By Mark Scott
In the first religious awakening of America, Jonathan Edwards preached a now famous sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” He took his text from Deuteronomy, and he pled for the people of New England to turn back to God. Centuries later the New Testament scholar, D.A. Carson, preached a sermon entitled, “Preachers in the Hands of a Holy God” He took his text from Isaiah 6, and he pled for those who speak God’s Word today to consider the call of Isaiah as a model for their own calling.
Isaiah prophesied toward the end of the northern kingdom (722 BC). But most of Isaiah’s prophecy concerned the southern two tribes, which would be defeated by the Babylonians in 586 BC. King Uzziah (a fairly good king) died in 740 BC. For those who put their faith in kings and horses (Isaiah 31:1), this created a crisis. Isaiah’s vision and call had the power to reassure the people of God that the real King of Israel was not undone by the death of a human king.
Moses was told that no person could see God and live (Exodus 33:20). But occasionally people were allowed to see some kind of manifestation of God’s glory (Exodus 19:10, 11; 24:9, 10). This of course changed with the coming of Christ (John 1:14, 18; 14:9). But to help underline the assurance of Isaiah’s ministry, God did allow Isaiah to see a visionary experience of the throne room/heavenly temple.
The description of what Isaiah saw was told with an economy of words but with colorful wordsmithing. The throne room of God that Isaiah was allowed to see was lofty, impressive, angelic, distinct, and loud. It was lofty in that God was pictured as seated on a throne—high and exalted. Similar to the play “The King and I,” no one was allowed to be higher than the king. This King of Heaven (later called the Lord Almighty) had a train that filled the temple, indicative of his power and royalty. Seraphim (the only time they are mentioned in the Bible) had six wings, indicative that they are shy of God’s perfect number seven. More than one scholar has suggested that four of their six wings are indicative of worship (humbly covering their faces and feet). The other two wings are indicative of service (flying).
The angels worshipped by calling out God’s holiness to the third power. Holy, holy, holy is the only quality of God that is mentioned as a triad in the Bible. God is other and unique and set apart from humans. The angels saw some things that the people had a hard time seeing—that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory. With King Uzziah gone, that is not what the people saw. They saw gloom and despair. Isaiah and his people needed to know that no matter what it looked like, God had it all in his hands. The temple shook and was filled with smoke, indicative of God’s power and glory.
The most important aspect of Isaiah’s call was the one who called him.
The reaction of Isaiah to this majestic scene was the only approach of an honest person. All Isaiah did was see God, yet that was enough to make his head spin. Once he saw God, he also saw himself in light of God, and he did not like what he saw. This is similar to G. K. Chesterton, who once wrote a letter to a newspaper editor: “Sir, you asked what the problem with the world is. I am. Sincerely, G. K. Chesterton.”
Isaiah saw himself, warts and all. He was undone (ruined). He recognized his sin and the sin of his community of faith. Before Isaiah could be used for service, he had to have his sins forgiven. This forgiveness was symbolically pictured by one of the angels taking a coal from the altar and touching it to Isaiah’s mouth. The angel announced Isaiah’s forgiveness (your sin atoned for). Then Isaiah was ready to sign up for his service.
The famous commission of Isaiah was prompted by two questions from the Lord—they somewhat interrogate, but they also invite. It is hard to know the level of Isaiah’s boldness in volunteering. D. A. Carson thinks Isaiah’s words might more accurately be translated, “Will I do?” At any rate Isaiah signed up for service only to find out that this may be tougher and longer than he thought (Isaiah 6:11). Rarely do we know all at the point of the call. But that is why it is called faith.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.