What does Isaiah 6:11 mean?
ESV: Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste,
NIV: Then I said, 'For how long, Lord?' And he answered: 'Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged,
NASB: Then I said, 'Lord, how long?' And He answered, 'Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, Houses are without people And the land is utterly desolate,
CSB: Then I said, "Until when, Lord? " And he replied: Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants, houses are without people, the land is ruined and desolate,
NLT: Then I said, 'Lord, how long will this go on?' And he replied, 'Until their towns are empty, their houses are deserted, and the whole country is a wasteland;
KJV: Then 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,
The words have been given by the Lord to Isaiah to preach to the people of Judah. They contain the promise of what appears to be a fruitless career for Isaiah. He will declare God's messages and warning about coming judgment, and the people will not understand it, accept it, or believe it. Isaiah's work will be to faithfully declare a truth to an unreceptive audience (Isaiah 6:9–10).
Isaiah responds to the Lord's instruction now with one question: "How long?" Isaiah seems to be asking how long he should continue to carry out this futile work of declaring the Lord's truths to a people unable to receive them.
The answer from the Lord is equally hopeless, at least on the surface. He wants Isaiah to keep preaching His words to His unbelieving people until all is in ruin. This includes the cities, the people, the very land itself. In other words, God wants Isaiah to keep warning the people of the Lord's coming judgment on them for their sinfulness until that judgment is at hand. This will be Isaiah's entire career.
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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