STUDY 3: ISAIAH’S VISION OF THE LORD

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

We will spend several studies looking at Isaiah’s theology – what Isaiah proclaims about God. To begin, we look at Isaiah’s vision of God in chapter 6.

A. ISAIAH 6:1-4: THE VISION OF GOD

In reporting this vision Isaiah identifies beyond question the God whom the Israelites have abandoned. At the same time he identifies their only possible hope of salvation.

6:1: ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple’

‘I saw ...’

EJ Young comments:

‘This ... was no seeing with the bodily eye, for God is invisible. No physical eye can see Him. At the same time, despite the fact that God is a spiritual, invisible Being, the Bible does say that men will see Him. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8). It is not the essence of God which Isaiah sees, for, inasmuch as God is spiritual and invisible, that essence cannot be seen by the physical eye of the creature. At the same time it was a true seeing; a manifestation of the glory of God in human form, adapted to the capabilities of the finite creature, which the prophet beheld! “There was therefore,” as Calvin puts it, “exhibited to Isaiah such a form as enabled him, according to his capacity, to perceive the inconceivable majesty of God; and thus he attributes to God a throne, a robe, and a bodily appearance.”

‘Isaiah saw the Lord, but in a vision. In mysterious manner the power of God came over the prophet, so that he became unconscious to the outside, external world, and yet with the inner eye saw what God revealed to him. It was thus a divinely imposed vision, one that was objective to Isaiah in that it was not the product of Isaiah’s mind. ... Isaiah did not see God because he was more spiritually attuned than others; he saw God because God had revealed Himself to him.’ (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. I, p235-7)

‘ ...  the Lord’  -   ‘adonai’
When the words ‘the Lord’ appear in the Old Testament with only the ‘L’ in upper case, ‘Lord’ translates the Hebrew adonai.  In its essence this word is a reference to God as the vital and powerful sovereign ruler of all that exists, to whom everything and everyone is subject.

‘seated on a throne’
If God is ‘adonai’ – the Lord, then he is also, of necessity, and automatically –

Both King and Judge
Already engaged in the act of ruling and judging – he is ‘seated’ on the throne – not waiting some future time to assume his role.

The fact that God is seated on a throne – both King and Judge – is an ominous warning for the decadent, idolatrous Judah.

Note #1: The role of ‘judge’ is included in the role of reigning or governing. Judging is a function or aspect of ruling. This is an important concept to grasp, because in both the Old and New Testaments both God and the Messiah are described as both ruling/governing and judging.

Note #2: For those who by God’s grace are ‘in Christ’ the ‘throne’ is always a ‘throne of grace’ [Hebrews 4:16].


‘high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.’
(Note that Isaiah’s vision of God, is God described in human terms – he sits on a throne; he wears a robe; the vision is given in terms that Isaiah and the people can understand.)

Suggest how majesty and glory are conveyed by these terms:
‘high and exalted’ –


‘the train of his robe filled the temple’ -


These words draw attention to God’s unspeakable majesty and glory. If merely ‘the train of his robe’ fills the temple, then God himself, and his throne, are, in Isaiah’s vision, high above the temple. The vision of God is stupendous, overwhelming.

This is the God Isaiah has to proclaim to the people. This is the God against whom they have rebelled, and in whose place they have substituted their puny idols created by their own hands.

 

6:2 ‘Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.’
This is the only place where seraphs (seraphim) are mentioned in the Bible. [In other texts we find ‘cherubim’ and ‘living creatures’ serving or waiting in attendance upon God.] They are in attendance on the Lord, waiting for his commands.

‘they covered their faces’ - indicating reverence and awe in the presence of the great and glorious Lord. Even these attendant seraphs do not dare to look upon God.

‘they covered their feet’ - indicating perhaps a recognition of humility and unworthiness.

‘with two they were flying’ - ready to carry out the will of the Lord.

For deeper thought:
[1] Describe the reverence and awe you personally feel in the presence of God.


[2] To what extent do you feel humbled and unworthy in the presence of God?


[3] How ready, how prompt, are you to carry out (that is, obey) God’s revealed will?


[4] What immense, motivational truth does the Christian know about the God in this vision that these seraphs did not know? [Read John 12:40-41.]


[5] How does John’s statement in 12:41 impact you?


[6] Describe your reaction to the amazing truth that we who believe in Jesus Christ stand today in his presence with unveiled faces, beholding his glory [2Corinthians 3:18].

 

6:3 ‘And they were calling to one another     
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”’

The seraphs’ continuous occupation is ascribing praise to God.

Keil-Delitzsch comment:

‘Isaiah heard this antiphonal or ‘hypophonal’ song of the seraphim, not merely that he might know that the uninterrupted worship of God was their blessed employment, but because it was with this doxology as with the doxologies of the Apocalypse, it had a certain historical significance in common with the whole scene. God is in Himself the Holy One (kadosh), that is, the separate One, beyond or above the world, true light, spotless purity, the perfect One. His glory (cabod) is His manifested holiness, ... just as, on the other hand, His holiness is His veiled or hidden glory. The design of all the work of God is that His holiness should become universally manifest, or, what is the same thing, that His glory should become the fullness of the whole earth (Is 11:9; Num 14:21; Hab 2:14). This design of the word of God stands before God as eternally present; and the seraphim also have it ever before them in its ultimate completion, as the theme of their song of praise. But Isaiah was man living in the very midst of the history that was moving on towards this goal; and the cry of the seraphim, in the precise form in which it reached him, showed him to what it would eventually come on earth, whilst the heavenly shapes that were made visible to him helped him to understand the nature of that divine glory with which the earth was to be filled.’  (Keil-Delitzsch, pp1428ff).

The seraphs call out to each other that ‘the whole earth’ is full of God’s glory. Indeed this glory is parallel to God’s holiness. It is a glory that is unique, a glory that God alone has. The word ‘glory’ describes the essential nature of God, and of God alone.

EJ Young asks the question: ‘What is God’s glory?’ this glory that fills the whole earth, and answers:

‘It is the revelation of His attributes. By regarding the universe which He has created we behold His glory, His perfection and His attributes. The revelation of God in the created universe, His declarative glory, is sufficient to convince men of God’s holiness, righteousness and justice as well as of His almighty power, so that man is without excuse. The entirety of creation, visible and invisible, speaks with voices clear and positive of the glory of the Holy God. Wherever we turn our eyes, we see the marks of His majesty, and should lift our hearts in praise to Him who is holy. This is His world, the wide theatre in which His perfect glory is displayed.

‘ “all the earth” - It is the theatre, not of all the land, but of all the earth, in which His glory is disclosed and in which the great struggle between the powers of light and darkness was to take place and in which the Son, who is His perfect and final revelation, would vanquish the Prince of Darkness.’  (EJ Young p245f).

This praise of the seraphs affirms the same truth found in other parts of Scripture:

Psalm 19:1-4    ‘The heavens declare the glory of God;
           the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
          Day after day they pour forth speech,
          Night after night they display knowledge.
          There is no speech or language
           where their voice is not heard.
          Their voice goes out into all the earth,
            their words to the ends of the world.’

Psalm 97:6    ‘The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
          and all the peoples see his glory.’

Although the whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord, not every one is aware of it and not every one acknowledges it. A great darkness and blindness prevents mankind from seeing it.

What do these texts teach about this human failure to see God’s glory?
Romans 1:18-23

 

2Corinthians 4:1-4

 

It is only by God’s gracious gospel that this darkness and blindness can be dispersed and the glory seen.

Check these texts:
2Corinthians 4:6

 

John 1:14

 

The glory of God is made known in the coming of Jesus Christ and the spread of his Gospel, although at the moment we do not yet see and know as we will ultimately see and know.

Check these texts:
1John 3:2


1Corinthians 13:12


1Peter 4:13


This revelation of the glory of God in Christ Jesus Christ is anticipated in the Scriptures.

Check these texts. How do they speak of the glory of God revealed in or by Christ?
Isaiah 40:5

Psalm 72:19

Psalm 96:1-3

Psalm 96:7-13

1Chronicles 16:8-36.

Isaiah 66:18,19

Ezekiel 39:21

Ezekiel 43:1-5

Habakkuk 3:2-4.

This vision of the glory of the LORD stands in contrast to the idolatrous worship of the Israelites, putting that worship in stark contrast, highlighting its poverty. It is this glorious exalted Lord who speaks through Isaiah to his rebellious people:

    ‘I am the LORD; that is my name!
     I will not give my glory to another
      or my praise to idols.’ (Isaiah 42:8)

    ‘I will not yield my glory to another’ (Isaiah 48:11).

For deeper thought:
[1] How much does your knowledge of God include the concept of his holiness?

 

[2] How does the fact that God is ‘holy’ – totally unique – impact the way you live?

 

[3] To what extent does the truth that God is ‘holy’ motivate you to live for his glory?

 


[We will look further at the holiness of God in a separate study.]

6:3 ‘... the LORD Almighty’ [Sometimes referenced in English writings as ‘Jehovah Sabaoth’.]
When ‘LORD’ is all in upper case letters in English Bibles, this translates the Hebrew word normally referred to as YHWH or Yahweh or, in older English writings ‘Jehovah’. It is the ‘I AM’ – the personal divine name by which God identified himself to Moses in Exodus 3:11-15. So holy was this name that the Israelites were afraid to use it.

‘Almighty’ translates the Hebrew tsebaah – which older English versions translated ‘of hosts’.

The meaning of this title, the LORD Almighty, is that God is, and always will be, the ever-living One, the self-existent One, who has at his command all the heavenly powers.

[We will look in more detail at God as ‘the LORD Almighty’ in a separate study.]

6:4 ‘At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke’
This verse further impresses us with a sense of majesty and awe. So powerful are the voices of the seraphs that the building shakes. In addition to this the whole place fills with smoke. During the wilderness wanderings the presence of the Lord was physically symbolised by the pillar of smoke/cloud [Exodus 13:21,21]. Isaiah 4:5 also mentioned fire and smoke, indicating the Lord’s presence. Here now in his vision, Isaiah is left with no doubt that here he stands in the presence of God.

For deeper thought:
Imagine that you are Isaiah, confronted by this overwhelming vision of the holiness, power and majesty of God.

[1] Describe your emotions:

 

[2] List your thoughts:

 

B.    ISAIAH 6:5: ISAIAH’S RESPONSE

6:5 ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’

Isaiah’s reaction to the vision of the holy powerful God is both logical and valid.

The truth behind Isaiah’s reaction
The Scripture makes it clear that sinful humans cannot be accepted by the holy God and sinful humans cannot survive in the presence of the holy God.

What do these texts teach?
Exodus 33:20:    

Psalm 24:3,4:    

Habakkuk 1:13a:

Malachi 3:2:


Having seen the holiness and majesty of God, having seen the way in which God ought to be praised, Isaiah sees himself as one condemned - finished, lost, undone.

Suggest why each of the facts below made Isaiah conclude that ‘I am ruined!’:
He is a man

He is a man of unclean lips (because he knows that he in himself is not pure)

He lives in a godless nation

He has seen the King

That King is the LORD Almighty.


List the reactions of others similarly finding themselves in the presence or near presence of God:
Adam and Eve – Genesis 3:8-10:

Moses – Exodus 3:6:

The Israelites – Exodus 19:10-16:

Ezekiel – Ezekiel 1:25-28:

The shepherds – Luke 2:9:

Peter – Luke 5:8

John – Revelation 1:12-17

For deeper thought:
In what way does the Gospel of Jesus Christ relieve this fear and dread in the presence of God?

 


Is it biblically logical and valid for a person who knows Jesus Christ and the salvation he gained for us to still stand before God with the expectation of judgement? Explain your answer.

 

 

To what extent has the Gospel released you personally from this fear of God and from the expectation of God’s judgement?

 

 

C. ISAIAH 6:6-15 – RELEASE AND RECRUITMENT

God’s self-revelation to Isaiah had a purpose – not a purpose to destroy but a purpose to recruit Isaiah into service. By this vision of glory God recruited Isaiah to defend his glory among a people who had long since abandoned and dishonoured him. Through Isaiah’s ministry God would be exalted – his glory, his power, his holiness would be defined and defended. And the total inappropriateness of Judah’s rejection of God and descent into idolatry would be exposed.

6:6-7     ‘Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”’

This action of the seraph affirms the validity and appropriateness of Isaiah’s response:

Isaiah is indeed a guilty sinner.
Atonement is necessary.
Removal of guilt is necessary.  

The action of the seraph in touching Isaiah’s lips with the hot coal from the altar is the visible symbol of cleansing/forgiveness, and of the restoration of acceptance by God. The word spoken communicates that forgiveness. The reference to atonement presupposes a sacrifice for sin that will turn away God’s wrath. The reference to ‘the altar’ presupposes a sacrifice for sin. Only with this forgiveness, granted on the basis of an atoning sacrifice, is Isaiah free to stand in the presence of God. Only with this forgiveness is Isaiah free to serve the Lord.

For deeper thought:
In what ways do the various elements in verses 6 and 7 symbolize and anticipate the one real sacrifice for sin – the sin-bearing, substitutionary death of Christ for us?

 


Describe the impact of this atonement in terms of:
[1] Its impact on guilt.

 

[2] Its impact on sin.

 

[3] Its impact on human disqualification to stand in the presence of God.

 

[4] Its impact on human fear in the presence of God.

 


6:8  ‘Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” and I said, “Here am I. Send me!” ’
Having seen God’s revelation of his holiness and glory, having become devastatingly aware of his own sinfulness, and having heard the word of complete forgiveness, Isaiah’s response to the Lord’s question is immediate and spontaneous. He hears and he trusts that cleansing, redeeming word. He knows he is now free and accepted in the presence of the holy God. He doesn’t beat around the bush with negativity, guilt feelings, false humility or doubts or questions. He doesn’t even ask ‘Where? What for?’ Without even knowing what the job is, he simply says: Here am I. Send me.

EJ Young comments:

‘Isaiah’s response is immediate. A moment before he had feared that there was no hope for him; now, however, that he has received the assurance of the forgiveness of his sins and understands that God will not banish him from his presence, he is ready to do service for the sovereign Lord. It is the readiness of true faith. Indeed, even before the prophet knows what God’s bidding is, he is willing to do that bidding. Here in this matchless passage we find the reason why so few are willing to serve God. They need above all the conviction of sin. Only when a man has been convicted of sin and has understood that the Redeemer has borne the guilt of his sin is he willing and ready joyfully to serve God, to go wherever God may call him. Does our day and age have any greater need than the preaching of the law, that men may know of their sin, and the gospel, that they may look to Him who has turned aside their iniquity and pardoned their sin? “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my Salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.”  (Ps 51:13-15)’ (pp 254f).

For deeper thought:
What lessons should you learn from:
[1] Isaiah’s immediate confidence in the forgiveness of his sin and guilt?


[2] Isaiah’s immediate awareness of release from fear in the presence of God?


[3] The trust in God that has replaced Isaiah’s fear?


[4] Isaiah’s spontaneous and instantaneous desire to be involved in God’s service?

 

6:9-10    He said, ‘Go and tell this people ...’
The task given to Isaiah was to proclaim God’s word to a people who would not understand, indeed, whose hearts would get harder and harder the more he preached.

This was the effect of the word of God on Pharaoh’s heart.
This was also the effect of the word of Christ on the hearts of the Pharisees.

Study these verses and answer the questions below:
Isaiah 6:9,10

Matthew 13:10-17

John 12:37-50

Isaiah 55:11

Romans 1:24,26,28

Amos 8:11,12

Answer these questions:
[1] What do you find difficult about these verses?

 


[2] How do Jesus’ comments in Matthew 13 help to resolve these difficulties?

 


[3] God’s word accomplishes its purpose, it is never ineffective. The same word that saves some confirms others in condemnation. How do the verses from John demonstrate this?

 


[4] When rejection of the Word of God is habitual and perpetual it seems that God’s extreme act of judgement is to give people exactly what they want – life without him and his Word. How is this expressed in the Romans and Amos verses?

 


It seems beyond question that God’s purpose through Isaiah and his ministry is to expose the sinfulness of Judah. So depraved is the nation that God’s word, which could have saved them if they had accepted it, comes as a confirmation of that depravity by their defiant response to it. It hardens them further. Not only does the light expose their darkness - they also reject and flee from that light into further darkness.

EJ Young comments:

‘The blindness of the nation is to be ascribed to its own depravity. When the prophet commands the people to hear, he commands them to do something which would bring salvation, and at the same time testifies to the fact that the message which he proclaims is designed for and is suitable for the instruction of the hearer. In preaching, Isaiah is offering hearing, sight and understanding to a deaf, blind and ignorant people. These blessings come with the message as its fruits, when the Spirit of God applies that message to the heart. It is therefore not the content of the message itself which is a savour of death unto death. “Such blinding,” says Calvin, “and hardening influence does not arise out of the nature of the word, but is accidental, and must be ascribed to the depravity of man.” The ungodly, Calvin goes on to say, have no right to object to the preaching of the Truth as though the proclamation of that Truth in itself brought evil effects. The evil effects come not from the Word, but from the heart of man, which stands in desperate need of regeneration. “The whole blame,” Calvin continues, “lies on themselves in altogether refusing it admission; and we need not wonder if that which ought to have let them to salvation becomes the cause of their destruction.” ’ (pp 259,260).

So Isaiah must preach, knowing that God does not plan to open the ears, eyes and hearts of his hearers. Just as Jeremiah faced a responseless task (Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11) so too does Isaiah. It is only God himself who can soften the heart and open the ears and eyes, and he does not plan to do it for these rebellious people who have rejected him and refused his word time and time again. We know that the Lord is ‘slow to anger’ (Nehemiah 9:17), but we know also that he once said ‘my Spirit will not contend with man forever’ (Genesis 6:3). This is why the Scripture repeats the warning: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts ...’ and tells us ‘... now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation’.

Study these texts. Describe the urgency of the call to repent.
Psalm 95:7,8:

Hebrews 3:7,8,15:

2Corinthians 6:2


For deeper thought:
How would you feel personally about a call to mission or ministry or any form of service in which you were told in advance your labour would produce only negative responses?

 

 

Suggest what enabled Isaiah to embrace the commission, despite its fruitlessness.

 

 

EJ Young comments:

‘One cannot but admire and even love Isaiah for his willingness and readiness to serve God, even though he was told that his labours would appear to be fruitless. From this we learn the necessity for continuing in the work of the gospel, even when outward success does not appear to attend our work. ... Our task ... is to be faithful.’ (p261)

We might say, in addition: Our task is to proclaim and make known God’s glory – by what we say in formal proclamation, like Isaiah, but also by the way we live and speak and think in every moment of our lives.

Check these texts. What is the key role/responsibility of the Christian? What is our defining purpose?
Isaiah 43:7

Matthew 5:16

Ephesians 2:10

Ephesians 3:10

1Corinthians 10:31

1Peter 2:9-12

6:11-13  ‘For how long, O Lord? ...’
Having heard God’s description of his commission, with its devastating message, Isaiah has just one question: For how long, O Lord?’

How long will their hearts be hardened and their eyes blind and their ears deaf?
How long will the Lord’s anger burn against them?
How long will the Lord withhold his gracious, softening hand?

And, how long must he persist in this horrendous task?
How long must he shoulder this burden?

For Isaiah bears a twofold burden: [1] the necessity to proclaim the word of the holy and sovereign God with its message of deserved judgement, and [2] a heart filled with compassion for God’s people.

Read 6:11-13. Answer these questions:
[1] List the events that would signal the end of Isaiah’s commission.

 

 

[2] Describe how you would feel if you were Isaiah, hearing these words.

 

 


[3] Identify the one element of hope in God’s answer.