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6. Isaiah's Commission
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. 2Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
5Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. 6Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. 8Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
9And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 10Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. 11Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, 12And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
13But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
Isa 6:1-13. Vision of Jehovah in His Temple.
Isaiah is outside, near the altar in front of the temple. The doors are supposed to open, and the veil hiding the Holy of Holies to be withdrawn, unfolding to his view a vision of God represented as an Eastern monarch, attended by seraphim as His ministers of state (1Ki 22:19), and with a robe and flowing train (a badge of dignity in the East), which filled the temple. This assertion that he had seen God was, according to tradition (not sanctioned by Isa 1:1; see Introduction), the pretext for sawing him asunder in Manasseh's reign (Heb 11:37). Visions often occur in the other prophets: in Isaiah there is only this one, and it is marked by characteristic clearness and simplicity.
1. In … year … Uzziah died—Either literal death, or civil when he ceased as a leper to exercise his functions as king [Chaldee], (2Ch 26:19-21). 754 B.C. [Calmet] 758 (Common Chronology). This is not the first beginning of Isaiah's prophecies, but his inauguration to a higher degree of the prophetic office: Isa 6:9, &c., implies the tone of one who had already experience of the people's obstinacy.
Lord—here Adonai, Jehovah in Isa 6:5; Jesus Christ is meant as speaking in Isa 6:10, according to Joh 12:41. Isaiah could only have "seen" the Son, not the divine essence (Joh 1:18). The words in Isa 6:10 are attributed by Paul (Ac 28:25, 26) to the Holy Ghost. Thus the Trinity in unity is implied; as also by the thrice "Holy" (Isa 6:3). Isaiah mentions the robes, temple, and seraphim, but not the form of God Himself. Whatever it was, it was different from the usual Shekinah: that was on the mercy seat, this on a throne; that a cloud and fire, of this no form is specified: over that were the cherubim, over this the seraphim; that had no clothing, this had a flowing robe and train.
2. stood—not necessarily the posture of standing; rather, were in attendance on Him [Maurer], hovering on expanded wings.
the—not in the Hebrew.
seraphim—nowhere else applied to God's attendant angels; but to the fiery flying (not winged, but rapidly moving) serpents, which bit the Israelites (Nu 21:6), called so from the poisonous inflammation caused by their bites. Seraph is to burn; implying the burning zeal, dazzling brightness (2Ki 2:11; 6:17; Eze 1:13; Mt 28:3) and serpent-like rapidity of the seraphim in God's service. Perhaps Satan's form as a serpent (nachash) in his appearance to man has some connection with his original form as a seraph of light. The head of the serpent was the symbol of wisdom in Egypt (compare Nu 21:8; 2Ki 18:4). The seraphim, with six wings and one face, can hardly be identified with the cherubim, which had four wings (in the temple only two) and four faces (Eze 1:5-12). (But compare Re 4:8). The "face" and "feet" imply a human form; something of a serpentine form (perhaps a basilisk's head, as in the temples of Thebes) may have been mixed with it: so the cherub was compounded of various animal forms. However, seraph may come from a root meaning "princely," applied in Da 10:13 to Michael [Maurer]; just as cherub comes from a root (changing m into b), meaning "noble."
twain—Two wings alone of the six were kept ready for instant flight in God's service; two veiled their faces as unworthy to look on the holy God, or pry into His secret counsels which they fulfilled (Ex 3:6; Job 4:18; 15:15); two covered their feet, or rather the whole of the lower parts of their persons—a practice usual in the presence of Eastern monarchs, in token of reverence (compare Eze 1:11, their bodies). Man's service a fortiori consists in reverent waiting on, still more than in active service for, God.
4. posts of … door—rather, foundations of the thresholds.
lips—appropriate to the context which describes the praises of the lips, sung in alternate responses (Ex 15:20, 21; Isa 6:3) by the seraphim: also appropriate to the office of speaking as the prophet of God, about to be committed to Isaiah (Isa 6:9).
6. unto me—The seraph had been in the temple, Isaiah outside of it.
live coal—literally, "a hot stone," used, as in some countries in our days, to roast meat with, for example, the meat of the sacrifices. Fire was a symbol of purification, as it takes the dross out of metals (Mal 3:2, 3).
the altar—of burnt offering, in the court of the priests before the temple. The fire on it was at first kindled by God (Le 9:24), and was kept continually burning.
7. mouth … lips—(See on Isa 6:5). The mouth was touched because it was the part to be used by the prophet when inaugurated. So "tongues of fire" rested on the disciples (Ac 2:3, 4) when they were being set apart to speak in various languages of Jesus.
iniquity—conscious unworthiness of acting as God's messenger.
purged—literally, "covered," that is, expiated, not by any physical effect of fire to cleanse from sin, but in relation to the altar sacrifices, of which Messiah, who here commissions Isaiah, was in His death to be the antitype: it is implied hereby that it is only by sacrifice sin can be pardoned.
8. I … us—The change of number indicates the Trinity (compare Ge 1:26; 11:7). Though not a sure argument for the doctrine, for the plural may indicate merely majesty, it accords with that truth proved elsewhere.
Whom … who—implying that few would be willing to bear the self-denial which the delivering of such an unwelcome message to the Jews would require on the part of the messenger (compare 1Ch 29:5).
9. Hear … indeed—Hebrew, "In hearing hear," that is, Though ye hear the prophet's warnings again and again, ye are doomed, because of your perverse will (Joh 7:17), not to understand. Light enough is given in revelation to guide those sincerely seeking to know, in order that they may do, God's will; darkness enough is left to confound the wilfully blind (Isa 43:8). So in Jesus' use of parables (Mt 13:14).
see … indeed—rather, "though ye see again and again," yet, &c.
10. Make … fat—(Ps 119:17). "Render them the more hardened by thy warnings" [Maurer]. This effect is the fruit, not of the truth in itself, but of the corrupt state of their hearts, to which God here judicially gives them over (Isa 63:17). Gesenius takes the imperatives as futures. "Proclaim truths, the result of which proclamation will be their becoming the more hardened" (Ro 1:28; Eph 4:18); but this does not so well as the former set forth God as designedly giving up sinners to judicial hardening (Ro 11:8; 2Th 2:11). In the first member of the sentence, the order is, the heart, ears, eyes; in the latter, the reverse order, the eyes, ears, heart. It is from the heart that corruption flows into the ears and eyes (Mr 7:21, 22); but through the eyes and ears healing reaches the heart (Ro 10:17), [Bengel]. (Jer 5:21; Eze 12:2; Zec 7:11; Ac 7:57; 2Ti 4:4). In Mt 13:15, the words are quoted in the indicative, "is waxed gross" (so the Septuagint), not the imperative, "make fat"; God's word as to the future is as certain as if it were already fulfilled. To see with one's eyes will not convince a will that is opposed to the truth (compare Joh 11:45, 46; 12:10, 11). "One must love divine things in order to understand them" [Pascal].