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The time of the occurrence here described, viz., “the year that king Uzziah ( Uzı̄yahu ) died,” was of importance to the prophet. The statement itself, in the naked form in which it is here introduced, is much more emphatic than if it commenced with “it came to pass” ( vay'hi ; cf., Exodus 16:6; Proverbs 24:17). It was the year of Uzziah's death, not the first year of Jotham's reign; that is to say, Uzziah was still reigning, although his death was near at hand. If this is the sense in which the words are to be understood, then, even if the chapter before us contains an account of Isaiah's first call, the heading to chapter 1, which dates the ministry of the prophet from the time of Uzziah, is quite correct, inasmuch as, although his public ministry under Uzziah was very short, this is properly to be included, not only on account of its own importance, but as inaugurating a new ear ( lit . “an epoch-making beginning”). But is it not stated in 2 Chronicles 26:22, that Isaiah wrote a historical work embracing the whole of Uzziah's reign? Unquestionably; but it by no means follows from this, that he commenced his ministry long before the death of Uzziah. If Isaiah received his call in the year that Uzziah died, this historical work contained a retrospective view of the life and times of Uzziah, the close of which coincided with the call of the prophetic author, which made a deep incision into the history of Israel. Uzziah reigned fifty-two years (809-758 b.c.). This lengthened period was just the same to the kingdom of Judah as the shorter age of Solomon to that of all Israel, viz., a time of vigorous and prosperous peace, in which the nation was completely overwhelmed with manifestations of divine love. But the riches of divine goodness had no more influence upon it, than the troubles through which it had passed before. And now the eventful change took place in the relation between Israel and Jehovah, of which Isaiah was chosen to be the instrument before and above all other prophets. The year in which all this occurred was the year of Uzziah's death. It was in this year that Israel as a people was given up to hardness of heart, and as a kingdom and country to devastation and annihilation by the imperial power of the world. How significant a fact, as Jerome observes in connection with this passage, that the year of Uzziah's death should be the year in which Romulus was born; and that it was only a short time after the death of Uzziah (viz., 754 b.c. according to Varro's chronology) that Rome itself was founded! The national glory of Israel died out with king Uzziah, and has never revived to this day.
In that year, says the prophet, “I saw the Lord of all sitting upon a high and exalted throne, and His borders filling the temple.” Isaiah saw, and that not when asleep and dreaming; but God gave him, when awake, an insight into the invisible world, by opening an inner sense for the supersensuous, whilst the action of the outer senses was suspended, and by condensing the supersensuous into a sensuous form, on account of the composite nature of man and the limits of his present state. This was the mode of revelation peculiar to an ecstatic vision ( ἐν ἐκστἀσει, Eng. ver. “in a trance,” or ἐν πνεὐματι, “in the spirit”). Isaiah is here carried up into heaven; for although in other instances it was undoubtedly the earthly temple which was presented to a prophet's view in an ecstatic vision (Amos 9:1; Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 10:4-5; cf., Acts 22:17), yet here, as the description which follows clearly proves, the “high and exalted throne”
(Note: It is to this, and not to ‛Adonai , as the Targum and apparently the accents imply, that the words “high and exalted” refer.)
is the heavenly antitype of the earthly throne which was formed by the ark of the covenant; and the “temple” ( hēcâl : lit., a spacious hall, the name given to the temple as the palace of God the King) is the temple in heaven, as in Psalms 11:4; Psalms 18:7; Psalms 29:9, and many other passages. There the prophet sees the Sovereign Ruler, or, as we prefer to render the noun, which is formed from âdan = dūn , “ the Lord of all ” ( All-herrn , sovereign or absolute Lord), seated upon the throne, and in human form (Ezekiel 1:26), as is proved by the robe with a train, whose flowing ends or borders ( fimibrae : shūilm , as in Exodus 28:33-34) filled the hall. The Sept., Targum, Vulgate, etc., have dropped the figure of the robe and train, as too anthropomorphic. But John, in his Gospel, is bold enough to say that it was Jesus whose glory Isaiah saw (John 12:41). And truly so, for the incarnation of God is the truth embodied in all the scriptural anthropomorphisms, and the name of Jesus is the manifested mystery of the name Jehovah. The heavenly temple is that super-terrestrial place, which Jehovah transforms into heaven and a temple, by manifesting Himself there to angels and saints. But whilst He manifests His glory there, He is obliged also to veil it, because created beings are unable to bear it. But that which veils His glory is no less splendid, than that portion of it which is revealed. And this was the truth embodied for Isaiah in the long robe and train. He saw the Lord, and what more he saw was the all-filling robe of the indescribable One. As far as the eye of the seer could look at first, the ground was covered by this splendid robe. There was consequently no room for any one to stand. And the vision of the seraphim is in accordance with this.
“Above it stood seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly.” We must not render לו ממּעל “near him;” for although על or מעל is applied to a person standing near or over against another who is sitting down (Exodus 18:13; Jeremiah 36:21; compared 2 Chronicles 26:19, where the latter is used to signify “over against” the altar of incense), and is used in this sense to denote the attitude of spirits (Job 1:16; 1 Kings 22:19; Zechariah 6:5), and even of men (Zechariah 4:14), in relation to God when seated on His throne, in which case it cannot possibly be employed in the sense of “towering above;” yet לו ממּעל, the strongest expression for supra, cannot be employed in any other than a literal sense here; for which reason Rashi and the Targums understand it as signifying “above in the attitude of service,” and the accentuation apparently, though erroneously, implies this (Luzzatto). What Isaiah meant by this standing above, may be inferred from the use which the seraphim are said to have made of their wings. The imperfects do not describe what they were accustomed to do (Böttcher and others), but what the seer saw them do: with two of their six wings he saw them fly. Thus they stood flying, i.e., they hovered or soared (cf., Numbers 14:14), as both the earth and stars are said to stand, although suspended in space (Job 26:7). The seraphim would not indeed tower above the head of Him that sat upon the throne, but they hovered above the robe belonging to Him with which the hall was filled, sustained by two extended wings, and covering their faces with two other wings in their awe at the divine glory (Targ. ne videant ), and their feet with two others, in their consciousness of the depth at which the creature stands below the Holiest of all (Targ. ne videantur ), just as the cherubim are described as veiling their bodies in Ezekiel 1:11. This is the only passage in the Scriptures in which the seraphim are mentioned. According to the orthodox view, which originated with Dionysius the Areopagite, they stand at the head of the nine choirs of angels, the first rank consisting of seraphim, cherubim, and throni . And this is not without support, if we compare the cherubim mentioned in Ezekiel, which carried the chariot of the divine throne; whereas here the seraphim are said to surround the seat on which the Lord was enthroned. In any case, the seraphim and cherubim were heavenly beings of different kinds; and there is no weight in the attempts made by Hendewerk and Stickel to prove that they are one and the same. And certainly the name serpahim does not signify merely spirits as such, but even, if not the highest of all, yet a distinct order from the rest; for the Scriptures really teach that there are gradations in rank in the hierarchy of heaven. Nor were they mere symbols or fanciful images, as Hävernick imagines, but real spiritual beings, who visibly appeared to the prophet, and that in a form corresponding to their own supersensuous being, and to the design of the whole transaction. Whilst these seraphim hovered above on both sides of Him that sat upon the throne, and therefore formed two opposite choirs, each ranged in a semicircle, they presented antiphonal worship to Him that sat upon the throne.
“And one cried to the other, and said, Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of hosts: filling the whole earth is His glory.” The meaning is not that they all lifted up their voice in concert at one and the same time (just as in Psalms 42:8 el is not used in this sense, viz., as equivalent to C'neged ), but that there was a continuous and unbroken antiphonal song. One set commenced, and the others responded, either repeating the “ Holy, holy, holy,” or following with “ filling the whole earth is His glory .” Isaiah heard this antiphonal or “hypophonal” song of the seraphim, not merely that he might know that the uninterrupted worship of God was their blessed employment, but because it was with this doxology as with the doxologies of the Apocalypse, it had a certain historical significance in common with the whole scene. God is in Himself the Holy One ( kâdōsh ), i.e., the separate One, beyond or above the world, true light, spotless purity, the perfect One. His glory ( C âbod ) is His manifested holiness, as Oetinger and Bengel express it, just as, on the other hand, His holiness is His veiled or hidden glory. The design of all the work of God is that His holiness should become universally manifest, or, what is the same thing, that His glory should become the fulness of the whole earth (Isaiah 11:9; Numbers 14:21; Habakkuk 2:14). This design of the work of God stands before God as eternally present; and the seraphim also have it ever before them in its ultimate completion, as the theme of their song of praise. But Isaiah was a man living in the very midst of the history that was moving on towards this goal; and the cry of the seraphim, in the precise form in which it reached him, showed him to what it would eventually come on earth, whilst the heavenly shapes that were made visible to him helped him to understand the nature of that divine glory with which the earth was to be filled. The whole of the book of Isaiah contains traces of the impression made by this ecstatic vision. The favourite name of God in the mouth of the prophet viz., “the Holy One of Israel” ( kedosh Yisrael ), is the echo of this seraphic sanctus ; and the fact that this name already occurs with such marked preference on the part of the prophet in the addresses contained in Isaiah 1:2-4:5, supports the view that Isaiah is here describing his own first call. All the prophecies of Isaiah carry this name of God as their stamp. It occurs twenty-nine times (including Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 43:15; Isaiah 49:7), viz., twelve times in chapters 1-39, and seventeen times in chapters 40-66. As Luzzatto has well observed, “the prophet, as if with a presentiment that the authenticity of the second part of his book would be disputed, has stamped both parts with this name of God, 'the Holy One of Israel,' as if with his own seal.” The only other passages in which the word occurs, are three times in the Psalms (Psalms 71:22; Psalms 78:41; Psalms 89:19), and twice in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:5), and that not without an allusion to Isaiah. It forms an essential part of Isaiah's distinctive prophetic signature. And here we are standing at the source from which it sprang. But did this thrice-holy refer to the triune God? Knobel contents himself with saying that the threefold repetition of the word “holy” serves to give it the greater emphasis. No doubt men are accustomed to say three times what they wish to say in an exhaustive and satisfying manner; for three is the number of expanded unity, of satisfied and satisfying development, of the key-note extended into the chord. But why is this? The Pythagoreans said that numbers were the first principle of all things; but the Scriptures, according to which God created the world in twice three days by ten mighty words, and completed it in seven days, teach us that God is the first principle of all numbers. The fact that three is the number of developed and yet self-contained unity, has its ultimate ground in the circumstance that it is the number of the trinitarian process; and consequently the trilogy ( trisagion ) of the seraphim (like that of the cherubim in Revelation 4:8), whether Isaiah was aware of it or no, really pointed in the distinct consciousness of the spirits themselves to the truine God.
When Isaiah heard this, he stood entranced at the farthest possible distance from Him that sat upon the throne, namely, under the door of the heavenly palace or temple. What he still further felt and saw, he proceeds to relate in Isaiah 6:4 : “And the foundations of the thresholds shook with the voice of them that cried; and the house became full of smoke.” By ‛ammoth hassippim , the lxx, Vulgate, Syriac, and others understand the posts of the lintels, the supporting beams of the superliminaria, which closed the doorway at the top. But as saph is only used in other places to signify the threshold and porch ( limen and vestibulum ), ‛ammoth hassippim must be understood here in the (perfectly appropriate) sense of “the foundations of the thresholds” ( ammâh , which bears the same relation to עם, mother, as m atrix to m ater , is used to denote the receptive basis into which the door-steps with their plugs were inserted, like the talmudic ammetâh derēchayyâh , the frame or box of the hand-mill ( Berachoth 18 b ), and ammath megērah , the wood-work which runs along the back of the saw and keeps it firmly extended ( Kelim 21, 3); compare the “ Schraubenmutter,” literally screw- mother, or female screw, which receives and holds the cylindrical screw). Every time that the choir of seraphim ( הקּורא : compare such collective singulars as hâ'oreb , the ambush, in Joshua 8:19; hechâlutz , of men of war, in Joshua 6:7, etc.) began their song, the support of the threshold of the porch in which Isaiah was standing trembled. The building was seized with reverential awe throughout its whole extent, and in its deepest foundations: for in the blessed state beyond, nothing stands immoveable or unsusceptible in relation to the spirits there; but all things form, as it were, the accidentia of their free personality, yielding to their impressions, and voluntarily following them in all their emotions. The house was also “ filled with smoke .” Many compare this with the similar occurrence in connection with the dedication of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 8:10); but Drechsler is correct in stating that the two cases are not parallel, for there God simply attested His own presence by the cloud of smoke behind which He concealed Himself, whereas here there was no need of any such self-attestation. Moreover, in this instance God does not dwell in the cloud and thick darkness, whilst the smoke is represented as the effect of the songs of praise in which the seraphim have joined, and not of the presence of God. The smoke arose from the altar of incense mentioned in Isaiah 6:6. But when Drechsler says that it was the prayers of saints (as in Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4), which ascended to the Lord in the smoke, this is a thought which is quite out of place here. The smoke was the immediate consequence of the seraphs' song of praise.
This begins to throw a light upon the name seraphim, which may help us to decipher it. The name cannot possibly be connected with sârâph , a snake (Sanscr. sarpa , Lat. serpens ); and to trace the word to a verb sâraph in the sense of the Arabic 'sarafa ( 'sarufa ), to tower high, to be exalted, or highly honoured (as Gesenius, Hengstenberg, Hofmann, and others have done), yields a sense which does not very strongly commend itself. On the other hand, to follow Knobel, who reads shârâthim (worshippers of God), and thus presents the Lexicon with a new word, and to pronounce the word serpahim a copyist's error, would be a rash concession to the heaven-storming omnipotence which is supposed to reside in the ink of a German scholar. It is hardly admissible, however, to interpret the name as signifying directly spirits of light or fire, since the true meaning of sâraph is not urere (to burn), but Comburere (to set on fire or burn up). Umbreit endeavours to do justice to this transitive meaning by adopting the explanation “fiery beings,” by which all earthly corruption is opposed and destroyed. The vision itself, however, appears to point to a much more distinctive and special meaning in the name, which only occurs in this passage of Isaiah. We shall have more to say upon this point presently.
The seer, who was at first overwhelmed and intoxicated by the majestic sight, now recovers his self-consciousness. ”Then said I, Woe to me! for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I am dwelling among a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts.” That a man cannot see God without dying is true in itself, and was an Old Testament conviction throughout (Exodus 33:20, etc.). He must die, because the holiness of God is to the sinner a consuming fire (Isaiah 33:14); and the infinite distance between the creature and the Creator is sufficient of itself to produce a prostrating effect, which even the seraphim could not resist without veiling their faces. Isaiah therefore regarded himself as lost ( nidmēthi , like ὄλωλα, perii, a preterite denoting the fact which, although not outwardly completed, is yet effected so far as a man's own consciousness is concerned), and all the more because he himself was of unclean lips, and he was also a member of a nation of unclean lips. The unholiness of his own person was doubled, in consequence of the closeness of the natural connection, by the unholiness of the nation to which he belonged. He designates this unholiness as uncleanness of lips, because he found himself transported into the midst of choirs of beings who were praising the Lord with pure lips; and he calls the King Jehovah, because, although he had not seen Jehovah face to face, he had seen the throne, and the all-filling robe, and the seraphim who surrounded and did homage to Him that sat upon the throne; and therefore, as he had seen the heavenly King in His revealed majesty, he describes the scene according to the impression that he had received. But to stand here in front of Jehovah of hosts, the exalted King, to whom everything does homage, and to be obliged to remain mute in the consciousness of deep uncleanness, excited within him the annihilating anguish of self-condemnation. And this is expressed in the confession made by the contrite seer.
This confession was followed by the forgiveness of his sins, of which he received an attestation through a heavenly sacrament, and which was conveyed to him through the medium of a seraphic absolution. “And one of the seraphim flew to me with a red-hot coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said, Behold, this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away; and so thy sin is expiated.” One of the beings hovering round the Lord (there were, therefore, a large and indefinite number) flew to the altar of incense - the heavenly original of the altar of incense in the earthly temple, which was reckoned as belonging to the Most Holy Place - and took from this altar a ritzpâh , i.e., either a red-hot stone (Vulg. Calculum , Ar. radfe or radafe ), or, according to the prevailing tradition, a red-hot coal (vid., râtzēph - râshaph , to scatter sparks, sparkle, or glow: syn. gacheleth ), and that with a pair of tongs, because even a seraph's hand cannot touch the vessels consecrated to God, or the sacrifices that belong to Him. With this red-hot coal he flew to Isaiah, and having touched his mouth with it, i.e., that member of his body of whose uncleanness he had more especially complained (cf., Jeremiah 1:9, where the prophet's mouth is touched by Jehovah's hand, and made eloquent in consequence), he assured him of the forgiveness of his sins, which coincided with the application of this sacramental sign. The Vav connects together what is affirmed by nâga‛ (hath touched) and sâr (a taker away) as being simultaneous; the zeh (this) points as a neuter to the red-hot coal. The future tecuppâr is a future consec., separated by Vav conversive for the purpose of bringing the subject into greater prominence; as it is practically impossible that the removal of guilt should be thought of as immediate and momentary, and the expiation as occurring gradually. The fact that the guilt was taken away was the very proof that the expiation was complete. Cipper , with the “sin” in the accusative, or governed by על, signifies to cover it up, extinguish, or destroy it (for the primary meaning, vid., Isaiah 28:18), so that it has no existence in relation to the penal justice of God. All sinful uncleanness was burned away from the prophet's mouth. The seraph, therefore, did here what his name denotes: he burned up or burned away ( Comburit ). He did this, however, not by virtue of his own fiery nature, but by means of the divine fire which he had taken from the heavenly altar. As the smoke which filled the house came from the altar, and arose in consequence of the adoration offered to the Lord by the seraphim, not only must the incense-offering upon the altar and this adoration be closely connected; but the fire, which revealed itself in the smoke and consumed the incense-offering, and which must necessarily have been divine because of its expiatory power, was an effect of the love of God with which He reciprocated the offerings of the seraphim. A fiery look from God, and that a fiery look of pure love as the seraphim were sinless, had kindled the sacrifice. Now, if the fact that a seraph absolved the seer by means of this fire of love is to be taken as an illustrative example of the historical calling of the seraphim, they were the vehicles and media of the fire of divine love, just as the cherubim in Ezekiel are vehicles and media of the fire of divine wrath. For just as, in the case before us, a seraph takes the fire of love from the altar; so there, in Ezekiel 10:6-7, a cherub takes the fire of wrath from the throne-chariot. Consequently the cherubim appear as the vehicles and media of the wrath which destroys sinners, or rather of the divine doxa , with its fiery side turned towards the world; and the seraphim as the vehicles and media of the love which destroys sin, or of the same divine doxa with its light side towards the world.
(Note: Seraphic love is the expression used in the language of the church to denote the ne plus ultra of holy love in the creature. The Syriac fathers regarded the burning coal as the symbol of the incarnate Son of God, who is often designated in poetry as the “live or burning coal” ( Kemurto denuro ): DMZ. 1860, pp. 679, 681.)
When Isaiah had been thus absolved, the true object of the heavenly scene was made apparent. ”Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Behold me here; send me!” The plural “for us” ( lânu ) is not to be accounted for on the ground that, in a case of reflection or self-consultation, the subject also stands as the object in antithesis to itself (as Hitzig supposes); nor is it a pluralis majestatis , as Knobel maintains; nor is the original abstract signification of the plural hinted at, as Meier thinks. The plural is no doubt used here with reference to the seraphim, who formed, together with the Lord, one deliberative council ( sōd kedoshim , Psalms 89:8), as in 1 Kings 22:19-22; Daniel 4:14, etc.; just as, from their very nature as “sons of God” ( b'nē Hâ - elohim ), they made one family with God their Creator (vid., Ephesians 3:15), all linked so closely together that they themselves could be called Elohim, like God their Creator, just as in 1 Corinthians 12:12 the church of believers is called Christos, like Christ its head. The task for which the right man was sought was not merely divine, but heavenly in the broadest sense: for it is not only a matter in which God Himself is interested, that the earth should become full of the glory of God, but this is also an object of solicitude to the spirits that minister unto Him. Isaiah, whose anxiety to serve the Lord was no longer suppressed by the consciousness of his own sinfulness, no sooner heard the voice of the Lord, than he exclaimed, in holy self-consciousness, “Behold me here; send me.” It is by no means a probable thing, that he had already acted as a messenger of God, or held the office of prophet. For if the joy, with which he offered himself here as the messenger of God, was the direct consequence of the forgiveness of sins, of which he had received the seal; the consciousness of his own personal sinfulness, and his membership in a sinful nation, would certainly have prevented him thereto from coming forward to denounce judgment upon that nation. And as the prophetic office as such rested upon an extraordinary call from God, it may fairly be assumed, that when Isaiah relates so extraordinary a call as this, he is describing the sealing of his prophetic office, and therefore his own first call.
This is confirmed by the words in which his commission is expressed, and the substance of the message. “He said, Go, and tell this people, Hear on, and understand not; and look on, but perceive not. Make ye the heart of this people greasy, and their ears heavy, and their eyes sticky; that they may not see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and their heart understand, and they be converted, and one heal them.” “This people” points back to the people of unclean lips, among whom Isaiah had complained of dwelling, and whom the Lord would not call “my people.” It was to go to this people and preach to them, and therefore to be the prophet of this people, that he was called. But how mournful does the divine commission sound! It was the terrible opposite of that seraphic mission, which the prophet had experienced in himself. The seraph had absolved Isaiah by the burning coal, that he as prophet might not absolve, but harden his people by his word. They were to hear and see, and that continually as the gerundives imply (Ges. §131, 3, b ; Ewald, §280, b ), by having the prophet's preaching actu directo constantly before them; but not to their salvation. The two prohibitory expressions, “understand not” and “perceive not,” show what the result of the prophet's preaching was to be, according to the judicial will of God. And the imperatives in v. 10 are not to be understood as simply instructing the prophet to tell the people what God had determined to do; for the fact that “prophets are often said to do what they announce as about to happen,” in proof of which Jeremiah 1:10 is sometimes quoted (cf., Jeremiah 31:28; Hosea 6:5; Ezekiel 43:3), has its truth not in a rhetorical figure, but in the very nature of the divine word. The prophet was the organ of the word of God, and the word of God was the expression of the will of God, and the will of God is a divine act that has not yet become historical. For this reason a prophet might very well be said to perform what he announced as about to happen: God was the Causa efficiens principalis , the word was the Causa media , and the prophet the Causa ministerialis . This is the force of the three imperatives; they are three figurative expressions of the idea of hardening. The first, hishmin , signifies to make fat ( pinguem ), i.e., without susceptibility or feeling for the operations of divine grace (Psalms 119:70); the second, hicbı̄d , to make heavy, more especially heavy or dull of hearing (Isaiah 59:1); the third, השׁע or השׁע (whence the imperative השׁע or השׁע ), to smear thickly, or paste over, i.e., to put upon a person what is usually the result of weak eyes, which become firmly closed by the hardening of the adhesive substance secreted in the night. The three future clauses, with “lest” ( pen ), point back to these three imperatives in inverse order: their spiritual sight, spiritual hearing, and spiritual feeling were to be taken away, their eyes becoming blind, and their ears deaf, and their hearts being covered over with the grease of insensibility.
Under the influence of these futures the two preterites לו ורפא שׁב affirm what might have been the result if this hardening had not taken place, but what would never take place now. The expression ל רפא is used in every other instance in a transitive sense, “to heal a person or a disease,” and never in the sense of becoming well or being healed; but in the present instance it acquires a passive sense from the so-called impersonal construction (Ges. §137, 3), “and one heal it,” i.e., “and it be healed:” and it is in accordance with this sense that it is paraphrased in Mark 4:12, whereas in the three other passages in which the words are quoted in the New Testament (viz., Matthew, John, and Acts) the Septuagint rendering is adopted, “and I should heal them” (God Himself being taken as the subject). The commission which the prophet received, reads as though it were quite irreconcilable with the fact that God, as the Good, can only will what is good. But our earlier doctrinarians have suggested the true solution, when they affirm that God does not harden men positive aut effective , since His true will and direct work are man's salvation, but occasionaliter et eventualiter , since the offers and displays of salvation which man receives necessarily serve to fill up the measure of his sins, and judicialiter so far as it is the judicial will of God, that what was originally ordained for men's salvation should result after all in judgment, in the case of any man upon whom grace has ceased to work, because all its ways and means have been completely exhausted. It is not only the loving will of God which is good, but also the wrathful will into which His loving will changes, when determinately and obstinately resisted. There is a self-hardening in evil, which renders a man thoroughly incorrigible, and which, regarded as the fruit of his moral behaviour, is no less a judicial punishment inflicted by God, than self-induced guilt on the part of man. The two are bound up in one another, inasmuch as sin from its very nature bears its own punishment, which consists in the wrath of God excited by sin. For just as in all the good that men do, the active principle is the love of God; so in all the harm that they do, the active principle is the wrath of God. An evil act in itself is the result of self-determination proceeding from a man's own will; but evil, regarded as the mischief in which evil acting quickly issues, is the result of the inherent wrath of God, which is the obverse of His inherent love; and when a man hardens himself in evil, it is the inward working of God's peremptory wrath. To this wrath Israel had delivered itself up through its continued obstinacy in sinning. And consequently the Lord now proceeded to shut the door of repentance against His people. Nevertheless He directed the prophet to preach repentance, because the judgment of hardness suspended over the people as a whole did not preclude the possibility of the salvation of individuals.
Isaiah heard with sighing, and yet with obedience, in what the mission to which he had so cheerfully offered himself was to consist. Isaiah 6:11 . “Then said I, Lord, how long?” He inquired how long this service of hardening and this state of hardness were to continue - a question forced from him by his sympathy with the nation to which he himself belonged (cf., Exodus 32:9-14), and one which was warranted by the certainty that God, who is ever true to His promises, could not cast off Israel as a people for ever. The answer follows in Isaiah 6:11-13 : “Until towns are wasted without inhabitant, and houses are without man, and the ground shall be laid waste, a wilderness, and Jehovah shall put men far away, and there shall be many forsaken places within the land. And is there still a tenth therein, this also again is given up to destruction, like the terebinth and like the oak, of which, when they are felled, only a root-stump remains: such a root-stump is a holy seed.” The answer is intentionally commenced, not with עד־כּי, but with אם אשׁר עד (the expression only occurs again in Genesis 28:15 and Numbers 32:17), which, even without dropping the conditional force of אם, signified that the hardening judgment would only come to an end when the condition had been fulfilled, that towns, houses, and the soil of the land of Israel and its environs had been made desolate, in fact, utterly and universally desolate, as the three definitions (without inhabitant, without man, wilderness) affirm. The expression richak (put far away) is a general and enigmatical description of exile or captivity (cf., Joe. 4:6, Jeremiah 27:10); the literal term gâlâh has been already used in Isaiah 5:13. Instead of a national term being used, we find here simply the general expression “ men ” ( eth - hâēâdâm ; the consequence of depopulation, viz., the entire absence of men, being expressed in connection with the depopulation itself. The participial noun hâ azubâh (the forsaken) is a collective term for places once full of life, that had afterwards died out and fallen into ruins (Isaiah 17:2, Isaiah 17:9). This judgment would be followed by a second, which would expose the still remaining tenth of the nation to a sifting. והיה שׁב, to become again (Ges. §142, 3); לבער היה, not as in Isaiah 5:5, but as in Isaiah 4:4, after Numbers 24:22 : the feminine does not refer to the land of Israel (Luzzatto), but to the tenth. Up to the words “given up to destruction,” the announcement is a threatening one; but from this point to “remains” a consolatory prospect begins to dawn; and in the last three words this brighter prospect, like a distant streak of light, bounds the horizon of the gloomy prophecy. It shall happen as with the terebinth and oak. These trees were selected as illustrations, not only because they were so near akin to evergreens, and produced a similar impression, or because there were so many associations connected with them in the olden times of Israel's history; but also because they formed such fitting symbols of Israel, on account of their peculiar facility for springing up again from the root (like the beech and nut, for example), even when they had been completely felled. As the forms yabbesheth (dryness), dalleketh (fever), ‛avvereth (blindness), shachepheth (consumption), are used to denote certain qualities or states, and those for the most part faulty ones ( Concord . p. 1350); so shalleceth here does not refer to the act itself of felling or casting away, but rather to the condition of a tree that has been hewn or thrown down; though not to the condition of the trunk as it lies prostrate upon the ground, but to that of the root, which is still left in the earth. Of this tree, that had been deprived of its trunk and crown, there was still a mazzebeth kindred form of m azzebâh ), i.e., a root-stump ( truncus ) fast in the ground. The tree was not yet entirely destroyed; the root-stump could shoot out and put forth branches again. And this would take place: the root-stump of the oak or terebinth, which was a symbol of Israel, was “a holy seed.” The root-stump was the remnant that had survived the judgment, and this remnant would become a seed, out of which a new Israel would spring up after the old had been destroyed. Thus in a few weighty words is the way sketched out, which God would henceforth take with His people. The passage contains an outline of the history of Israel to the end of time. Israel as a nation was indestructible, by virtue of the promise of God; but the mass of the people were doomed to destruction through the judicial sentence of God, and only a remnant, which would be converted, would perpetuate the nationality of Israel, and inherit the glorious future. This law of a blessing sunk in the depths of the curse actually inflicted, still prevails in the history of the Jews. The way of salvation is open to all. Individuals find it, and give us a presentiment of what might be and is to be; but the great mass are hopelessly lost, and only when they have been swept away will a holy seed, saved by the covenant-keeping God, grow up into a new and holy Israel, which, according to Isaiah 27:6, will fill the earth with its fruits, or, as the apostle expresses it in Romans 11:12, become “the riches of the Gentiles.”
Now, if the impression which we have received from Isaiah 6:1-13 is not a false one - namely, that the prophet is here relating his first call to the prophetic office, and not, as Seb. Schmidt observes, his call to one particular duty ( ad unum specialem actum officii ) - this impression may be easily verified, inasmuch as the addresses in chapters 1-5 will be sure to contain the elements which are here handed to the prophet by revelation, and the result of these addresses will correspond to the sentence judicially pronounced here. And the conclusion to which we have come will stand this test. For the prophet, in the very first address, after pointing out to the nation as a whole the gracious pathway of justification and sanctification, takes the turn indicated in Isaiah 6:11-13, in full consciousness that all is in vain. And the theme of the second address is, that it will be only after the overthrow of the false glory of Israel that the true glory promised can possibly be realized, and that after the destruction of the great body of the people only a small remnant will live to see this realization. The parable with which the third begins, rests upon the supposition that the measure of the nation's iniquity is full; and the threatening of judgment introduced by this parable agrees substantially, and in part verbally, with the divine answer received by the prophet to his question “How long?” On every side, therefore, the opinion is confirmed, that in Isaiah 6:1-13 he describes his own consecration to the prophetic office. The addresses in chapters 2-4 and 5, which belong to the time of Uzziah and Jotham, do not fall earlier than the year of Uzziah's death, from which point the whole of Jotham's sixteen years' reign lay open before them. Now, as Micah commenced his ministry in Jotham's reign, though his book was written in the form of a complete and chronologically indivisible summary, by the working up of the prophecies which he delivered under Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and was then read or published in the time of Hezekiah, as we may infer from Jeremiah 26:18, it is quite possible that Isaiah may have taken from Micah's own lips (though not from Micah's book) the words of promise in Isaiah 2:1-4, which he certainly borrowed from some quarter. The notion that this word of promise originated with a third prophet (who must have been Joel, if he were one of the prophets known to us), is rendered very improbable by the many marks of Micah's prophetic peculiarities, and by its natural position in the context in which it there occurs (vid., Caspari, Micha, pp. 444-5).
Again, the situation of Isaiah 6:1-13 is not inexplicable. As Hävernick has observed, the prophet evidently intended to vindicate in Isaiah 6:1-13 the style and method of his previous prophecies, on the ground of the divine commission that he had received. but this only serves to explain the reason why Isaiah has not placed Isaiah 6:1-13 at the commencement of the collection, and not why he inserts it in this particular place. He has done this, no doubt, for the purpose of bringing close together the prophecy and its fulfilment; for whilst on the one hand the judgment of hardening suspended over the Jewish nation is brought distinctly out in the person of king Ahaz, on the other hand we find ourselves in the midst of the Syro-Ephraimitish war, which formed the introduction to the judgments of extermination predicted in Isaiah 6:11-13. It is only the position of chapter 1 which still remains in obscurity. If Isaiah 1:7-9 is to be understood in a historically literally sense, then chapter 1 must have been composed after the dangers of the Syro-Ephraimitish war had been averted from Jerusalem, though the land of Judah was still bleeding with the open wounds which this war, designed as it was to destroy it altogether, had inflicted upon it. Chapter 1 would therefore be of more recent origin than chapters 2-5, and still more recent than the connected chapters 7-12. It is only the comparatively more general and indefinite character of chapter 1 which seems at variance with this. But this difficulty is removed at once, if we assume that chapter 1, though not indeed the first of the prophet's addresses, was yet in one sense the first - namely, the first that was committed to writing, though not the first that he delivered, and that it was primarily intended to form the preface to the addresses and historical accounts in chapters 2-12, the contents of which were regulated by it. For chapters 2-5 and 7-12 form two prophetic cycles, chapter 1 being the portal which leads into them, and Isaiah 6:1-13 the band which connects them together. The prophetic cycle in chapters 2-5 may be called the Book of hardening, as it is by Caspari, and chapters 7-12 the Book of Immanuel, as Chr. Aug. Crusius suggests, because in all the stages through which the proclamation in chapters 7-12 passes, the coming Immanuel is the banner of consolation, which it lifts up even in the midst of the judgments already breaking upon the people, in accordance with the doom pronounced upon them in Isaiah 6:1-13.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Isaiah 6". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter