Summary: What this passage of Isaiah’s commission is intended to teach us is that God is in control.
Isaiah 6:8-13 Isaiah’s Commission
11/26/00e D. Marion Clark
review Isaiah’s atonement
the strangest call
Verse 8 starts off with a positive call and response: 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
The reason for God appearing to Isaiah in a vision is to issue this call. He is making a rhetorical question, giving Isaiah the opportunity to “volunteer.” Note Isaiah’s enthusiasm. Where does he get such confidence to even volunteer? Just a moment ago he had been in despair over the judgment he expected to fall upon him as a miserable sinner, and now he has the gumption to act as the Almighty’s messenger. Where did he get that self-assurance from?
Indeed, let’s contrast him for a moment with Moses. He also received a call from God, and yet responded with fear and trepidation. I wonder if the reason has to do what each experienced in God’s presence. They were both confronted with God’s holiness. Yet Isaiah experienced two things that Moses did not: he had a vision of God himself and he experienced God’s atonement. Moses heard God in the burning bush, but did not see him, nor did he receive personally a sign of atonement. Moses would later have his own vision of God in the cleft of a rock and hear God pronounce forgiveness and a covenant relationship (Exodus 34), and never again do we hear of Aaron being his mouthpiece.
It is the atonement of God that caused Isaiah to turn from fear to confidence. He then can zealously volunteer for service, not because he is confident in his ability, but because he is confident in God’s mercy.
The next verses are among the most perplexing in scripture and surely form the strangest call for a messenger.
9 He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
Two questions immediately come to our minds. Why would God send a messenger to in effect make sure that the hearers do not hear the message? And why would God not want his people to turn and be healed? Let’s address the first question.
Why would God send a messenger to in effect make sure that the hearers do not hear the message? Do you recall my installation service? It was Benson Cain who gave me my charge. Imagine Benson charging me, “Preach the Word of God in such a manner that your people will not understand. Make their hearts calloused, their ears dull and their eyes blind. Be careful that no one is convicted by the Word, lest they repent of their sins and turn to the Lord to be healed.”
The purpose of being a preacher of the Word is to make the Word known. The goal of the preacher is to proclaim the Word effectively so it will awaken hearts, not put them to sleep. So it is with the prophet. He had the same commission – to proclaim God’s word that the people might turn to the Lord.
That’s why Jonah did not want to be a prophet to Nineveh. He feared that the word he preached would convict the people; they would repent; and God would forgive.
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 3:10-4:3).
Now, if this was truly the commission of Isaiah, he seemed to have given a poor effort, judging by the book of prophecy he left behind. Isaiah is exalted as the greatest of the prophets precisely because of the clarity and forcefulness of his messages. We may have trouble pinpointing what judgment he is referring to at any one time, but that he does an effective job of warning of sin and of holding forth the promise of redemption is without question. There is no one better with the language than Isaiah.
Did he then try to circumvent God’s commission? “You might want me to be dull and perplexing, but I’m going to give them the best messages I can.” I don’t think he would try such a thing after his vision.