By Horatius Bonar
WHETHER this vision records Isaiah's first call to the prophetic ministry matters not. It is either the introduction to his whole ministry, or to a new section of it, probably the latter; the first five chapters describing Israel as ripening for judgment, and the sixth as receiving the sentence. Let us take up the chapter under the following heads.
I. The vision. It was a temple vision, a vision of glory, the glory of Jehovah of hosts, as such, the glory of the King and the Priest, of the throne and temple; and all this when Uzziah the king lay dying or was dead,--the earthly king passing away, the heavenly King shewing himself. It was truly a royal and glorious vision,--Jehovah himself the centre of it,--King of kings and Lord of lords, true King of Israel and of the earth, true Melchizedek, a Priest upon his throne. In connection with this King are the seraphim. Probably these are the same as cherubim, as they are almost identical with those described in Ezekiel and John. In Genesis and in the historical books they appear as cherubim, "figures"; in Isaiah as seraphim, or "burners"; in Ezekiel and John as "living creatures." Here they stand upon the train of the royal robe which filled the temple. They have six wings. Two cover the face,--as if the glory were overwhelming to them (as Moses hid his face, Exodus 3:6); two their feet,--to hide their whole person, body ("their bodies," Ezekiel 1:23), and feet from the brightness; two they fly with, as if ready to go forth on the errands of this mighty King. Is not this the true posture of every saint of God? Solemn awe in presence of the divine majesty, as unfit to look upon the glorious One; profound self-abasement, as unfit to be looked upon by one so holy; readiness to do the work of God, to go forth on his service on the wings of faith and love.
II. The voice. It was the voice of the seraphim, a responsive song,-- "one cried unto another." Their song was, (1.) Of Jehovah of hosts and of his three-fold holiness; (2.) Of earth,--the whole earth,--earth filled with His glory. Thus the voice interprets the vision. It is a vision of latter-day glory,-- when the Lord alone shall be exalted, when holiness to the Lord shall be seen and heard everywhere, when the glory of the Lord shall fill the world. What a contrast the state of things thus revealed to that in the day of the prophet! This holy glory was to him exceeding marvellous,--a holy glory in connection with Jehovah of hosts as King of all the earth. It is the times of restitution of all things, when the Lord alone shall be exalted.
III. The shaking. The posts of the door, or foundations of the threshold moved, or shook, at the voice of the seraphim, and the temple was filled with smoke. The foundations of God's own house are moved at the voice of the marvellous song, and the house is filled with that which symbolises Jehovah's holy anger against sin (Psalm 18:9). The vision seems to be that of God coining down in his holiness, to shake the earth, and to express his hatred against sin, and especially against Israel's sin, in His own sanctuary (Isaiah 65:5). He is spoken of here as arising to shake terribly the earth,--beginning at His own temple, but not ceasing till He has shaken all that can be shaken, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. When God's anger waxes hot against sin, then all the earth shall be as Sinai,--when the mountain shook, and was covered with smoke from the presence of the holy Lord God. The "battles of shaking" for our world are yet to come (Isaiah 30:32).
The Prophets alarm. (verse 5) His cry is, "Woe is me"; nay, "I am undone." The reason of his alarm is a new and deeper view of his own sinfulness, from a new view of Jehovah's holiness. "A man of unclean lips am I;" nay, "among a people of unclean lips do I dwell." He gives the reason,--" the King, Jehovah of hosts, mine eyes have seen." Thus the nearer God comes to us, the more are we made aware of our uncleanness (even that of our lips, and feel the uncleanness of a world of unclean lips in which we dwell. The vision of earth filled with holy glory, and with the presence of its glorious King, has overwhelmed him. As in the case of Daniel (10:8), and John (Revelation 1:17). The more we realise a present God, and an earth filled with his glory, the more shall we feel our own unholiness and cry out in fear, even though we be saints. We feel the awful contrast between our unholy lips and the holy lips of those who are singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." It was Israel's "unclean lips" that cried, "Crucify him"; and for the words of their unclean lips they are now suffering the woes of God.
God's cure for this alarm. A live coal from the altar applied to his lips,--that special part which he felt impure, and in which purity was specially needed by him as a prophet. A prophet is a man like ourselves, yet God must purify his lips that he may speak. He does this by fire and blood; for the live coal was from the altar of burnt-offering. Thus the blood makes clean and the fire purifies,--"the spirit of burning." This application of fire and blood to his lips removes, (1.) his fears; (2.) his personal uncleanness; (3.) national uncleanness; for the fire and blood were meant to apply to "the people of the unclean lips" as well as to himself. Thus the sense of uncleanness is removed. Thus the terror which the nearer presence of God produces is removed by that which assures the sinner of pardon and cleansing. The man's terrors are dispelled; he feels that he can now act and speak for God.
VI. God's inquiry for a messenger. Jehovah's voice is heard; its utterance is two-fold, (1.) "Whom shall I send;" (2.) "Who will go for us." It is an errand of hardship, painfulness, danger, shame; from which flesh and blood would shrink, as did Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. Still God in every age is looking round and asking for a messenger,--for evangelists, for missionaries, for ministers, Spirit-called, Spirit-filled, Spirit- sent messengers. The work is great, the field is large, the message is judgment as well as mercy. Whom shall I send; who will go?
VII. The prophet's answer. "Here am I, send me." He answers the second question first; but he answers both explicitly. He does not shrink. He is ready for shame, for prison, for death,--as indeed he found at last. The spirit is willing and the flesh has overcome its weakness. The fire and blood have removed the terror, and made him bold. Thus it was with Whitefield.
VIII. The message. It is one of judgment; (1.) For the people, the worst of judgments, hear on and understand not, look on but see not. A hard heart, an insensible and impenetrable soul, a seared conscience, given over to a reprobate mind; (2.) For the land,--to lie waste and desolate, its fields untilled, its cities forsaken. This is the message of double judgment,-- complete and terrible ruin. This is the end of the people of "unclean lips."
IX. The promise. All Israel's judgments have a promise mixed up with them,--a hope appended to them. They are not forever. Their unbelief is not forever. Their land's desolation is not forever. There is a holy Seed or root, in which the blessing lies hid, even in the midst of the curse; and out of this seed, or root, or stump, the future tree is to arise, more glorious than the first. Israel shall blossom, and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit. Here is the gleam of hope in the midst of despair and darkness. But how terrible the history through which Israel passes to this! How fearfully God avenges unbelief and rejection of his grace! Yet the day dawns at last! The King comes in His glory.