The Call of Isaiah
“One of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin is atoned for’” (vv. 6–7).- Isaiah 6:1-7
Isaiah 6:1–7 is undoubtedly one of the most famous passages in the prophet’s book, and we resume our study of the Old Testament prophets today in that text. Having laid out the problem of Judah’s uncleanness in chapters 1–5, Isaiah now provides the solution as he concludes the introduction to his work.
The passage is an account of Isaiah’s call to ministry, wherein the prophet served as a kind of representative for all of God’s people. Isaiah’s encounter with God was an example to the ancient Judahites, for if even one of the holiest men in the nation needed pardon and cleansing (vv. 4–7), how much more did the common people need the same? They needed to return to trusting in the Lord and not false gods or foreign powers, and to acknowledge their transgression. Judah could fulfill its original calling to be the light of the world (42:6) only through such cleansing, much as Isaiah was commissioned to serve God “in the year that King Uzziah died” (6:1)—740 BC.
God revealed Himself to Isaiah in a manner few have experienced. Taken into the Lord’s heavenly temple in a vision, the prophet saw the Creator seated on His throne. Isaiah’s vision of the Lord captures the immensity and glory of Yahweh, for the prophet could describe only the train of His robe, not His face (v. 1). Seraphim—“fiery ones”— surrounded the divine throne, hovering and singing praises to the Lord, proclaiming His glorious holiness. Their threefold repetition of the word holy is significant, for this is how the ancient Hebrews placed emphasis on their words (vv. 2–3). This shows us that what sets Yahweh, the covenant Lord of Israel and the only true God (Jer. 10:10; John 17:3), apart from the pretenders to His throne is not primarily His omniscience or omnipotence, for other religions confess an all-knowing and all-powerful Creator. Instead, Yahweh’s holiness puts Him in a class by Himself. His separateness and purity are so grand, so complete that other would-be deities cannot be compared to Him.
Although Isaiah could not explain the fullness of what he saw in the year King Uzziah died, we know who the prophet met when he was called to ministry. In John 12:36b–43, the Apostle comments that Jesus’ ministry fulfills Isaiah 6:9–10 and that the prophet had actually seen the pre-incarnate Christ in His vision. Isaiah met the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God Himself.
Dr. James R. White comments: “If we ask Isaiah, ‘Whose glory did you see in your vision of the temple?’ he would reply, ‘Yahweh’s.’ But if we ask the same question of John, ‘Whose glory did Isaiah see?’ he would give the same answer—only in its fullness, ‘Jesus’” (The Forgotten Trinity, pp. 137–138). The most holy God took on human flesh to give us full pardon and cleansing. Let us never miss the wonder that Christ Jesus is the incarnate Creator of all.
Passages for Further Study