|Go to verse:|
|01 |02 |03 |04 |05 |06 |07 |08 |09 |10 |11 |12 |13 |
Go to Bible: Isaiah 6
“In the year that King Uzziah died.” The text does not say that Uzziah had died yet, although he may have. But even if he was still alive he was an old man having reigned as king over Judah for 52 years, and signs of his deteriorating health would have almost certainly been evident. Uzziah was a godly king; not perfect, but generally a godly person (2 Kings 15:3; 2 Chron. 26:4). He is called both Uzziah and Azariah (cp. 2 Kings 15:1-7). We are not told why Isaiah got this vision the year Uzziah died, but there are several possibilities, and it could well be a combination of them. Since Isaiah was in Jerusalem, it is almost certain that Uzziah and Isaiah knew each other and may have been friends of sorts, and it is always difficult to lose a godly king, especially if they were friends. Also, although the next king, Jotham, turned out to be a godly king, it was not known exactly what would happen when Jotham took the throne, so there is always some anxiety when rulership changes. A vision of God on His throne in heaven would give Isaiah a firm confidence and hope for the future. Also, since Jotham was just taking over it may have been an important time for Isaiah to renew his efforts to call Israel and Judah back to God, and that certainly is what God called him to do in Isaiah 6. The connection between Uzziah and Isaiah seems to be evident in the text, because from a chronological perspective it could have said, “In the first year of Jotham.” The vision is connected with Uzziah, not Jotham the next king.
“I saw the Lord.” God showed Isaiah a vision of Himself sitting on His throne in heaven. [For more on God revealing Himself in human form and becoming visible to people, see commentary on Acts 7:55].
“sitting on a throne.” In Solomon’s Temple there is no throne for God, and in fact there is no room for a huge throne. God would have been in the Holy of Holies, which means in the vision God gave Isaiah, the Ark of the Covenant had been removed and a throne was there instead. Interestingly enough, in the Millennial Temple described by Ezekiel (Ezek. 40-44). there is no Ark of the Covenant (Jer. 3:16). Yet God will live there like He always has (Ps. 110:1; 2 Sam. 22:7; Ps. 18:6; Isa. 66:6; Hab. 2:20; Ezek. 40-44).
“the edges of his robe.” The Hebrew is often rendered, “the train of his robe,” but there is no epigraphical (written) or artistic evidence (statues, bass reliefs, or paintings) that robes in the ancient Near East had “trains” like a modern wedding dress does. The Hebrew word generally refers to the hem or lower extremity of the garment. Yahweh’s garment was so large that the edges filled the Holy of Holies.(top)
“Above him stood.” God was sitting on this throne while the seraphim were standing and thus were “above” him. They must have been big and awesome creatures.
“seraphim.” We know almost nothing of these spirit beings. The Hebrew word translated “seraphim” likely means “fiery ones,” although it is possible the word comes from another root entirely and means something like “noble ones” (cp. Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible).(top)
“Holy, holy, holy.” This triple repetition of “holy” is used by some people as evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity, but that is not the case. It is simply a triple repetition for emphasis, as is found in a few other places in the Bible (Jer. 22:29; Rev. 8:13; cp. 2 Sam. 18:33). The fact that the seraphim were speaking back and forth is worth noting. God apparently created many spirit beings that can talk, and thus 1 Cor. 13:1 speaks of the languages of angels.
“The whole earth is full of his glory!” Even in its current fallen state the whole earth is full of the glory of God. In this context, “glory” can also be a reference to power, and the earth shows the power of God in many ways.(top)
“The foundations of the thresholds shook.” The text does not tell us why this particular area was singled out and described. It is possible that the Seraphim were sort of doorkeepers, so the area where they were shook.
“house.” The Temple was the “house” of God, and was often just called “the house.”
“was filled with smoke.” The Temple in heaven was filled with smoke. Smoke is sometimes associated with the presence of God, as it is here. In Revelation 15:8 God was in His temple in heaven surrounded by his “glory,” the brilliant and often multi-colored light that surrounded Him, and from His glory came smoke that filled the Temple. When God came down on Mount Sinai shortly after the Exodus from Egypt, the top of Mount Sinai was enveloped in smoke (Exod. 19:18). [For more information on the glory of Yahweh, see commentary on Ezekiel 1:28].(top)
“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.(top)
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me.” It seems that Isaiah was looking up and into the Temple, and now one of the Seraphim flew down to him.
“the altar.” The text is unclear about which altar the coal was taken from. Some scholars contend that it was the altar of sacrifice, because there was no cleansing from sin without the shedding of the blood of the sacrifice (cp. Lev. 16:14-19; Heb. 9:22). On the other hand, the Seraphim were inside the Temple and the smoke that filled the Temple was generally associated with the incense altar in front of the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16:12-13).(top)
”your sin forgiven.” The coal came from the altar of sacrifice. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), but God has always been merciful and allowed for a substitutionary sacrifice to atone for people’s sin, ultimately waiting for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice can fully atone for human sin. That Isaiah’s sin was forgiven after he was touched with a coal from the altar of sacrifice points to the necessity of having our sin forgiven via sacrifice and points to the necessity of the sacrifice of Christ.(top)
“who will go for us?” Who God is speaking to is not specifically stated in this verse. God wanted to send someone to help Israel, so He asked for advice. Isaiah writes: “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom should I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am. Send me!’” (Isa. 6:8). We should first notice the interplay between the “I” in “Whom shall I send,” and the “us” in “…who will go for us?” The text is showing that God is in charge, but He is supported by, and asking advice from, others.
The context shows that God is appealing to others who support Him in His desire to help Israel, and so the “others” in this context cannot be the full assembly of spirits, because some of them did not support Him. Given what we know about God’s divine council from other places in Scripture, it is logical that God is speaking to His divine council and asking them about who He could send to do His work. [For more information on God’s divine council, see commentary on Genesis 1:26].
We must also note that God is asking for someone to go, not picking someone and telling them to go. Believers have free will and to be of true service to God must desire to serve Him. God wants us to love God and want to serve Him; He does not want unwilling or even half-willing servants. People should want to serve God, after all, He is our creator and sustainer, but people are selfish and self-centered, and mostly want only what makes them happy at the time. But for those that do have a heart to serve, God will bless them now and reward them richly in the next life. [For more on rewards in the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ, see commentary on 2 Cor. 5:10, “good or evil”].(top)
“hear, yes, hear...see, yes, see.” Isaiah 6:9-10 is a very solemn section of Scripture and a stern warning to those who value things in this life so much that they ignore or defy God. This prophecy occurs in whole or in part five more times in Scripture, for a total of six times (Matt. 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; and Acts 28:26-27), and this repetition greatly emphasizes how serious in God’s eyes it is when people continue in their stubborn refusal to believe and obey God. The Bible is clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and God does not want anyone to die (Ezek. 18:30-32; 33:11), but wants all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Nevertheless, if people choose death, God will honor their choice and allow them to die in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:13-15). The way it is quoted in Matthew 13:14-15, it follows the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew text. The Hebrew text of Isaiah 6:10 reads, “Make the heart of this people fat. Make their ears heavy and shut their eyes,” while the Greek translation in the Septuagint reads, “For this people’s heart is grown fat, and their ears are dull of hearing.” For why the Hebrew would use the word “make,” see commentary on Isaiah 6:10.
This is a translation of the figure of speech polyptoton that occurs in the Hebrew text (cp. Gen. 2:16; also, Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible). The figure emphasizes the fact that the proud and arrogant people were in fact hearing the truth and seeing God work, but were so hardhearted that they would not (indeed, some of them could not) really hear what they were hearing or see what they were seeing.
[For more on polyptoton and the way it is translated in this verse, see commentary on Genesis 2:16].(top)
“Make the heart of this people fat.” Note that God tells Isaiah to make the heart of the people fat. This is not God’s doing, God tells Isaiah to do it. But how could Isaiah make the people’s heart fat and their ears heavy and shut their eyes? He couldn’t. This is the idiom of permission. In this case, Isaiah is told to do something when in fact he can only stand by and watch it happen, (in scholarly jargon, “permit” it to happen). It is important to keep in mind when reading verses that say things such as God (or in this case, Isaiah) hardened someone’s heart, or covered their ears, or blinded their eyes, it is the people who actually did those things to themselves. God does not harden someone’s heart and then punish him for having a hardened heart, and Isaiah certainly had no ability to do that. Besides, that would be totally against the loving nature of God and his servants. Verses that say something such as we see here in Isaiah 6:10-11, or that God hardened someone’s heart, are written using standard Hebrew language and customs and are using the Semitic “idiom of permission. The “idiom of permission” is a name given by scholars to the particular Semitic manner of speaking in which someone is said to actively do what he only allowed to be done.
Why does the Bible say that God directed Isaiah to make the people’s hearts dull and close their eyes and ears if Isaiah does not have the power to do that? The idea behind the idiom of permission is that when the truth is spoken to someone then they have to make the choice as to how to respond, and that response can be openly seen. This is the same idea as we see in Romans when it says that without the law sin is dead. The law was good, but when the law came then “sin came alive” because now the person’s actions were clearly sin—breaking the law—and those actions would be obvious to everyone. Paul wrote in Romans, “When the commandment came, sin came alive, and I died. And I discovered that the commandment that was given for life actually resulted in death” (Rom. 7:9-10). So Romans shows us that people have sinful hearts, but it is when the law comes into the picture that people clearly go against God’s laws and sin. When the commandment comes and people break it rather than obey it, then they are clearly sinning and furthermore, their sin and guilt become obvious.
So it is with the idiom of permission. God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart, but when God’s commanded Pharoah to let Israel go, Pharaoh hardened his heart against God, which also revealed the pride and arrogance in Pharaoh’s heart. Similarly, Isaiah’s prophetic word did not make the hearts of the people of Israel obstinate against God, but when Isaiah prophesied and gave them the Word of God they made the choice to ignore and defy it, and as Isaiah prophesied over and over, the people became more and more obstinate and disobedient, just like Pharaoh did. Isaiah’s prophetic word did not make the people’s heart fat and obstinate, but it forced the people to openly defy God and it certainly revealed their arrogant hearts. Thus, God’s command to Isaiah to “make” the people’s hearts fat is actually more like “speak the truth so that the people will have to make a choice between me and them, and any arrogance in their heart will be revealed.” Similarly, Jesus taught in parables so that his listeners would make the choice between God and themselves—would they make the effort to understand the parables or just go on their merry way—and the hearts of the people would be clearly revealed. Humble and godly people heard the parables and responded to them, while the arrogant and prideful people did not make the effort to understand them, which revealed the posture of their hearts (cp. Mark 4:11-12).
So God did not reach into Pharaoh’s heart and harden it (cp. Exod. 4:21), but He allowed Pharaoh to harden his own heart (actually, Pharaoh had free will and God could not stop him from hardening his heart). God asked Pharaoh over and over again to let His people go. Pharaoh refused. The more God asked, and the stronger God’s plague-warnings became, the more stubborn Pharaoh became and he had to make his heart harder and harder to resist God. So God was only hardening Pharaoh’s heart in the sense that Pharaoh had to harden his heart to resist God’s appeals. The same is true of the Jews. Through the centuries God sent prophet after prophet to Israel, and Israel suffered consequence after consequence because of their unbelief. The more prophets God sent, the more Israel hardened itself against them. So in the Semitic idiom, God is said to have hardened Israel’s heart, closed her ears, and blinded her eyes, and God’s asking Isaiah to make the people’s hearts fat was just God asking Isaiah to do what many prophets before him had done, which was to speak the prophetic word and thus make the people choose between doing what they wanted or doing what God wanted.
God’s people are still doing today what God told Isaiah to do 2,700 years ago. God tells Christians to “Preach the word; be ready at convenient times and at inconvenient times; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but having itching ears, they will pile up teachers for themselves, to suit their own desires” (2 Tim. 4:2-3). God’s people teach the truth to people, but just as in Isaiah’s day, most of the people will choose their own desires over the Word and will of God. The more Christians preach the word, the more the people will harden themselves against it and defy God. If 2 Timothy had used the idiom of permission it might have been written this way: “Go harden the hearts of the people and close their ears and eyes to the truth.” How would Christians do that? Actually, they are doing it every day. By preaching, teaching, and witnessing, Christians are forcing people to openly make the choice between God’s desires and their own desires. Sadly, as Paul prophesied to Timothy, people will not tolerate the truth but will pile up teachers who teach what desire, what they want to hear.
Sadly, the history of the world is a history of people choosing their desires over God’s desires. Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Cain disobeyed God and killed Abel. Pharoah disobeyed God and would not let Israel go. Israel disobeyed God and chose pagan gods over God, and on through history the pattern goes. The language and idioms change, but God’s call to believers has not. Believers are still charged to speak the Word of God to people and “harden their hearts” by forcing them to openly and clearly make the decision to choose themselves over God.
[For more on the idiom of permission, see commentary on Romans 9:18. For a good example of the idiom of permission see Exodus 4:21 and its commentary. For more on why Christ taught in parables, see commentary on Matt. 13:13].
“fat.” Here, “fat” is an idiom for insensitive, unreceptive, dull. Israel was “fat” when it came to the things of God. They were insensitive and unreceptive.(top)
“Then I said, “Lord, how long?” Although Isaiah’s question asks for information, it is almost a plea for God to have mercy on Israel. Isaiah’s heart is that Israel would be saved, but he understands that just as Moses’ request to let Israel go caused Pharaoh to harden his heart and say “No,” so Isaiah’s pleas with Israel to turn back to God from their idols would only cause Israel to say “No” even more forcefully, and so Isaiah wanted to know how long Israel’s stubbornness would continue. Sadly, Isaiah did not get the answer he wanted. Israel would not change and eventually their land would be a wasteland and without people, and that happened with the Assyrian invasion and the deportation of the people of Israel into lands conquered by Assyria.(top)
|Isa 6:12||- (top)|
“The holy seed is its stump.” The stump is the seed, the offspring. After the tree is cut down, the stump is left; and after the majority of the people are killed or captured, the “stump” is left to propagate.(top)