Lesson Focus: True worship always ends with a sending out of God’s people.
Lesson Outcomes: Through this lesson students should:
Understand that an encounter with God should always elicit praise and worship.
Understand that an encounter with God should move us to confession of our sinfulness.
Understand that as we confess our sinfulness, God will cleanse and forgives us.
Understand that our forgiveness is so that God can send us out to do his work.
Catch up on the story: The very beginning of the text tells us that Isaiah had this vision of the heavenly throne room the year King Uzziah died. This places the date for this vision sometime between 742 and 736 BCE. The death of Uzziah marks a transition for the book of Isaiah and historically for Israel. Historically, Uzziah’s death marks the end of a period of relative peace and stability. Assyria’s power and influence have begun to grow and will soon pose a great threat to Israel. For Isaiah, this chapter combined with Uzziah’s death also highlights two different understandings concerning who has ultimate authority in the world. In chapters 2-4 the prevailing understanding in Israel is that the world is controlled by human activity and agency. Chapter 5 begins to challenge that assumption. By the time we get to chapter 6, there can be no doubt that the world works according to God’s rule.
Isaiah 6 is a commissioning or call narrative, similar, in some aspects, to stories we have about Moses and Jeremiah. At the same time, this vision also functions somewhat as a theophany, or a story relating to God’s self-revelation. The setting for the vision most likely takes place in the context of Isaiah’s worship of God at the temple. In fact, much of the imagery will reflect that of the Temple mixed with imagery of the heavenly throne room.
The Text: The text begins, as we have said, with a historical marker. It is the year that King Uzziah died and Isaiah is likely in the Temple when he begins to have a vision. All of a sudden he sees the Lord sitting on a throne that is high and lifted up. The vision Isaiah has is very fluid and dynamic. Very soon, Isaiah sees the hem of God’s robe filling the temple. Then, seraphs, or fiery creatures, appear in the same space. Traditionally, in surrounding religions, especially in Egypt, creatures like these guarded the entrance to divine throne rooms. The description of these seraphs is different enough to not be copies of beings from other religions. Each creature had six wings. Two of their wings covered their faces, two covered their feet, and with two they flew. Even though these creatures are heavenly beings they cover their faces in respect and protection against the brilliant glory of God. The seraphs are there not to protect the throne room, but to lead it in unending praise.
We are told next that the seraphs begin to sing a song of praise. Their song starts with honoring God’s holiness but ends in a declaration of God’s glory. God’s greatness, literally in Hebrew, his heaviness, his splendor, is not limited to this throne room vision. Indeed, what the prophet has seen is just a glimpse of what and who God is. Using the temple imagery, only a portion of the hem of God’s robe fills the space. God’s holiness and his glory spread out like that robe and fill the whole earth. This massive scene is overwhelming to Isaiah as we come to compare and contrast his life and that of his normal surroundings with that of his vision.
The room shakes because of the voice of these angelic beings and the room fills with smoke that adds to an even greater sense of vulnerability and brokenness for the prophet. This vision and event cause Isaiah to call out in confession of his unworthiness to be there. Isaiah confesses that he is lost, unclean and his people are unclean. He is not worthy, nor are the people he comes from, to be in the presence of such a holy and glorious God.
This confession from the heart of Isaiah is not ignored. One of the seraphs flies over to him with a coal from the altar. Holding the burning coal in a pair of tongs, the seraph applies the coal to Isaiah’s lips and then pronounces him clean. Isaiah’s “guilt has departed” and his “sins are blotted out.” The application of the live coals produces a complete purging of sin and sickness and rehabilitates Isaiah to the point of holiness. Isaiah’s confession, prompted by an encounter with the holiness and glory of God, is met with God’s response of healing and cleansing.
Then, for the first time in the passage, we hear the voice of God. It’s important to keep in mind that the setting of this vision is the throne room of God. It is the place from which God goes about administering the world. There is business to be done. This vision is not just for Isaiah, but it is a part of God’s active engagement in and for the world. So it is appropriate that God’s words here are active in nature, questioning who it is that will do the work that God wants done.
“Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?” Notice that even though God has revealed himself to Isaiah in this special way, and that God has cleansed him too, that the call is still placed in the form of a question. God would have had every right, as he had done with other prophets, to tell Isaiah what he wanted done. In this case, God asks. It is up to Isaiah to respond to the call that God now issues. “Whom shall I send…” There seems to be no hesitation on Isaiah’s part to answer the call. It is not like those times when we are in a meeting and a boss asks for a volunteer to undertake a particularly unpleasant job and everyone sits there with their eyes turned down. Isaiah’s response is immediate. “Here am I; send me!”
So What…? This passage reads like a classic outline for worship. In verses 1-4 we have unbridled praise of God. As we gather together, the Holy One comes into our midst and the appropriate response is always praise. The praise moves from a confession of God’s holiness or his otherness into a declaration of his glory and might. Our engagement in the worship of this holy and glorious God highlights in us our unworthiness to be in his presence. When confronted with such a great and good God we are compelled to cry out with Isaiah, “Woe is me! I am lost, I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips!” True worship leaves us with the longing to be like the one in whose presence we are gathered.
This longing is not left unfulfilled. God, in his great grace and mercy, comes to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the fire of the Holy Spirit to blot out our sin. This fire begins to cleanse us too. Our response to God’s presence is confession. God’s response to our confession is forgiveness and cleansing. Worship does not end with our forgiveness. If we end with forgiveness we almost entirely miss point. Our forgiveness is part of the means by which we get to participate in God’s mission of love and grace on earth. In worship, as we are forgiven we are always called, called to proclaim God’s holiness and glory, his grace and forgiveness, his love and mercy. We have only worshiped properly when we respond to this call in affirmative and tangible ways. We must echo Isaiah’s “Here am I; send me!” going out into our world in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! True worship must always end with a sending out of God’s people.
Critical Discussion Questions:
What does God look like in this text/Who is God in this text/What is God doing in this text?
God is hard to see. What Isaiah sees is what God wants him to see and that is but a fraction of his glory. God is holy and full of glory, which fills the whole earth. In the context of Isaiah’s book, God is preparing one of his children to proclaim the news that he has for his people. Isaiah’s call comes in the midst and out of worship.
What does holiness/salvation look like in this text?
Holiness looks like allowing the fire of the Holy Spirit to cleanse us from all of our sin and unrighteousness. God forgives us so that he can cleanse us, so that we can be called, so that we can respond and move into our world in mission. Holiness looks like moving out into our world to proclaim God’s good word, and at times his judgment, as a result of our gathering together to participate in worship.
How does an encounter with this story shape who we are and who we should become?
I think this passage should make us stop and think about what we believe about worship. We should shape our personal and cooperate times of worship so that as we encounter the living God we are moved to confess his holiness and glory, confess our sins and transgressions in the light of this holy God, and allow God to move in us for our forgiveness. Then we must respond to God’s call, which is ever present in worship, to carry forward the mission he has given us.
Specific Discussion Questions: Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Have you ever been in a worship service where you were overwhelmed by God’s holiness? How did you respond to that service?
Why does Isaiah begin with noting that the vision he had took place in the year that King Uzziah died? Was Uzziah a good king?
The seraphs, literally “fiery creatures,” were part of the heavenly throne room. What do you think their job was? What do you make of their song?
In verse 5, why does Isaiah respond to the vision in the way that he does?
What is God’s response to Isaiah’s words?
God wonders aloud in verse 8, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Why do you think he asks this question and does not just tell Isaiah what to do?
This passage can be used as a basic outline (see below) for our worship. What are some of the ways in which we might do this as we gather together each week and as we seek to worship at home? Is this pattern contrary to how you have understood worship in the past?
We gather together in the presence of a Holy God.
Confronted with God’s holiness we proclaim our praise for this Holy God.
We examine our lives in the light of God’s holiness and realize that we are unclean.
We allow God to cleanse us through the fire of his Holy Spirit. We are forgiven.
God calls us to go on mission for him.
We respond echoing Isaiah’s “Here am I; send me!”
 Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah: A Commentary, The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 55.
 Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah, Vol. 1: Chapters 1-39, (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 59.