New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Isaiah 6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died- The idea is that although the king was dead, or had ceased to reign in his last years, Yahweh was still king. See on :5. We may enquire why we have this apparent record of the commissioning of Isaiah at this point, rather than at the beginning of the prophecy. He sees a vision of glory and then is given his prophetic calling, which seems appropriate for the start of his ministry, just as happened to Ezekiel. Perhaps Isaiah gave Is. 1-5 and then was now more formally commissioned; see on :9. But the prophets are rarely chronological; Jeremiah particularly is arranged by theme and not chronology. Perhaps the record of Isaiah's commissioning as a prophet is included here because he feels that he is of unclean lips as his people are; and the state of their lips is to be a major theme of his message. So the idea would be that he began his ministry deeply convicted that he was saved by grace and was one with his audience, no better than they, but saved by grace through his faith in the Messianic Saviour figure silhouetted in the vision which itself convicts him of his sin.

I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up; and His train filled the temple- The words high and lofty apply to the throne, not to Yahweh Himself (as in Is. 57:15). The same phrase has recently been used in Is 2:12-14 of how what is high and lifted up in human eyes is to be brought down before the glory of Yahweh. It is used in Ez.  10:16 about the cherubim, which appear to have morphed into the seraphim of this vision (see on :2). And it is used in Is. 37:23 of how the Assyrians were high and lifted up against Yahweh, and would be brought down- just as the pride of Judah was to be, before the high and lifted up glory of Yahweh. Both Jews and Gentiles would thereby be humbled and the intention was that together they would form part of a restored Kingdom of God in Judah. That glory is more specifically defined in Is. 52:13 where "high and lifted up" is used of the exaltation of the suffering servant, the Messiah figure who could have been Hezekiah, had he responded rightly to his sufferings. But after God's attempts to reapply it to Zerubbabel and others, it came to full term in the suffering of the Lord Jesus.

Is. 6:10 is quoted in John 12, with the information that "these things said Isaiah, because he foresaw his glory, and he spoke about him" (Jn. 12:41). The hour of glory was the hour of crucifixion. The son of God, naked, covered in blood and spittle... was the Son of man glorified. And likewise when we are fools for Christ’s sake, then we know His glory. John 12:37-41 tells us that Isaiah 6 is a vision of the Lord Jesus in glory; and in this passage John quotes both Isaiah 6 and 53 together, reflecting their connection and application to the same event, namely the Lord's crucifixion. So it is established that Is. 6 is a vision of the crucified Lord Jesus, high and lifted up in glory in God's sight, whilst covered in blood and spittle, with no beauty that man should desire Him. The point is, when Isaiah saw this vision he was convicted of his sinfulness: "Woe is me, for I am undone...". And yet the same vision comforted him with the reality of forgiveness, and inspired him to offer to go forth and witness to Israel of God's grace. Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord "high and lifted up", with the temple veil torn (Is. 6:4 cp. Mt. 27:51), and was moved to realize his sinfulness, and vow to spread the appeal for repentance (Is. 6:1,5). The high, lifted up Lord whom he saw was He of Is. 52:13- the crucified Lord. And yet Isaiah saw Him enthroned in God's glory, as it were on the cross. So John links the visions of Is. 6 and 52/53 as both concerning the crucifixion (Jn. 12:37-41); there the glory and essence of God was revealed supremely. Jn. 12:38-41 draws a parallel between being converted, and understanding the prophecies of the glory of the crucified Christ. To know Him in His time of dying, to see the arm of Yahweh revealed in Him there, is to be converted.  

Isaiah's vision of "the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" (Is. 6:1) connects with the description of the crucified Lord high and lifted up (Is. 52:13). This vision, John tells us, was of Christ in His glory. And John combines his citation of this passage with that of Is. 53 concerning the cross (Jn.  12:41,42). The Lord, high and lifted up in glory, was the crucified Lord. There He was enthroned, in God's eyes, in His throne of glory. When He comes again and sits in the throne of His glory, He will be repeating in principle the glorification of the cross. The very vision of the lifted up Lord convicted Isaiah of his sinfulness, and steeled his faith in forgiveness (Is. 6:5-8). See on Jn. 19:37.

Isaiah 6:2 Above Him stood the seraphim-
The cherubim overshadowing the ark, where the shekinah glory was, are described as six winged seraphim; or perhaps in the vision, they morph into this form. The word is used of the brazen Seraph (s.w. Num. 21:8) made by Moses; and yet they have human faces, partly human like the cherubim figures of Ez. 1, which were also "high and lifted up" (Ez. 10:16 s.w.). We seem to have here a kaleidoscope of images, classic apocalyptic genre.

Each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet and with two he flew- "Feet" can also be read as "body". The sense is well expressed by the Targum: “With two he covered his face that he might not see; and with two he covered his body that he might not be seen". The seraphim / cherubim themselves are presented as in awe of the glory revealed, and even have a sense of unworthiness before that glory; for the same word for "covered" is used of sin being covered (Ps. 32:1; 85:2). Perhaps if Angels are in view, they carry with them the sense of forgiven sin from a previous creation. So little wonder Isaiah was even more convicted.

Isaiah 6:3 One called to another and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of Armies! The whole earth is full of His glory!-
The "earth" in view is eretz Israel primarily, the territory promised to Abraham. And yet that area was full of sinful behaviour, as Isaiah has demonstrated. But still God's glory was articulated there at that time, and would be.

Isaiah 6:4 The foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him who called, and the house was filled with smoke-
This is a vision of the temple, and if the threshold pillars collapsed, the veil screening the most holy place came down. This is another similarity with the crucifixion (Mt. 27:51). The house filling with smoke speaks of God's wrath, but this wrath was averted in Hezekiah's time. It had various later fulfillments, but finally Rev. 15:8 interprets this as the wrath of God poured out in the last days.

Isaiah 6:5 Then I said, Woe is me!-
Isaiah repeatedly pronounces “woe” upon the people (Is. 3:9; 5:8,11,18,20,21,22; 8:11), and yet in that very context he can exclaim: “Woe is me” in chapter 6; he identified with them to the point of also feeling unworthy and under woe [in this clearly typifying the Lord’s identity with us].

For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips- Isaiah realized his unworthiness: "Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips". He felt he was going to be condemned. But then out of the same vision, the Angel comforted him: "Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged". And then immediately he offered to go on a preaching mission to Israel, motivated by his own experience of forgiveness and with therefore an appropriate humility: "Here am I, send me" (Is. 6:5-8). This incident is full of allusion to the sending of an equally hesitant Moses. As God appears in the burning bush, so God appears to Isaiah among the seraphim, the burning ones. Moses is reluctant to bear God’s word because “I am a man of uncircumcised lips”, and Isaiah felt the same. Whom shall I send… who will go? (Ex. 3:8,9) is matched by Is. 6:8,9. The willingness of Moses to go (Ex. 3:4) is that of Isaiah. And it is to be our pattern, going forth in witness firstly convicted of our own utter unworthiness.

The vision occurred "in the year that King Uzziah died" (Is. 6:1)- and he died of leprosy, smitten of God for his sin. Isaiah would've known Uzziah, and prophesied against him. And yet now, after the vision of God's glory, Isaiah declares that he is a man "of unclean lips". And it was lepers who had to cover their upper lips (Lev. 13:45). He felt no better than Uzziah, the well known smitten-by-God king of Isaiah's time. Likewise before the experience of God's glory as it was and is in Christ, we shouldn't feel that we are any better than the most famous sinner. See on Is. 7:20.

And I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Armies!- As noted on Is. 3:8, the sinfulness of Judah was epitomized in their language. Isaiah did not actually see God Himself, but an intense manifestation of Him. Likewise Yahweh was manifest in the death of the cross, but seeing Jesus there is not actually seeing God Himself crucified.

Isaiah 6:6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar-
Out of the same vision of glory which convicted Isaiah of his sinfulness, there came the power and message of forgiveness. This is what happens as we truly behold the cross. It should account for our conflicting emotions at the breaking of bread when we remember these things, and again encounter the Lord crucified "face to face".

Isaiah 6:7 He touched my mouth with it and said, Behold, this has touched your lips-
Isaiah prophesied of the fire of Divine judgment. But the message was that contact with that fire was not necessarily destructive even to man. It is possible to “dwell with devouring fire” (Is. 33:14); that is part of relationship with God. The only other reference to lips being touched by an Angel is in Dan. 10:16, where it gives Daniel the power of speech. And so the connection is established between receipt of forgiveness and empowerment to preach that message.

And your iniquity is taken away and your sin forgiven- The Hebrew here differentiates between guilt and forgiveness of sin. Hence GNB "now your guilt is gone, and your sins are forgiven". We can ascent theoretically to sin being forgiven; but feeling guilt removed from us is another thing. And that psychological gift is also available from God, through the power of the cross. The very terms iniquity taken away and sin forgiven are found in Is. 27:9; these things would happen if Judah were repentant and destroyed their idols. Isaiah is set up as representative of Judah. His cleansing could have been theirs. But they didn't perceive the glory of the suffering servant, because they were impenitent. There were later chances for fulfilment of the prophecy- Zech. 3:4 speaks of how iniquity could have been taken away at the time of the restoration from Babylon. But again this was not fully experienced, and so the prophecies now come true in a new Israel who have responded to the glory of the suffering servant, the Lord Jesus.

Isaiah 6:8 I heard the Lord’s voice, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here I am. Send me!-
The sinful but forgiven Isaiah was representative of Judah (:7), and yet also He was 'going for us', representative of God and the Angelic seraphim. Just as the Lord Jesus was representative of both God and man; and as we as men are also the face of God in Christ to this world.

Isaiah realized his unworthiness: "Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips". He felt he was going to be condemned. But then the Angel comforted him: "Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged". And then immediately he offered to go on a preaching mission to Israel: "Here am I, send me" (Is. 6:5-8). This is the essential qualification for all preaching work. Israel’s prophets sought to awaken guilt in those of God’s people who were repressing it. This is different to mere moralizing. They were appealing for an awakening of true conscience and guilt. Isaiah exemplified his message in his own life. He was convicted of his sin, saying “Woe is me”, in order to prepare him for the great truth that “your guilt is taken away” (Is. 6:1-7).

When God asks Isaiah whom He should send out, in a scene reminiscent of the Angelic court of Heaven in 1 Kings 22 and Ps. 89:7, Isaiah says “Send me”. He wanted to be part of God’s way and word. And with us too, we are all in that sense ‘apostles’, sent ones, in that the word we preach must be identified with us personally. For the Lord’s parable speaks of how the Father sends out His servants- us- to invite men and women in to the supper of His Kingdom (Mt. 22:14). See on Is. 9:7.

The sending forth of Isaiah was the sending forth of God's word to His people (s.w. Is. 9:8). Isaiah like the Lord Jesus and like us, was the word made flesh. The man became his message; there was a congruence between him personally and the word preached. In the immediate context, Isaiah himself was the servant messenger sent forth (s.w. Is. 42:19; 48:16; 61:1); but he was largely rejected, and Jewish tradition has it that Isaiah was sawn in two by Hezekiah's son Manasseh (Heb. 11:37).

Isaiah 6:9 He said, Go, and tell this people, ‘You hear indeed, but don’t understand; and you see indeed, but don’t perceive’-
It was because they of themselves would not "consider" / 'understand' (s.w. Is. 1:3) that they were psychologically confirmed in their attitudes and blinded so that they would not understand / consider. And so God operates to this day. The message Isaiah was commissioned to preach was therefore some time after they had had the opportunity to hear and see the message of Is. 1-5. This would explain why we have this commissioning of Isaiah only now in Is. 6.

Isaiah 6:10 Make the heart of this people fat. Make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed-
For the quotation of these words in Jn. 12, see on :1. The opportunity to repent in Isaiah's time was spurned, for the most part. It was repeated in the times of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and likewise wasn't responded to. And again in the time of the Lord Jesus. And so He began speaking to the people in parables exactly so that  they would not understand.

The Lord spoke in parables so that Israel would be deceived (unless they made specific search of the meaning of the parable) and therefore would not come to salvation. This fact is hard to get round for those who feel God isn't responsible for deception. Isaiah spoke likewise (Is. 6:9,10; 29:10,11). See on Is. 66:4. Thus men are confirmed psychologically in the way they wish to go.

And yet although their ears were "heavy", God's ears were not heavy to them, if they would pray in repentance (s.w. Is. 59:1). It was by the stripes of the suffering servant that they would be "healed" (s.w. Is. 53:5). His sufferings and related glory have been the burden of the vision just seen. But whilst they refuse to "see" that, they would not be healed.

Isaiah 6:11 Then I said, Lord, how long? He answered, Until the cities are waste without inhabitant and houses without man and the land becomes utterly waste-
This is the scene of Is. 4:1, when the invasion would severely deplete the population. But the time of their healing by the suffering servant (see on :10) was to coincide with the time of their judgment, in that those left alive were to form the spiritually purged remnant. The Divine intention was that the wasting of Judah would elicit their repentance and acceptance of a suffering servant saviour. This is why the Assyrian invasion coincided with Hezekiah's suffering in sickness. But he elected not to be that saviour servant, and turned in his heart to Babylon. And so the prophecy was reapplied and rescheduled to other scenarios, which likewise didn't come to fruition; and will come to its full term in the latter day devastation leading Judah to accept the Lord Jesus as their healer and suffering saviour.

Isaiah 6:12 and Yahweh has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land-
As noted on :11, an exile "far away" and the land laying desolate or emptied of its people (s.w. "deserted place" in Is. 17:9) was required for them to "return" to God, both spiritually and literally to their land (:10 "turn again"). This clearly was the potential at the time of the restoration from Babylon; but there was no repentance. And there is evidence from archaeology and Babylonian records that the "poor of the land" who were not taken captive to Babylon were the majority of the population. Babylon had a policy of deporting the ruling classes. That may however be the scenario implied by the LXX "And after this God shall remove the men far off, and they that are left upon the land shall be multiplied". The final fulfilment will be in the latter day desolation.

Isaiah 6:13 If there is a tenth left in it, that also will in turn be consumed: as a terebinth, and as an oak, whose stump remains when they are felled; so the holy seed is its stump
- LXX "and again it shall be for a spoil, as a turpentine tree, and as an acorn when it falls out of its husk". The original is unclear, but the idea is of new life being sown from a minority (ten per cent?) as a result of the destruction of the majority. The image is similar to that of the Messianic "Branch" shooting forth from the decaying stump of the house of David. A ten percent minority is also envisaged in Am. 5:3. They were perhaps the tenth, the tithe, which were intended for God's work. The idea of only a tenth surviving is repeated in Am. 6:9,10. But we read of a third surviving in Ez. 5:1-4; Zech. 13:8, and elsewhere of a quarter. The reason is that the judgments pronounced were dependent upon Judah's response to them. There were various different scenarios of both judgment and blessing, not all of which would come true. Because God is sensitive to human repentance and intercession, and changes the outcomes accordingly (Jer. 18:7-9). The point is that as those trees even when cut down retain the seed in their roots, which will again spring up into a great tree, so out of the judgments to come upon Judah there would arise a remnant who would grow up into the great tree of God's restored Kingdom.