Isaiah 6 – Isaiah’s Conviction, Cleansing and Call
A. The conviction of the prophet.
1. (1-2) What Isaiah saw.
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.
a. In the year that King Uzziah died: King Uzziah of Judah had a long and distinguished reign, described in 2 Chronicles 26 and in 2 Kings 15:1-7 (Uzziah is called Azariah in 2 Kings 15).
i. Uzziah began his reign when he was only 16 years old, and he reigned 52 years. Overall, he was a good king, and 2 Kings 15:3 says, he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. 2 Chronicles 26:5 says, He sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God; and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.
ii. Uzziah also led Israel in military victories over the Philistines and other neighboring nations, and he was a strong king. Uzziah was an energetic builder, planner, and general. 2 Chronicles 26:8 says of Uzziah, His fame spread as far as the entrance of Egypt, for he became exceedingly strong.
iii. But Uzziah’s life ended tragically. 2 Chronicles 26:16 says, but when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. In response, God struck Uzziah with leprosy, and he was an isolated leper until his death.
iv. So, to say in the year King Uzziah died is to say a lot. It is to say, “In the year a great and wise king died.” But it is also to say, “In the year a great and wise king who had a tragic end died.” Isaiah had great reason to be discouraged and disillusioned at the death of King Uzziah, because a great king had passed away, and because his life ended tragically. Where was the LORD in all this?
b. I saw the LORD sitting on a throne: Where was the LORD in all this? The LORD was sitting on a throne! God was still enthroned in heaven and was still in charge of all creation.
i. There is a throne in heaven, and the LORD God sits upon it as the sovereign ruler of the universe! This is the central fact of heaven; that there is an occupied throne in heaven. God does not sit on a chair in heaven. Anyone might sit on a chair. But sovereign kings sit on thrones. Judges sit on thrones. Those with proper authority and sovereignty sit on thrones.
ii. Isaiah was not alone in seeing God’s throne. Almost everyone in the Bible who had a vision of heaven, was taken to heaven, or wrote about heaven spoke of God’s throne.
- The prophet Michaiah saw God’s throne (1 Kings 22:19).
- Job saw God’s throne (Job 26:9).
- David saw God’s throne (Psalm 9:4 and 9:7, 11:4).
- The Sons of Korah saw God’s throne (Psalm 45:6, 47:8).
- Ethan the Ezrahite saw God’s throne (Psalm 89:14).
- Jeremiah saw God’s throne (Lamentations 5:19).
- Ezekiel saw God’s throne (Ezekiel 1:26, 10:1).
- Daniel saw God’s throne (Daniel 7:9).
- The Apostle John saw God’s throne (Revelation 4:1-11). In fact, the book of Revelation may as well be called “the book of God’s throne,” because God’s throne is specifically mentioned more than 35 times in that book.
iii. The core belief of atheism or materialism is that there is no throne; there is no seat of authority or power all the universe must answer to. The core belief of humanism is that there is a throne – but man sits upon it. But the Bible makes it clear that there is a throne in heaven, and no fallen man sits on the throne, but the Lord GOD is enthroned in heaven.
iv. Isaiah may have been depressed or discouraged because a great leader of Judah was no longer on the throne. God in heaven now shows Isaiah, “Don’t worry about it, Isaiah. Uzziah may not be on his throne, but I am on My throne.”
c. High and lifted up: The throne was exalted and majestic. The throne set its Occupant in a superior position.
d. The train of His robe filled the temple: Kings of that time would wear robes with long trains because they were difficult to maneuver and work in. Wearing a long train meant, “I am important enough that I don’t have to work. I am a person of honor and dignity. Others must serve me and wait upon me.” Essentially, the same is said when a bride wears a dress with a long train today.
i. God is so honored, so important, so dignified, that the train of His robe filled the temple. That’s a long train.
e. Above it stood seraphim: Surrounding the throne of God are angels known here as seraphim. In many other passages, these angels are known as cherubim (Psalm 80:1; Isaiah 37:16; Ezekiel 10:3) or as the living creatures of Revelation 4:6-11. This is the only chapter in the Bible where these creatures are named seraphim.
i. Some deny that cherubim and seraphim refer to the same beings. But the name seraphim means, “burning ones.” Ezekiel 1:13 describes cherubim (see also Ezekiel 10:15) this way: their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning. That certainly seems to describe burning ones.
f. Each one had six wings: In Revelation 4:8, the Apostle John also mentions their six wings. They need the six wings, so each can cover his face (to show they are too lowly to look upon the LORD), so each can cover his feet (to hide this “humble” area of the body, so nothing even possibly deficient is seen in the LORD’s presence), and so each can fly.
i. The LORD said to Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). Apparently, the same is true even for angels, so the seraphim cover their faces.
ii. “The two wings with which the angels fly mean nothing else than their ready and cheerful performance of the commandments of God…. The two wings with which they cover their face show plainly enough that even angels cannot endure God’s brightness, and that they are dazzled by it in the same manner as when we attempt to gaze upon the radiance of the sun.” (Calvin)
iii. “For the seraph remembers that even though sinless he is yet a creature, and therefore he conceals himself in token of his nothingness and unworthiness in the presence of the thrice Holy One.” (Spurgeon)
g. Each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew: The seraphim used four of their wings to express their humility and used two of their wings to express their willingness and ability to serve God. This is the proper balance.
i. “Thus they have four wings for adoration and two for active energy; four to conceal themselves, and two with which to occupy themselves in service; and we may learn from them that we shall serve God best when we are most deeply reverend and humbled in his presence. Veneration must be in larger proportion than vigor, adoration must exceed activity. As Mary at Jesus’ feet was preferred to Martha and her much serving, so must sacred reverence take the first place, and energetic service follow in due course.” (Spurgeon)
2. (3-4) What Isaiah heard.
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.
a. One cried to another and said: The seraphim are not even directly addressing the LORD God here. They are proclaiming His glorious nature and character to one another, in the presence of the LORD.
b. Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts: Why do they repeat “holy” three times? Wasn’t it enough to simply say that the LORD was “holy” once? It wasn’t enough. They say it three times because there are Three Persons in the One God.
i. Calvin didn’t think that this was the best verse to prove the Trinity, but he still saw the truth of the Trinity here. “The ancients quoted this passage when they wished to prove that there are three persons in one essence of the Godhead…. I have no doubt that the angels here describe One God in Three Persons.”
c. Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts: Why do they repeat “holy” three times? Wasn’t it enough to simply say that the LORD was “holy” once? It wasn’t enough. In the Hebrew language, intensity is communicated by repetition. To say the LORD is holy says something. To say the LORD is holy, holy, says far more. To say, holy, holy, holy is the LORD is to declare His holiness in the highest possible degree.
i. What does it mean that God is holy, and holy in the highest possible sense? Holiness, at its root, has the idea of apartness. It describes someone, or something, which is set apart from other people or things. An object can be holy if it is set apart for sacred service. A person is holy if they are set apart for God’s will and purpose.
ii. What is the LORD set apart from? He is set apart from creation, in that the Lord GOD is not a creature, and He exists outside of all creation. If all creation were to dissolve, the Lord GOD would remain. He is set apart from humanity, in that His “nature” or “essence” is Divine, not human. God is not a super-man or the ultimate man. God is not merely smarter than any man, stronger than any man, older than any man, or better than any man. You can’t measure God on man’s chart at all. He is Divine, and we are human.
iii. Yet, because we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), humanity is compatible with Divinity. They are different, but they do not automatically oppose each other. This is how Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, could add humanity to His deity when He became a man. Unfallen humanity is not deity, but it is compatible with it.
iv. God’s holiness is a part of everything He is and does. God’s power is a holy power. God’s love is a holy love. God’s wisdom is a holy wisdom. Holiness is not an aspect of God’s personality; it is one characteristic of His entire Being.
d. The whole earth is full of His glory: The seraphim surrounding the throne of God could see this probably more clearly than Isaiah could. We are often blind to the obvious glory of God all around us.
e. The posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out: The seraphim are majestic beings, and their voice carries weight. When they speak, the doorposts of God’s throne room shake! The idea may be that Isaiah was watching from the doorway, and when the seraphim cried out, he could feel the doorposts shake.
i. Yet these high, majestic beings – perhaps the highest beings in all of God’s creation – have one occupation. Their existence is given over to the praise and worship and honor of the LORD God who is enthroned in heaven. What could we possibly do that is a higher calling than that?
ii. They sang so powerfully the doorposts were shaken! Shouldn’t we sing with the same passion, the same heart, the same intensity? Do those angels have more to thank and praise God for than we do?
f. The house was filled with smoke: This smoke reminds us of the pillar of cloud that represented the presence of God (Exodus 13:21-22), the smoke on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18), and the cloud of God’s Shekinah glory that filled the temple (1 Kings 8:10-12). A cloud of glory often marks the presence of the LORD.
3. (5) What Isaiah felt.
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.”
a. Woe is me, for I am undone: What made Isaiah feel like he was coming apart? Two things. First, the sight and sound of the seraphim. Second, the vision of the Lord GOD.
i. When Isaiah saw the angels, in all their holy humility, obedience, and praise to God, he realized not only that he was unlike the Lord GOD, he was also unlike the angels. They could cry out Holy, holy, holy and praise God so beautifully, but he could not because he was a man of unclean lips. “I am a man of unclean lips; I cannot say, Holy, holy, holy! which the seraphs exclaim. They are holy; I am not so: they see God and live; I have seen him, and must die, because I am unholy.” (Clarke)
ii. When Isaiah saw the LORD, he knew what kind of man he was. As poorly as he compared to the seraphim, that was nothing in relation to how he compared to the LORD. This vision (or actual experience) of the throne of God did not immediately make Isaiah feel good. The more clearly he saw the LORD, the more clearly he saw how bad his state was.
iii. Isaiah’s deep sense of depravity is consistent with the experience of other godly men in the presence of the LORD. Job (Job 42:5-6), Daniel (Daniel 10:15-17), Peter (Luke 5:8) and John (Revelation 1:17) each had similar experiences.
iv. I am undone is not a bad place to be. “God will never do anything with us till he has first of all undone us.” (Spurgeon)
b. Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: Isaiah saw his sinfulness, and the sinfulness of his people, mainly in terms of sinful speech.
i. By nature, our lips are full of flattery and false intent: With flattering lips and a double heart they speak (Psalm 12:2). By nature, our lips lie and are proud: Let the lying lips be put to silence, which speak insolent things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous (Psalm 31:18). By nature, our lips deceive: Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit (Psalm 34:13). By nature, our lips are violent: Swords are in their lips (Psalm 59:7). By nature, our lips bring death to others: The poison of asps is under their lips (Psalm 140:3).
ii. Isaiah did not think for a moment that this was his only sin, but he saw that this was an example of the great and incurable disease of sin in him and his people.
c. For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts: Isaiah was a righteous, godly man by all outward appearance. Yet when he saw the enthroned King, the LORD of hosts, he saw how sinful he was in comparison.
i. Isaiah’s life may have been as brilliant as a diamond. But when you lay a diamond against a perfectly black background and have the right light upon it, you can see every flaw and imperfection – flaws that were invisible before. Even so, when Isaiah’s righteous life lay against the background of God’s perfection, it looked different.
B. The cleansing of the prophet.
1. (6) A seraphim brings a coal from the altar.
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.
a. One of the seraphim flew to me: These angelic beings, surrounding the throne of God, ministered to Isaiah. One flew to Isaiah with a live coal – which means the coal was still hot and burning. It was so hot that even an angel had to use the tongs from the altar.
b. The altar: This must be heaven’s version of the altar of incense that was set before the holy of holies in the tabernacle of God (Exodus 30:1-10). We know that the earthly tabernacle God instructed Moses to build was made after the pattern of a heavenly reality (Exodus 25:9).
i. The throne is for God; that is where He rules and reigns. The altar is for us; that is where we find cleansing and purging from sin. We should never confuse the two.
ii. “The fire was taken from the altar, to intimate that it was divine or heavenly; for the law forbade any strange fire to be brought to it, because in sacred things every human mixture is absolute profanation. By this figure, therefore, Isaiah was taught that all purity flows from God alone.” (Calvin)
2. (7) A coal from the altar cleanses Isaiah’s lips.
And he touched my mouth with it, and said:
“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”
a. And he touched my mouth with it: This must have been painful; a burning hot coal applied to the lips, one of the more sensitive areas of the body. Yet, nothing is written that Isaiah reacted in pain. Either there was no pain, because of a special blessing by God, or the pain did not matter because of the majesty of the surroundings and the goodness of the cleansing.
i. Isaiah knew he did not serve the LORD like these seraphim, the burning ones. So God said, “I will light a fire in you, also!” That is why a burning coal was used to purify Isaiah. “Jehovah, who is a consuming fire, can only fitly be served by those who are on fire, whether they be angels or men.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Isaiah cried out, Woe is me, for I am undone! (Isaiah 6:5) We might think that a burning coal to the lips would be more painful than a vision of the holy God. But for Isaiah, it was more disturbing to see the holiness of God, and to see his lack of holiness, than it was to have a burning coal applied to his lips.
b. Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged: Isaiah’s sin had to be burned away; the fire of judgment was applied to his place of sin.
i. This was obviously a spiritual transaction. If one has a sinful mouth, it will do nothing to place a burning hot coal on their lips. That will not take away or purge their sin.
ii. Yet, the same principle works on our behalf in regard to Jesus’ work on Calvary. Our sin was placed upon Him, and He was burned with the fire of God’s judgment. Yet because He was holy and righteous Himself, the fire of God’s judgment did not harm Him; it only burned away the sin, our sin.
iii. Once Isaiah had met with the LORD, been convicted of his sin, and cleansed from its guilt, then he was ready to serve God. “The effect of that live coal will be to fire the lip with heavenly flame. ‘Oh,’ says one man, ‘a flaming coal will burn the lip so that the man cannot speak at all.’ That is just how God works with us; it is by consuming the fleshly power that he inspires the heavenly might. Oh let the lip be burnt, let the fleshly power of eloquence be destroyed, but oh for that live coal to make the tongue eloquent with heaven’s flame; the true divine power which urged the Apostles forward, and made them conquerors of the whole world.” (Spurgeon)
C. The commission of the prophet.
1. (8) God calls and Isaiah responds.
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.”
a. Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? God looked for someone to send. He wanted someone to go.
i. How strange it is for God to ask a question at all! What does God wonder about? What questions would He have? What does God not know? But God was asking for a person because God wants to reach the world, and He wants to reach it through willing people. It isn’t that God doesn’t know who these people are. It is that God is waiting for ready hearts to reveal themselves.
ii. How strange it is that this God of majesty, sovereignty, and power asks for volunteers! He could easily create robots to do His work or command angels to carry out His will. But God wants willing, surrendered servants. Have you been waiting for God to force you to serve Him? He looks for volunteers.
b. Whom shall I send: This means that the missionary, the Christian worker, the witness of Jesus Christ, is sent. This is a divine commission. Who will go for Us means that the missionary, the Christian worker, the witness of Jesus Christ, has decided to go. God’s divine will to send and the human will to go are in perfect cooperation
i. Here we see another subtle reference to the Trinity. Who is sending? I or Us? It seems to be the same Person speaking in both the singular and the plural. It is the same Person! “The change of the number, I and us, is very remarkable; and both being meant of one and the same Lord, do sufficiently intimate a plurality of the persons in the Godhead.” (Poole)
c. Here am I! Send me: Isaiah emphatically answered God’s call. He did not hesitate. Isaiah wanted to be the answer to God’s question.
i. What created this kind of heart in Isaiah? First, he had a heart that had been in the presence of God. He had a heart that knew its own sinfulness. He had a heart that knew the need among the people, the need for God’s word. He had a heart that had been touched by God’s cleansing fire. And he had a heart that heard God’s heart to reach the nations.
d. Send me: This meant Isaiah was submitted to the LORD in all his service. He didn’t even say, “Here I am, I will go.” Isaiah would not go at all unless he knew he was sent by the LORD. Many are quick to say, “Here I am, I will go” but never wait for the LORD to send them.
2. (9-10) His mission described.
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.”
a. And He said, “Go”: When we say, “Here am I! Send me” to the LORD, we should expect that He will say “Go.” He may say, “Go and serve Me here” or “Go and serve me there” or “Go and be prepared for future service,” but God always has a “Go” for us.
b. Go and tell these people, “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing but do not perceive”: God told Isaiah to go and preach to a people who wouldn’t respond so that their guilt would be certain. As Trapp wrote, Isaiah would “Preach them to hell.”
c. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes: This is an unsatisfying audience and ministry for any preacher. Isaiah might not be satisfied with this ministry. The people might not be satisfied with it. But God would be satisfied with it.
d. And understand with their heart, and return and be healed: This shows what the word of God can accomplish when it is received with open eyes, open ears, and an open heart. It brings understanding to our hearts, it makes us return, and it brings healing to our lives. If you are under the word of God and these things aren’t happening to you, ask God to work with your eyes, ears, and heart.
3. (11-13) Isaiah is told how long he must prophesy this way.
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.”
a. Lord, how long? This is a logical question from anyone who is given such a difficult commission. “Do I have to preach to those who won’t hear, and their rejection of my message will ultimately seal their doom? How long will I have to serve in that kind of ministry?”
b. Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant: This answered the question of how long Isaiah was to preach. He should preach until destruction comes. He should preach in hope of the restoration of a remnant (yet a tenth will be in it, and will return). Even though Isaiah’s ministry was difficult, it was not without hope.
c. And be for consuming: The remnant will indeed return, but even the remnant will eventually be judged. Israel was not done being disobedient when they returned from the Babylonian captivity, and God was not done bringing His judgment on a disobedient Israel.
i. “The devastation, great as it was to be, would not be total; but even its survivors would have to submit to further judgment. The illustration from nature, however, introduces an element of hope.” (Grogan)
ii. We would expect this dramatic call of Isaiah to open the book. But the Bible clearly states that the message is more important than the messenger. Isaiah’s message was more important than Isaiah the messenger.
iii. When Isaiah saw the LORD, who did he see? He saw God in the Second Person of the Trinity, he saw Jesus before He added humanity to His deity. We know this because the Apostle John quotes Isaiah 6:10, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, adds: These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him (John 12:41).
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com