For the Love of God, Volume 2/May 8
From Gospel Translations
Numbers 16; Psalms 52—54; Isaiah 6; Hebrews 13
PROBABLY ISAIAH’S VISION OF God and his commission (Isa. 6) took place at the beginning of his ministry, but it is reported only here, for thematic reasons. After the series of “woes” pronounced on the people, Isaiah pronounces one on himself (6:5), which shows that his stance as a prophet has never been self-righteous. Moreover, the sequence of his own call—seeing God (6:1-4), deep awareness and confession of sin (6:5), cleansing (6:6-7) and commissioning (6:8-13)—is precisely the sequence that Israel must experience if they are to return to their proper role as servant of the living God. It is the sequence we must follow too. Moreover, several elements in Isaiah’s call are then picked up in the ensuing chapters (as we shall see), making this placement of the narrative of his vision of God highly strategic. Some notes:
(1) It was when King Uzziah died that Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne—as if the earthly king had to die before Isaiah could begin to grasp the awesomeness of the divine King.
(2) The seraphs, a high order of angelic beings, enhance the throne by their adoration and praise. God is the “thrice holy” God. In its core usage, “holy” is almost an adjective for God, and embraces both his transcendence and his righteousness (5:16).
(3) When the finite, the unclean, and the mortal comes into contact with the infinite, the pure, and the immortal, there must be, there ought to be, a profound sense of inadequacy. To begin to see God is to begin to see how awful and desperate our plight is. The holiness of God discloses our rebellious and dirty nature to us in a way that mutual comparisons among the members of the rebel race never can. Here Isaiah condemns himself, for in the presence of God degrees of sin seem superfluous.
(4) Only the cleansing provided by the altar that God himself has prescribed will suffice to take away Isaiah’s sin.
(5) For the first time in this vision, God speaks, and looks for volunteers (itself a gracious act of condescension). When Isaiah responds, it is less the cry of the hero than the petition of the pardoned. It is as if he is begging, “Here! Please! Will I do? Is there any way I can help? Will you please use me?”
(6) The substance of the commission Isaiah receives is to preach on until the irrevocable judgment falls. There is no prospect of revival. It is too late. The preaching will serve only to harden the people. The only hint of hope—a hint powerfully developed later in the book (11:1)—is that out of the stump of the destroyed nation new life will spring, and through this remnant the promised seed (6:13b).