King Uzziah had a long and distinguished reign as the King of Judah. He had been the king for fifty-two years. (2 Chronicles 26; 2 Kings 15:1-7) His reign began when he was only 15 years of age. For the most part, King Uzziah was a good king. (2 Kings 15:3) Zechariah was the Prophet in the days of King Uzziah. He was prosperous as long as he sought the Lord. (2 Chronicles 26:4) King Uzziah had led the army in military victories over the Philistines along with other neighboring nations. King Uzziah was an energetic builder, planner, and general. (2 Chronicles 26:8) The fame of King Uzziah spread as far as the land of Egypt.
King Uzziah’s life had a tragic end. As often happens with great men self-pride got that best of Him. (2 Chronicles 26:16) Uzziah burned incense in the Temple which only the Priest could do and God struck him with leprosy. King Uzziah was isolated until the day that he died. Isaiah may have been affected by the death of King Uzziah. He was a good king and he died in a tragic way, which may have caused Isaiah to wonder where the Lord was in all of this?
The answer to Isaiah’s question would have been as he saw in his vision, the Lord was sitting on His throne in heaven. As God is on His throne He is still in charge of all His creation. God is on His throne in heaven and is the sovereign ruler of the universe. This is a face that in heaven the throne is occupied by the Lord God Almighty eternally. God is not just sitting in heaven, He is enthroned upon His throne. Any man can sit on a chair but only kings can sit on a throne.
It was not only Isaiah that saw God’s throne. Anyone who had a vision of heaven was taken to the throne. The Prophet Micaiah saw God’s throne. (1 Kings 22:19) Job saw God’s throne. (Job 26:9) David the shepherd King saw God’s throne. (Psalm 9:4) 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) Daniel saw God’s throne. (Daniel 7:9) And the Apostle John saw God’s Throne. (Revelation 4:1-11) In the book of Revelation, the throne of God is mentioned 35 times.
The atheist believes there is no throne and neither do those whose god is found in their materialism. They know not the seat of power and authority that rules over the universe and provides them with the materialistic treasure that they possess. The humanist believes there is a throne and man sits upon it. But the Scriptures makes it very clear that there is a throne in heaven that no fallen man sits upon that throne, none other sits upon the throne in heaven but the Lord God Almighty.
Isaiah may have been discouraged because a great King had passed away and no longer stat upon the throne. But God in heaven showed Isaiah that he did not need to worry about that. Uzziah may not be upon his throne but God is upon His throne.
The throne of God that Isaiah saw was exalted and majestic. The occupant upon that throne was positioned in a superior place. The whole Temple was filled by the train of His robe. The kings of that day wore long trains and it meant that he was a person of importance, a person of honor and dignity. All others must serve the king and wait upon him. One could say it is the same when a bride wears a dress with a long train. Essentially, the same is said when a bride wears a dress with a long train today.
Above were the seraphim surrounding the throne of God, special angels of the highest of the nine orders. Each of the seraphim had six wings. The Apostle John also described the seraphim in his vision of the throne. (Revelation 4:8) They needed the six wings as two were needed to cover their eyes as they are too lowly to look upon the Lord. They needed two wings to cover their feet a humble area of the body. And two wings that they could fly. “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)
The seraphim used four of their wings to express their humility towards God and two of their wings to show their willingness and ability to serve God. This is a proper balance of resource usage. “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 follows in due course.” (Spurgeon)
The seraphim were not directly speaking to God but speaking of Him declaring His glorious nature and character in His presence. One thought as to why they spoke holy three times is that God is a triune God. Three persons in One God. “The ancients quoted this passage when the 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.” (Calvin)
What does it mean in the highest, a possible sense that God is holy? At the root of holy is apartness. Hoy then means that someone or something is set apart from other people or things. A person or object can be holy if it is set apart for a sacred service. A holy person that is set apart for a devoted service to God and His will and purpose.
God is holy because He is set apart from His creation. God is the Creator and all else is His creation. If all of creation were to dissolve, then it would be as before the beginning, there would only be God. God is holy because He is set apart from humanity. God’s essence is divine and not human. God is not a superhuman or the ultimate man and merely smarter than man. Stronger than man, better than any man, and older than any man. God cannot be measured on any chart, as He is infinite. God is divine and is not human.
A man was made in the image of God and therefore humanity is compatible with divinity. (Genesis 1:26-27) Jesus added humanity to His deity when He became a man. The holiness of God is a part of all that He does. His power is holy, His love is holy, and His wisdom is holy. God’s holiness is not an aspect of His personality, it is a characteristic of His entire being.
The whole earth is full of God’s glory was probably easier seen by the seraphim than Isaiah could see it. Seeing all of God’s glory requires a view that man is not able to see. Seraphim are majestic creatures and their voice carries weight. When they speak the doorpost of God’s throne room shake. It may be that Isaiah was in the doorway and when they spoke he could feel the post shake. The Seraphim have but one occupation which is to praise, worship, and honor the Lord God. What calling from God could be higher than that? When they sang their praises the door post shook. Should we not have the same passion when we praise the almighty God? Do the seraphim around the throne of God have more to praise and worship God than we?
The smoke reminds us of the smoke that surrounded Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19:18) Also, the cloud of God’s Shekinah Glory that filled the Temple. (1 Kings 8:10-12) The cloud of glory often is a sign of God’s presence.
There are two things that may have made Isaiah feel undone. The majestic sight of the seraphim and the vision of the Lord God. When Isaiah saw the seraphim in their holy humility, obedience praising God he knew he was not like the Lord God, he was not like the angels. The seraphim could cry out holy, holy, holy and praise God beautifully with a pure heart. Isaiah realized that he was not pure but 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)
As Isaiah saw the righteous God he knew what kind of man he was. As poorly he was compared to the seraphim he knew that he was even less worthy before the Lord God. We may think to see the vision of Isaiah as a marvel and privilege but Isaiah did not feel that way at all. Isaiah knew that he was unworthy because of his filth before a completely righteous God. The more Isaiah focused on God the more he realized the state that he was in.
Isaiah was not alone in this frightening experience. Job knew it, (Job 42:5-6) Daniel knew, (Daniel 10:15-17) Peter, (Luke 5:8) and John. (Revelation 1:7) Being undone as Isaiah is not the worse place to be. “God will never do anything with us till he has first of all undone us.” (Spurgeon) Isaiah saw the sinfulness of himself and he saw the sinfulness of his people. Isaiah saw it in their speech.
Our speech is often spoken with evil intent. Sometimes we speak with flattering lips and a double heart. (Psalm 12:2) By our natural nature, we are prone to lying lips and a prideful heart. (Psalm 13:18) We often speak with deceitful words. (Psalm 34:13) Our speech is often of violent actions. (Psalm 59:7) Some of us speak words that bring death to others. (Psalm 140:3) Isaiah knew that his lips were not the only sinning member of his body but it was evidence of the sin that was within him and the people.
Isaiah was a godly man by all appearances. But when he stood before a holy God, the King of the hosts he saw in comparison how sinful he truly is. When Isaiah placed his righteousness against the background of God’s perfection he knew that he had fallen way short of God’s glory. (Romans 3:23)
One angelic being that surrounded the throne of God came to minister to Isaiah. The Seraphim gathered a live coal from the altar, which means that it was burning and hot. The coal was so hot that the angel had to use tongs to handle it. The altar here must be heavens version of the altar of incense that was set before the holy of holies in the Tabernacle of God. (Exodus 30:1-10) The Tabernacle that Moses was instructed to build was made in the pattern of the heavenly Tabernacle. (Exodus 25:9)
The throne is where God rules from as He reigns. The altar is for us, His people, this is where the people find cleansing by the purging of sin. “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 an absolute profanation. By this figure, therefore, Isaiah was taught that all purity flows from God alone.” (Calvin)
The hot coal touching the lips of Isaiah may have been painful but nothing is recorded by Isaiah to say such. Either God blessed Isaiah and removed the pain or it did not matter to Isaiah because of the majesty of the surroundings and the goodness of being clean from sin. Isaiah must have known that his service to the Lord was not as that of the Seraphim so God may have 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)
In verse 6 Isaiah had cried out, “Woe is me, for I am undone.” We might think that the pain of a hot burning coal would be more frightening than a vision of the holy God. For Isaiah, it was more disturbing to be in the presence of the holiness of God, and to see his lack of righteousness, than to have a burning coal applied to his lips.
Fire represents judgment and Isaiah had his iniquities burned away at the place of his sin, his lips. We have seen here a literal description of a spiritual transaction. If we have sinful speech it will do no good to apply a hot burning coal to our lips. That alone will not take away our sinfulness. But the same principle was applied on our behalf by Jesus at Calvary. Our sins were placed upon Jesus and He suffered the fire of God’s judgment in our place. “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) Yet, Jesus was holy and righteous and the fire of God’s judgment did not harm Him only burned away our sin from Him.
“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)
The purpose of the Lord God is to restore the relationship of man unto Him that He may have fellowship with His creation. Jesus said, “And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Luke 10:2) God is looking for someone to send and He wants someone to go into the harvest field. God is seeking people because He is wanting to reach the world. God wants to reach the world through willing servants. It is not that God doesn’t know who these people are but He is waiting for them to reveal their ready hearts.
How strange it is that the God of majesty, sovereignty, and power is asking for volunteers! God could just as easily create robots to do His work. God could command His angels to carry out His will. But God is seeking willing surrendered servants. Have we been waiting for God to force us to serve Him? God is looking for volunteers!
Whom shall I send means the missionary, the Christian worker, the witness of Jesus Christ? This is who God wants to send. This is the divine commission that God has given to His Church. This is a cooperation of the divine sender and the human who will go. Who is sending? I or Us? “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)
Isaiah quickly answered the call of God. Isaiah wanted to be the answer to God’s question. What had created this kind of heart in Isaiah? First, it is the experience of being in the presence of God. While in His presence he saw the sinfulness of his own heart. Isaiah had a heart that knew the need of his people as he knew the need of his own heart. Isaiah and the people needed the Word of God. Isaiah had a heart that had been touched by God with a cleansing fire. And Isaiah had a heart that heard God’s heart to reach the nations of the world.
Isaiah was then submitted to the Lord in all of his services and replied: “Send me.” Isaiah did not say, “Her I am, I will go.” Isaiah was not willing to go unless he knew that he was sent by God. Many quickly say “Here I am, I will go,” but never wait for the Lord to send them.
When we say to the Lord “Here am I, send me” we should be confident that the Lord will answer go. It may be Go and serve me here or there. It may be Go and prepare for future service. When we are willing to be sent God always has a “Go” for us.
Isaiah was given a hard task, he was to go and preach to a people that would not respond to his teaching. In the end, the guilt of the people would be certain because Isaiah had told them the truth and they would not listen. Preachers want to be effective, they want to present an effective ministry unto the Lord that brings forth results for His Kingdom. Isaiah was given a ministry that would make the hearts of the people dull. Their ears would be heavy and their eyes shut. Isaiah probably was not satisfied with his commission, the people were not satisfied with his teaching, but God would be satisfied with his work.
The Word of God is a powerful tool. “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) Preachers and teachers must realize that it is not what we desire but what God desires for His Word to accomplish. When the Word of God is received with an open eye, open ears, and an open heart it accomplishes much. It brings understanding to the heart, it draws us closer to God and brings healing to our lives.
It was a fair question that Isaiah asked, “How long?” it was a difficult mission that the Lord had given to Isiah and he wondered how long would he preach to those who would not hear. How long would they reject his message? How long until their doom is set? How long will I have to serve in this kind of ministry? The answer was until the destruction comes. This was a difficult task for Isaiah but it was not without hope.
There would be a remnant that will return after the destruction. Even they would be judged as Israel was not done with their disobedience neither was God done bringing His judgment upon a disobedient people. “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)
Who did Isaiah see in his vision? He saw God in the second person of the Trinity. He saw Jesus before humanity was added unto Him. We know this as the Apostle John quoted Isaiah. “These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.” (John 12:41)
One of the purposes of Isaiah’s prophecy was to highlight the contrast between faith and fear. We see Ahaz as an example of fear. (Isaiah 7:1-25) We then see Hezekiah as an imperfect example of faith. (Isaiah 37) Isaiah himself provides a better example of faith. (Isaiah 8) Finally, God’s servant stands as the perfect example of faith. (Isaiah 42:1-7; Isaiah 50:4-7)
Ahaz trembled when he heard that Israel and Syria had allied against him. The Lord encouraged him to be a man of faith because without faith he could not expect the Lord’s protection. However, Ahaz refused the truth of the Lord. Rather, he turned to the Assyrians for help. As a result, the Lord became a trap for him, as for all Israel and Judah, rather than a source of safety. God can be a stumbling stone for those who look elsewhere for peace and security.
Combining the fear, or worship, of the Lord with the worship of human beings, institutions, or idols is called syncretism. Syncretism is a deceptive trap. Isaiah presents the Lord as the incomparable one who does not tolerate syncretism. Those who do not commit themselves wholly to God will live in fear of others. Ultimately they will live lives filled with dread.