Crisis and change often bring people to times of self-examination and reflection and even prayer. It was just such a time for young Isaiah when he went to the temple to pray. King Uzziah’s reign had begun with such promise, but unfortunately, pride overtook Uzziah and he presumed to do, in the temple, what was forbidden. He was struck with leprosy and he died, not in the palace, but the leper ward. Any crisis, even a small one, can be an opportunity for a fresh vision of God. If we consider what Isaiah saw, it might help our spiritual eyesight. Like Isaiah, we can find new inspiration and renewed commitment.
King Uzziah has died and the throne of Judah is empty. Like all men of faith, Isaiah turned to God for his help and comfort, and in that hour of seeming defeat, he experienced a great spiritual blessing. He saw that the throne of heaven was still occupied by Jehovah God! Note the three-fold vision God gave to Isaiah.
Isaiah saw his Lord: It was a time of reverence. The Upward Look—He Saw the Lord (6:1-4)
He needed to see God. He had placed so much confidence in a visible king that he had previously felt little need to reach out to the invisible king.
He saw God in all His majesty. God was “high and exalted.”
He saw God in His power. “The train of his robe filled the temple.”
He saw God in His holiness. The seraphs, cover themselves in humility. When they sing, they begin with, “Holy, holy, holy.” The seraphs’ song underscores the fact that we have a holy God. In our desire to stress the love of God, we should never rob Him of His awesomeness.
Like all devoted citizens, Isaiah had venerated King Uzziah. For fifty-two years, Uzziah had led Judah in a program of peace and prosperity. It was an era of expansion and achievement. It was unfortunate that the king had rebelled against the Word of God and died a leper (2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chron. 26). Isaiah realized that though the nation had prospered materially, it was in terrible condition spiritually. The economic growth and temporary peace were a veneer that covered a nation with a wicked heart. What was going to happen to Judah?
God lifted Isaiah’s eyes from himself and his people to the throne of heaven. There might be confusion and unrest on earth, but there was perfect peace in heaven: God was seated in majestic power and glory. People on earth might be recalling the shame of Uzziah’s death as a leper, but there was no shame or shadow of failure in heaven. Rather, the seraphim were saying, “Holy, holy, holy.”
John 12:38-41 informs us that Isaiah saw Jesus Christ in His glory. He was on the throne of heaven being praised by the seraphim. His royal robe filled the heavenly temple, and the house was filled with the smoke of His anger against sin (Ps. 80:4). His angelic creatures, the seraphim (“fiery ones”), praised Him for His holiness and His glory. “The whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah did not see much glory that day, nor do we see it today. Rather, it seems that the whole earth is “filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). We see events from a human perspective; the angels see them from God’s viewpoint.
“Lord of hosts” is Isaiah’s favorite name for God; he uses it at least sixty-five times. “Lord of the armies” is what it means. The prophet also calls God “the Holy One of Israel” at least thirty times. Jehovah is the God of holy warfare, the God who opposes sin and defeats the enemy. Isaiah needed to realize this fact in a day when Judah appeared to be defeated. This is a good practical lesson for Christians today: when the day is dark, lift your eyes to heaven and see Christ on the throne. “The Lord is in His holy temple.”
Isaiah saw his sin: It was a time of repentance. The Inward Look—He Saw Himself (6:5-7)
This is a natural reaction after coming to terms with the holiness of God. When we capture a vision of God, we must be willing to see ourselves as we really are, even if it grieves us.
It is a refreshing thing to see that Isaiah mentioned his own sin before he mentioned the sin of his neighbors. Isaiah saw his own sin and said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
A true vision of God and His holiness always makes us realize our own sinfulness and failure. Job saw God and repented (Job 42:6); Peter cried out, “I am a sinful man” when he saw Christ’s power (Luke 5:8). Self-righteous rabbi Saul saw that his own righteousness was but “garbage” next to the glory of Christ (Acts 9 and Phil. 3), and he believed and became the Apostle Paul. When believers have a true experience with the Lord, it does not make them proud; rather, it humbles and breaks them.
When Isaiah confessed his sins, he mentioned especially his unclean lips. Of course, unclean lips are the products of an unclean heart. The prophet knew that he could not faithfully preach for the Lord unless he was prepared and cleansed. How different from some Christians who rush out to serve Christ before taking time to meet the Lord and be cleansed. God met the prophet’s need: He sent a seraph to cleanse him with a coal from the altar. How tragic it would be to have the throne without the altar! There would be conviction of sin, but no cleansing. Note that it was more important for the seraph to equip Isaiah to be a soul-winner than to praise God. True worship ought to lead to witness and service. Too many Christians want to hold on to a “spiritual experience” with the Lord, rather than be prepared to go out to share the Lord with others.
There is a wonderful word of encouragement here: God quickly answers prayer and cleanses us (1 John 1:9). He longs to equip us to serve Him.
Isaiah saw his cleansing: It was a time of restoration.
God did not deny Isaiah’s sinfulness, but he did provide an escape. A seraph took a coal from the altar, where the sacrifice for sin was made, and seared Isaiah’s lips, sterilizing them.
There was no reason for Isaiah to continue to feel unworthy. He had been made pure.
Everything to this point was a preparation. Now God can call Isaiah and use him to preach His Word. The prophet is no longer wrapped up in his own needs; he wants to do the will of God. He is no longer burdened by sin; he has been cleansed. He is no longer discouraged; he knows that God is on the throne. Now he is ready to go to work.
The call is an evidence of God’s grace. He is willing to use human beings to accomplish His will on earth. God certainly could have sent one of the seraphim, and it would have obeyed instantly and perfectly. But when it comes to proclaiming His Word, God must use human lips. God is still calling believers today and, alas, few are responding. In Isaiah’s day, only a “remnant” would obey.
“Go and tell!” This is God’s commission to us today. “You shall be witnesses to me . . . to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NKJV). It was not an easy commission God gave to the prophet, for the nation was in no mood to hear his messages of sin and judgment. In chapter 1, God pictures the nation as a sick body, covered with wounds and rotting sores, and as a stubborn and rebellious animal, too ignorant to listen to his own master. In chapter 5, the nation is pictured as a beautiful vineyard that did not produce good grapes. As you read chapters 1-5, you understand the burden that God gave Isaiah. The nation was prosperous; why preach about sin? The “fashionable ladies” would not like it (3:16-26), nor would the leading rulers (5:8ff). When people are rich, full, and satisfied, they do not believe that judgment is coming.
Verses 9-10 are quoted six times in the NT: Matt. 13:13-15, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10, John 12:40, Acts 28:25-28, Rom. 11:8; making a total of seven references in all. Is God saying that He deliberately blinds people and condemns them? No, not at all. What He is saying is that the Word of God has this hardening and blinding effect on sinners who will not listen and yield. The sun that melts the ice also hardens the clay. Note the steps downward in John 12: they would not believe (v. 37); therefore, they could not believe (v. 39); and thus they should not believe (v. 40) because they had sealed their own doom.
The servant of God is to proclaim God’s Word regardless of how people respond. It took a great deal of faith on Isaiah’s part to obey such a commission. “How long should I preach and therefore produce these tragic results?” he asks. “Until I am finished with My judgment on the land,” the Lord replies. This kind of judgment is announced in 1:7-9 and 2:12-22. But the Lord will save a remnant, even though the nation will be removed far away into captivity (vv. 12-13). This prophecy applied immediately to the captivity, but it also pictures God’s dealings with Israel in the last days, when a small remnant of Jews will believe during the Tribulation period. Isaiah pictures the nation as a tree cut down; the stump remains and a new shoot can grow from it. Relate this to 11:1ff, the prophecy of “the Branch—Jesus Christ.”
When Isaiah walked out of the temple that day, he was no longer a mourner—he was a missionary. He was not merely a spectator; he was a participant. God had equipped him to do the job: Isaiah had seen the Lord, he had seen himself, and he had seen the need. Knowing that God was on the throne, and that God had called and commissioned him, he was ready to preach the Word and be faithful unto death. What an example for us to follow today.
Isaiah saw his mission: It was a time of recognition.
When God says, “Go!” we go. There is no debating. We don’t say, “There he is, send him.”
We don’t worry about how the people will respond. Isaiah was warned ahead of time that the people would not respond as they should. It doesn’t matter what the people do, we must be faithful.
God sent the people a message not because they wanted it, but because they needed it. The message Isaiah would bring his people was the message he had received. There is forgiveness and purpose with God, if you will just turn your life over to his care and authority.
There is change and chaos in the world, but I say to you, “God is still on the throne.” If you doubt it, just look around. He might be closer than you think. Maybe you can say, “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, and that has made all the difference.”
Many of us are like the man who went to the psychiatrist’s office with a fried egg on the top of his head, a strip of bacon draped over each ear, and a sausage link in each nostril. “I need to talk to you, doc,” he said, “It’s about my brother.”