Isaiah 1:1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw.
The prophet Isaiah wrote the book that bears his name from around 740 to 680 BC. He seems to have spent most his life in Jerusalem, and is considered by many to be the greatest of the writing prophets because of the depth, breadth and beauty of his work. He has also been called the fifth evangelist (after Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) for his depiction and explanation of the Messiah’s death (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). There is some indication he died a martyr by being sawed in two (Hebrews 11:37).
The Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered in 1947) include a nearly complete scroll of Isaiah from before 100 BC. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest copy of Isaiah was from around AD 935—over a thousand years later.
Since Isaiah wrote around seven hundred years before Christ, and since our earliest copy of Isaiah was from around nine hundred years after Christ, critics assumed the biblical text was corrupt due to so many years of copying.
But when scholars compared the Dead Sea Scrolls copy of Isaiah (from 100 BC) to the later copy of Isaiah (from AD 935) they were nearly identical. Most differences were due to spelling, and no differences affected the meaning of the text. This is because the biblical texts were copied by professionals who believed they were preserving the very words of God. The text of Scripture we have today is extremely reliable.
Isaiah 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
The death of a king created anxiety for God’s people, since other nations might view it as a good time to attack. But after the death of godly King Uzziah, the prophet had a vision of the eternal king sitting on his throne. Whenever life is uncertain, we should think of the one who sits on heaven’s throne, ruling over all.
The one Isaiah saw was so majestic that the train of his robe filled the temple. We do not have much experience with royal trains today, but we are familiar with bridal trains. Some are longer than others, but the longest bridal train on record is over a mile long. Isaiah does not tell us the exact length of God’s train, but it was so long that it filled his temple. In other words, God’s majesty is unsurpassed by any earthly king.
Isaiah 6:2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
The seraphim are heavenly beings not mentioned by name outside this passage. Their name probably means burning ones, and may be due to their closeness to God, who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).
They probably covered their faces because they could not bear the brightness of God, and they may have covered their feet because they were unclean. The seraphim remind us that heavenly creatures exist, about whom we know very little. There is more to the spiritual realm than meets the eye.
Isaiah 6:3 And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.
Holiness includes the ideas of morality and separation, but is much fuller than both ideas combined. Holiness is so closely identified with God that to say holy, holy, holy, is nearly the same as saying God, God, God. God is never called three-times anything in the Bible other than holy, holy, holy. This is dreadful news for sinners because God’s holiness and human sinfulness are totally incompatible.
Isaiah 6:4-5 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Woe to me! I cried. I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.
In the previous chapter Isaiah pronounced a series of woes on the wicked. Woe to those who call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes (Isaiah 5:21). Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine (Isaiah 5:22), he said. But after coming into the presence of God, the prophet cried out, Woe to me! . . . I am ruined!
Isaiah was a pretty good person compared to many others. But in the presence of God he saw who he really was—a sinner exposed to wrath. The closer we are to God, the more we’ll feel our sin; and the further we are from God, the more we’ll feel righteous. The righteous know they are wicked, and the wicked think they are righteous.
Job had a similar experience when he encountered God. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6). Likewise, Peter said to Jesus, Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! (Luke 5:8). Sin is so common that it does not normally bother us, but in the presence of a holy God it becomes our first concern.
There may have been several areas in which Isaiah fell short, but the sin that troubled him most was his speech. For I am a man of unclean lips, he said. We do not think of inappropriate speech as a terrible sin, but Jesus did. Everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37), he said.
Since Isaiah spoke for God, he was even more accountable (James 3:1). If a surgeon wouldn’t mix clean and unclean instruments, a prophet should never mix clean and unclean words.
Isaiah 6:6-7 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.
Sinners cannot approach a holy God apart from sacrifice, but there was an altar in God’s presence for that purpose. The sacrifice is not mentioned, but the purpose of the sacrificial system was to point ahead to the sacrifice of Christ. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood (Romans 3:25), wrote Paul.
By taking a coal from the altar, and applying it to the prophet’s lips, the angel was showing that God’s provision was sufficient for the prophet’s wicked speech. Likewise, the sacrifice of Christ is sufficient for the wickedest things we have ever done.
Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, Here am I. Send me!
With his sin atoned for, the prophet was in a position to speak for God. He would spend the rest of his life proclaiming the holiness of God, the problem of sin, and the coming remedy of Jesus Christ. The church has a similar task, but enjoys the advantage of preaching after the death and resurrection of Christ. Proclaiming Jesus’ death and resurrection to all people is the highest honor of the church.
Reflection and Review
Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls important?
Why was Isaiah concerned about his sin?
Why did Isaiah want to tell others about Christ?