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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 6

Verse 1

1. I saw An insight into the invisible world. The prophet’s mind is in communication with heaven, but his mode of apprehension is by symbol. The holy of holies in the temple, with the veil removed, is the scene where the vision occurs. It is told us, in John 12:41, that the “Lord,”

=Jehovah, whom Isaiah saw in this vision, was the yet unincarnated Jesus. [Compare the much sublimer theophany of Revelation iv, where see notes. Isaiah gives the apocalypse of Jerusalem’s downfal, John of the mystical Babylon’s.] In this vision the beholder sees the sovereign Jehovah on his throne, high and lifted up, with the folds of his train, or skirts, filling all the temple. Above the throne were standing or hovering, as attendant ministers before the ineffably glorious One, seraphim, or burning ones; beings with the radiance and glory of fire an essence, so to call it which symbolized certain intense qualities of character. The word is here only used with this sense in Scripture. It is from שׂר Š , ( saraph,) to burn, and the being is evidently spoken of as wearing a human form, with brilliant fiery appearance, covered with wings. [This word, to burn, is often used in the Old Testament, and for some reason the noun saraph, burner, signifies a serpent. Rabbi Solomon says, (quoted by Barnes,) “serpents are called seraphim, because they burn men with the poison of their teeth.” Better, however, is perhaps the suggestion of Nagelsbach, (Lange’s Bibelwerk,) that serpents were called burners from the resemblance of their vibratory creeping to the vibrations of a flame; they were flamers. And these present holy beings are called burners, not as serpents, but as representing, or, as we may say, incarnating, the burning, consuming purity and holiness of God. Hence their ascription, holy, to God, indicates their own holy nature. They are pure flames of purity and love; and though seen in repose by the prophet they have a radiant human form yet we may conceive that when on the wing, sent forth by Jehovah, they may become (what the flying flamingo of the south seems to be) a darting flame. As fire they either purify or destroy, as the object they touch may be; they purified the prophet, they consumed the guilty people, all save the final remnant.

Verses 1-4

The Inaugural Vision, Isaiah 6:1-4.

[This could not be an inauguration of Isaiah to the prophetic office, for that he had filled during Uzziah’s reign, (see Isaiah 1:1,) and probably the last preceding four chapters (2-5) are records of some of his previous publications. It seems more properly the inauguration of a new and fearful period in Judah’s theocratic history; marking the crisis of hopelessness, the nation’s utter giving over, at the close of good Uzziah’s reign. The divine Presence is in the holy of holies, and a herald is called for, and the prophet answers. His message (Isaiah 6:9-13) announces that such is now the state of Judah’s mind that all preaching will harden the heart, and that the sentence of long desolation is now pronounced, its execution certain, its duration for ever, except for a remnant which will return from the banishment and produce the Messiah.]

Verse 2

2. Above it Rather, above Him; that is, as winged beings, higher than the divine Occupant of the throne, hovering around when in motion, standing like choristers in a gallery when still.

With twain Two pairs of the six wings were used as veils, the upper of the face and the lower of the lower parts of the body, extending to the feet. The face is veiled, as if to prevent the too full lustre of the divine radiance upon the eyes; the lower extremities from reverence and decency. The middle pair are for flying; but out of the divine presence, in performance of messages, doubtless the whole six are free to speed the lightning-like flight.

Verse 3

3. Cried unto another If more than two, then they stood in opposite rows, each side the throne, and responded each singly to his opposite fellow, after the manner of an antiphonal service.

Holy The threefold utterance might be supposed simply a repetition for emphasis, but the same threefoldness in Revelation 4:8 (where see notes) plainly indicates the trinity.

Verse 4

4. Posts… moved… voice of him As each cried “holy” singly, the prophet, standing in front of the vestibule, (not far from the great altar,) beheld a tremor of the “posts;” a trembling not caused by the physical force of the cry, but as a pulsation at the intensity of the divine holiness.

Filled with smoke The incense from the burning altar of Isaiah 6:6, the symbol of worship of the present Jehovah, accompanying the ascription. See notes on Revelation 8:2-5.

Verse 5

5. Woe is me At sight of this display of divine holiness the prophet is dismayed. The fire of purity, he fears, will not cleanse, but consume him, conscious as he is of impurity.

A man of unclean lips And yet he had dared to prophesy in the name of this thrice holy!

Midst of a people of unclean lips Impure, not only inwardly and individually, but by contagion from without. The filthy tongues of neighbours and countrymen have contaminated my ears, heart, and soul. The thought is not that I am by this uncleanness unfitted for joining the “holy, holy, holy,” of the seraphim; but it is that I am unfit to speak as the mouth of Jehovah: for it is for this that the coal of the seraph purifies his lips; and this profound consecration for his office is key to this whole vision.

Verse 6

6. Flew The seraph spread his middle pair of wings and “flew” from the throne, first to the altar of incense, then to the prophet with a glowing coal. This “coal” is originally taken from the atoning great altar before the temple door, and so Isaiah was pardoned through the atonement; it was taken by the angel from the holy altar of incense, and so, applied to the prophet’s mouth, purified his lips for the coming terrible utterances they were to deliver.

Verse 7

7. Touched thy lips Yet, though “mouth” alone was touched by the coal, the purifying power burned through the whole nature. The “lips” were touched because they were the organ through which the purified nature would express itself.

Verse 8

8. Voice of the Lord The seraphs’ voices are hushed at the “voice” of Jehovah. From amid the Presence a great inquiry reaches the prophet’s ear. It is an inquiry which Jehovah is ever making; namely, for preachers and missionaries to a dying world. Whom shall I send, and who will go, are the divine queries. The first query implies that whoever goes should first receive his commission from Jehovah; he should be sent, and not go before he is sent. The second implies that he should freely will to go; he should heartily accord with his commission.

For us The plural may here, as elsewhere, be the plural of royalty, by which kings speak of themselves as we and us. Or, it may include with Jehovah himself his attendant court of seraphim. Or, as many eminent commentators, it may denote the trinity, indicated in the thrice “holy” uttered by the seraphim.

Here am I And this is the man who a few minutes ago was agonized with fear for his life because in his impurity he had seen God. Touched with the heavenly fire he now faces with bold joy the divine Presence, and announces himself ready for any message.

Verse 9

9. Hear ye… but understand not Not a command, but a recognition in imperative form of what their hard predispositions indicated they would do: Hear and (as it is clear you purpose to do) refuse to appreciate the truth; shut it out from your cognizance; ignore it and persistently misunderstand it.

Verse 10

10. Make the heart… fat The prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:10) was verbally directed to produce effects which he only predicted. Here Isaiah is directed to cause results which will doubtless take place, but are not necessary effects of his action. His prophecy is not responsible for results produced by the hardness of the people to whom it is delivered. Lest depends upon heavy. The heaviness or torpidity is vigilant “lest” conversion should follow the prophet’s gospel.

Verse 11

11. How long a period will this hardness last, and how extended a time must the message predict?

Until The direful answer covers the whole period until Nebuchadnezzar carries the people to Babylon. Cities will be reduced to solitudes; houses will stand tenantless and dilapidated; land or soil will be untilled and run wild.

Verse 12

12. Lord have removed Accomplished the punishment of Judah through the agency of Babylon.

Verse 13

13. A tenth A remnant of some one in ten shall be left in Judah by the captor. Thus, in 2 Kings 25:12, it is said “the captain of the guard left the poor of the land to be vine-dressers and husbandmen.” It was the great land monopolists that were taken from the land. So, 2 Kings 24:14, it is said, “Nebuchadnezzar carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths; none remained save the poorer sort of the people of the land.” Over these he made Gedaliah king. 2 Kings 24:22.

It shall return The prophecy omits to say that this “tenth” emigrated at first to Egypt, and that it was from Egypt that it returned. The omission is supplied by 2 Kings 25:26, where it is said that the remnant “arose and came to Egypt, for they were afraid of the Chaldees,” or Babylonians. They afterwards, however, returned to Judea, (Jeremiah 40:11-12,) and resumed residence under the rule of Gedaliah.

Be eaten Literally, be grazed, or consumed as grass is by grazing cattle. They would be worn out with poverty and hardship,

Teil tree The terebinth or turpentine tree. A large tree, less than the oak, with lancet-shaped leaves of a dark reddish hue, and a trunk producing a fine resin. It is not an evergreen.

Cast their leaves In autumn these noble deciduous trees shed their “leaves;” but their sap retires to the trunk, and the concentrated vitality will put on new glory in the spring. So shall the holy seed the offspring of Abraham be the stock thereof, that is, of the Hebrew race. The remnant, reinforced by the restoration from the captivity, will constitute a trunk surviving the downfal, as a tree survives its cast-off foliage. Wonderfully truly, from the prophet’s time to the present hour, has this prophecy of the persistent vitality of the Jewish race been verified.]

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 6". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.