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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 6

Verses 1-13

Isaiah 6. The Call of Isaiah.— This chapter contains Isaiah’ s own account of his call to the prophetic office. Presumably it was written down some time after the event, but the interval need not have been long, nor have we any real reason for assuming that the account has been coloured by his later experience of failure. The view that he had already for some time been a prophet, and that this vision opens a new stage in his ministry, would deserve consideration only if the order of the prophecies was chronological. But this is demonstrably not the case. The chapter is of the highest importance, since it gives the true point of view for understanding the prophet. The revelation recorded in it governed his teaching throughout his career.

Isaiah, standing at the threshold of the Temple, falls into an ecstasy. He sees Yahweh seated on a lofty throne, while the skirts of His robe flow out from the innermost shrine and fill the Temple. The reticence of the description is very striking; we may compare it with the laboured elaboration of Ezekiel. He sees the seraphim in attendance. They cover their face that they may not see the face of God, and the lower part of their body they reverently conceal from His gaze. With the two remaining wings they are poised in the air, ready to fulfil His will with the utmost speed. They celebrate in antiphonal chant the holiness and glory of Yahweh. The description gains its effect, not by details as to Yahweh’ s appearance, but by showing how it affected the seraphim and Isaiah. Such is God’ s majesty that the former may not look upon Him, and incessantly magnify His holiness; while the latter is penetrated with a sense of his own uncleanness which makes the vision of God like a sentence of death. The threshold of the Temple rocks beneath Isaiah’ s feet in response to the song of the seraphim, while the house is filled with smoke, perhaps the resentment of Yahweh reacting at the intrusion of an unclean man into His presence. Such anger Isaiah knows to be only what he deserves. He realises his uncleanness and that of his people, which by his solidarity with them he feels to be his own. For one so unclean to see the Holy God was to incur danger of death. He bewails in particular the uncleanness of his lips, because he is in the Temple where men should worship and in contrast to the seraphim he feels that his lips are not pure enough to praise God. There is no reference to his prophetic vocation, for he has not yet received his call. The seraphim if they were guardians of the Temple threshold, had it as part of their charge to deny or permit approach to God. Isaiah had intruded into the Divine presence while yet unclean. But he had shown himself humble and contrite, so the seraph does not drive him out, but purifies and fits him to draw nigh. He takes a hot stone from the altar and touches his lips, setting him free to praise God. That it is from the altar indicates alike the atonement for sin and consecration to Divine service. Now that the man is purified, Yahweh, who has hitherto been silent, may speak; yet He does not speak to him, but to the heavenly assembly ( 1 Kings 22:19 f.), still so that Isaiah may overhear. Conscious now of moral fitness, Isaiah gladly offers himself in response to the appeal he detects in Yahweh’ s words. He offers himself, not knowing what his mission is to be. Yahweh bids him go, but warns him of the result. Since the prophet’ s message hardens those whom it does not persuade, he is here said to do what his preaching will in most cases bring about. The word tests men, and forces them to take up a position on one side or the other. The earlier prophets had seen judgment in the withholding of the word, Isaiah and his successors saw it in the abundance of revelation, and this thought is emphasized in the NT. In reply to his question, how long this process is to continue, he is told that it will be till the land is stripped of its inhabitants and becomes utterly desolate. Even if a tenth be left in it, that shall be consumed, as when the tree is cut down and the stump remains, that also is dug up and burnt. It is most striking that Isaiah began his work with the certainty of failure.

Isaiah 6:1 . The date is c. 740 B.C. Isaiah looks back on it as lying in the past.

Isaiah 6:2 . the seraphim: the fiery flying serpents in the wilderness narrative and in Isaiah 30:6 ( cf. Isaiah 14:29) bear the same name. The brazen serpent ( 2 Kings 18:4) was presumably in the Temple at this time. Serpents were frequently regarded as the protectors of temples, especially of the threshold, and in this respect they correspond to the cherubim, who, like the griffins, are guardians of treasures ( Genesis 3:24 *, Psalms 18:10 *). But other indications connect the cherubim with natural phenomena, and if they are the thunder clouds, the seraphim will be the forked serpent-like lightning. Here they are winged and have hands and feet (though feet may simply mean the lower part of the body). Presumably, therefore, they have lost their serpent form, and appear in human shape or perhaps part human and part animal. Their duty is to sing God’ s praise, and probably to guard the entrance to His presence.

Isaiah 6:4 . smoke: probably a symbol of anger. If incense was on the altar, it might as a symbol of praise be kindled by the praises of the fiery seraphim.

Isaiah 6:7 . purged: lit. covered, so that God does not see, and therefore does not punish it.

Isaiah 6:13 . so the holy seed is the stock thereof: absent in the LXX, and “ holy seed” seems to some a late phrase. If the clause is omitted, the prophecy is one of complete destruction; if retained, the tree is cut down but the stump is still left, i.e. the righteous remnant which contains the promise of the future, for from it a new Israel will shoot. The authenticity of the words is very dubious, but the doctrine of the remnant was held by Isaiah so early that he probably felt it to be implied, if not expressed, in his vision.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Isaiah 6". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.