holiness. In response to this, the posts of the door were shaken by the powerful voice of the seraphim. These angels carried great power, but it paled in comparison to that of the Lord whom they served. In comparison, humanity would seem so insignificant as to crumble any hubris that could exist. Which is basically what happened to Isaiah. His reaction to all that had just transpired was that he was a man undone, a man of unclean lips who dwelt among a people of unclean lips. It’s very interesting where he puts himself. It is likely that before this, Isaiah found himself as better than those people that he was prophesying to because his actions and words were not only more eloquent but also more godly. Yet in the face of the King, he found himself undone by the mere presence of the Lord’s glory. And although this part is speculation, it still finds itself in stark juxtaposition to the tone of which Isaiah had spoken to Israel beforehand. Where it lands chronologically at this point matters less than the power that seeing God had on Isaiah, and many other prophets as well. One of the seraphim then relieves Isaiah by touching Isaiah’s mouth with a live coal. It was so hot that even the angel had to use tongs. It is likely that this altar was the holiest of altars, since it was in heaven and all altars had one purpose: to find cleansing through offerings to God. If you read Leviticus (which I highly recommend), you can see that most of the offerings had something to do with either mending or reaffirming one's relationship with God. Because as Paul puts it in Acts 17:25, God is not served by human hands as if he needed anything. God is God. Offerings, prayers and the like are less for Him and more for us. He doesn’t require our being to sustain Himself, but He wants to have a relationship with us and those are the means by which He provides. Therefore the coal was holy because it came from God and God is holy. With that, Isaiah was cleansed as the seraphim said. The fire had burnt away the sin, because God's holiness helps us to be clean once more. It is a relief to Isaiah because his lack of holiness in God's holy presence was more distressing that even a hot coal on the lips. Finally, God asks for a representative. It is a calling for someone to go into the nations. And Isaiah, purged of his sinful mouth, volunteers himself, “Here am I! Send me.” With that, God gives him the mission: to tell a people to hear but not understand, see but not perceive. To disallow them from understanding the message. God asks for volunteers instead of creating them. He could easily send angels or other creations to do that bidding, but God relies on our voluntary service because this is how He wants to do things. Note that from God's description of Isaiah’s mission, we know how we can be healed: to see with our eyes, hear with our ears and understand with our hearts. Not just to stand there and absorb what is given but to actually delve deep and try to have a notion of what is being presented by God's message to us, so that we can do better. So that we can be better. And so, knowing the condemnation that this will bring the people and the fruitlessness of the mission at hand, Isaiah asks: “how long?” It is a logical question. This commission is great. To preach to those who won’t listen and to witness them journey towards their doom. It was the same mission that Jeremiah got, and which landed him the title of the ‘weeping prophet’. God’s response is: “until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, the houses are without a man, the land is utterly desolate”, where people will be removed “far away and the forsaken places are many”. But “a tenth… will return” to be consumed, and a “stump” would exist in the “Holy Seed”. To parse this, it is necessary to understand that this was not a mere proclamation. This was a sight of future things to come. Israel would be captured by the Babylonians and even after a remnant returned they were still consumed by judgment because they were not done being disobedient. God is speaking of a time that will come after Isaiah’s own death. It was a ministry beyond a simple lifespan, because God works in greater intervals than humanity. Remember that we might be part of a ministry towards people who will not listen and which goes beyond ourselves. Do not be haughty about it nor make any mistake that you are great. Isaiah 6 was placed not as the beginning of Isaiah but at the end. Isaiah’s message is much more important than Isaiah himself, and we should remember that about ourselves. God does not need it to be us. God simply chooses us and allows us to fulfil the role.

Daniel Tan

Daniel is currently and forevermore will be a student and a learner, trying to delve into the deep conundrums of life and seeing where the path leads. He enjoys linking different things in life back to God through strange and seemingly random connections. Daniel is in the Young Professionals ministry of the Central Christian Church.

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