Read: Isaiah 6
Background Considerations Ah, finally, we got to the prophet’s call vision! Why is it placed here and not at the beginning of the book, as in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah? After all, it is the call vision which lays out the initial encounter between God and the prophet. Wouldn’t we expect it to come at the start?
It might prove an interesting exercise to compare and contrast the call visions of the various prophets, for whom we have them preserved in the Bible, to understand their purpose. While they all clearly make apparent to the person the invitation to become God’s spokesperson and while there are common elements and typical responses (who would ever want to do this job?!), there is a lot of variation among them.
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Read Isaiah 1-5 two or three times this week.
- 2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chron 26 – In reading these two accounts of King Uzziah, one will discover the expansive and explanatory nature of Chronicles (likely edited and completed 150 or 200 years after the final collection of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, which are called in the Hebrew Bible the “Former Prophets,” or by scholars the Deuteronomistic History because of the dominance of the theology of Deuteronomy as the editorial cord or glue holding them together – likely finished in the 6th century).
- Isaiah 6:1-3 – So much of interest in these verses! Did this vision happen at the temple in Jerusalem or are we to imagine here only the visionary visit of the prophet to the heavenly temple? Or should we allow for double entendre, double meaning? Nowhere else in the Bible do we hear of “seraphim,” the plural form of the word for fire or burning. These are the burning ones, not unlike Moses’ burning bush. Some have added levels to orders of angels on the basis of this text, but here they are only the attending heavenly beings who are descriptively painted as being on fire. Is fire a good thing or bad? What about when associated with God? What about when associated with “Holiness?” What is holiness? The tendency is to define holiness in terms of righteousness, but in the Old Testament, there is much more. Holiness is primarily a separation from, an otherness. It may be that authors like Rudolf Otto have captured it best when they speak of holiness as the “mysterium tremendum,” what is mysterious, majestic, maybe even dangerous on occasion. One doesn’t mess with holiness! And Isaiah knew this. And it is only intensified when tripled – Holy, holy, holy! Especially when connected with God’s “glory” or honor or weight, as the same word means all of these.
- Isaiah 6:4-8 – Loud voices and dense smoke – are these good or bad? When connected with God and the temple? Does smoke reveal God’s presence or does it conceal God’s presence? Or both? And what does the burning coal on the lips signify – a cleansing of the prophet’s mouth because of what he is to say? Does a feeling on inadequacy before God always come before a sense of mission and willingness to go? Does forgiveness always precede preaching?
- Isaiah 6:9-10 – These words represent the first message the prophet is to speak. Are they good news or otherwise? Why put this message into the prophet’s mouth at all, let alone at the beginning? Just to say at the end: I told you so? Is there something here about divine sovereignty and power that we normally miss in our attempts (usually weak) to understand and appreciate the prophet’s words? And why did Jesus pick up on them in Matthew 13:14-15, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10 and John 12:39-41?
- Isaiah 6:11-13 – Sounds as if things will get worse before they get better! There is here as in many other places in Isaiah the concept of a remnant, which deserves a good deal of study and reflection. Isaiah adds to other remnant theologies developed before him the idea of a holy remnant. Not just the left-overs or survivors, but holy people.
Contributions to the study of Isaiah The sense of holiness pervades the book of Isaiah. It not only characterizes and gives content to the opening vision, but it becomes part of THE name of God for Isaiah: The Holy One of Israel, used 25 times throughout the book.
Lessons for Life What role does forgiveness play in preparation for proclamation?