Copyright © 2008, American Journal of Biblical
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
"Why is there air?" Yes, I am aging myself when I recall this question that was raised by the comedian, Bill Cosby, in the late 1960s. This was back in those days when we would purchase his comedy routines on 33-1/3 RPM LP records. His conclusion as he completed his routine of funny anecdotes was that the purpose for air was to blow up basketballs. When I first heard his comedy routine on the subject as a late teenager, I found myself meditating on the real answer to this question. Why is there air? Without air, we would not exist. God has provided for us an environment that sustains life, and given us a body with a physical set of properties and characteristics that is in equilibrium with it. The elegance and complexity of both is beyond miraculous. By providing this symbiotic environment, God has given us life. Consequently, the real question is a far larger one: Why did God give me life? Why did God give you life? For what purpose has God allowed you and I to take up the space we do and expend the resources of His creation that we do?
When we observe the people of this world we see a very wide spectrum of opinion to the answers to these questions. For most people, these questions are probably never seriously considered, as they take for granted our own unique existence and the state of the universe that we observe. When we do this, there is no need for us to include God in our lives. We simply eke out our daily routine, trying to find some point and direction to it all as we wander in our pursuit of the true abundance of peace and joy that we have been promised by God (John 10:10) but not attainable without Him. Though many may ignore God, Paul reminds us that God has revealed himself to all people (Rom. 1), and as we become familiar with God's progressive revelation of Himself to mankind through Biblical history, we are encouraged to find that there is a plan and purpose to it all, a plan laid down by God (Rom. 8:28) for the benefit of those who serve Him, for those who respond to His call into relationship with Himself. It is only in that relationship that the purpose of it all can be found.
At the time that Isaiah prophesied to Israel and Judah, the two divided kingdoms were engaged in extreme political and spiritual turmoil. The kingdoms had long-forgotten their original understanding of the covenant that God made with them at Mt. Sinai, replacing the characteristics of Godly life that God had illustrated to them through the teachings of Moses, with a legalistic system of laws that strictly over-regulated those teachings. The focus of their beliefs shifted from serving a personal God in faith, to serving the impersonal Law in detail. They no longer felt a personal need for God as they had, and over about a 700 year period they wandered from the practice of faith to the practice of religion.
By the time of Isaiahís life the two Jewish nations had wandered aimlessly as they were battered back-and-forth by the waves of the political and social tides that they chose to immerse themselves in. By rejecting the original covenant that they made with God at Mt. Sinai, they chose to leave behind them Godís hand of protection, abdicating their end of a promise that would have kept them in the land under God's hand of protection. The northern kingdom of Israel would be utterly destroyed within 20 years of Isaiah's first prophesy. The people would lose the land and their identity as they were taken captive into Assyria and the land was repopulated with peoples from other lands. The northern culture of Jewish Israel was never heard from again.
The southern Kingdom of Judah would suffer the same fate, though God's protection of the faithful remnant that remained in the Southern kingdom did result in their protection for a longer period. It was not until the influence of the faithful remnant was completely absent from the Judean leadership was the southern nation destroyed by Babylon. God still honored his promise to protect that remnant when they were taken to Babylon, and He honored his promise to give them the land when they returned to it under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah about 70 - 90 years after the initial captivity.
So, as Isaiah looks around himself, he sees a nation of Jews who have wandered away from their commitment to God and is aware of the consequences of their apostasy. Though he saw the fervent expression of religious beliefs around himself, he also saw a pervasive lack of faith in God. In this respect, the world that Isaiah witnessed was not that much different from that in which we are immersed today.
Isaiah was raised from his childhood in close proximity to the government and to the Jerusalem temple, placing him in a position and place where God could use Him. Because of his deep faith in God, he was also available to be used by God. In many ways, the placement of Isaiah in this apostate nation is not unlike the placement of faithful Christians in this apostate world that we live in.
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
With the lack of a formal annual calendar, the ancient Jews recorded their events in relation to the coronation of their kings. Uzziah died somewhere within 747 and 735 B.C. As Paul has written, God has revealed Himself to mankind in many ways. However, God chose to grant the faithful Isaiah a unique and special gift, one that would embolden his faith for the remainder of his days: God gave sight to Isaiahís faith. We exhibit faith when we stand firmly on that which we have not seen. We trust in the truth of the Word of God, and we do see God's handiwork all around us. However, there are very few who have actually had the opportunity to get a glimpse of what the true and full nature of God and heaven is like. Those who have had such an experience are among a few, yet these few have each had a dramatic impact on the world as they served God without reservation after meeting Him in such a personal way. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed" (John 20:29). This is where you and I are today. God will probably not grant to us the depth of vision and understanding that He granted to Isaiah, so we must respond to Him in faith rather than on sight.
What did Isaiah see? Of course, Isaiah's first reference is to the appearance of the Lord, Yahweh. "Sitting on the throne" is a clear reference to Godís tremendous authority. Worldly kings traditionally sat on thrones, and nations placed the one in authority over them on a throne. When a king would be given the throne, he would be given the authority to rule the kingdom. This is an image that the ancient Jew can clearly understand. They lived in a time and culture when kingdoms rose and fell as nations vied against nations. The spring of each year was the time for the kings to go off to war (2 Sam. 11:1) to expand the area of their authority. At such a time of intense intrigue, Isaiah points out where the true authority of this world is. The authority is not held by King Uzziah, who though a somewhat godly king, never removed the pagan worship from the kingdom. The true authority is not in the kings of the neighboring tribes and nations. Isaiah encourages the people by stating that with all of the seemly chaotic events that we bring upon our selves, God is still the one supreme authority.
Isaiah also points out that the throne is elevated to an extreme height. Again when we look at ancient culture, the high ground was always considered that place of the greatest security and power. The tops of mountains were considered holy places in nearly every ancient near-eastern culture. When we combine these cultural understandings, we see that God's authority is the One authority that is immediate and preeminent, standing high above all others. God stands on an authority that will never be overrun, as will be the case for both the thrones of Israel and Judah.
The "train" of a king referred to that which followed Him closely. We think of a train as an extension of a robe, still common today on women's wedding gowns. When a bride ascends the altar, she often will have bridesmaids who serve her by managing her train. This is not dissimilar imagery to what Isaiah is describing. He sees the authority of God, fully sovereign, and He is not alone. God is surrounded by the faithful, those who honor and worship Him.
This is the image that God had planned for mankind to understand and embrace. The covenant God made with Abraham, and with his seed through Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David, was a covenant that if unbroken would have been characterized fully by the image that Isaiah sees. The encouragement to us and to the ancients is that God is on the throne, there is a blessed remnant of the faithful who will always remain, and through them His plan will be fully accomplished.
Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly.
When we look at the huge diversity of the flora and fauna of this world, should we be any less surprised to learn of a variety of creatures in heaven? Whether the creatures that Isaiah describes are literal or symbolic is uncertain, particularly when it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether we are reading apocalyptic literature which presents concrete theological truths using an intense form of imagery. This is the only biblical reference to the seraphim, though the cherubim of the Revelation of John are similar in appearance. (Note the "im" on the end of a Hebrew noun is plural, so placing an "s" on the end of the word is redundant.)
There is no doubt that Isaiah describes the seraphim as living creatures who demonstrated true reverence and worship in the presence of God. They are described has having three pairs of wings, each serving a purpose. With one set of wings the seraph covered their faces, a clear reference to their recognition of the infinity of God's honor, an honor that is so "high and lifted up" that they do not deserve to look upon Him. This represents their understanding of the glory of God.
The second set of wings was used to cover their feet. To the ancient near-eastern cultures, the covering of one's feet was an expression of humility. As the seraphim recognized the glory of God, they also recognized their own place in God's presence and did not come to God in a prideful manner, but in one of profound humility.
Finally, with the third set of wings, they flew. Fully recognizing the glory of God, and fully understanding their own place of humility in His presence, the seraphim were able to fulfill their purpose.
The appearance and character of the seraphim is similar to the image that God planned for mankind. If we truly respond to God as He has planned and allowed, we will recognize His unfathomable Glory and our own humility. It is not until we have reached that point can we truly and fully respond to Him as He desires. When we fully respond to God in the manner of the seraphim, we can fully accomplish the purpose that God has for us.
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
The response to the seraphim in worship is clear. They repeat the trisagion, the "Holy, holy, holy" that is repeated here and in Revelation 4:8 by various heavenly creatures who also are described with six similarly applied sets of wings.
What Isaiah is witnessing is an example of true and sincere worship. As a faithful servant of God, how frustrated must Isaiah be by what he witnesses as the insincere and powerless form of worship that takes place in the Jerusalem temple, particularly when he has had such a wonderful opportunity to know the characteristics of true worship? Christians come together to worship God, usually at quite well planned weekly meetings where we go through an "order of worship" the will follow the traditions of our denominational lines. The worship service is designed to start and stop on time. If it does not stop on time, many in attendance will become annoyed. Is this the character of true worship? Somewhere, the worship of God as described by Isaiah has been replaced with an event that is designed for our own entertainment. We want to hear the songs we like. We want to hear the positive and heart-warming messages that make us feel good. We applaud the inspirational presentations while responding quietly to those that are not quite so dramatic. Where is the worship? This is what Isaiah is asking when he enters the Jerusalem temple.
The worship that Isaiah it witnessing at the throne of heaven is the form of worship that God has planned for mankind all along. It is a spontaneous display of praise and adoration, presented by those who fully recognize God's infinite glory, their own humility, and God's plan and purpose for their lives.
And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
God has on other occasions revealed Himself physically to mankind through tremors (Ex. 19:18, Acts 4:31), and a cloud of smoke (Ex. 33:9 et. al.). God is far more than a simple authority on a throne. As the Creator and Lord, He interacts with his creation in a powerful and dynamic way. Some always argue that "there is no God" as they live in their pointless existentialism. They do not see the work of God in their own lives or in the world (6:9-10) around them. As our faith increases we begin to see God more and more as we come to recognize more clearly His work around us.
How wonderful would it be to be able to visually gaze upon the Glory of God? If that glory were visible to man today, what would happen? Something similar happened with the pillar of fire that stood over the tent of meeting in the wilderness and over the temple for the 800 years from the Exodus to the Exile. The people's awe lasted only a few days, and the pillar of fire was largely ignored for the remaining years. Only Ezekiel speaks of the removal of the Glory of God from the temple after Judah was taken by Babylon.
It would be wonderful to see that pillar of fire, but we know that God's plan is one of faith, not one of sight as He calls us to Him through the desire of our heart rather than through some showy miracle. Even today, a pillar of fire would be front page news only for a few days, and then later relegated to the religion page, and then become a tourist attraction. Its presence would soon be explained away by scientists, so even with the appearance of the pillar, faith would still be necessary.
We are reminded by Isaiah of the indescribable power and glory of God, that He is worthy to be properly worshipped, and we have both the opportunity and the calling to do so.
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
When this setting is considered from Isaiah's point of view he is presented with a significant dilemma. Their tradition held that no person could look upon the face of God and live (Gen. 32:30, Jud. 6:22-23, et. al.) The sin that we harbor in our hearts (unclean lips) separates us from the One Holy God. However, when we look at the humility experienced by those who did see God, (i.e. Isaiah, Jacob, Gideon, John, et. al.), we find that they did not physically die as a response of the event. Certainly, their lives were dramatically changed: each died to their old way of life. Seeing the face of God does not bring physical death, but rather, causes one to die to the old sin-nature when one submits to God. Those who saw the face of God were different people after that experience. Isaiah is about to experience this wonderful truth. We cannot stand before a Holy God while stained by our sinfulness, and we have no means by which to find atonement for that sin. Only God can forgive us of our sin, a gift that comes from an act of His grace, given to those whom He loves. It is only when we see His face and die to that sin are we truly saved.
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
We cannot come before the Lord while stained by the guilt of our sin. The image that Isaiah demonstrates to us involves both fire and pain. Somehow, because of our natural penchant for wanting a rewards-punishment system, we are never satisfied that we have paid a debt unless some modicum of pain is experienced. Though grace is painless, our willingness to receive it may not be. Isaiah used the metaphor of his lips to represent the sins in his own life and those of all people, and for many of us the lips may be a quite reasonable focal point.
Jesus said, Öbut those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. 19For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: 20These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. (Matt 15:18-20.)
Note that the act of Godís forgiveness of sin required no work on Isaiah's part other than to humbly submit to God. Isaiah did not have to do any great task, or pay any great debt. He did not have to suffer some great penalty to pay for his sins. There is no act of atonement that can earn God's forgiveness. Forgiveness is simply a free gift. Still the penalty for sin must be paid. We find that whether we use biblical history after the event of Jesus' crucifixion, or the prophesies that were presented before, that it was the act of submission to death by Jesus, the Messiah and creator at the cross of Calvary that paid the sin debt for all who place their faith and trust in God, whether they lived prior to the Crucifixion or afterward. Isaiah was receiving the benefit of Jesus' crucifixion as God forgave him and took away his iniquity.
This same offer of forgiveness is given to all who will place their faith and trust in God.
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
In what is probably the most well-known statement in the book of Isaiah, we see an illustration of how we will always respond to God when we come to fully embrace His glory, our humility, and His purpose: we respond in obedience to His call. We cannot come to fully know God and simply turn our backs and walk away. Many have heard of God and learned of the opportunity of grace that he offers, yet they still reject Him (Heb. 6:4, ff.) These have not fully embraced Godís glory. They never turned to God in full and complete submission. Isaiah came to a point in his life where his faith in God was full and complete. It is at this point that God can begin to apply His purpose for Isaiah's life. We have an image of a faithful follower of God who is then presented by God with a real purpose and direction: "Who shall I send, and who will go for us."
God has called every faithful believer to ministry. We see in Jesus' last address to the disciples that we are to "Go, and make disciples" (Matt. 28:18 ff). We might observe some of the nature of Isaiah's response to God's call and see how this applies to our own lives in view of that command.
- Isaiah did not spend four years in college and another three to five in a theological seminary before God could use him. Isaiah was simply a man who loved God. Loving God is the only preparation that is needed to begin serving Him.
- Isaiah did not know what the task would be. God did not reveal where Isaiah would go, or what He would be called to do. In Isaiah's faithfulness, he simply exhibited a willingness to follow Godís call without regard to where it would take him or to what task he would accomplish.
We can easily get ourselves tied down in our little world of entangling responsibilities and relationships. As we look for God's place of service for us, we often want to stay in our own comfortable back yard. We have established a comfort zone with boundaries that we protect at all costs. Are you willing to simply pull up your "roots" that you have so firmly planted for yourself and go to a different place where God wants you to serve Him? Many who profess faith in God are part of a fellowship of talented and faithful Christians who enjoy one another's company and give a lot of thought to those around the world who are without a witness of God's love, and are obedient to learn about and pray for the needs for those outside the comfort zone of the church, yet few to none actually follow Godís call into the field. Our churches have become fortresses of religion and practice while those outside of the walls are left to die without ever knowing the Lord. We do not have to travel across the world to find the mission field. We need only look out our bedroom window.
What we see in Isaiah is a willingness that is so sincere, that it is combined with a firm commitment. God showed Isaiah that it is His purpose that people of faith would submit to His call to spread the good news of His Word throughout the world. Isaiah's response to hearing of the need of kingdom work is simple, "Here am I, send me." One can see Isaiahís response like that of a trusting child who eagerly raises his waving hand in the schoolroom when the teacher calls for a volunteer. Imagine the boldness of such a statement, shouted out in the presence of God and His train. So many of us sit and wait for God's call to be spoken into our ears. We will not move until we have heard the clear voice of God call us by name, individually, to a specified task. God reveals the need for kingdom work all around us, all the time. He has revealed it in His word, and He is speaking it even now to your own heart. Isaiah heard of the need and simply responded, "Send me!"
Isaiah was wonderfully privileged to hear the call of God in the dynamic way he did. However, obedience is not characterized by waiting for a miraculous word of God. Obedience is characterized by acting upon a willingness to serve God when there is kingdom work to be done.
We can see some truths in the call of Isaiah that we probably pay little attention to in our daily lives, and some questions may be raised:
- Have we truly appreciated the glory of God? We fail to really appropriate for ourselves an appreciation for God's glory. We live like God is our "co-pilot" while we are in charge of our own little world, if we give Him authority at all. We do not see God as Isaiah sees Him, for if we did, our response to Him would be profoundly different. If we fully appreciated the glory of the LORD as Isaiah did, there would be nothing standing in the way of our service to Him.
- Is pride standing in our way? Failing to recognize God's glory, we also live lives that are characterized by pride and self-sufficiency. We see no need for God to intervene in our lives unless our circumstances get desperate. It is at those times that we suddenly want a healing touch from God. It is at those times that we want to receive something from God when we have given Him little or nothing of our own lives.
- Why do we not truly worship? Failing to fully embrace God's glory and our own humble state, we fail to truly worship God. We go through motions, religions practices, rites, sing songs, listen to or recite prayers. We may do many "things" that may help us to focus on God, but do we really and truly worship Him? Or, are there other distractions that have a greater priority in your heart?
- Why are we so hesitant to serve? God has revealed Himself, His plan, and the need for the spread of the gospel. This is not rocket science. Yet we wait, and we wait, and we wait ... What are we waiting for? Our testimony is "God, send someone else." ďSpreading the gospel is the preacherís job!Ē
I have never forgotten a song written by Scott Wesley Brown and Phill McHugh, though my memory of the lyrics may not be exact. It is the testimony of a young man who has been called by the LORD to take a step out of his comfort zone.
Oh, Lord I am your faithful servant,
and you know that I have been for years,
I'm here in my pew every Sunday and Wednesday,
I've stained it with many-a tear,
I've given you years of my service,
and you know that I've given my best,
I've never asked you for anything much,
so I think I deserve this request:
Please don't send me to Africa ...
Iíll make sure the moneyís collected,
Iíll make sure the moneyís been spent,
Iíll wash and Iíll dry the communion cups,
Iíll tithe eleven percent!
Iíll volunteer for the nursery,
and Iíll go on the youth group retreat.
Iíll usher, Iíll deacon, Iíll go door-to-door,
Just let me keep warming this seat!
The story ends when the young man submits to the LORD and enters the ministry that God called him to. This is a tragic song that illustrates the state of many Christians today who hold so firmly to the comfort zone of their pews and fail to serve God in a meaningful way. For so many their pews become the venue from which to exercise criticism as they seek to be entertained with a worship experience that is shaped to their own liking, only to leave and live among the peoples of the world without being touched. Having not been touched, they do not touch others.
Whether young or old, let each of us look deep into our own hearts and take inventory of where we stand in our commitment to God. If we have never given our heart and life to God, then we stand before him in our iniquity, with our sin unforgiven. The wages of sin is eternal separation from Him (Rom. 3:23), so our only choice for salvation is simple: trust God.
If we have put our trust in God, it is His plan for that relationship we have with him to develop so that we can know the peace and joy that He offers, and be a part of His plan to bring His love to a lost world. It is Godís plan that the good news of His grace be communicated clearly to those who need to hear by those who know the truth. Godís plan for the salvation of all mankind involves the witness of every believer. We need not wait for a letter: it is already written in His word. We need not wait on His voice: it is already speaking in your heart. All we need do is stand boldly next to Isaiah and with him declare in a shout, "Here Am I, Lord, send me!"