Lectionary Calendar
Monday, July 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 6

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-13

The Call of the Prophet and the Syro-Ephraimitic War


It is with these chapters that one could very well begin the study of Isaiah after the completion of the first chapter where one learns of the identity, office, mission, and message of the prophet. The date of Isaiah’s call “in the year that King Uzziah died (6:1) and the events in 7:1-17 and 8:1-18 appear to have been closely bound up in one another (see Introduction). The call from God to his prophet happened at a time of international crisis. At the end of Uzziah’s life, when his effective leadership of the west against Assyria had ended because of his illness, and during the first year of the reign of his son Ahaz, in 734 B.C., Jerusalem and Judah were threatened with the loss of independence. Ahaz was a weak man who refused to have anything to dc with the western coalition against the Assyrian emperor, Tiglathpileser III. He was then attacked by the northern kingdom of Israel and by the kingdom of Damascus, and to save his throne he gave away his country’s independence by offering it with heavy tribute to Tiglath-pileser. What he tried to save he gave away. It was at the beginning of this series of events that Isaiah received his call and commission. In response to the situation and in its setting the prophet provides us with two of his best-known passages: the sign to Ahaz (7:10-14) and the first datable prophecy of the Messiah (9:2-7).

Isaiah’s Call and Commission ( 6 : 1 - 13 )

The call and commissioning of Isaiah take place in a vision. In verses 2-4 the prophet sees the Lord enthroned in his heavenly temple with mysterious winged beings called “seraphim” ministering to him and forming an antiphonal heavenly choir. As is the case with all dramatic theophanies in the Old Testament, there is a shaking of the foundations, an opaqueness as of smoke (or in the darkness a brilliance as of fire) which prevents the prophet from seeing the person of the Lord directly, and there is the hearing of a great voice (vs. 4). The personal circumstances of the prophet when he had this inward vision are unknown. It is often assumed that he was attending a great service of worship in the Jerusalem Temple. This, however, is a pure guess, because the prophet says nothing about where he was or under what circumstances the vision came. It is certain, however, that his vision concerns God in his heavenly court, and not in the earthly Temple, as verse 8 makes clear. In the background of the vision, however, there is a definite auditory element: the heavenly choir singing antiphonally, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (vs. 3). The holiness of God is an attribute which Isaiah stresses. When we in our churches today sing the well-known hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” which is derived from this verse and vision, we are to think of the majesty, the exaltation, and the mystery which belong to God and to God alone. Holiness is that ineffable quality that originates in God himself and differentiates him from all of his creation. People and temple on earth can be said to be “holy” only in a derived sense, meaning that they are closely related to God himself. The Israelite did not know what God’s person or being was like. God is the ultimate mystery of power, direction, and meaning in the world. It is in the contemplation of this holy, ineffable, and powerful mystery which man cannot control but on which he is utterly dependent that reverence and worship begin. The words of the heavenly choir, therefore, are words of worship in which the Object of worship is magnified and glorified, and the whole of the creation is acknowledged as being filled with God’s “glory”; that is, with the revelation of himself. In this context the word “glory” is used in a larger sense than it is in the particular usage in 4:5.

The prophet’s reaction to his vision of God’s holy majesty leads him to a devastating sense of his own unworthiness and that of the people among whom he lives (vs. 5). The sense of God’s holy perfection brings confession to his lips. Indeed, it may be said that true confession of one’s inadequacy is only possible when the perspective of one’s seeing is altered by the vision of God. Confession, however, is followed immediately by the sacrament of forgiveness (vss. 6-7). The bur nin g coal from the altar fire touching the lips of the prophet in his vision is a symbol of purification to him and he hears the words, “Your sin [is] forgiven.”

Only when the purification of the lips and the assurance of forgiveness are present, are the ears of the prophet opened so that he can hear a discussion going on in the heavenly court. A decision has been reached by the court, and the Lord is now asking his angelic assistants who it is that will bear the message of the court to those on earth who are affected by it. At this point the prophet himself answers boldly, “Here am I! Send me.” God accepts the prophet’s offer of himself and appoints him to the office with the word, “Go.” That is, the great religious experience which comes to the prophet does not have a mystical purpose wherein the experience of God’s reality is itself the central meaning of the event. Rather, it is that the prophet may be changed in his way, so that he has a new path to follow and a commission from God himself; that is, he has a job to do as the mediator of God’s Word to the people.

God’s commission to Isaiah is that he bear a terrible message to the people of Israel. The words in verses 9-10 must be understood to be purposive hyperbole which has the aim of shocking people to pay attention. The words are ironical. If we listen to them as addressed to us, the irony becomes clearer: “Hear, but do not understand; see, but do not comprehend. Let your hearts be fat, your ears heavy, your eyes shut, lest you see, hear, and understand and repent and receive the healing mercy of God.” The purpose is to say forthrightly that God’s decree of judgment has been issued and the time is now far gone. When the prophet asks in despair, “How long, O Lord?”, God replies that it will be until the land is utterly laid waste and the people are exiled from their former homes (vss. 11-13). Even though a tenth of the former population may remain, it will again suffer. The nation is to be nothing more than a felled tree of which there remains only a stump.

"Hiis is Isaiah’s first announcement of a “remnant” of the nation which will survive. In his early prophecies this remnant is not a sign of hope; it is a sign of judgment. There will be nothing more to the nation than this remnant. A prophet editor adds the final word from a later time, when the remnant has become a source of hope that in the time of suffering there will indeed be survivors—namely, the true Israel, refined and purified by God. Such would appear to be the meaning of the words at the end of verse 13, “The holy seed is its stump.”

As the reader may note from the footnote in the Revised Standard Version, the ironic nature and the disturbing directness and terribleness of the words coming through the prophet in verses 9 and 10 are used by Jesus according to all four of the Gospels, as well as by the Apostle Paul, in situations where the refusal of people to hear and take heed made the words appropriate.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Isaiah 6". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/isaiah-6.html.
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