What is it that we most need in this uncertain and chaotic world? What is it that will change our perspective on everything? Isaiah ch 6 gives us some pointers!
Read Isaiah 6
Uzziah had been a successful king but in his later years lost his way becoming puffed up with pride. He sought to take the place of the High Priest and offer sacrifices in the temple. As a result, he was struck down with leprosy. It is striking that it is when he dies that God chooses to act by giving Isaiah an incredible vision of his glory. The vision is set in the Temple and I take this to mean that Isaiah was physically present, serving there, hence that he was likely to have been a priest. God is so vast and great that the Temple could not contain him, it was only enough for part of his clothing. We are meant, I think to see the ark of the covenant not so much as representing God’s throne as his footstool. God’s throne is always in heaven (v1).
Isaiah also sees angelic beings, Seraphim, they are winged for flight but they also have wings to cover their feet, a sign of modesty in Ancient Near Eastern culture and their eyes so that they are shielded from the overwhelming brightness of God’s glory (v2). They are worshipping God, the repetition of “holy” three times signifying completeness, perfection and they declare that not only the temple, not only the land is full of God’s glory but the whole earth (v3).
Such is the power in the voices even of the Seraphim that the temple shakes. Isaiah is overwhelmed and cries out in both fear and conviction confessing his sinfulness, particularly his failings in speech which is significant given his calling as a prophet. He is unworthy to see God (as seer) and unworthy to speak for him (v4-5). One of the creatures brings a coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips. He tells him that he is purified. We see God’s grace and forgiveness at work (v6-7).
God asks the question “who is there that I can send? Who will speak for me?” Just as in the past God had searched out for a righteous representative, finding Noah before the flood, Abraham in Ur and then Lot in Sodom, so he searches again. There has been no-one righteous and blameless found but Isaiah has confessed his sin and received forgiveness and purification. He now responds and declares himself available (v8).
But what is the message that God has for Isaiah to deliver? It’s no easy message. The focus seems to be on judgement and punishment. The situation hopeless. Although the people are able to see and hear, they have eyes and ears, they are not actually listening and perceiving. They are unable to understand and to know (v9). In fact, it is God who is at work making sure that they are not able to truly see, hear and know. They are to be afflicted with dull hearts, heavy ears and blind or closed eyes. The sense here is of someone going into a deep slumber. The nation is comatose. Why is God doing this? It is intentional, so that they will be unable to understand, grasp God’s intention, turn away and repent from their sin and idolatry (v10).
Isaiah asks “How long” this will go on for? God’s response is that it will be until there is almost complete destruction. God will send judgement until the land is desolate, the cities destroyed and its inhabitants driven out (v11). The exile is prophesied as God says that the people will be removed from the land (v12). Imagine a tree being cut down and burnt. The charred remains are examined and then thrown back into the fire. That’s what will happen to Judah. However, there is hope right at the end. A theme throughout the Old Testament is of a faithful remnant who will be preserved and saved. Here, God shows Isaiah that something will be left, from the stump of the tree, a new tree will come. The stump offers the seed of new life. What, or rather who, is this seed? We are told that it is “the Holy Seed” (v13).
Idols for destruction
Why does God seemingly condemn the people to not be able to understand and grasp what he is saying to them? This doesn’t seem to be fair. The same question comes up when Jesus surprises us in Matthew 13 by quoting these verses to explain why he speaks in parables. Rather than the parables enabling people to understand difficult spiritual concepts, it seems that Jesus’ intent is to obscure the simple truth.
The answer is perhaps best found in Greg Beale’s book “We become what we worship”. There he draws our attention to a parallel passage in Psalm 115:5-8. ** There we see that it is idols that despite appearing to have eyes, ears, mouths, noses are unable to use them for the senses of smell, touch, sight and sound. The conclusion is that those who make the idols become just like them, in a similar kind of way to how pet owners are often said to look increasingly like their cat or dog.
Of course, for Israel, the idols that they found in the land, that belonged to the Canaanites were meant to be utterly destroyed (see Deuteronomy 7). Instead they adopted those false gods for themselves and worshipped them, becoming like the people of the land and like their gods. They took on the values and moral character of the false gods. So, in effect God is saying that he will now destroy the false gods in them. They have consumed taken those gods into them, so if the idols are to be destroyed, if the gods driven out from the land, then the people will go with them.
There can be nothing left for them to cling to, no false hope for them to trust in. You see, it’s the things that we fear and the things that we put our hope in that become our idols. What is it that you have learnt to fear? What is it that you have learnt to trust in?
The Holy Seed
This brings us to the question of what is left at the end? What is the Holy Seed? Well God had been making this clear through the Bible. In Genesis 3, he talks about the seed of the woman and later, he promises Abraham that through his seed, or offspring hope and blessing will come to the whole world.
Jesus is “the holy seed”, God’s holy one. That’s the point, when everything else is stripped away and there’s nothing left, when all the things we have put our confidence in have taken away, when it seems that all hope is gone, Jesus is there. In fact, the New Testament points to him as the one who all our sin and idolatry is laid upon so that it is condemned and destroyed in him instead of us, so that he experiences death and exile for us.
So, Romans 6:1-4 tells us that we have died with Christ so that we died to sin and idolatry and because of this we are raised to new life, grafted into the tree or vine (c.f. Romans 11).
Meditate on these words
“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts.” (v3).
- What do you think of when yo hear God described as Holy?
- The phrase “Lord of Hosts” can be translated “commander of armies.” What does it mean to say that God is able to command the armies of heaven? What assurances does this give you?
Now meditate on verse 13
The holy seed[g] is its stump.
- If Jesus is the seed and the stump, then what hope dos this give to us?
- Is there anything that you are clinging to? Any idol in your life that needs to be removed and destroyed?
Lord God, I confess my sin. I have allowed false gods to to take root like weeds in my life. Uproot them and remove them far away from me I pray. Help me to put my trust solely and completely in Christ alone. Amen.
**Beale, We become what we worship, 45.