Chapter six of Isaiah is a popular and central text in the whole of the book. Oswalt notes that it functions as a hinge between the chapters preceding and following it (173-175). This text is about response to an encounter with a holy God. This God emerges throughout the vision as one who has power and royalty. This God is actually the king of all reality in which Isaiah gets a glimpse. Isaiah’s response has wide spreading implications for God’s work in the world.
Many thoughts and questions arise when reading this chapter several times in a row. Isaiah’s vision, as Oswalt notes, is rooted in real time (176). Is the text highlighting a struggle for trust in earthly kings verses a reliance on God? An important king has died and the text immediately moves one’s mind from an earthy king to thinking about the King of all of the earth. The image of a temple filled with God’s presence reminds me of Genesis one and two where God’s inauguration is taking place. The earth is YHWH’s temple and full of God’s revelation.
The creatures in the vision have a unique description and fascinating job. They move about in attributing worth to King YHWH through unison covering and apparent repetitious praise chants. It is unique that in this vision Isaiah experiences the physical surroundings in tangible ways. The very building structure is being impacted by this encounter and the air has changed by the result of fire. The place where Isaiah finds himself has been radically changed by the one who is in the loud and smoky place.
The result of this scene is that Isaiah becomes acutely aware of his needy identity. Individually he recognizes with humble clarity that he is in need of grace. A mission from this moment is being born out of his own confession. He moves with further understanding to the idea that corporately the need is beyond just himself. The confession is a result of an evolving understanding that YHWH is king.
One of the creatures engages Isaiah’s response further by placing a hot coal against his lips. If this is an angelic being, why does the creature have to use tongs to grab a hot coal? Is this a further connection that the spiritual and material are closely intertwined? One must keep in mind the nature of the event happening is a vision. One cannot help but ponder the significance of these details. A theological suggestion is that it is not only “live” but it is consecrated to YHWH and therefore sacred.
The coal is pressed against Isaiah’s lips with a message of guilt removal and forgiveness of sins. I see an element of prevenient grace that Isaiah was able to confess at all. Does the seraph place it against his lips out of grace to simply point out that such a confession requires something sacred from a place of sacrifice? The next voice is a question from King YHWH. Isaiah’s response is one we would expect from such a spectacular meeting.
The message of sacrifice, I think, is encrypted in the imperatives given to Isaiah. It was from Isaiah’s own encounter that he must go and share a truth that will likely fall on deaf ears. Isaiah, like the people of God (and all humanity), have forgotten YHWH. Isaiah is called to give a hard message to a hard hearted people. However, it is in their familiarity that they have become blind. God encounter in the long run will always produce hope in those called to tell important news. Once sin has had its destructive day, God will continue his redemptive drama.
Praise to this kind of King… The God-King of sacrifice. The God-Man (Jesus) of Resurrection is worthy of praise!
Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.