Guests: Mathilde Frey and Jody Washburn
Relevant Bible Verses: Isaiah 6
Leading Question: To what extent is God prepared to twist our arms – as he did Isaiah’s – in order to persuade us to enter his service?
In this lesson we tussle with three issues:
1. The nature of God’s call: coercive or freely chosen?
2. The relationship between civil leadership and sacred leadership: Does prophetic authority depend on a strong civil leader, i.e. king?
3. What does it mean when God’s preaching and teaching only hardens the human heart?
1. Nature of God’s call. In order to properly evaluate God’s call to Isaiah, we need to compare his call with other prophetic calls. Here is a list to consider:
- (Exod. 3:1- 4:17) Moses: divine coaxing and urging; many excuses in return
- (Num. 11:16-30) The Seventy: one-time, non-volitional experience
- (Num. 22-24) Balaam: prophetic dictation (cf. Num. 31:16; Josh. 13:22)
- (1 Sam. 19:18-24) Saul: non-rational, ecstatic prophetic trance, seemingly imposed for defensive purposes (to protect the innocent)
- (Isaiah 6) Isaiah: a call “almost” freely chosen
- (Jeremiah 1:4-19; 12:1-17; 20:7-18) Jeremiah: coerced, overpowered, openly complaining
- (Ezekiel 2-3; 24:15-18) Ezekiel: coerced, overpowered, but uncomplaining and unemotional
- Jonah 1, 3-4) Jonah: angry, reluctantly obedient (“failed prediction; successful prophecy”)
Of all these prophetic calls, Isaiah seems to come closest to freely chosen response. But even with him, he was overpowered with a sense of God’s presence. In other words, his exuberant, “Here am I, send me!” was triggered by a powerful sound and light show. Could anyone in their right mind, dare refuse such a call?
And that raises the underlying question: How does a prophetic call compare with the calling which ordinary believer receive?
Note: In Ellen White’s day, some were appealing to her seemingly strong-arm tactics to justify their own use of the heavy hand. Ellen White discouraged such a connection. These are her specific words to those who attempted to justify their own approach by appealing to hers:
“God has not given my brethren the work that He has given me. It has been urged that my manner of giving reproof in public has led others to be sharp and critical and severe. If so, they must settle that matter with the Lord. If others take a responsibility which God has not laid upon them; if they disregard the instructions He has given them again and again through the humble instrument of His choice, to be kind, patient, and forbearing, they alone must answer for the results. With a sorrow-burdened heart, I have performed my unpleasant duty to my dearest friends, not daring to please myself by withholding reproof, even from my husband; and I shall not be less faithful in warning others, whether they will hear or forbear.” (Testimonies 5:20 ; repeated in 5:677-78 )
2. Civil Leadership and Sacred Leadership. The official study guide makes a point of highlighting the fact that Isaiah’s vivid experience came in the year that King Uzziah died, suggesting that his death triggered a crisis.
According to the biblical records, Uzziah had been a good king, until he arrogantly entered the temple in an attempt to perform sacred duties to which he was not entitled. As a result, he was struck with leprosy and had to live in isolation.
Now of the four kings who reigned during Isaiah’s ministry, only one of them, Ahaz, is described as not doing what was right. Of the other three – Uzziah, Jotham, and Hezekiah – it is said in Scripture that they did what was right. Scripture records no stain at all on Jotham, but both Uzziah and Hezekiah had their flaws.
Question: To what extent did strong spiritual life depend on the civil leader? To what extent is that still the case today?
3. Preaching that makes the ears heavy. These “hard” words from Isaiah are repeated by Jesus in Matthew13:14-15.
“Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”
In Isaiah, the verses that follow list dire consequences for not hearing and obeying!
Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
Question: How does this way of dealing with people function in our day? Is it like it was in Isaiah’s day and Jesus’ day? In another setting, Jesus quoted other words from Isaiah, ones that were much more encouraging:
Isaiah 42:3 “a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”
Matthew 12:20 “He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory.”
Question: How is the modern follower of Jesus know which method to use with others?