The Word Made Fresh
1In the year king Uzziah died
I saw the LORD sitting on an elevated throne.
The hem of the LORD’s robe filled the whole temple.
2Above the LORD were seraphs. Each had six wings:
with two they covered their faces,
and with two they covered their feet,
and with two they flew.
3One of the seraphs called out to another,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD, ruler of all,
whose glory fills the whole earth.”
4The seraphim’s voice shook the foundations,
and the building was filled with smoke.
5Then I said, “Woe is me! I am undone,
for I am a man who has sinned.
I live among a sinful people,
and yet my eyes have seen the Eternal One
who rules over everything.”
6Then one of the seraphs took a burning coal
from the altar with tongs and flew to me,
7and touched my mouth with it and said,
“Now that this has touched your lips,
your guilt is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
8Then I heard the LORD say, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
And I answered, “Here I am; send me!”
9Then the LORD said, “Go, then, and say to these people:
‘Listen and listen, but do not understand.
Keep listening, but do not comprehend.’
10Make the minds of these people dull.
Stop their ears. Shut their eyes.
They must not see with their eyes
nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their minds,
or they will be healed.”
11“How long, LORD?” I asked, and the LORD said,
“Until cities lie in ruins, with no one to live there;
until the houses have no people, and the land is completely empty;
12until the LORD sends all of them far away
and the land, broad as it is, is empty.
13Even if ten percent of the people remain there
it will be burned again like a terebinth or oak tree.
All that will be left is the tree stumps
which contain the sacred seed.”
1-5: It is helpful to know something about the setting in which Isaiah prophesied. Uzziah, king of Judah, died about 740 B.C. A victim of leprosy, he was actually succeeded by his son Jotham around 750 B.C., and Jotham ruled for sixteen years altogether. During Uzziah’s reign Judah was strong, but toward the end of Jotham’s reign the kingdom began to be threatened by powerful enemies (2 Kings 15:37). The fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital at Samaria, came in 723-722 B.C. at the hands of the Assyrians.
After Uzziah’s death Isaiah sees a frightening vision of God on a throne above the temple, God’s robes filling it. Seraphs are strange, winged beings that show up in the prophetic imagination, though it is only here that they are they called seraphs. Ezekiel sees them with four wings instead of six (see Ezekiel 1:6-9) and refers to them simply as “living creatures.” They serve as God’s heralds. The vision stuns Isaiah; he is not worthy to see such things.
6-8: The vision continues with a seraph touching his lips with a live coal from the altar, symbolizing that his lips have been cleansed of all sin. He hears God call for a volunteer, and answers “Here I am!”
9-13: He learns that he has volunteered to be God’s prophet of doom. His job is to utterly fail at preaching, to be so ineffective that the people will not repent and turn to the LORD. He is to persist in this hapless task until the land lies waste and the people are dispossessed.
Now, this is an extraordinary revelation: sometimes God wants us to try so that we will fail! Sometimes God will watch and wait until we have exhausted our own resources. Then God will act, and in those circumstances, we will know that God is in charge.