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Isaiah 6:1-8

Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-11 –Isaiah’s Call

Lesson Focus:

True worship always ends with a sending out of God’s people.

Lesson Outcomes:

Through this lessons 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 has 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.[1]

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 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 the 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 as 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 seen 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 causes 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.[2] 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 prophe