The Call of Isaiah to His Prophetic Office

Isaiah 6 

I. The Awe-Inspiring Vision (Isaiah 6:1-4). “In the year of the death of the king, Uzziah, then I saw Adonai sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.” 

A. The Year. “In the year of the death of the king, Uzziah,” so while that king was still living, but with death near—in that year! The call of Isaiah then occurred at the close of Uzziah’s life. The historical reference is not made to indicate chronological connection. There is a deeper reason. The Lord, rather, reveals from the gloom of Judah’s departing glory the True Light—the lasting glory. It was when the sun of the theocracy was setting and the sun of the Roman world-power was on the rise. King Uzziah died under a cloud, but Isaiah then saw the King, Jehovah Tsebhaoth, to whom both darkness and light are alike. It was a time of prosperity, peace, and reform in which the king strengthened the kingdom, but not to the extent of recovering its lost Solomonic splendor. For even with any reformation under any of the Judean kings, there was, nevertheless, the inevitable declining of Judah’s glory. Now with the end of a reign that was like the final bright flash and the sudden extinction of an expiring incandescent lamp, God appears to Isaiah. Through the dimness (Isaiah 9:1), he saw the King of Glory in the splendor of His sovereignty. In connection with the vision the Lord reveals to His prophet his mission, commission, and the painful revelation of the reproof to be denounced against the people of Judah issuing in the unavoidable ruin of the theocracy. 

B. The Lord. “Then I saw the Lord,” not God’s essence—”whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (I Tim. 6:16), for in that manner “no man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18). But he saw God in His manifested glory, in a theophany, a Christophany, as John tells us in John 12:41, “Isaiah . . . saw His glory, and spoke of Him.” It was a vision seen when awake, in the sense of, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8); or, more especially and more uniquely, by the divine direct and real historical revelation of God himself to the prophet. (Cp. Jer. 1 and Ezek. 1-3). Real, but certainly not a physical reality, since with physical eyes these things are not seen. Spiritual insight must be given to see them II Kings 6:17). 

Isaiah had lost his king, his liege lord, but now he sees another adonai, indeed, One the Master and Ruler of the universe, who is supreme above all, having all subjected to Him, One who sovereignly has mercy on whom He will, and who just as sovereignly hardens whom He will. So verses 9 and 10 teach, as the New Testament interpretation of them bears out. Isaiah, with spiritual eye, saw more than just one divine person (vv. 3, 8), for Adonai, in some places, includes the three persons of the Godhead. Take, for example, Genesis 18, where we have the theophany at Mamre, where God appeared to (let himself be seen by) Abraham, and where we find Abraham greeting the true and triune God. 

In Gen. 18:3, Abraham used this name of God. He “said, My Lord, if now I have found favor in Thy sight . . . .” In this way he greeted all three men who stood by him, applying to them a name he had used in faith, before, of God, the name Adonai, a plural divine name, literally, “My Lords,” (as in Genesis 19:18, “Oh, not so, my Lord!”). This shows that he recognized Them as They were revealed, i.e., as Jehovah. Abraham was then conscious of the Divine Being appearing to him. Notice the context more closely. He saw the three men, ran to meet Them, then addressed Them, saying, “My Lords,” and proceeds to refer to them with singular pronouns. “If (even as) now I have found favor in Thy sight, pass not away, I pray Thee, from Thy servant.” Therefore, Abraham understood this appearance of Jehovah to be an appearance ofAdonai (My Lords). Yet in the following verses, Moses, in recording the account under the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses plural pronouns in referring to Them: “Let a little water, I pray You, be fetched, and wash Your feet, and rest Yourselves, ” and, “comfort Ye Your hearts,” and, further, “Ye are come to Your servant.” In verse 3, Abraham addressed all three as Adonai (My Lords), yet referred to himself with the singular as “Thy servant,” the servant of one (the one addressed); whereas, in verse 5, he addresses Them as three persons, referring to himself with the plural as “Your servant,” the servant of all three. He recognizes all three to be Adonai. Notice, in verse 3, singular pronouns refer to the plural noun, Adonai (My Lord), and in verses 4 and 5, plural pronouns, are made to refer back to that plural proper noun, My Lord. Here is a reference to the unity and trinity of God. 

These three persons appearing to Abraham are proved to be God, Adonai. They recognize Abraham as Their servant: “And They said, ‘So do . . .’ ” (v. 5). In verse 9, They ask for Sarah. When Abraham answers, we read that “He said, ‘I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life.'” This pronoun “He” refers back to its antecedent, “Lord,” in v. 3, or even as far back as “Jehovah” in v. 1. The “They” (v. 9) and the “He” (v. 10) both refer to God. “He said, . . .'” Sarah thy wife shall have a son. Only God can make such a promise. “And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind Him.” That is, one of the three men, the speaker, was facing Abraham outside, but had his back to the tent door, so that Sarah was actually behind Him. It is He (v. 13) who checked Abraham about Sarah’s laughter: “And the Lord (Jehovah) said, . . . ‘Wherefore did Sarah laugh?'” This means that the speakers in verses 5 and 9, and the speaker in Genesis 18:10, 15 are Jehovah! So Isaiah 6reveals the three persons of the trinity, as will be further shown. 

C. The Throne and Temple. “Adonai sitting upon a throne.” His vision of the triune Adonai was a vision of Him as King. Isaiah himself is here greatly disturbed, but the high and mighty Ruler of the universe sits calm and serene, imperturbable on His throne, not agitated, nor frustrated by the confusion on earth. As world sovereign, He rules all men and all their actions. His throne is envisioned not in the temple, but outside the temple, high and lifted up, far higher and greater. It is His pendulous train which fills the temple. He on His throne is the Most High God above all. The heaven of heavens, including the temple in heaven, cannot contain him. Heaven is His throne, the earth His footstool. God is ascended, or transcendent, far above all heavens, while His temple or church (His royal train, i.e., His royal attendants) fills the earth. 

D. The Seraphim. “Standing (not above, but) from above with (an eye, or) respect to it (i.e., the throne). Six wings: six wings to each. With two he covers his face, with two he covers his feet, and with two he was flying.” (v. 2). Each covers his face, as they cannot look at the blazing sun of divine glory. (We would not conclude from this, and from Matt. 18:10, that they are not angels.) Luther said, “The Jews on the contrary stood with head held high and neck stiff, that it would almost be up to God to fear them.” They cover their feet in deep consciousness of their position of servitude to the Holiest of all. For they know that “He puts no trust in His saints” (cp. Deut. 33:2with Gal. 3:19), that as compared to His infinite wisdom, He charges His angels with folly (Job 4:18). For in their unspotted sanctity they still have an unworthiness in their own nature to appear before the throne of God. Their holiness compared to His is as dim as a glowworm before the sun. They know that “the heavens are not clean in His sight” (Job 15:15). They also thus cover themselves (we see no other part of their appearance) to screen out from human view the full splendor of their own blazing brightness. They fly in instant, constant obedience to the will of God. Interesting to note it is that “this is the only passage in the Scriptures in which the seraphim are mentioned” (Delitzsch). Seraphim and cherubim are heavenly, personal, moral spirit beings, probably of different kinds, rather than of the same kind. They both are described as having hands, feet, beautiful, striking faces, Acts 6:15, speech and understanding, which are all used in the praise and adoration of God. Seraphim are also described as standing, covering, and hovering. 

From “this to this” or “the one to the other,” it is not certain whether there were only two seraphim, or two banks of choirs of them chanting antiphonally. (Cp.Heb. 12:22, “an innumerable company of angels,” with Isa. 6:3, 5, Jehovah of hosts. But see Rev. 4:6, 8). The seraphim and the prophet Isaiah together have a sense of the majesty and holiness of Jehovah with trembling, the former alone with no sin. For the prophet, a sinful being, senses the majestic holiness of God with a keenness not experienced by a sinless one. Isaiah’s reaction to God’s holiness is one of a deep consciousness of the misery of sin. The seraphim appear here as champions and guardians of Jehovah’s holiness, making the profane and unclean keep their distance while they purge from defilement that which is to be consecrated to God’s service. These pure beings reveal that our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). 

E. The Trihagia. “And the one to the other (lit., this to this) was calling, and he (it) said, holy! holy! holy! Jehovah Tsebhaoth! the filling of all the earth: His glory!” (v. 3). The triune God is referred to here not because of the thrice repeated holy, but because one part of the chapter, v. 9, 10, is quoted in John 12:40-41 as referring to Christ, while in Acts 28:25, 26 it is referred to the Holy Spirit, and in Rom. 11:8 it is referred to God. So they sing praise to the holy Father, to the holy Son, and to the Holy Spirit. God in himself is the Holy One, the spotlessly perfect pure One. His holiness (the attribute revealing His distinctive, all embracive and infinite perfection) is, by the seraphim, praised in God’s very essence. His glory, His presence, as in the cloud, is filling not just the temple, but the whole earth. The finite cannot infinitely love God, but the seraphim love and glorify Him to the intensest degree of their power. They cannot love Him with the measure of His own covenant love for Himself and for His people. But they love and praise Him as much as they can, to a finite perfection, and so never as much as He deserves! 

(To be continued, D.V.)