“Holy, Holy, Holy”
Lesson Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Background Scripture:Isaiah 6:1-12
Devotional Reading: Joshua 24:14-24
Isaiah 6:1-8 (KJV)
1In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
2Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
3And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
4And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
5Then said I, 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 mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
6Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:
7And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
8Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
Learning Fact:To understand the details of Isaiah's calling.
Biblical Principle:To encourage living in total commitment to God’s plans and will.
Daily Application:To commit to faithful worship and service on a daily basis.
The name "Isaiah" means "salvation of the Lord." and salvation (deliverance) is the key theme of his book. The prophet Isaiah lived in turbulent times. In fact, prophets usually served in such times; that is why they were called to their ministry. God raised them up to provide a divine perspective on the events unfolding before His people—events that sometimes appeared to be spiraling out of control.
In the first verse of today’s printed text, we see that God dramatically called Isaiah to his prophetic ministry “in the year that King Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1), namely, 740 B.C. Uzziah was a monarch of Judah, and helped restore the nation to some of its former glory.
Because of Uzziah’s political and economic successes, many people in Judah became affluent. Sadly, however, the poor were exploited by extortion and injustice. The unparalleled prosperity evidently diverted many from the worship of God and from obedience to His laws. This era of high living came to a crashing halt with the death of Uzziah. He remained leprous until his death because he tried to take over the high priest’s duties (2 Chronicles 26:18-21).
Uzziah’s death meant that his successors would be Jotham (740-735 B.C.) and then eventually Ahaz (735-715 B.C., Isaiah 1:1), both known for their morally weak characters. The loss of a beloved national leader such as Uzziah and the unsettled situation it created in the palace undoubtedly affected Isaiah at the start of his ministry. While people looked for security in the midst of change, God called Isaiah to arouse them from their spiritual apathy and wickedness.
Time: 740 B.C.
Isaiah’s ministry occurred during the period of Old Testament history of Israel, known as the divided monarchy. His prophetic call came in 740 B.C., about 191 years after the nation of Israel had divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom was in decline in 740 B.C., both politically and spiritually. Concurrently, the Assyrians to the northeast had gained in strength and vigor, thanks to the efforts of Tiglath-pileser III, who ruled 745–727 B.C. A few years after his reign ended, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians, in 722B.C. (2Kings 17:5,6).
Isaiah’s ministry was concentrated in the southern kingdom of Judah. (All the kings mentioned in the opening verse of his book are kings of Judah Isaiah 1:1). Approximately 20 years after Israel fell, the Assyrians targeted Judah just as they had targeted Israel. But Judah was spared from destruction during the reign of godly King Hezekiah, who received counsel from Isaiah (37:21-38).
Thus the prophet Isaiah served during a time of both divine judgment (upon the northern kingdom of Israel) and divine deliverance (granted to the southern kingdom of Judah). It was during times that seemed uncertain and foreboding that Isaiah was called to remind the people that God was in control. Isaiah himself was allowed to experience that truth in an unforgettable way.
Isaiah’s call is not recorded until chapter 6 of his book. In the cases of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the calls appear toward the beginning of the records (Jeremiah 1-19; Ezekiel 1:1–3:27). Perhaps Isaiah’s call actually did precede his messages of Isaiah 1–5, but the account of the call in Isaiah makes a crucial point: the first five chapters explain why a prophet like Isaiah was so desperately needed by God’s people. Isaiah 5 in particular is a compelling description of the extent of corruption within a people originally called by God to be “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus19:6). Isaiah uses the imagery of a vineyard and a garden to describe both the Lord’s care for Israel and Judah and His disappointment that they had not produced the desired crop (Isaiah 5:1-7) .
There follows a series of six (6) woes that depict the depths of depravity to which God’s people had plunged. Isaiah 5:20 is an especially powerful indictment of how the people of God had misplaced their priorities; they were guilty of calling “evil good, and good evil.” It is noteworthy that the “woe” that Isaiah cries in our printed text (Isaiah 6:5) is the seventh in this series. Perhaps his “woe” is designed to complete the set (the number seven is often a symbol of completeness or perfection in the Bible). The prophet’s own sense of woe compelled him to address the woes that have placed God’s people in a position of being ripe for His judgment.
1. How long was king Uzziah’s reign (Isaiah 6:1)?
King Uzziah reigned from about 792 to 740 B.C. His 52-year reign is one of the longest recorded in Scripture (2 Chronicles 26:3). Uzziah was one of Judah’s better kings from a spiritual standpoint. “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah did. And 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 to prosper” (26:4-5).
However, Uzziah did not finish as well as he could have. “But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16). Entering the temple was restricted to the priests; and when some of the priests confronted Uzziah with his action, he became enraged with them. In the midst of his ranting, the king was stricken with leprosy and was quickly ushered from the temple. He lived in isolation until his death, then his son Jotham took over as king (26:17-21). Uzziah is also known as Azariah in 2 Kings 14:21 and 15:1.
Isaiah's Vision of God(Isaiah 6:1-4)
2. What did Isaiah experience in his vision of the Lord (Isaiah 6:1)?
The vision that Isaiah sees in the year of Uzziah’s death is marvelous indeed: the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
This chapter 6, speaks of a life changing vision experienced by the Prophet Isaiah. The throne of Judah had changed occupants, but God was still on His throne and in perfect control. “This signifies that when tragedy occurs—even a tragedy that touches an entire nation—the Lord is still in control.” We wonder which temple this is—is it Jerusalem’s temple, built by Solomon, or is it the heavenly temple, which Isaiah is seeing by means of a vision? Given what happened to king Uzziah when he ventured into a sacred space, some suggest that Isaiah likely does not physically enter the Jerusalem temple. The grandeur and splendor of all that Isaiah sees, including the presence of the seraphims (v. 2, next), suggests that this is the heavenly temple. Isaiah is seeing in a vision something perhaps similar to the surroundings that the apostle John is privileged to see in Revelation 4:1-11.
The fact that Isaiah sees the Lord should not be seen as contradictory to John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time.” Other individuals in Scripture are described as seeing God in a limited way that allows them to continue to live (Exodus 24:9-11; 33:18-23; 34:5-7; Judges 13:22, 23). The technical term for such an appearance of God to humans is theophany.
The fact that the Lord is sitting upon a throne may suggest that He is in a position of judgment (Proverbs 20:8; Matthew 25:31-33; Revelation 20:11, 12)—a judgment deserved by the nation of Judah, as Isaiah 1–5 shows. One detail in the scene before Isaiah especially catches the prophet’s eye: his train. The Hebrew word translated “train” refers to the hem of a garment. The hem is often used as a mark of identity for people of stature, such as kings or priests (see the description of the high priest’s “hem” in Exodus 28:33-35).
Isaiah’s lofty view of God gives us a sense of the Lord’s greatness, mystery, and power. The Lord used Isaiah’s vision to commission him as God’s messenger to His people. Isaiah was given a difficult assignment. He had to tell people who believed they were blessed by God that the Lord was going to destroy them instead because of their disobedience.
3. What role do the seraphims portray (v. 2)?
Today’s text is the only place in the Bible where “seraphims” are mentioned. They may be similar to the “cherubims” mentioned in Exekiel 10; but they are not the same, since that prophet describes cherubims as having four wings each, not six (see 1:11and 10:20-22). The word seraphims comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to burn.” Perhaps this is meant to describe the radiance that is part of their appearance.
The seraphims also appear to be similar to the “four beasts” mentioned in Revelation 4:6-8; they too have six wings each but have other characteristics that are not included in the description of the seraphims. The beasts declare God’s holiness as do the seraphims (Isaiah 6:3, below).
The seraphims Isaiah saw had six wings, two of which covered their faces ill reverence and awe before the Lord. Because they had no glory to compare with God’s, they could not look on Him directly. Two of the seraphims’ wings covered their feet, which suggests humbleness. They remained humble before the Lord, even though they engaged in divine service. The seraphims’ final two wings were used to fly, which signifies that they existed to do God’s bidding. In the ancient Near East, covering the feet and covering (or, usually, bowing) the head are expressions of homage, used especially in the presence of kings. Isaiah himself will soon acknowledge that he is in the presence of a king (v. 5, below).
What Do You Think?
What do the seraphims’ covering of themselves teach us about appropriate postures in worship and prayer, if anything?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Physical postures l Mental postures l Emotional postures
4. What did Isaiah report relative to hearingthe seraphimspeak (vs. 3-4)?
Drawn against the backdrop of Judah’s sin and Isaiah’s personal needs (mentioned in Lesson Background), God’s holiness came through powerfully in the prophet’s vision. God Himself was the focus of this heavenly scene. The angels lauded God with the thunderous chorus, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3). The threefold repetition was the strongest way in the Hebrew language to stress nothing is as holy as God. The basic meaning of “holy” is to be set apart from that which is commonplace. The word also refers to what is special or unique.
That the entire earth is filled with God’s glory emphasizes the cosmic perspective of Isaiah’s prophecies. He would proclaim that the Lord reigns supreme over all creation and that His salvation and judgment encompass all nations. God’s regal position is the basis for His moral authority as the transcendent and sovereign Judge. Also, His holy character establishes the ethical standard for upright conduct and gives Him the right to decree to humankind how they should behave. Moreover, His infinite holiness is the basis for people worshiping Him. Indeed, God’s holiness is the theme of worship in heaven (see Rev. 4:8).
Smoke is sometimes associated with the presence of God (as on Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:18) and can be used in scenes depicting God’s judgment (Psalm 18:8; Joel 2:30, 31; Revelation 9:1-3; 18:9, 10, 17, 18).
At this point, three of Isaiah’s senses—those of sight, hearing, and smell—are taking in this awe-inspiring drama. The sense of touch (v. 7) will be included later as well.
Isaiah’s Commission(Isaiah 6:5-7)
5. What compels Isaiah to speak (v. 5)?
Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord proved to be a life-changing experience for him. Isaiah now feels compelled to speak, and his words express a sense of utter unworthiness and great remorse to be witnessing the sights and sounds before him. First, God’s presence made him realize the depth of his sinfulness. Second, seeing even the seraphims humbly covering themselves before the Lord must have reminded the prophet of his moral imperfection. These emphases are reflected in the Hebrew term rendered “woe” (v. 5), which conveys a feeling of great sorrow or distress. When the prophet exclaimed, “I am undone,” he made it seem as if his destruction had already occurred. Isaiah could have made excuses, pleaded for mercy, or fallen back on his good deeds. But he did none of these things. Instead, he fully accepted God’s judgment. Isaiah knew that what he had seen and heard had left him totally helpless before the Lord. This man acknowledges that he has no right whatsoever to be in the presence of the holy God (even in a vision), for he knows that he himself is the complete opposite of holiness. For “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). One wonders if what happened to Uzziah when he dared to enter the Lord’s temple comes to Isaiah’s mind at this point (again, 2Chronicles 26:16-21).
Isaiah’s mention of his lips being unclean contrasts sharply with the seraphims’ acknowledgement of the Lord’s holiness. Isaiah also notes that his eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. If the Lord’s eyes are too pure to “look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13), then a human’s eyes must be unfit to look upon deity. But Isaiah’s condition is not unique to him; he knows he is “in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” He does not say this to excuse his own condition; he is simply confessing that the sin problem is nationwide (as Isaiah 1–5 shows).
6. What did Isaiah's conviction and confession lead to (vs. 6-7)?
Isaiah's conviction led to confession, and confession led to cleansing (1 John 1:9). Like Isaiah, many of the great heroes of faith saw themselves as sinners and humbled themselves before God: Abraham (Gen. 18:27), Job (Job 40:1-5), David (2 Sam. 7:18), Paul (1 Tim. 1:15), and Peter (Luke 5:8-11).
Upon Isaiah’s confession of his sinfulness, a seraph flew over him with a hot coal, which had been taken from the celestial altar (lsa. 6:6). This coal symbolized the redeeming power of God to purge and forgive sins. When the angel touched the prophet’s lips with the coal, both his iniquity and guilt were removed. Also, his sin was forgiven (v. 7). Of course, the coal did not atone Isaiah’s transgressions. Rather, God did through the offering of a sacrifice, namely, the atoning work of Jesus on the cross (see Rom. 4:25-26). When we confess our sins before God in true repentance, He forgives us at that moment and restores us into fellowship with Him. It would be incorrect to think that this incident is an account of Isaiah’s conversion. The prophet was already a fervent believer and true servant of God. Isaiah’s purification served to prepare him for his future ministry as God’s spokesperson.
Isaiah’s Willingness to Go (Isaiah 6:8)
7. What did Isaiah hear “the voice of the Lord, saying” (v. 8)?
With Isaiah’s cleansing over, God moved directly to the business for which He had called Isaiah into His presence. God had seen that the people of Judah were not following His ways, so He wanted someone to tell them of their need for change and to warn them of what to expect. He chose Isaiah for this job. But God did not come right out and tell Isaiah the job He had for him. God wanted Isaiah to volunteer for the assignment. So the Lord asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (v. 8). Bible scholars have debated the identity of “us” in the second question. Some suggest that this is a reference to the Trinity. Others believe that God was addressing His question to the angelic beings in His royal court (v. 2).
In either case, it’s clear how Isaiah responded to the questions. Though shortly before he felt unfit to serve God as a prophet, now Isaiah was eager. Before, he had said, “Woe is me!” (v. 5), and “I am undone.” But now he said, “Here am I, send me” (v. 8). That’s just the response God wanted to hear. Even without knowing where God intended to send His messenger, Isaiah was ready to volunteer. We can easily imagine God smiling at Isaiah’s enthusiasm. God is pleased with us, too, when we have an eager disposition and declare, “Here am I, send me.”
What Do You Think?
Why do some Christians hesitate when sensing a call from God for a task? How do we know if our hesitation is prudent or sinful?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Exodus 4:13; Judges 6:15, 36:40; Jeremiah 1:6; Acts 4:19; 5:29; Acts 9:13-14; 10:23
POINTS TO PONDER
1.God's majestic splendor that Isaiah was privileged to view, expresses the overwhelming presence of God as both king and judge over all creation (Isaiah 6:1-4; Psalm 72:19).
2. We must confess our sins (as Isaiah did), and trust that... God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (Isaiah 6:5-7; 1 John1:8-9).
3.Isaiah volunteered to be sent without knowing what the assignment would be, but he knew Who the sender was. That was enough for him. Is it enough for us? (Isaiah 6:8).
From Service to Service
Those familiar with the Star Trek television series of the 1960s can probably recall parts of the introductory words to the program, which described the mission of the Starship Enterprise. The concluding line of that introduction remains an often-quoted piece of television history, if for no other reason than its infamous split infinitive: “To boldly go where no man has gone before!” That line is very appropriate for describing the impact that worship is meant to have on the worshipper.
Isaiah’s experience of God’s presence did not leave him content to remain there, satisfied to let the sinners around him perish. When he heard the Lord’s questions asking for someone to go on His behalf, Isaiah replied without hesitation: “Here am I, send me.” His was not the attitude of “Let others do it” or “I’m not ready yet.” Worship challenged Isaiah to confront his world, not ignore it because he had found a refuge from it.
An old story tells of a man who entered a church building as the worshippers were leaving. He asked the minister, “Say, is the service over?” “No,” replied the minister, “it’s just beginning.” Real worship will move us to real service (reaching the lost outside our church, see Luke 14:23).
Father, may our worship never become a means of shutting ourselves off from the world around us. May worship be a refuge for us, not so that we may stay safe within it, but so that we may help others find it. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
True worship compels us to confront the world, not avoid it.