What does Isaiah 6 mean?
Isaiah 6 describes Isaiah's call from God to take His message to the people of Judah. Some scholars believe the book may have been meant to begin with this chapter, but many see this as the fitting conclusion to the introduction of Isaiah 1—5. This chapter is as if Isaiah is answering the question of what gives him the authority to the tell the people of the Judah of the coming judgement of the Lord.
This chapter establishes the beginning of Isaiah's work as a prophet. This came in the year King Uzziah died, around 740 BC. Uzziah was one of the great kings of Judah. At the time of his death, the Assyrians were beginning to mount the great war machine that would roll over the nations of the middle east (Isaiah 6:1; 2 Kings 24:10–16).
Isaiah describes a remarkable experience, either a vision or an actual appearance of the Lord. This was for his eyes only in the temple in Jerusalem. He sees the Lord dressed in royal robes sitting on a throne high up in the temple. Above the Lord stands an unnamed number of seraphim, six-winged angelic beings possibly in the form of fiery serpents (Isaiah 6:1–2).
The seraphim call out to each other in voices that shake the foundations of the temple. They proclaim the holiness of the Lord and declare His glory. Smoke fills the temple as they call (Isaiah 6:3–4).
Hearing their voices proclaim the pure praise of the Lord, Isaiah is overwhelmed with his unworthiness to be in such a place. He knows he has "unclean lips:" that he is a sinful, mortal man who has no business seeing God. He is not worthy even of praising the holiness of the King as the angels do. He deserves death (Isaiah 6:5).
Instead, one of the seraphim flies to him and touches Isaiah's mouth with a coal from the altar. The angel says simply that this action has taken away his guilt. His sins are atoned for. The implication is that Isaiah has been cleansed to speak on behalf of the Lord (Isaiah 6:6–7).
Only after this does Isaiah hear the voice of the Lord. God asks who He should send and who will go for "us." This could be referring to Himself and the angels or Himself as the trinity. Isaiah, now cleansed and eager to serve the Lord, quickly answers that He is there and asks God to send him (Isaiah 6:8).
The Lord tells Isaiah the message He wants His prophet to give to the people of Judah. They are to hear without hearing and see without seeing. In other words, the Lord knows the people of Judah are too far gone into their sin and rebellion to receive Isaiah's warnings about God's coming judgment. Yet they will not be given the excuse that they were never warned. In response to Isaiah's question of "how long?" the Lord tells him to continue to preach to his unresponsive people until the judgment comes. He is to continue until the land is laid to waste and the people are carried away into exile (Isaiah 6:9–12).
The tiniest bit of hope remains. The Lord's promise is there that even after everything is destroyed a "holy seed" remains. This seed is referring to when the Messiah will come and bring salvation to the world. (Isaiah 6:13).
Isaiah 6:1–7 describes Isaiah's call to serve as God's prophet in response to a powerful vision. This vision takes place near the beginning of his ministry, which is also the same year that King Uzziah of Judah dies. In this vision, Isaiah sees the Lord on a throne in His temple. Angelic seraphim call out about God's holiness in voices that shake the building. The prophet is overwhelmed by his own uncleanness. One of the seraph touches his lips with a coal from the altar, pronouncing his sin paid for.
Isaiah 6:8–13 finds Isaiah newly cleansed with his sin atoned for. In response to the Lord's question about who to send, Isaiah eagerly volunteers to take God's message to his people in Judah. The Lord reveals to Isaiah that the message will not penetrate the hearts of the people. They will reject the warnings about the coming judgment. Yet they will not be given any excuses. Isaiah must continue to preach until that judgment happens and the land is laid to waste with the people are exiled. A remnant will remain, however.
Isaiah 6 describes the vision of God, experienced by Isaiah, which began his work as a prophet. He sees the Lord in royal robes sitting on a throne in the temple. There are angelic seraphim calling out to each other about His holiness. Isaiah is overwhelmed by his own uncleanness until one seraph touches his lips with a burning coal from the altar. With his sin symbolically atoned for, Isaiah volunteers to go to his people on behalf of the Lord. The message he preaches will not penetrate their dull hearts. Yet Isaiah must preach until the judgment comes.
Isaiah 6 seems to answer the question of why Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1) was qualified to speak of Judah's sin and the Lord's coming judgment. The previous five chapters have already been on this topic. Isaiah describes seeing God in the temple on a throne, while hearing seraphim calling out about the Lord's holiness. After his lips are cleansed, Isaiah volunteers to take the Lord's message to his people Judah. The Lord shows Isaiah that message will not be received and that he will preach until the judgment comes. Chapters 7 and 8 detail Isaiah's early prophecies, including a famous prediction about the Messiah.
Isaiah is among the most important prophetic books in the entire Bible. The first segment details God's impending judgment against ancient peoples for sin and idolatry (Isaiah 1—35). The second part of Isaiah briefly explains a failed assault on Jerusalem during the rule of Hezekiah (Isaiah 36—39). The final chapters predict Israel's rescue from Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 40—48), the promised Messiah (Isaiah 49—57), and the final glory of Jerusalem and God's people (Isaiah 58—66).
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