It should come as no surprise to us when unsaved people reject God’s Word and hate the messengers who proclaim it. Jesus told us to expect such hatred (John 15:18-19). Here is the question: How should Christians deal with a world that hates Jesus Christ and His messengers? A survey of the Old and New Testaments show us that God’s people rebuked the sin of their culture and called on sinners to repent and believe in the Lord and His Word. This certainly still holds true today. Paul told Timothy, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with 1great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Christians are not to be foul mouthed in maligning unsaved men for acting like unsaved men (cf. Titus 3:1-2), but they are to be consistent in calling sinners to faith by rebuking sin and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It has been said that the calling of the church is not to clean up the sewer, but just go fishing in it by the preaching of the gospel. This is a truth that applies to every generation, for God has His people whom He is going to save (John 10:26-30).

Today’s blog from Isaiah chapter 6 shows us that Isaiah was facing a nation that hated God and His Word. Nevertheless, God’s command was for Isaiah to preach God’s Word even though the nation was going to reject the message by and large. May this message encourage you to keep preaching Christ even though the message is very unpopular with the masses.

The Old Testament shows that many people hated the prophetic word of God just as they do today.  Nevertheless, God’s purpose was to tell the world His message.  Isaiah’s call contains two main elements.

First element of Isaiah’s call:  Isaiah’s cleansing (vv. 1-7)

God is holy and man is not.  For Isaiah to prophesy as he needed to, this meant that Isaiah had to understand the holiness of God.  Isaiah needed a vision of God’s holiness, and that is what we see in verses 1-7.  Verse 1 introduces what would properly be called the only actual vision of the book.[1]  Isaiah tells us this vision took place in the year of King Uzziah’s death.[2]  Uzziah had been a good king, but years earlier he erred when he tried to offer priestly incense.  God struck him with leprosy for his pride (2 Chron. 26:16-23).  Uzziah has just died, but Pfeiffer reminds us that God was still in control:

Uzziah’s death in 740 or 739 B.C. marked the passing of a golden age of spiritual vigor in Judah (at least until the king’s sin of presumption ten years before his decease); and his ungodly grandson, Ahaz, was perhaps already exerting an influence in Jotham’s government.  To the discouraged prophet, as he knelt in prayer at the Temple at Jerusalem, the Lord granted a transforming vision of His glory. He thus assured Isaiah that despite the apparent triumph of wickedness on earth, the Lord Jehovah still reigned omnipotent upon his heavenly throne.[3]

God’s calling for Isaiah was to proclaim the word of heaven’s holy King and call God’s people to repentance.  The foundation for this proclamation is going to be a right understanding of the nature of God.  Two key attributes of Israel’s sovereign God stand out here in verses 1-7.

First key attribute:  The royal majesty of Yahweh (v. 1)

Throughout history men have been enamored with the majesty of earthly kings and the power they yield.  However, no earthly king can ever match the power and sovereignty of the living God.

Israel’s God is a sovereign God.  Isaiah says that he “saw the Lord [’Adonay] sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.”[4]  This is the holy God of Israel whose royal appearance highlights the sovereignty of His dominion, not only eternally in heaven (Pss. 93:2; 103:19; 145:13), but also over earth as well (Dan. 4:34-37).  Heaven’s King was clothed in a long-flowing robe, reminiscent of the one Jesus was wearing when John saw the glorified Jesus (Rev. 1:13).

Israel’s God is an exalted God.  Isaiah says that the Lord was “lofty” and “exalted,” two of the same terms Isaiah uses in 52:13 when he describes the eschatological exaltation and glorification of God’s Servant (cf. Isa. 57:15).  Yahweh is the King of Kings and nothing in this world is outside the dominion of heaven’s King.

Second key attribute:  The awesome holiness of Yahweh (vv. 2-7)

Isaiah not only saw the Lord, but he also saw the six-winged, angelic seraphim standing above the Lord.  This is the only place where we see the mention of seraphim by name (the root saraph carries the idea of burning).  It is hard to be dogmatic, but these are apparently a different class of angels from the cherubim which have four wings (cf. Ezek. 1:22; Rev. 4:6).  They hold a highly privileged position of being in the immediate presence of the Lord and stand ready to worship and serve God at all times (cf. Dan. 7:10; 8:15-19; 9:20-27; 10:10ff.; Heb. 1:14; Rev. 4:4-11).

The angels of heaven stand in awe of the holiness of God (vv. 2-3).  These seraphim give continual worship to their God by calling out with the three-fold praise, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Num. 14:21; cf. Rev. 4:5-11; 5:8-14).[5]  The root idea of being holy (qadosh) is that being set apart.  This idea of being set apart can be spatial (physical separation), cultic (ritual separation), or ethical (conduct that corresponds to one’s god).  God is absolute and perfect in His own uncreated holiness, and for this reason the holy angels blush before Him and cover their own face and feet with their wings.

Heaven stands in awe of the holiness of God (v. 4).  The thresholds of heaven’s temple shook and filled with smoke (cf. Exod. 19:18; 33:9; Heb. 12:18-22; Rev. 15:8).  God’s holy presence is awesome—the kind of holiness that often puts his creation in terror (cf. Exod. 20:18-19).  His glory—the sum total of His excellence—fills the whole earth, a glory that is seen in creation itself but sometimes manifest in what is called the shekinah glory (cf. Exod. 33:17-23; 34:6-7; 1 Kings 8).  All of this was to prepare Isaiah to understand that Yahweh is a holy God who must judge sin.

Isaiah stands in awe of the holiness of God (vv. 5-7).  The impact of this vision on Isaiah was overwhelming.  God’s holiness made him see not only the sin of the nation, but even his own sin in a whole new light so that he thought it would lead to his death (cf. Judg. 6:22-23; 13:22; Rev. 1:17).

God responded to Isaiah’s sense of unworthiness by having one of the seraphim take one of the coals from the heavenly altar and touch his lips as a symbol of God’s cleansing grace, the same kind of cleansing God gave other prophets (Jer. 1:9; Zech. 3:1-5).[6]  Yes, Isaiah is a sinner unfit to serve holy Yahweh, but by His cleansing grace Isaiah can be a vessel fit for service (cf. 2 Tim. 2:21).  Kidner explains, “The symbol, applied to Isaiah’s lips . . . assures him of personal forgiveness.”[7]  Sin is great, but God’s cleansing grace is always greater (Rom. 5:20-21).  From this, we are reminded that God’s saving grace is great enough to not only prepare us for heaven, but also great enough to prepare us for service to Jesus Christ.  No one is worthy by their own spiritual resources, but by His cleansing and forgiveness we can serve Him (cf. Ps. 51:12-15).

Second element of Isaiah’s call:  Isaiah’s commission (vv. 8-13)

Israel had turned its back on God, and that meant that meant that Isaiah was going to have a difficult ministry and not be well received.  Nevertheless, Isaiah was to prophesy and hold nothing back by the giving the message that would harden the nation even further.  Isaiah’s commission carries three main messages.

First main message:  It is a message of hardening (vv. 8-10)

Typically we think of the proclamation of God’s Word as being for the positive aspect of turning men from sin to faith.  No doubt God did use Isaiah’s proclamation for this purpose, but in the present section we see the negative purpose of hardening sinners to intensify God’s judgment against them.  We see something similar when God commanded Moses to speak to Pharaoh, but God told Moses that He was going to harden the heart of Pharaoh so that He might make Himself known to Pharaoh and all Egypt (Exod. 4:21; 7:3, 13, 14; 9:12, 35; 10:1, 20, 27; 14:4, 8).  Pharaoh had the opportunity to repent and avoid judgment, but God used Moses’ message to harden the recalcitrant sinner in his rebellion.  Now it is 700 years later and God is going to use Isaiah in a similar way.

Isaiah’s call (v. 8).  Yahweh asks who will go.  Unlike Moses and Jeremiah, Isaiah immediately responds positively.  Martin explains, “The prophet knew that the entire nation needed the same kind of awareness of God and cleansing of sin he had received.”[8]

The hardening impact of Isaiah’s ministry (vv. 9-10).  Every preacher hopes to see positive fruit, but such was not going to be the case with Isaiah.  Nevertheless, God’s command was to prophesy and virtually taunt the nation with his message:  “Go, and tell this people:  Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.”[9]  How is it that they could see and hear but not perceive and understand?  The answer is that God’s servant nation was sitting in a state of spiritual blindness and deafness (29:9; 42:19; 43:8),[10] and in this condition they were incapable of receiving God’s truth.[11]

The idea in verse 10 is that of a judicial hardening from God, the kind of judgment God brings to people who habitually reject His Word (Rom. 1:18-21; 2 Thess. 2:11).[12]  Israel has brought itself to the place where God has turned against His people, and the stated purpose of Isaiah’s ministry is to keep them from seeing, hearing, or understanding lest they repent and find healing (cf. 1:5-6).[13]  Young explains, “In His mysterious wisdom, God had foreordained that this people would not respond to the blessed overtures of the Gospel.”[14]  The only solution left is that of destruction.

Second main message:  It is a message of destruction (vv. 11-12)

For those who reject grace, the only thing left is judgment.  For over 700 years Israel had been rejecting the truth of God’s Word.  Now they were approaching the time of destruction.

The destruction will last for ages.  Isaiah is heartbroken over this news and asks how long this judgment will last.  God tells him that it will not end until a complete desolation overtakes the nation (Isa. 7:12; 9:22; 37:25; cf. Dan. 9:27; 11:36; 12:7; Matt. 23:37-39), and the land is utterly desolate (Lev. 18:25-27; Ezek. 21:27).  The Law of Moses said that expulsion would be the penalty of rebellion (cf. Deut. 28:21, 26; 29:28), and the time has arrived for Israel to be cast out (Amos 3:15; 5:11; Mic. 3:12).

The destruction will not be permanent.  Destruction will come, but it will not be permanent.  God swore promises to Abraham and the people of Israel, and those promises mean that there will be a day of restoration.

Third main message:  It is a message of promise (v. 13)

God will not utterly annihilate His people, but He will use the judgments to purify a remnant for a future restoration (a remnant which He calls a “tenth”).  The restoration of a remnant is compared to oak tree that has been felled by fire, but later grows to become a strong tree once again (cf. 1:9; 4:2; 6:13; 7:3; 10:20-22; 37:4, 31-32; 46:3; 49:6).[15]  The future remnant will face the fires of purification (Dan. 12:7; Zech. 12:10; 13:8-9; Mal. 3:1-5), but God will use it to restore His fallen nation (Rom. 11:25-32).

Summary and application

What are the lessons for us today?  Certainly, there are two major lessons for each one of us.  The first is the fact that God hates sin, and He will judge it.  This should move each one of us to turn from anything that God hates.  Second, we find comfort in the truth that our God is a faithful God.  Yes, He chastises sin, but His gracious promises are unbreakable.

[1] Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 86.

[2] Uzziah was a strong king who ruled from 792-740 B.C. (Jotham was co-regent for 12).  We see several variant spellings of Uzziah:  Uzziyahu (1:1; 7:1; 2 Kings 15:32, 34; 2 Chron. 26:1), Uzzah (2 Kings 21:18, 26), Uzzihah (2 Kings 15:13, 30; Amos 1:1; Zech. 14:5), Azariyah (2 Kings 14:21; 15:1, 7, 17, 23, 27; 1 Chron. 3:12), Azarihahu (2 Kings 15:6, 8) (Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, 235, n. 6).

[3] Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Is 6:1.

[4] Oswalt notes that some have suggested emendation based on the supposition that the Masoretes would not have wanted to show it possible to see Yahweh so they changed it to ’Adonay (vv. 1, 8, 11), but there is no objective basis for this reasoning (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah,Chapters 1-39, 177).  The use of ’Adonay magnifies the sense of absolute sovereignty.  The son of David has just died, but Israel’s true King lives and reigns.  As John 12:37-41 shows us, Isaiah was seeing Christ Himself in this vision.

[5] Some have suggested a trinitarian basis behind this praise, but it probably is better to simply see it representing an extremely emphatic declaration of holiness (cf. Jer. 22:29; Ezek. 21:27).  The holiness of God Isaiah was allowed to see in this vision had a major impact on the prophet.  His favorite title became “Holy One of Israel” (12 times in 1-39 and 14 times in 40-66; cf. 2 Kings 19:22; Pss. 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Jer. 50:29; 51:5).

[6] It is best to understand this altar as being a heavenly altar of incense that stood immediately before the presence of God in the way that the altar of incense stood immediately before the curtain in the earthly temple (Exod. 30:1-8; Lev. 16:12; Num. 16:46-47; Heb. 9:11-14), the same imagery we see in Revelation (6:9; 8:3; 14:18; 16:7) (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 1-39,  184).

[7] Kidner, “Isaiah,” 638.

[8] Martin, “Isaiah,” 1045.

[9] In these words, we see the contempt God has toward these rebels (Isa. 8:6, 12; 9:16; 28:11, 14; 29:13, 14).

[10] One day the Messiah will reverse this condition (Isa. 29:18; 35:5; 42:7, 16; Matt. 11:5), but until that day this is where they are at spiritually (John 9:40-41).

[11] This is the same response Jesus Himself faced (cf. Matt. 13:10-17) as well as the Apostle Paul (Acts 28:25-27).

[12] Isaiah uses three vivid images to convey the sense of divine judgment:  (1) rendering hearts “insensitive” (shaman, to make fat), (2) rendering “dull” (from kabad, to make heavy), and (3) rendering “dim” (from sha‘a‘, “to close”).

[13] The grammar (i.e., the telic particle) shows that God is not merely telling Isaiah what the negative results of his proclamation will be, but rather that of a divine purpose in keeping them from a positive response (Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax [Winona Lake:  Eisenbrauns, 1900], 661;  J. C. L. Gibson, Davidson’s Introductory Hebrew Grammar-Syntax [Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1994], 160).  God later told Jeremiah, “As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me, for I do not hear you” (Jer. 7:16).

[14] Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, 259.

[15] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 1-39, 190-191.

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