Old Testament: Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13) (Epiphany 5: Series C)

Reading Time: 5 mins

Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the living God—the Holy One. This is a terrifying situation because Isaiah knows full well that the unholy cannot endure the presence of the Holy.

The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13) and is the call/sending of the prophet Isaiah, as well as being verses well known to most of the Church. The text contains a rare triad in verse 3: “Holy, holy, holy”. The Early Church considered this to be a Trinitarian formula (I would agree). However, during the Arian Controversy they stepped away from that use as Arias used the text against them as he supported his heretical view. It took a while, but the Church has returned to its Trinitarian understanding, and thus, it is also the chosen text in Series B for Holy Trinity Sunday.

Since this text sets up the call/sending of Isaiah the prophet, it is curious why it takes place so late in the Book of Isaiah. A lot of information and even prophesy has preceded Isaiah’s call. This has caused considerable discussion among Old Testament exegetes. Some would suggest there is a lack of chronological order. Others have posited there was a “pre-call” ministry for Isaiah. Still others see chapter 6 as a renewal of Isaiah’s call. My personal opinion is that we, the reader/hearer, are being brought into the context or situation into which Isaiah is being called. Judah is experiencing one of its more peaceful and prosperous times since Solomon. However, this calm situation has dulled the hearts and adversely affected the faithfulness of the people. They are going through the motions but their hearts have drifted from the LORD. Chapters 1-5 give us a clear picture of this reality. Therefore, when Isaiah receives his call/sending to be the LORD’s prophet, His mouthpiece to the people of the Southern Kingdom, we can already see the challenge of what and who he is sent to. Regardless of the reason, we should see the position of our pericope in the writing as being original and intentional to the Book of Isaiah.

Another interesting discussion point in this text is the location. Verse one uses the word, היכל (hay-kawl) “temple”, but the question often discussed is, WHICH TEMPLE? Does Isaiah find himself in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple, or is this taking place in the Heavenly Temple? Perhaps the best answer is simply, “Yes”. In the understanding of the Hebrews the two are inseparable—they do not think of them as unrelated realities. This would be my personal understanding. But certainly, the more important reality described in our text is how Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the living God—the Holy One. This is a terrifying situation because Isaiah knows full well that the unholy cannot endure the presence of the Holy (compare 6:5 to Peter’s response in the text from Luke 5:1-11 for this week). We will look at this more closely as we progress through the text.

But certainly, the more important reality described in our text is how Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the living God—the Holy One.

6:1 בִּשְׁנַת-מוֹת (bish-nat mOt) “in the year (he) died” Isaiah is the only prophet to date an event by a death, and he does it twice. First, here in 6:1 it is the death of King Uzziah, and again in 14:28 with the death of King Ahaz. It could be that Isaiah sees King Uzziah’s death as an indictment or as a symbol of the nation of Judah and their unfaithfulness (see Uzziah’s unfaithfulness in II Kings 15:5 and II Chronicles 26:16ff).

וָאֶרְאֶה אֶת-אֲדֹנָי יֹשֵׁב (va-er-Eh et a-do-Nai yo-Shev) I saw the LORD sitting” יֹשֵׁב (yo-Shev) is a participle form. At first, we would think Isaiah is seeing the Pre-incarnate Christ because man cannot look upon the face of God and live. However, the three-fold קָדוֹשׁ (ka-Doosh) of the seraphim could suggest the presence of the entire Godhead, the Holy Trinity. Therefore, Isaiah should be in terror. This would not be the first time the LORD God broke the “face to face” rule. Remember Moses and the elders in Exodus 24.

כִּסֵּא (kis-Se) “throne” הַהֵיכָל (ha-hai-Chal) “the temple”. As mentioned before, location is a big topic of discussion. The terms “throne” and “temple” do nothing to answer the question. The Mercy Seat is considered the Throne and the Holy of Holies is the Throne room of God in the earthly Jerusalem temple. The language also fits the Biblical depictions of Heaven.

וְשׁוּלָיו (ve-shu-Lav) from: שׁוּל (shool) “seam; skirt”. Generally translated in this context as “robe” or “train of the robe”.

6:2 שְׂרָפִים עֹמְדִים. (se-ra-Fim o-me-Dim) “seraphim (burning ones) standing” The covering of the face and feet with a pair of wings each while flying with a third pair is interesting in that the pronoun does not identify whose face and feet the wings cover. It could be the seraphims’ (usual thought) or, it could be the face and feet of the Holy One. This may be how Isaiah “survives” his encounter—his face to face meeting—with the LORD God.

יְעוֹפֵף (ye-o-Fef) root: עוף (oof) Piel: “to fly back and forth; to fly”

6:3 וְקָרָא זֶה אֶל-זֶה (ve-ke-Ra zeh el zeh) Literally: “this called to this”. Thus, “one called to another”.

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ (ka-Doosh ka-Doosh ka-Doosh) “Holy, holy, holy” As previously mentioned, an unusual triad.

מְלֹא כָל-הָאָרֶץ, כְּבוֹדוֹ. (me-Lo chol ha-A-retz ke-vo-Do) “all the earth is full of His glory” or, “may His glory fill all the earth”. Both are acceptable translations. It is interesting to see “His glory” in the immediate context of Temple and the Smoke of verse 4. This should bring to mind the “Glory Cloud”.

6:4 וַיָּנֻעוּ: (vai-ya-Nu-u) root: נוע (noo-ah) Qal: “to tremble; shake; quake”

הַסִּפִּים (has-sip-Pim) from: סף (saf) “threshold; sill; stone under the doorframe” “and the thresholds (foundations) shook”

מִקּוֹל הַקּוֹרֵא (mik-Kol hak-ko-Re) “from the voice of the Calling One” Note how this is singular and does not seem to focus on the seraphim, but rather on the voice of God.

עָשָׁן (a-Shan) “smoke” The two items of “shaking” and “smoke” are often paired in eschatological settings and contexts. Amos speaks of earthquakes and smoke and thick darkness on the day of the LORD. We also see this in Habbakuk 3 and Haggai 2. All point to the presence of God, and, in Haggai, the day when the “Glory of the LORD fills the Temple”. Thus, at the cross on Good Friday when Christ declares, “It is finished”, the world goes dark, the earth shakes, rocks split, and the Temple curtain is torn in two as Christ (the Glory) returns to the Holy of Holies to place His blood as the final sacrifice to atone for the sin of the world.

6:5 אוֹי (o) “woe!; alas!”

נִדְמֵיתִי (nid-Mei-ti) root: דמה (daw-mam) Niphal: “to be brought to silence; to be ruined; to be lost”. טְמֵא. (te-me) “unclean” To be unclean makes one unworthy to go in to the Temple; cleansing is required before one can be in the presence of God. Isaiah knows his uncleanness as well as that of the people among whom he dwells—nothing good can come of this face to face meeting! We see the same reaction in the Gospels when Peter is confronted by the miraculous calming of the storm and realizes he is in the boat with the Holy One.

6:6 וַיָּעָף (vai-Ya-of) Qal: “to fly”

רִצְפָּה (ritz-Pah) “glowing coal; hot ember; hot stone”

בְּמֶלְקַחַיִם (be-Mel-ka-Cha-yim) “with the tongs” Note that this is a dual form because tongs have two parts.

הַמִּזְבֵּחַ (ham-miz-Be-ach) “the altar” Where the burning coal comes from is of extreme importance. Fire from the altar purifies and cleanses the faithful, otherwise, fire is symbolic of the wrath of God and brings destruction.

6:7 The coal/fire touches the lips of Isaiah. Thus, his mouth is cleansed/atoned and prepared to speak the words from God. We see the mouth of prophets being focused upon in the sending of Jeremiah and Ezekiel as well.

6:8 אֶשְׁלַח, (esh-Lach) root: שׁלח (shaw-lakh) Qal: “to send”

וּמִי יֵלֶךְ-לָנוּ (u-Mi ye-lech La-nu) “who will go FOR US?” Again, the plurality of “for us” coupled with the triad of “holy” recommends a Trinitarian reading. One does wonder if Isaiah knows what he is getting into when he volunteers. Would he have been so eager if he had heard the job description in verse 9-13 first?


Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various resources to help you preach Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13) from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO.

Text Week-A large number of resources to help you preach Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13) from various theological traditions.

Working Preacher-Insights into preaching Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13) from Working Preacher.