The Old Testament Lesson for Holy Trinity Sunday is from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 6:1-8. It is chosen for Holy Trinity Sunday due to the rare triad in verse 3: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The Early Church considered this to be a Trinitarian formula (and I would agree). However, during the Arian controversy they stepped away from this use because Arias used the text against them as he supported his heretical position. It took a while, but the Church has returned to that Trinitarian interpretation. Therefore, it is in the pericopal system 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. A lot of information and even prophesy has preceded Isaiah’s Call, which has caused a great deal of 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 most peaceful and prosperous times since Solomon. However, this calm situation has dulled their 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 sending/call to be the LORD’s prophet, His mouthpiece to the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, we can already see the challenge of what he is sent into and who he is sent to. Regardless of the reason, we should see the position of the text as original and intentional to the Book of Isaiah.
Another interesting discussion point concerning this text is the location. Verse one uses the word הכל (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 we might say the answer is “Yes.” In the understanding of the Hebrew people the two are inseparable. They do not think of them as unrelated realities. This would be my personal understanding. Certainly, the more important reality described in this 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. We will look at this more closely as we progress through the text.
This is a terrifying situation because Isaiah knows full well that the unholy cannot endure the presence of the Holy.
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 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 2 Kings 15:5 and 2 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 might think Isaiah is seeing the Pre-incarnate Christ because man cannot look on the face of God and live. However, the 3-fold קָדוֹשׁ (ke-Doosh) of the seraphim would 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. Think of Moses and also the elders in Exodus 24.
כִּסֵּא (kis-Se) “throne” הַהֵיכָל (ha-hei-Chal) “the temple” As mentioned before, location is a big topic of discussion. The two terms of 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 description of Heaven.
וְשׁוּלָיו (ve-shu-Lav) from: שׁוּל (shool) “seam; skirt” Generally it is translated in this context as “robe” or “train of robe.”
6:2 שְֹרָפִים עֹמְדִים (se-ra-Fim) “seraphim (burning ones) standing” The covering of the face and feet with a pair of wings each while flying with a third pair of wings is interesting in that the pronoun does not identify whose face and feet the wings cover. It could be the seraphim’s (this is the 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) Polel: “to fly; to fly back and forth”.
6:3 וְקָרָה זֶה אֶל־זֶה (ve-ka-Ra zeh el zeh) Literally: “This called to this,” or “One called to another”
קָדוֹשׁ קָדִוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ (ka-Doosh ka-Doosh ka-Doosh) “Holy, Holy, Holy” As previously mentioned, this is an unusual triad.
מְלוֹא 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 the Temple and 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: סַף (saf) “threshold; sill; stone under the door frame” Used together with the previous term, “And the thresholds (foundations) shook,” from the voice of the One who called. 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 Habakkuk 3 and Haggai 2. They 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 quakes and 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.
6:5 אוֹי (o) “Woe! Alas!”
נִדְמֵיתִי (nid-Mei-ti) root: דמה (daw-mam) Niphal: “to be brought to silence; to be ruined; be lost; to be undone; to be destroyed”
טְמֵא (te-Me) “unclean” To be unclean makes one unworthy to go into 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 from 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 same boat as 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) “tongs” Note how 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 is touched to the lips of Isaiah. Thus, his mouth is cleansed/atoned and prepared to speak the Word of God. We see the mouth of the prophets being focused on in the sending’s 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 heard the job description in verses 9-13 first?
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 6:1-8.
Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 6:1-8.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Isaiah 6:1-8.