Summary: Year C Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 4th, 2001
Year C Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 4th, 2001
Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church
Web page http://lordofthelake.org
By The Rev. Jerry Morrissey, Esq., Pastor
Heavenly Father, thank you for the Wonder of your presence in earthly things and circumstances. Amen.
Isaiah is at the Liturgy in the Temple when he has a religious experience, which equips him to be God’s prophet.
This text, from the “memoirs” of Isaiah, attempts to describe the indescribable, Isaiah’s vision of God calling him to prophesy in his name. This vision of God’s holiness and glory made such an impact on him and his whole theological position that he was from that point on always conscious of living and working in the presence of God. It is untypical of other “call narratives” in that Isaiah does not object to being called as, for instance, Jeremiah, claiming to be too young, but actually volunteers for the task.
During the reign of King Uzziah (783-742) Judah enjoyed a relatively stable government, and so a degree of peace and material prosperity. After his death, however, things changed rapidly. Ahaz became king and refused to listen to Isaiah’s advice and called on the Assyrians for help. This would eventually spell disaster for the northern kingdom first and then the southern kingdom. His vision would have occurred in 742BC.
In verse one, I saw the Lord: Isaiah is in the Temple participating in a liturgy, watching the priests offering up burnt offerings, the incense filling the place with a cloudy veil of smoke. He has a religious experience where the veil separating the human and divine realms was removed. He experiences the glory and holiness of God in a felt way. He describes it as through he were in God’s throne room and the angels or guardians are all around him. God’s council is present as well. Their deliberations are over and God’s decision is made. Israel will be punished for her sins and rebellion.
The train of his garment filling the Temple: Of course, Isaiah did not “see” God in the literal sense of the word. It was a truism in the Old Testament that no one could see God and live. (See Ex 33: 20-23.) Isaiah gives no exact description of the form or appearance of God, but he describes the throne and train, the skirts of the royal robe, that filled the temple. These are aspects of the nature and presence of God described in a symbolic manner.
In verse two, seraphim: The “-im” is the plural form, like the English “-s,” for “seraph.” Cherubim is the plural of cherub. In subsequent centuries these were thought of as fire-spirits; intimated here when they take hot coals to burn out sin from Isaiah’s lips and the cherubim not mentioned here as air-spirits. In, First, Isaiah’s time a seraph was a reminder, an idol of a foreign god. It was part human, part animal, having six wings. The Assyrian king had demanded these idols be placed in the Temple to remind the people they were subject to their gods. Isaiah saw these on two levels: on the human level, they got into his vision, as did the smoke from the liturgical incense; on the divine level they were subservient to God. Two of their wings were for flying; two covered their eyes out of deference for God; and two covered their “private parts,” euphemistically noted as their “feet” here, out of reverence for God. In other words, Isaiah saw these so-called gods as really servants of Yahweh. Over time both seraphim and cherubim became names for the chief angels. At times, because the word in Hebrew for “serpent” was saraph, so similar to Hebrew seraph, they were wrongly represented as snakes.
In verse three, holy, holy, holy: In the Old Testament the essence of God was expressed by the term “holy.” The Hebrew word for “holi” is kadesh, meaning “other,” “separate,” different,” “unique.” The threefold repetition expresses the superlative in Hebrew. Holiness had two levels of meaning. God as he is in himself was totally “other,” transcendent, unique, incomparable. Secondly, God as he related to creation and humans was morally perfect and good, without sin. This refrain would have been a choral antiphon actually sung at the Liturgy.
Lord of hosts: This is a most ancient name for God going back to Sinai, used in conjunction with reverence for the Ark of the Covenant, residing in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The phrase originally meant, “he who brings the heavenly hosts into being.” “Yahweh,” translated as “Lord” here, was originally a verb, the older causative form of “to be.”
All the earth is filled with his glory: If merely his train filled the Temple, verse one, the entire earth was filled up with his glory. Holiness and glory are connected. Glory is the external, though visible only to the eyes of faith, manifestation of the divine essence, which is holiness. It was God’s “glory” Isaiah saw, not God himself. He only got a glimpse of his train, so to speak.