The Call of Isaiah – Isaiah 6
Read the Passage: Isaiah 6
Holiness of God (6:1–4)
Isaiah received his prophetic call to ministry in the year that King Uzziah died, which was ~739 BC. Uzziah had been a good king, and his 52-year reign was marked by peace and economic prosperity. King Uzziah’s successes, however, had caused him to become prideful, resulting in God infecting him with leprosy (cf. 2 Chron. 26:16–23), which may have contributed to his early death. The potential for turmoil at King Uzziah’s passing was a cause for concern, as questions naturally arose about his son Jotham’s ability to rule. Furthermore, the growing military power and ambitions of Assyria created a sense of unrest in Jerusalem. In this context, Isaiah was in the Temple praying when he had a vision of the throne room of God in heaven. The point of the vision was to communicate that although King Uzziah was no longer in power, God remains on His throne.
The description of God’s throne room is remarkable. Isaiah records that God sits on a high and majestic throne. God’s garments fill the entire room and six-winged angels, called seraphim, hover above Him. Note that seraphim are only mentioned by name here in Scripture, although their description is like the four living creatures described in Rev. 4:8 and the four-winged cherubim of Ezekiel 10. The seraphim use two wings to cover their faces (so that they will not see God); two wings to cover their feet (symbolic of their submission to God’s will); and two wings to fly (in order to move and to serve God). The seraphim constantly sing, repeating the term “holy” three times, as a reflection of the Trinity. Isaiah also observes God’s throne room shaking because of His voice, and the presence of much smoke, likely from the burning of incense before God (cf. Rev. 5:8).
Sinfulness of Man (6:5–7)
When Isaiah saw the holiness of God, he was moved to acknowledge his own sinful condition. Interestingly, others in Scripture react in a similar manner when they comprehend the holiness of God; for example, see the reactions of Job (cf. Job 42:6), Ezekiel (cf. Ezek. 1:28), Daniel (cf. Dan. 8:27), Peter (cf. Luke 5:8), Paul (cf. Acts 9:4), and John (cf. Rev. 1:17). Isaiah’s proclamation here is unique in that he declares not only his own sinful condition, but also the sinful condition of his fellow countrymen (cf. Exod. 34:9; Ezra 9:5–6; Dan. 9:20). Note the phrase “unclean lips” in this passage is indicative of an unclean heart (cf. Matt. 12:34; 15:18). Moreover, since Isaiah’s primary work was speaking, his admission of unclean lips is a recognition of his own depravity. In response to Isaiah’s confession, a seraph touched his mouth with a live coal from under the altar, symbolizing God’s forgiveness of his sin.
Call to Ministry (6:8–13)
In Isa. 6:8, for the first time in this passage, God speaks and asks the general question to His holy court, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Since those to whom this inquiry was made included Isaiah, in a manner similar to that of Abraham (cf. Gen. 22:1), Moses (cf. Ex. 3:4) and Samuel (cf. 1 Sam. 3:4), Isaiah answered the Lord, “Here am I! Send me” (Isa. 6:8). Given that Isaiah had previously been ashamed and only able to confess his sin in God’s presence (cf. Isa. 6:5), Isaiah’s bold response to God is perhaps surprising. Yet, when his lips were touched by a coal from the altar, Isaiah’s sins were forgiven, as the seraph declared, “Your iniquity is taken away and your sin purged” (Isa. 6:7). Indeed, as is the case with all who have faith in Jesus, the transformational power of the gospel is evident in the life of Isaiah (cf. Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:17; Gal. 2:20).
In Isa. 6:9–13 God described the difficulty that Isaiah would experience as he engaged in his prophetic ministry. Isa. 6:9–10 can be a difficult passage to understand, as it appears to teach that Isaiah’s message would increase the people’s rejection of God. Yet, we must remember that when God’s Word is revealed to mankind it always has one of two effects: for those who receive the message, they are justified and sanctified; but for those who reject the message, they are hardened and judged. Note that when Jesus was asked to give a reason why He taught in parables, Christ responded, in part, by citing Isa. 6:9–10 (cf. Matt. 13:11–17; Luke 8:9–10; John 12:39–41). Next, in Isa. 6:11–13, Isaiah asked how long God expected his ministry to continue. The Lord replied that Isaiah was to continue his prophetic ministry until there were none left in the nation to hear his preaching. This, of course, meant that Isaiah’s ministry would outlast him.
- Like the inhabitants of Jerusalem, when bad things happen to you, do you ever forget that God is still on His throne in heaven?
- Does Isaiah’s description of God encourage you, surprise you, concern you, or scare you? What does it mean to fear God?
- Why do you think Isaiah mentioned the sins of his countrymen? Is the concept of corporate repentance or repentance by proxy a valid idea?
- How has putting your faith and trust in Jesus transformed you? When you first became a Christian, did you understand the full implications of the gospel?
- Why did God send Isaiah to minister to the nation of Judah when God knew that the people would not believe Isaiah’s message?