Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Isaiah 6: 4-7

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.  
Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, 
which he had taken from the altar with tongs.
He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; 
and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

So much is packed into our short passage today. If you really start digging into the point of what is being relayed, you may well find yourself as Isaiah did--amazed yet terrified at the awesomeness of God and full of angst over being in this presence, knowing what he knew about himself.

Verse 4 probably should have been tucked into last week's passage, as it completes the picture we left--the Lord, sitting on His throne, surrounded by the Seraphim, praising His Name and His holiness. As I was struck with creation responding to God's presence a few weeks back, I am struck with the same thought of mighty power here. The heavenly door sockets ("foundations"), as is inferred in some translations, tremble in His presence! Smoke, representing a combination of His holy judgment and His holy wrath, fills the temple.

It is not odd, then, that Isaiah would respond out of fear. But, as we continue to read in verse 5, there is more than tangible fear being expressed here. "Woe is me, for I am undone," reads the King James Version. In Hebrew, 'undone' means not only to be struck dumb to the point of silence, but to fail or perish [Strong's]. He has "unclean lips," referring not only to things said but from where those things come--an unclean heart.

"Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you a deceitful mouth
And put devious speech far from you."
--Proverbs 4: 23 and 24

Things HAPPEN when you are in the presence of the Lord. For Isaiah, there was an acute awareness--not of his being called to something incredible but of his own sinfulness. He recognized his failures to live by the Lord's way. He might have felt like perishing, to pull out that Hebrew meaning of 'undone' a little further. The prophet recognized that he was undeserving to be in the presence of the one and only, holy God! Peter found himself in a similar situation, encountering Jesus after an uneventful fishing trip that suddenly turned favorable.
"...their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, 'Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!' For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken...."
--Luke 5:6-9 (excerpts)

The view of God in His glory must have been so overwhelming. Yet, when Isaiah came to terms with that, the immediate thought was his unworthiness to have this view. Not only was he unclean, but his people were unclean, and he was living among them. This is how Matthew Henry rephrases and expounds on this: “I dwell in the midst of a people who by their impudent sinnings are pulling down desolating judgments upon the land, which I, who am a sinner too, may justly expect to be involved in.” How could Isaiah have expected to receive such a vision when his whole nation was under judgment by God? The overwhelming view of God against the overwhelming view of his sin against this incredible moment of grace in his glimpse of the heavenlies. [Whew!...Wow, right?!]

It tore Isaiah up, to the point that he needed an intervention. Verses 6 and 7 describe it. One of the Seraphim comes to him.

"Note, God has strong consolations ready for holy mourners. Those that humble themselves in penitential shame and fear shall soon be encouraged and exalted; those that are struck down with the visions of God’s glory shall soon be raised up again with the visits of his grace; he that tears will heal....   Here was one of the seraphim dismissed, for a time, from attending on the throne of God’s glory, to be a messenger of his grace to a good man; and so well pleased was he with the office that he came flying to him."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Not only does the angel come down from Heaven, but he brings a burning coal from its temple altar. Isaiah's "unclean lips" are touched by the hot coal, and he is cleansed of his iniquity, his sins forgiven. (vs. 7) I'm wondering which segment of these verses is more incredible: Being in the presence of God and recognizing His unparalleled holiness in the face of unworthiness, or being in the presence of one of God's most special angels to be personally purified, sin-purged and sanctified for His service.

More important than answering that question is to see that though Isaiah was chosen to receive this vision for God's unique purpose for him, I should not be that far away from Isaiah in witnessing the glory of God from the view in which He has blessed me; recognizing the deepness of my own unworthiness in His presence; pursuing repentance in light of being "undone"; and, seeking the cleansing and receiving the forgiveness made possible through the saving work of "the King, the Lord of hosts." (vs. 5)

"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me....
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise."
--Psalm 51: 10, 14 and 15

The commissioning.... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Isaiah 6: 8-10

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).