In training children, parents must review certain lessons repeatedly, either because children easily forget or because they have a nature in them that resists the instruction, one that thinks they know better than the parent what is best for them. Likewise too, it is important that, with each study of Scripture, we consider why certain things are emphasised over others.
Isaiah 6 is a well-known passage that contrasts the incomprehensible glory of God with the pitiable condition of man. I believe this theme is visited often throughout redemptive history, because the pride of man necessitates God’s continual reminders that He alone is God and man is but a needy creature.
Isaiah lived in very difficult times of unbelief, among a people who had substituted a personal relationship with God with external religious practices — one that combined the worship of Jehovah with pagan religion. There are enough similarities between Isaiah’s times and our own to warrant careful attention to the lessons here.
We will use the following simple outline to guide our thoughts: in vv. 1-4, we have revelation; vv. 5-7 conviction; and vv. 8-13 commission.
The pride of man necessitates God’s continual reminders that He alone is God and man is but a needy creature
To begin, in vv. 1-4, we are brought into a revelation that God gave to Isaiah of His incomprehensible glory and majesty. The emotion of awe is defined as the feeling we have in the presence of something exceptional that transcends understanding. Let us consider some awesome aspects of this epiphany that will bring great encouragement to us.
Emphasis is given to the God of glory, His throne and His robe. The vision is given in the context of the death of King Uzziah, and we must ask, why is this detail important? Consider the following historic and personal details of Uzziah from 2 Chronicles 26 — they will yield sweet, spiritual fruit to encourage contemporary servants of Jehovah.
King Uzziah had ruled 52 years, beginning his reign when he was 16 years old. His testimony in his early days was a witness of his heart’s desire for the living God. “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord… He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (v.4). It is a most sure blessing upon a society when its rulers do right in the sight of the Lord, seek Him in His word (the visions of Zechariah), and continue seeking to know the Lord.
We are told in verse 15 that Uzziah’s name spread far abroad; for he was marvellously helped till he was strong — but when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he sinned against the LORD his God… Oh, the repeated lesson given throughout the Bible of the consequence of pride, arrogance and self-dependence. How slow we are to learn that lesson!
The race is never over until we cross the finish line, and many that begin well do not end so well. So many churches are ruled by ambitious men who seek to have their own name in the limelight of human admiration. Instead of leading and caring for the flock entrusted to them, they exercise a worldly dominion over them, using guilt and fear to extract finances to support their worldly and devilish ambitions.
The Bible repeatedly offers lessons on the consequence of pride and self-dependence. How slow we are to learn them!
May we be humbled in the dust, as we see these characteristics raise their ugly heads in our hearts and ministries that seek to rebel against our all-gracious and merciful Father!
A. The glory of God
In contrast to the arrogant monarch of the earth, Isaiah was brought before the Monarch of heaven, high and lifted up. Man dies but God is eternal; earthly kings cannot abide but God’s rule never ends; Uzziah is leprous but God is holy.
How needed is this vision for all servants of King Jesus, not only to humble ourselves — but to prepare us to face the arrogance and anger of men who refuse to bow the knee to Him as we declare His law and offer reconciliation in His name.
B. The throne of God
The Spirit next directs our attention to the throne, high and lifted up. There are three characteristics of God’s throne that are important for the soldier of the Cross.
C. The robe of God
Finally we’re told that the edge (train) of the heavenly Monarch’s robe filled the temple. The reference to God’s robe is significant in redemptive history in light of Christ’s seamless garment.
Next, in vv 5-7, we have the conviction that struck Isaiah to the core of his being. The vision of the majesty of God, the cry of mighty seraphims declaring the holiness of God, the temple posts shaking at the voice of Him who cried, and the whole temple filling with smoke overwhelmed the prophet with conviction. He realised his own sinfulness, and that of his people. This is the proper order for any servant of the Lord sent into the world.
We are no different from the people to whom we are sent. We need God’s mercy as much as anyone else. What a significant antidote this realisation is against the poison of self-righteousness! This is a sad and broken world that needs the compassion and mercy of grace extended to it. Unfortunately, Christianity has been the graveyard of many white-washed sepulchers called preachers, who — like their predecessors, the Pharisees — have laid burdens upon the souls of men that they won’t lift a finger to do themselves.
We are no different from the people to whom we are sent. We need God’s mercy as much as them. What a significant antidote this realisation is against the poison of self-righteousness
It is most instructive to note that before Isaiah’s commission to go and bear God’s message to the people, he was touched by the live coal from the altar and his iniquity was taken away; his sin was purged. Graceless preachers are those who have never experienced the forgiveness of sin and their sermons are void of the power of the Spirit of God. The health/wealth preachers of recent times are perfect examples of graceless, or Christ-less, preaching. May God save us from the heresies that these are bringing to thousands today.
Finally, in vv. 8-13, we see Isaiah commissioned to go as God’s messenger. Here is great encouragement as we consider our own weakness and sinfulness. Matthew Henry comments, “Those that are struck down with the visions of God’s glory shall soon be raised up again with visits of His grace.” John Calvin also offers this encouragement: “The whole man, so far as relates to the flesh, must be reduced to nothing, that it may be renewed according to God.”
The commission of Isaiah is the last place we want to consider in this grand vision, and what we find here is, in many respects, quite different from modern teaching. The contrast is evident when we look at what God told Isaiah would be the result of his preaching. First, most people will turn a deaf or defiant ear to God’s Word (v.9). It should not come as a shock when people reject the truth; rather, it should be expected.
Second, and most distasteful to modern ears, is that God ordains judicial blindness upon those who reject His Word (v. 10; Romans 1:21-26). Alas! Look at the deadness of those places where the gospel began powerfully and now breeds the most despicable theories and practices, while despising Christian doctrine. The very doctrine that gave form and liberty to civilisation is the one they now want to destroy. Where the name of Jesus was once revered and honoured, it is now a regularly-used curse.
Do we imagine God sits passively by, while His Son is dishonoured and blasphemed? Do you believe there may be a connection between the confusion and rampant sin displayed in the world and God’s hand of judgment? This is a most discouraging aspect of the work of the ministry! There is a cost to preaching the truth of the Word of God, and Isaiah asks “Lord, how long?”
It may be distasteful to modern ears, but God ordains judicial blindness upon those who reject His Word
In the answer, we find a remarkable declaration: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste.” Here is something we must take deeply to heart in the ‘always positive results’ orientation of most pulpits — that there are times when God ordains the Word to be fruitless in some. What is sent forth as a word of salvation to some becomes judgment to others.
Consider what Jesus said in John 9:39: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” We should remind ourselves of this when we feel our preaching is not yielding the desired fruit of salvation. As Calvin said, “The truth must always be heard from our lips, even though there be no ears to receive it, and though the world have neither sight nor feeling; for it is enough for us that we labour faithfully for the glory of God, and that our services are acceptable to him; and the sound of our voice is not ineffectual, when it renders the world without excuse.”
The prophets had no easy task, as the ministry of prophecy was always active in times of rebellion and decline. Thankfully, we are not left on a negative note, as we see in verse 13 that there is a principle of grace in a preserved remnant that causes life to return. Certainly, it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed and we have much to be thankful to be included in that remnant.
May God encourage those faithfully labouring in the vineyard, though there may be only gleanings. Our task is to be faithful.
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