Chapters 1-5 of the book of Isaiah serve as the introduction to Isaiah. They establish what’s going on when he comes to be a prophet – God’s people had broken their covenant and were going to experience the consequences. Then in chapter 6, we get a sort of flashback to when Isaiah was called into ministry.
More than just a little knowledge about Isaiah, this passage is an invitation for us to behold God’s holy glory and be transformed by it. This is what we were designed for. But, as we’ll see, beholding God’s glory doesn’t come naturally in this fallen world.
Isaiah Sees God’s Holy Glory
The first thing we see in chapter 6 is that Isaiah saw God’s holy glory.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
– vv. 1-4
There’s so much to take in in these first four verses. But the main point isn’t actually the seraphim, the robe or foundations of the thresholds shaking. These things support the main idea found in verse 3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” God is holy, holy, holy – He is more holy than anything else.
“Holy” is a word we use a lot in Christian circles. At its core is the idea of being separate. So God is separate from all else – there is nothing like Him and He is absolutely pure, in a class all of His own. And He is so different from all of creation that His glory fills the whole earth.
Responding to God’s Glory
Picture yourself having this vision of Isaiah. What would your response be? This is how Isaiah responded:
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
– v. 5
Isaiah’s response is actually to look at himself and see the contrast between him and this holy, glorious God. He’s undone by his uncleanness, and can’t see how he can go on living now that he truly sees himself. But God doesn’t leave him like that. Instead, He cleans him up.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
– vv. 6-7
So God redeems Isaiah, cleaning him up and taking away his guilt. After this, Isaiah is ready to serve. God says to Isaiah, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (v. 8) and Isaiah replies, “Here I am! Send me.” (v. 9)
Why Don’t We See God’s Holy Glory?
Now, you may find it hard to see God’s holy glory. You might think, “I should feel more in response to this passage. This is a glimpse of God’s holy glory – I should be in tears.” It’s probably easier for you to read about God than to actually connect with how glorious He is. It’s easier to try to obey Him than to worship and realize how awesome He is. And doing religious stuff is easier than being in awe of Him.
This struggle to see and respond to God’s holy glory is central to the human condition. It’s a big part of being a Christian. Through Christ, we have front row seats and a backstage pass to witness God’s glory. But, this world often pushes us up to the nosebleeds where we can’t really see it and get distracted. Those who haven’t received Christ won’t see God’s glory (Romans 1:21-23) and can’t see it (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Back in Isaiah, God’s people had turned away from God to other idols. They couldn’t see His glory and so couldn’t see their uncleanness (vv. 9-10). In their idolatry, they had become like their idols. This is true for us as well: we become like what we worship (Psalm 135:15-18; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
For God’s people in Isaiah, it was too late (vv. 11-13). They had rebelled, broken God’s covenant and hardened their hearts too long.
Don’t Wait Until “Later”
We must not be like the Israelites and fall into the “later” trap. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I’ve got time – I’ll take Christianity seriously later” or “I want to focus on other stuff right now. I’ll take Jesus seriously later” or “Once our kids are older we’ll get back to following Christ.” Don’t say, “Once I retire I’ll have more time – I’ll take Jesus seriously then” or “On my deathbed, I’ll convert.”
As a consequence for their rebellion, God’s people were going to have a very hard time. But a remnant would remain (“The holy seed is its stump” [v. 13].), and Jesus would eventually come. Jesus pays the price for our rebellion and gives us front row seats and a backstage pass to God’s holy glory.
We need Jesus to break up whatever idols are filling up our hearts to make room for God’s glory. We also need to put forth effort to behold God’s glory. All the forces in this world are working against us, but God’s glory is worth beholding.
In closing, here are some questions:
What idols are filling up your heart? In other words, what have you devoted yourself to more than God?
What repentance is necessary for you to be free from those idols? A good example of this could be stepping away from the golf course or unsubscribing from Netflix.