Summary: Isaiah is broken by his vision of God’s holiness, but is then cleansed and now fit as God’s messenger
In that passage from Isaiah we heard this evening, we are presented with the vision the prophet had in the Temple of God in all his holiness, glory and majesty. That vision concludes in verse 8 with the call of Isaiah:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"
If we take the three major prophets of the Old Testament, that is Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, each receives his calling in a unique way, and here just note how God treats each one of us individually. There’s something quite different about this calling of Isaiah.
Jeremiah is called in an incident which is presented to us right at the beginning of his book.
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, "I appointed you as a prophet to all the nations"
to which Jermiah replies, "Sovereign Lord, I said I do not know how to speak. I am only a child." But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, ’I am only a child’, but go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you." Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth"
Ezekiel’s calling begins with a vision of the glory of God, and comes right at the beginning of the book. Ezekiel’s book begins:
In the thirtieth year and the fourth month and the fifth day while I was among the exiles by the
Kebar river, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
Then once the vision is described in chapter one He begins with God saying to him:
Son of man, stand up on your feet, and I will speak to you. As he spoke, the Spirit came into
me and I rose to my feet and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, "Son of man, I am
sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me.
And then in verse 7
You must speak my words to them whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are
Now, if we turn to the call of Isaiah (and I’ve gone into the calls of the other prophets to highlight some differences).
First of all his calling doesn’t come until chapter 6. If we go to the beginning of the book, it does start with the vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which Isaiah saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Then we’re launched straight away into the words of the vision, words of prophecy. We have five chapters, ending in chapter five with a long list of woes, God pronouncing his judgment, and saying that because the people aren’t going to listen, because they’re going to continue rebelling, that judgment will eventually become inescapable. One ’woe’ follows another: in verse 5, in verse 8, then verses 11, 18, 20 and 21 and 22, and then we come to chapter 6.
Here, I think, we have a big question, one which has probably had a lot of ink spilled on it, as to whether chapter 6 is in a chronological sequence and coming after the previous five chapters. Personally I would say, ’Yes, there is that time-sequence’.
Isaiah had received all these visions of God’s judgment, but now comes a major different sort of vision. Not a vision concerning the state of the nation, but a vision of God himself- a vision of God which is going to lead to, if you will, the main calling of Isaiah.
So, what is going on here in chapter 6? First of all, of course, Isaiah has this vision of God in the Temple. This is one of the pinnacles of the Old Testament, this description of the vision of God. It is a key in the preparation of Isaiah for his main work of prophecy. He had received visions, he had received words of God, but now something different is going on
This is the year that king Uzziah died. At the end of Uzziah’s reign, Isaiah has this vision of God. I thin what Barry Webb says in his commentary on Isaiah in The Bible Speaks Today series is quite helpful. He says that chapters 1 to 5 were very general in character, laying out the broad themes of judgment and salvation, without relating them to specific historical events. Chapters 7 to 12 show the judgment passed on by the Lord in chapter 6 began to be worked out in the specifics. We move from one stage of Isaiah’s ministry to another definitely called stage.
Isaiah was almost certainly a priest in the Temple, and in the year that Uzziah dies he has the vision where he sees the King. He sees the Lord seated on a throne and exalted, the train of his robe filling the Temple. Isaiah sees seraphs and their words to one another: