God’s Call of Isaiah
March 5, 2009
Some might ask why the book doesn’t begin with Isaiah’s call. Why is it not until chap. 6 that we read this? I think the answer is that Isaiah wants to set his ministry in context and the first five chapters give us that context. He lets us see just how bad was the rebellion against Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel (which by the way is a favorite descriptive Name of God in this book.
Not only is Israel’s blatant sin made clear, but there are also brief hints of God’s great mercy and purpose displayed in the glimpses of the One who would come to redeem the peoples of the world – all who would believe, including a portion of Israel known as the remnant.
Against that background we read of Isaiah’s call
This call came in the year of Uzziah’s death. He had been the King of Judah for 50 years and basically had a long period of prosperity and peace. Uzziah disobeyed God late in his reign and was struck with leprosy. He was forced to stand down and Jotham his son, reigned briefly.
Isaiah 6:1 says “. . .I saw the Lord seated on . . . a throne” Note that the word Lord is not the same as the word LORD of verse three, the latter being a translation of the Hebrew word for the Name of God, i.e. Yahweh. “Lord” (‘adonai) of verse one is what we normally understand by lord – master, boss, sovereign. (See my blog on “God is Personal and Has a Name”) Isaiah saw a vision of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe.
The important thing for Isaiah in this experience was the message of the seraphim (the only time these ‘burning ones’ occurs in the Bible) who cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God of Hosts.” The building shook and was filled with smoke, symbols of the awesome presence of Almighty God; Isaiah was shaken to the very core of his soul. Holiness is what constitutes His distinctiveness. It is His total and unique moral majesty.
Isaiah said, “Woe is me for I am lost (ESV) undone” (KJV). This word ‘lost’ comes from a root ‘to be silent.’ What a powerful word – silenced, i.e. excluded from the heavenly choir, unable to speak or prophecy or even the silence of death! Speechless before the throne!
No wonder at Isaiah’s response. Compare Abraham’s “I who am but dust and ashes” or Job’s “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” or Peter’s “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.”
No person can stand erect before the Holy God! When people fear before God, it “is not the consciousness of . . . humanity in the presence of divine power, but the consciousness of . . . sin in the presence of moral purity.” (Rowley quoted by Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 77)
In verses 6 and 7, God deals with Isaiah exactly at the point of Isaiah’s sin. The seraph, using the burning coal, touched his mouth and said . . . This was not just a bare act, but an act accompanied by divine interpretation. Both belong to God; Isaiah does nothing. God deals with the wickedness (unclean lips) – removed; and He also deals with the guilt (sin) – atoned for! What a wonderful God who deals with sinners, not only as they think necessary, but as He knows to be necessary!
6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord (‘adonai again) saying. The Almighty Sovereign speaks; man must listen and respond. . . . who will go for Us? The plural “us” is quite amazing and very rare in the Old Testament (see Gen. 1:26). These we might say are the first hint of the mysterious but majestic wonder of the Trinity. The reality of this awaits the revelation in the New Testament and is understood and believed by those who know ‘the rest of the story.’ Isaiah’s response was immediate: Send me.
At first glance, this seems the oddest commission ever given to a prophet:
Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive. (6:9)
Then he adds in typical Hebrew fashion (v. 10):
and turn and be healed.
Think about the implications of that passage. It is cited in Matt. 13:14-15; John12:40; Acts 28:26.
Those who won’t be morally responsible for uprightness, may soon be at a point where they can’t be morally upright and then all is lost.
Isaiah faces “the preacher’s dilemma: if hearers are resistant to the truth, the only recourse is to tell them the truth yet again, more clearly than before. But to do this is to expose them to the risk of rejecting the truth yet again and, therefore, of increased hardness of heart. It could even be that the next rejection will prove to be the point at which the heart is hardened beyond recovery. . . . Opportunity in human life is as often judgment as it is salvation.” (Motyer, p. 79)
The last three verses send Isaiah in the exact opposite direction of great revival and success. It is a ministry that will last until the cities are utterly desolate and the remnant sent into exile.
Verse 12 says that even the tenth (remnant) remains only to be burned again, the last hope – the only hope is that God will, out of the stump, make a tender shoot grow up. This is a prophecy of the Messiah who would become the “Branch” of which we read in Isa. 4:2.
Let us make sure we are not less than the donkeys and oxen (1:3), but understand, hear and see what God has revealed to His people who must believe and obey that Word. Perhaps it is not too late, but one thing is sure, no one can continue to rebel against God with impunity. There will come a day when it is too late.
I pray that no reader of this study will end up in that sad state.