Isaiah 6:1-13 Visions of God’s Greatness WC McCarter
The Lord Sitting on a Throne
To continue our counter-cultural series, we will be in one of the most famous visions in all of the Bible, Isaiah 6. Of course, many things are stressed in this vision including God’s kingship, exaltation, glory, judgment, and more, but the main focus of the vision is God’s holiness. In a culture, even among Christians, that has lost its understanding of the holiness of God, we must repent and turn back to the truth of Scripture. In this vision, we will have to notice what is seen and what is said.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
The opening line of the chapter makes clear that this is an historical timeframe. The year that King Uzziah died was 740 B.C. We are talking about historical people, places, and events. Uzziah was a decent king for the kingdom of Judah in the South. He came to rule at the young age of 16 and reigned for 52 years. We are told that he did what was right in the sight of the Lord. He sought the Lord and was prosperous. His fame spread and he became exceedingly strong until the day his arrogance motivated him to go into the temple to burn incense on the altar. The Lord struck him with leprosy which made him an outcast until the day he died. A king who started so well ended in ruin. It was the year that this king died that Isaiah had this vision of the Lord. The message we can take from that historical note is a resounding one: an earthly king was dead, but Yahweh, the King of heaven and earth, still reigns! Even in this hour of death, the Lord still has a word of new life (Motyer, 75-76).
Isaiah states that he saw the Lord. Remember, God is spirit. So, the Lord is giving Isaiah a picture to visualize rather than Isaiah actually seeing a physical representation of the Lord. Notice that the description is not of the Lord personally but all those things surrounding Him. The picture is what is important and conveys the truths that God wants His people to know. Thus, in essence, Isaiah sees the Lord with the eyes of his heart, and you can as well if you will visualize Isaiah’s description. Now notice all that he saw about the Lord. The Lord was sitting on a throne in the place of majesty, authority, and power. He was high and lifted up (or exalted). Isaiah also saw that the train of the Lord’s robe filled the temple. The temple, of course, was where God met His people on earth. This is where His presence dwelt. God is not so transcendent that He has nothing to do with creation. He is not so far off that we cannot know Him or have a relationship with Him. The presence of His glory and majesty are right here on earth with us. He is completely involved in our lives and even our daily affairs. He wants us to know Him and experience life and a relationship with Him.
There were seraphim above the Lord’s throne. These are heavenly creatures which are only mentioned here in all of Scripture. Their name means something like burning or glowing. It appears that Isaiah is the one who gave them that name because he experienced their burning ministry of purification. It was more of a description than an actual title. Notice all that is said about the seraphim. They each had six wings. They used two wings each to cover their face and feet (or lower half) which was appropriate covering in the presence of the holy God. They covered their eyes and feet but not their ears, so that they would only set their feet for the path that the Lord commanded (Motyer, 76). They also used two wings for flying. While cherubim are closely associated with the throne, seraphim are seen here as constantly flying above the Lord sitting on His throne. Their name means “burning” which probably refers to purification as one of their main concerns. The prophet even heard these creatures speak as they cried, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” While God could have conveyed His absolute holiness to Isaiah without words, He allows His heavenly creatures to reveal this truth with words. Can you imagine the angelic beings crying out so loudly that the posts of the doors shake and the house fills with smoke? Surely, this would make a man tremble to his core. The shaking would have kept Isaiah from coming to close to the Lord’s presence, and the smoke would have kept the man from completely seeing the Lord.
From the visual of the Lord’s overwhelmingly majestic presence to the picture of the seraphim covering themselves and the actual words of their mouths, the holiness of God is put on full display. There is no being in all of creation, whether in heaven or on earth or under the earth, who compares to the One who sits high and exalted on His heavenly throne. It is said that, “God’s ‘name’ is qualified by the adjective ‘holy’ in the Old Testament more often than by all other qualifiers put together” (Motyer, 77). Repetition in most languages means to convey emphasis and/or totality. So, “Holy, Holy” would mean “Most Holy,” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” must mean “Far and Above Holiest of All.” The three-fold repetition intensifies God’s holiness to the uttermost and may even refer to the Trinity. There is no other way to say how holy God is in human language than the thrice-repeated, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The word means to be set apart. It means that one is unique, different, and special. What is it that makes the Lord the far and above holiest of all? “It is his total and unique moral majesty” (Motyer, 77). God is morally and ethically perfect. This, of course, is seen again in verse five as Isaiah realizes his sinfulness just by being in God’s presence.
Isaiah may have thought that it was utterly impressive to see the hem of God’s robe filling the temple, but the seraphim make clear that the “whole earth” is full of His glory. The word glory means heavy or weighty. To be glorious means to be important and valuable. So, the angels are saying that God is holiest of all and that His value is written all over creation. Isaiah begins to better understand this as the building shakes and fills with smoke.
A man or woman who sees God for all He is, with the eyes of their heart, are forced to make a confession before Him of their sinfulness. What is it that Isaiah notices about himself? He notices that he is unclean. Even the best of people, even the most godly of saints are found to be with sin before the “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord of hosts.” Is it only the lips of the people that are unclean? Of course not, what pours forth from the mouth comes from the depths of the person. Unclean and unholy lips point to an unclean and unholy character. Now, let me make one other thing clear. Notice that Isaiah deals with his sin after he sees the holiness of God. We are guilty of blasphemy whenever we question the holiness or integrity of God. Listen carefully, God is never the problem. We are the problem. The Lord’s integrity should never be questioned, but ours should always be examined. We are the sinful ones. He is holy. What Isaiah needs is not just some ritual cleansing. No, he needs the Lord to take away the sin that has corrupted him. He needs forgiveness and atonement.
The burning coal is from the altar. The altar had a live fire at all times and was the place where blood sacrifice was made. It has the ideas of atonement, propitiation, and satisfaction before God. This is brought to Isaiah as a way of doing those very things for the sinful man. His iniquity was taken away, and his sins were purged in the act of the live coal touching his lips. Atonement was made and the wrath of God was satisfied. Fire is usually important in the Scriptures. Fire symbolizes both judgment and purification. Here it clearly is symbolic of God’s holiness and His eagerness to atone for Isaiah’s sin. So fire is brought forth to cleanse Isaiah, but it will destroy Judah.
Notice that atonement was made and Isaiah was forgiven after he made his confession of sin. Yet, the forgiveness and cleansing that he received was not of himself but was done completely by God (the seraphim, of course, do only the Lord’s bidding). All Isaiah knew to do in the moment was confess his sin, and he probably thought that he would simply drop dead. That is not what the Lord wanted. The Lord wanted to forgive, cleanse, and call him to a special task. After having his sins purged, Isaiah is now able to associate with the Lord and even speaks up to volunteer to do the Lord’s will.
Spiritual expectations. Isaiah is commanded by the Lord to tell the people to hear and see but not to understand or perceive. The Lord wanted Isaiah to make the heart of the people dull. What a strange commissioning! What a disheartening mission. Both inner and outer capacities are referenced, and the structure of verse ten is heart-ears-eyes, eyes-ears-heart to emphasize the total corruption of the people. We are shown in Isa 28:9-10 that the people of Isaiah’s day taunted him for teaching so plainly, clearly, and simply. The sad truth of the matter is that a preacher can be plain and simple so that true believers may hear and believe, but, at the same time, the hearts of unbelievers may grow harder and harder as they continually reject and mock the simple truth. So, to carry out his task, Isaiah does not have to talk in condescending ways or in veiled lessons. No, Isaiah only had to teach the basic truth, and God knew that the people would reject it because of their total corruption. When the Good News is proclaimed both grace and judgment are delivered (or, as Romans 1 says, the righteousness of God and the wrath of God are both revealed from heaven). Some choose life and others reject it.
This also tells us that God does not want us “to be successful in a purely human sense but to be faithful” (Oswalt, 190). God does not expect you to be rich or famous, he does not expect a minister to gain a huge following; what He expects of you and of me is faithfulness – through thick and thin, in good days and bad days, when things are going well and when they are not.
Historical/political expectations. Historically speaking, Isaiah was preaching to a nation that would be destroyed. They would experience the wrath of God because of their unbelief, rejection of the truth, and hardness of heart. Judah trusted in itself and did not trust God. Isaiah wants to know how long he has to preach a message that will be mocked, and the Lord tells him that he must continue preaching that message until everything is done away with: the cities will be laid waste, the people will be deported leaving the cities, houses, and land empty. There comes a time when God’s mercy ends. If people do not repent, then He must carry out His judgment to the fullest. That time had come for Judah and Jerusalem.
Messianic expectations. One author has beautifully said of the end of verse 13, “Typically of Isaiah, hope is the unexpected fringe attached to the garment of doom” (Motyer, 79). There is hope in the stump of Judah. There is yet life in the stump. There is a promised holy seed. Like trees that are cut down to only a stump yet a shoot of new life can come up from it, so too will be Judah. You see, God has a plan of redemption that was inaugurated with the word in the Garden that the woman’s seed would crush the serpents head. It was continued in the promise to Abraham that through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. There would be absolute annihilation for Judah in Isaiah’s day, but the Lord has always kept a small remnant of people to continue the salvation plan. Ultimately the tribe of Judah brought forth the Savior of the world, Christ Jesus.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) God does not expect you to be successful from a worldly perspective. He expects you to be faithful to Him.
(2) Since there comes a time when God’s mercy runs out for the sinner, please repent of your sin this day. Romans 2:4 asks, “Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” 2:5 then says that those who do not repent, although they have been given time by God, are only storing up wrath against themselves for Judgment Day. So, repent today. Turn away from your sin and turn to God. Admit that the Lord alone is holy and that you are a sinner.
(3) There is no more wonderful picture in all of the Bible than Isaiah confessing his sin in the presence of the uniquely holy God and him being cleansed and forgiven. The same can be done for you. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(4) Don’t you want to serve this wonderfully holy God? There are a variety of ways that you can get more involved in the ministry here, and the Lord would be pleased if you did. It is time for some of you to settle down. It is time for some of you to make this church your home. Some of you have stalled in your spiritual life, it is time for you to repent of your sin, turn to Christ, and pursue holiness and spiritual growth.
(5) Let me close with this word of exhortation: just as this vision became the foundation of Isaiah’s ministry, may the vision of God’s greatness – His majesty, glory, and absolute holiness – become the foundation of our ministries at the Rural Hall Church of Christ.