The essence of Isaiah 6: what happened to Isaiah is intended to happen to Israel. When it does, true worship takes place. Verses 1-4 describe an exalted Lord. As His prophet, Isaiah will declare the starkest contrast between Judah’s Holy God and Judah’s unrepentant people. He pictures holiness in spatial terms: God is lofty, exalted, and glorious (See John 12:40-41). Seraphim are angelic beings that “burn away” the unholy. With God there are no degrees of holiness, no “close is close enough.” To translate verse 3 as “holy, holier, holiest” misses the point, for each utterance of “holy” by an angel ascribes to God holiness in its ultimate perfection. Holiness and its demand predominate in Isaiah.
Verses 5-7 graphically picture Isaiah recognizing something has happened to him as part of his encounter with the Holy God - he is “undone.” He cannot declare the holy perfection of God, not because only his lips are unclean, but because HE is unclean. It is a matter of condition more than act; his mouth only expresses what he is. The people are in the same condition, but remain recalcitrant. Isaiah is purified, forgiven, and commissioned.
Verses 8-13 relate the principle that responsibility to God follows redemption from God. Isaiah exhibits the obedience that God looks for in all people: “Behold me! Send me!” Isaiah shouts with bold eagerness in his obedience.
God’s holiness will confront “this” people (Not “My” people). As long as people choose to remain in their rebellion, they will never see the need to confess their sin as Isaiah did. He recognized his unclean condition, but the people have not, and are not inclined to do so (6:9-10). The three occurrences of Isaiah 6:9-10 in the New Testament affirm that a person must experience a change of heart before forgiveness is granted.
To coin a wordplay, God created games, but He does not play games. Only a deeply heartfelt contrition is acceptable. Isaiah’s personal relationship with the Lord is most important in his ministry, for if results are the measure, then Isaiah was surely a failure (6:10). His own “burning” experience illustrates that to become holy requires a thorough purging (6:11-12). Translations differ on verse 13, yet the point is clear: God assures a remnant (“holy seed”) will remain. A more extensive treatment of Isaiah 6 is available by email.
Dr. David Moore is a Baptist preacher in Pampa and an online instructor in Bible and theology for Taylor University and Nations University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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