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Isaiah 6

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Isaiah's Vision Isaiah Called to Be a Prophet The Call of Isaiah God Calls Isaiah to Be a Prophet The Call of Isaiah
6:1-5
 (3b)
6:1-5
 (3b)
6:1-5
 (3b)
6:1-3
 (3b)
6:1-3
 (3b)
      6:4 6:4-5
(5b) (5b)   6:5 (5b)
6:6-7 6:6-7
 (7b)
6:6-13 6:6-7 6:6-10
 (7b)
Isaiah's Commission        
6:8-13 6:8   6:8a  
  (8b)   6:8b (8b) (8b)
  (9b-10) 6:9-10
 (9b)

 (10)
  (9b-13) 6:9-10   (9b-10)
  (11b-13) 6:11-13
 (11b-13)
  6:11a 6:11-13
      6:11b-13a  
      6:13b  

 

READING CYCLE THREE (see introduction)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. There has always been a question about why Isaiah's call to ministry occurs in chapter 6 and not chapter 1.

1. The OT books are arranged in ways that moderns, especially westerners, do not understand. Often they are not chronological, which surprises modern western interpreters. They are thematic, but in word plays or parallelisms on a strophe level.

2. It is surely possible that chapters 1-5 are a general introduction to the content of the entire book. Many, if not all, of the major themes are introduced.

a. the covenant people's sin

b. the consequences of disobedience

c. restoration through the special Coming One

d. a new day of righteousness

e. the universal reign of God in an idealistic setting (Eden restored)

 

B. The Jewish Study Bible (p. 796) makes an interesting comment about the placement of chapter 6. The footnotes assert that chapter 6 is not the beginning of Isaiah's ministry, but a new assignment. In chapters 1-5 the prophet calls on Judah to repent, but after the revelation of 6:9-10, never again in all the prophecy (chapters 7-66) does he call on them to repent. Judgment is sure and unavoidable. There is hope in a new day, but it is a future hope only.

 

C. As chapter 6 reveals the terrible and complete judgment of YHWH on the disobedient covenant people, chapter 12 reveals the new day of hope and restoration. Even the missionary mandate is renewed (cf. 12:4-5). This theological tension is characteristic of the prophet's message. They enforce the Mosaic covenant's

1. consequences for disobedience and

2. promises for obedience.

 

BRIEF OUTLINE

A. Isaiah saw God as He is. vv. 1-4

 

B. Isaiah saw himself as he was. v. 5

 

C. Isaiah saw his society for what it was. v.5

 

D. Isaiah was cleansed to serve. vv. 6-7

 

E. Isaiah was ready to go. vv. 9-13

 

WORD PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED)TEXT: 6:1-5
1In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." 4And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.
5Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."

6:1 "King Uzziah's" Uzziah (792-740 b.c.) was one of the godly kings of Judah (cf. II Kgs. 15:3; II Chr. 26:4-5). It is possible that Isaiah and Uzziah were related ("iah" may have been a royal ending to names). Uzziah offered incense (which only Levitical priests could do) and was struck by God with leprosy (cf. II Kgs. 15:5; II Chr. 26:16-23).

Uzziah is called Azariah in II Kings 15 and Uzziah in II Chronicles 26. Uzziah ("my strength is YHWH") was a throne name or we learn from II Chr. 26:17 that the High Priest was also named Azariah, so to avoid confusion II Chronicles uses Uzziah. It was a dark day for Isaiah and Judah when he died in 740 b.c. Judah had become stable under his reign.

"I saw the Lord" It was a common belief that to see God meant death (cf. Gen. 16:13; Exod. 33:20; I Kgs. 19:13; Isa. 6:5; John 1:18; 6:46; I Tim. 6:16). This was a very traumatic moment! Apparently, Isaiah saw God's throne and dress, but not His face (cf. John 12:41).

There are some OT texts that imply God can be seen.

1. Moses, Exod. 33:11; Num. 12:8; Deut. 34:10

2. Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders, Exod. 24:10-11

The question has to do with the results of a sinful person in the presence of a holy God. It is a question of intimate personal fellowship. Apparently sight is not the key, but a relationship initiated by God!

"the Lord" This is translated from the Hebrew word adonai (BDB 10, see Special Topic at 1:1).

Some ancient Hebrew Manuscripts have "YHWH."

▣ "throne" YHWH depicted as sitting on a throne is first found in the vision of the heavenly court of I Kgs. 22:19; Ps. 103:19; and later in Isa. 66:1. In Ezekiel 1 and 10 YHWH's throne is His portable throne chariot (i.e., away from the temple in Jerusalem).

This is ANE anthropomorphic language (cf. v. 5; Rev. 4:2,3; 20:11, see N. T. Wright, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, pp. 172-182).

SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS A HUMAN (anthropomorphic language)

"train of His robe" Kingly robes were of very long length. Isaiah saw God as the people of his day expected Him to be. He was in the heavenly Temple (cf. Heb. 9:11,24; Revelation 5-6).

Many commentators have seen this long flowing robe as a way to hide the features of God's face (as is the smoke of v. 4). It functioned as a covering, something like the Shekinah Cloud of Glory during the Wilderness Wandering Period.

6:2 "Seraphim" See Special Topic following.

SPECIAL TOPIC: SERAPHIM

6:2 "six wings" It is interesting what their wings are used for.

1. to cover the eyes. God's glory is overwhelming even to throne angels.

2. to cover the feet. Be careful of turning the details of a Theophany into literal objects or creatures. Often feet are euphemistic of the genitalia (cf. 7:20; Exod. 4:25; Jdgs. 3:24; Ruth 3:4,7,8,14; I Sam. 24:3), but here, because of Matt. 22:30, probably not. This may be a sign of humility in the presence of holiness (cf. Exod. 3:5).

3. to fly to do God's bidding quickly (cf. v. 6)

 

6:3 "Holy, Holy, Holy" Holiness is a central theme in Isaiah.

1. דקושׁ, adjective, BDB 872, "holy," "sacred"

a. holiness of

(1) God, 5:16; 6:3 (thrice)

(2) His name, 40:25; 49:7; 57:15

(3) His abode, 57:15

(4) His Sabbath, 58:13

2. קדשׁ, verb, BDB 872, "to be set apart," "consecrated"

a. God's character, 5:16; 29:23

b. God, 8:13; 65:5

c. God's angels, 13:3

d. God's name, 29:23

e. festival, 30:29

f. consecrated humans, 66:17

3. קדשׁ, noun, BDB 871, "apartness," "sacredness"

a. holy seed, 6:13

b. holy mountain, 11:9; 27:13; 56:7; 57:13; 65:11,25; 66:20

c. set apart, 23:18

d. way of holiness, 35:8

e. sanctuary, 43:28; 62:9; 64:11

f. holy city, 48:2; 52:1

g. holy One, 49:7

h. holy arm, 52:10

i. Holy day, 58:13

j. holy people, 62:12

k. Holy Spirit, 63:10,11

l. God's throne, 63:15

m. holy place, 63:18 

n. holy cities, 64:10

The threefold repetition denotes a Hebrew superlative (cf. Jer. 7:4; Ezek. 21:27).

SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY

▣ "Lord of hosts" This literally is "Captain of armies of heaven." See Special Topic at 1:9.

▣ "the whole earth" This is the implication of monotheism. God has always been the God of all humans (cf. Gen. 1:26,27; 3:15; 12:3; Exod. 19:5,6; Num. 14:21; Ps. 2:8; 22:27-28; 59:13; 72:8,19; Isa. 45:21-22; 49:6; 52:10; Micah 5:4). Isaiah's theology is universal (i.e., 12:5; 24:14-16; 42:10-12). See Special Topic at 2:2.

6:4 "of him who called out" This can refer to the voice of God (cf. v. 8) or, in context, the Seraphim (i.e., "Holy, Holy, Holy," of v. 3).

"was filling with smoke" The verb (BDB 569, KB 583, Niphal imperfect) is also used in Ezek. 10:4. It may reflect Num. 14:21; Ps. 72:19; and Hab. 2:14. This refers to either (1) a symbol of God's judgment; (2) a reference to the Shekinah cloud, which symbolized but hid God's presence (cf. Exod. 40:34); or (3) smoke from an incense altar so that God could not be seen.

6:5 "Woe is me, for I am ruined" This verb (BDB 198 II, KB 225, Niphal perfect) denotes the destruction (i.e., "silencing") of someone or something.

1. of cities

a. of Moab, Isa. 15:1

b. of Philistia, Jer. 47:5

2. of people

a. Israel, Hosea 4:6

b. Jerusalem, Zeph. 1:11

c. Edom, Obadiah v. 5

3. of kings

a. Israel, Hosea 10:7,15

b. Egypt, Ezek. 32:2

4. of humans under the metaphor of animals, Ps. 49:13,21

5. of Isaiah, because he saw YHWH, Isa. 6:5

The holiness of God informed Isaiah of his lack of righteousness accompanied by the biblical demanded response of judgment! Grace is key, but holiness is the goal (cf. Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7,26; Deut. 18:13; Matt. 5:48)! One cannot remain the same person after contact with God, yet this is exactly what His people did.

▣ "unclean lips" Human speech reflects the heart (cf. Matt. 15:18; Mark 7:20,23). This is reflected in Isa. 29:13 (Matt. 15:8-9) and Ezek. 33:30-32.

Isaiah is acknowledging his own sin (i.e., individual covenant responsibility, cf. Ezekiel 18 and 36) and the sin of his community (corporate responsibility). Both are true and have consequences and benefits! God's people were to reflect YHWH's character to the nations, but they had been corrupted by the nations. Perhaps the "pure in heart can see God" (cf. Matt. 5:8), but Isaiah knew he was not one of them, nor were the covenant people. This is "the" tension of "conditional covenants" and the hope for an "unconditional covenant" that will issue in a godly people (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38).

▣ "my eyes have seen the King" See note at v. 1.

"the King" Judah's kings represented YHWH who was the true king of the Covenant people (i.e., Exod. 15:18; Num. 23:21; Jdgs. 8:23; I Sam. 8:7; 12:12; I Kgs. 22:19; Jer. 46:18; 48:15; 51:57).

NASB (UPDATED)TEXT: 6:6-13
6Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven." 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
9He said, "Go, and tell this people:
'Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.'
10Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed."
11Then I said, "Lord, how long?" And He answered,
"Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,
12The Lord has removed men far away,
And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13Yet there will be a tenth portion in it,
And it will again be subject to burning,
Like a terebinth or an oak
Whose stump remains when it is felled.
The holy seed is its stump."

6:6 This verse is very detailed imagery. Isaiah was having a vision of the heavenly temple, the abode of Deity. It is always hard to know what is real and what is imagery! We see through a fog into the spiritual realm. We are not meant to develop a detailed understanding of heaven from texts like this. It is the general impression/truth that is crucial.

The amazing thing is that God has initiated revelation with fallen humanity. He reveals (1) Himself; (2) His plans; and (3) continuing, as well as future, rejection of His people (cf. 6:9-13). Judah refuses to hear and see, but Isaiah, who admits his sin, is cleansed and is available (cf. v. 8).

▣ "the altar" This (BDB 258) seems to refer to either (1) the incense altar before the veil or (2) altar of sacrifice in front of the Holy Place. It touching Isaiah's mouth symbolized ritual, cultic cleansing.

6:7 "touched my mouth" This method of cleansing and commissioning is similar to Jer. 1:9 and Dan. 10:16. However, Ezekiel was told to eat a scroll (cf. Ezek. 2:8-10; 3:3), which is similar to Jer. 15:16 and Rev. 10:8-11. All of these are metaphors for internalizing the Word of God so as to speak it truly to others.

▣ "your iniquity is taken away" The verb (BDB 693, KB 747, Qal perfect) means "to turn aside" or "take away." Here it is parallel to "forgiven" (lit. "covered," "atoned for," BDB 497, KB 493, Pual imperfect, cf. 22:14; 27:9; 28:18). Isaiah has been changed in his confrontation with YHWH. The past has been effectively dealt with and the future will be different. This is declared by the Seraphim, who speaks for YHWH! This is a tremendous passage on grace, much like Paul's Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ (cf. Acts 9).

The mechanism for the full and complete forgiveness and atonement is not clearly stated in this text, but from 53:5-6 the key role of the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, and the concept of "vicarious, substitutionary atonement" is revealed (i.e., Gen. 3:15; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:12-21; II Cor. 5:21).

6:8 "who will go for Us" The "us" implies plurality (there are several places in the OT where this plurality is seen cf. Gen. 1:26; 9:6; Deut. 6:4-5; Ps. 110, as does the plural title Elohim, Gen. 1:1; 5:1). Philo and Eben Ezra say this is "the plural of majesty"; others claim it is "the heavenly council" (i.e., Rashi, cf. I Kgs. 22:19-23; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). It could refer to a foreshadowing of the concept of a Triune God.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY

▣ "Here am I" This is a common Hebrew idiom for availability (cf. Gen. 22:1,7,11; 27:1; 31:11; 46:2; Exod. 3:4; I Sam. 3:4,5,6,8,16; 22:12; II Sam. 1:7).

▣ "Send me" The verb "send" (BDB 1018, KB 1511) is a Qal imperative used as a prayer request. This is Isaiah's response to YHWH's question. It clearly reveals his availability.

One wonders how much this Hebrew concept of "divinely sent one" is typological of Jesus as "the sent one" in John's Gospel and believers as His "sent ones" into the world (cf. John 17:18; 20:21). God is reaching out to His rebellious creation! I recently heard a line from a new Christian song that says "God sent His Son, He sends His children still." Powerful words about God and about His people!

6:9-10 As YHWH reveals His purpose for Isaiah's ministry, He also reveals to Isaiah the response his message will have on Judah.

1. go, v. 9, BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperative

2. tell, v. 9, BDB 55, KB 65, Qal perfect

3. keep listening, v. 9, Qal imperative and Qal infinitive absolute of BDB 1033, KB 1570

4. but do not perceive, v. 9, BDB 106, KB 122, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, cf. 1:3; 5:21; 10:13; 29:14

5. keep looking, v. 9, Qal imperative and Qal infinitive absolute of BDB 906, KB 1157

6. but do not understand, v. 9, BDB 393, KB 380, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

7. render the hearts of this people insensitive (lit. "fat"), v. 10, BDB 1031, KB 1566, Hiphil imperative

8. their ears dull, v. 10, BDB 457, KB 455, Hiphil imperative

9. and their eyes dim, v. 10, BDB 1044, KB 1612, Hiphil imperative

These imperatives are followed by the consequences (three imperfects of previously used verbs, "see," "hear," and "perceive"). God knows (either by His foreknowledge or His hardening of their already wayward hearts/minds) that they will not respond and be saved.

1. lest they repent, BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal perfect negated

2. lest they be healed, BDB 950, KB 1272, Qal perfect negated

Isaiah will preach and though some may respond, the vast majority of his people/his society will not (cf. Rom. 1:24,26,28; Eph. 4:19) or cannot respond (cf. 29:9,10; Deut. 29:4; Matt. 13:13; Rom. 11:8)! Isaiah is not an evangelist here, but a prophet of covenant disobedience/consequences (cf. Matt. 13:13; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10). His message of hope is for a future day, not his day!

6:10 "dim" This (BDB 1044, KB 1612) is literally "covered with secretions" (cf. 29:9; 32:3).

"repent" In the OT this term (BDB 996, KB 1427) means "a change of action." In the NT repentance means a "change of mind." Both concepts are involved!

SPECIAL TOPIC: REPENTANCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

6:11 "how long" This refers to the length of time God's message will be rejected.

6:12 "has removed men far away" This refers to an exile, but whether Assyria taking the northern tribes or Babylon taking the southern tribes is uncertain (possibly purposeful ambiguity).

6:13 "Yet there will be a tenth portion in it" See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE REMNANT, THREE SENSES at 1:9. Also note (1) Isaiah's son, Shear-jashub, 7:3, means "a remnant shall return" also (2) note the discussion at 10:20-22.

▣ "it will be subject to burning" Verse 13, lines b and c, could be understood in two ways.

1. literary context - God's people in the metaphor of a great tree has been cut and burned, but there is life in the stump. A shoot will come forth (i.e., the Messiah or Messianic community, cf. 4:2; 11:1; 53:2; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12). But future problems remain (i.e., burning).

2. historically, culturally - the Canaanite fertility idols (i.e., Asherah) will be completely burned. God's people will be freed from idolatry one day!

 

▣ "Whose stump remains when it is felled" Verse 13 has two words used only here in the OT, key words!

1. "felled," BDB 1021 I, same root used of a gate in the temple (cf. I Chr. 26:16). The root's basic meaning is "to throw," "to cast," or "to fling."

2. "stump," BDB 663, usually used of sacred stone pillars

a. by Patriarchs and Moses

b. by Canaanite fertility worshipers (i.e., Ba'al)

 

▣ "The holy seed is its stump" This, like 4:2, has Messianic connotations. See note at Isa. 11:1. This phrase is left out of the LXX.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1.  Why did Uzziah's death affect Isaiah so deeply?

2. Who did Isaiah see?

3. Why was Isaiah's message rejected?

4. How does Isaiah's day compare to our own?