What does Isaiah 6:12 mean?
ESV: and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
NIV: until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.
NASB: The Lord has completely removed people, And there are many forsaken places in the midst of the land.
CSB: and the Lord drives the people far away, leaving great emptiness in the land.
NLT: until the Lord has sent everyone away, and the entire land of Israel lies deserted.
KJV: And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
This direct revelation from the Lord is what Isaiah is to preach to the people of Judah. This passage also explained how the people will respond to his preaching (Isaiah 6:9–10). In short, Isaiah is to warn the people about the coming judgment of God. The people will not understand and will refuse to repent from their sinfulness. Even so, God will not allow them any excuses that they were not warned.
Isaiah has asked the Lord "how long?". Presumably, he means how long must he continue to preach to the unresponsive people of Judah. The Lord's answer has been that Isaiah must keep preaching until the judgment comes and the land is laid to waste (Isaiah 6:11).
The Lord continues his instruction that Isaiah must keep preaching until the Lord removes the people from the land and leaves it in ruin. This is what happens, of course, when the Assyrians and then the Babylonians carry off the people of Israel and then later Judah into exile (2 Kings 24:14). That alone will not necessarily be the end of the Lord's judgment if too many people remain in the land (Isaiah 6:13).
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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