Isaiah’s call vision is in the Old Testament readings for tomorrow, Isaiah chapter 6. The English Standard Version supplies the heading “Isaiah’s vision of the Lord” for verses 1-7 and “Isaiah’s commission from the Lord” for verses 8-13.
What do these verses teach us about God, the Bible and ourselves?
One, the angels in Isaiah’s call vision are not like the “angels” on Christmas decorations. Isaiah’s angels, the seraphim (“fiery ones”), had six wings – to cover their faces, their feet, or private parts, and to fly. Other angels in the Bible are male figures in white, for example those who ate with Father Abraham and those who spoke to the women who looked for the body of Jesus.
Two, Christian singing should be thunderous. Going by Isaiah’s call vision, when we sing, the walls of our buildings should crack, strings should break, screens should crack. When we sing that we want to “look full in your wonderful face,” we don’t refer to the one whom Isaiah saw. We refer to King Jesus with pierced hands, feet and side. Exodus 24:9-11 tells us that when 74 people “saw” God on Mount Sinai, they only described the pavement beneath his feet.
Three, a personal meeting with God encourages us and enables to do what He requires. Isaiah was required to speak to kings and their advisors. Being “with God” means being terrified, singing His praise and doing his bidding. Have we met God? Do we continually meet God?
Four, 26 times Isaiah calls God “The Holy One of Israel/Jacob,” compared to only six times in the rest of the Bible. His response to being in the presence of the Holy was NOT to worry whether he was ritually clean, whether he’d had his shower or purified himself ritually. His thoughts were ethical. He thought immediately of sin: “I am a man of unclean lips.”
Five, Isaiah’s response to the terror of being in God’s presence was not to promise to do good works, be more kind and loving, etc. His response was to agree to do whatever God “needed.” God’s response was to symbolically remove his impurity. God assured him that though impure, he could be in His service. Just like the nation of Israel, though impure, could serve His purposes, though with frequent punishment by fire.
Six, a most troubling thing about the text is God telling Isaiah that his preaching will produce negative effects. Isaiah was told that his preaching – of God’s word – will harden hearts and cause condemnation. If you were Isaiah, what would you do? Why should God desire that people NOT be healed and restored?
Seven, the clue to understanding the “hardening” lies in reading the text politically. R E Clements brings it out well:
“[Isaiah] was no conventional preacher of a message of repentance, for it was not a general willingness to obey the laws of Yahweh that he demanded, but a more specific response to a concrete political issue at a decisive moment for the existence of Judah and Israel. Once that moment had passed, and the wrong decision [King Ahaz’s choice of Assyria as ally, instead of remaining neutral, Isaiah 7] had been taken, it would be too late subsequently for remorse.”
Eight, it’s not odd that chapter 7 is called upon to explain chapter 6. This is because the book of Isaiah isn’t laid out chronologically – since Isaiah’s call is in chapter 6, not chapter 1. John N Oswalt’s suggestion is helpful: Chapter 6 is a bridge between chapters 1-5, which are general in nature, and chapters 7-12, which relate to specific historical events.
Nine, our Lord Jesus also speaks of hardened eyes, ears, and brains and refers to Isaiah 6 (Matthew 13:13-16; John 12:36-43). When we expose ourselves to preaching, we too risk becoming hardened instead of changed. It is for this reason that preachers try always to end their sermons with “application.”
Ten, yet it’s up to listeners to decide what the personal or community application is. In John 12:41-43, John commends Isaiah for responding to his vision of God’s glory by speaking about God. And John points out that even those “in authority” who saw the glory in Jesus did not respond like Isaiah did. Why? Because “they loved the glory that comes from man [Pharisees who were doorkeepers in the synagogues] more than the glory that comes from God.”
To whose glory will we give greater honour?