Isaiah's commission. 6:1-8


From 6:1-12:6, Isaiah develops his theme of judgement and grace. Isaiah sees the impending judgement of Israel, he sees the horror of darkness about to fall on God's people. Yet, the hope of divine salvation is just as real. This salvation will be enjoyed by a group of individuals who experience personal reconciliation with God. In 6:1-8 Isaiah tells of his own experience of reconciliation.

The passage

v1a. Although the reign of Uzziah was long and prosperous, Uzziah drifted in his allegiance to the Lord. His death in 740BC symbolized the nation's dying. It was in the year of the king's dying that the Lord touched Isaiah.

v1b. Isaiah's vision in the temple is of the majesty, glory and sovereignty of God, but not of his visage. The "throne" depicts God's reign over his people, while the "temple" depicts his presence in the midst of his people.

v2. Behind the throne, Isaiah sees the "burning ones" (seraphs). These creatures are constantly moving in service to the Lord. They hide their eyes from God's glory, but hear and act on his will.

v3. The seraphim constantly sing of God's unique moral majesty, his distinctive perfection and his separateness. This is what is meant by the word "holy" - all loving (personal), all moral (right), all powerful. In Hebrew, the superlative is expressed by repetition. Here the threefold repetition demonstrates that "holiness" is the supreme expression of God's person.

v4. God's presence on the earth is marked by the temple's shaking (an earthquake). Isaiah's vision has Isaiah at the entrance of the temple, possibly the entrance to the inner sanctuary. Isaiah would dare go no further. In typical fashion, the smoke/mist of the "shekinah glory" fills the temple. The Lord is present and no eye dares see.

v5. In the presence of God's moral perfection, the sinner cannot help but see, as in a mirror, their sin and their loss. So, in the presence of God Isaiah recognizes his unworthiness and the unworthiness of his fellow Israelites. His lips, let alone his limbs, have long displayed his corruption. The question is, can Isaiah's guilt, and more particularly the guilt of the people, be washed away?

v6-7. One of the seraphs takes a coal from the altar and touches the mouth of this man with "unclean lips." The alter, of course, represents the perpetual fire of sacrifice where atonement, propitiation, satisfaction..... is made by a gracious God for an unworthy people. Isaiah is forgiven. His sin is "taken away" (literally "covered"), is "atoned for." "This coal touched your lips and your iniquity was taken away." If Isaiah can receive God's mercy, can Israel receive it as well?



v8. Forgiveness leads to reconciliation. Isaiah, the man with unclean lips, unable to hear God nor speak with him, hears Him speak of His purpose and is able to respond and share in it. "'Send me!' He says, 'Go.'" The "us" in "who will go for us", is a plural of consultation and does not necessarily express plurality in the godhead. None-the-less, in the New Testament the idea is used to illustrate the nature of God as triune. cf. Jn.12:41, Act.28:25.

Like a mirror

It is interesting how gospel presentations often begin by demonstrating the sinful state of the hearer. It seems necessary to establish that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Having defined the lost state of the hearer, the presentation moves on to the atonement, to the death of Jesus as a substitutionary sacrifice for sin. The trouble is that this approach can be quite offensive and the content, particularly the theology of the atonement, beyond understanding.

The sin/sacrifice gospel-formula is modelled on the structure of Romans, yet this is a letter to believers. The letter defines the theological basis for Paul's gospel of grace; it serves to remind believers that they stand by grace through faith and not by works of the law. Romans is an apologetic against pietism rather than a gospel tract for unbelievers.

Isaiah's vision well illustrates the acute awareness of the lost when confronted by the majesty of a holy God. Isaiah's response is similar to Peter's, who, when seeing the fishing boats filled with fish beyond number, exclaimed, "depart from me for I am a sinful man." Peter realizes who Jesus is, and in that recognition he needs no one to tell him that he is a sinner, "a man of unclean lips."

When the majesty of the living God is "set forth" there will always be the person who cries, "Woe to me! I am ruined!" There is no need to tell them they are sinners, for their meeting with "the Lord Almighty" in the gospel of Christ does all the exposing necessary. A person who is confronted by Christ stands convicted of their sin, convicted in their own eyes. Faced with this recognition they need someone to tell them of God's mercy, of forgiveness in Christ. If they accept God's grace in Christ, then like Isaiah they find that they are reconciled to God, no longer enemies, but rather friends.


1. Although this is not a trinitarian passage illustrating God as three in one, it does define the "One". What does this passage tell us about God?

2. What was Isaiah's problem and how was it solved?

3. Outline the gospel without a sin/sacrifice formula.

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