“Woe is me! For I am ruined.” Even the best humans are far below the holiness of God, and when a humble person sees God in His glory and holiness they immediately become conscious of how wretched they are and how short they are of God’s standard of holiness. When Isaiah saw God, he exclaimed he was ruined. When Abraham spoke with God, he referred to himself as being “dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). Similarly, when God confronted Job, Job took back what he had said and said he repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:6). When Paul spoke of his inability to live a completely godly life he said, “Wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:24).
God knows how short of His holiness humans really are, and He extends grace and mercy, just as He did to Isaiah, so that we can be near Him and work together with Him. It is not humility but pride that says, “I could never work with God.” Pride has two sides: considering oneself better than one really is, and not considering oneself to be as good as God has made us in Christ. Both sides elevate human opinion above the truth. God made Christians acceptable and accepted in His sight through the work of Jesus Christ, and the humble person graciously accepts that and gets to doing the work God has called them to do. Isaiah accepted God’s cleansing and accepted God’s call for his life. We should too.
An interesting comparison can be made between atheists and believers from this verse. Both say “Woe is me, I am ruined.” Atheists do it and also cry about death because they have no meaning and no hope (cp. 1 Thess. 4:13). Believers say “Woe is me” out of a humble and honest appraisal of who they are without God and compared to God. However, God then graces them with joy, hope, and meaning when He brings them into His family and promises them everlasting life in a glorious place.