by Craig Munro, Scotland
Isaiah is one of the four ‘major prophets’ in the Old Testament, along with Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. He lived during the period when the northern part of Israel was removed by the Assyrians. His life is recorded for us in 2Kings and 2Chronicles, including his vital exhortatory ministry to Judah and other nations, as well as his prayer life. His prophecies have been preserved in a powerful volume of sixty-six chapters, which includes many wonderful prophecies concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.
Isaiah wrote in the eighth century before Christ, during the reigns of “Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” Isa.1.1. We do not know exactly when he began prophesying in the reign of Uzziah but even if he commenced at the very end of his reign, Isa.6.1, the period of his prophetic service would still be well over sixty years. Therefore, Isaiah is noted for his consistency and constancy.
It was during this period of time that there was conflict between Israel and Judah, with Israel initially affiliating with Syria, Isaiah chapters 7,8. Ultimately the ten tribes of Israel were removed by the Assyrians, during the reign of Hezekiah, but this northern threat arrived at the gates of Judah. Isaiah was there in the crisis of the besieging of Jerusalem by Assyria, chapters 36-39. God miraculously preserved Judah from the Assyrian threat. Therefore, Isaiah’s ministry and intercession were at a critical period in Biblical history.
The background information on Isaiah at a personal level is scant. We know little regarding his home life or the persecution he suffered for his ministry. His father’s name was Amoz, 1.1, a shortened form of Amaziah (‘strong is Jehovah’). The name Isaiah (‘Jah saves’ or ‘Jehovah saves’) suggests that his parents, who gave him this name, had a strong belief in the Lord God’s ability to save. The theme of salvation is an interesting feature of Isaiah’s ministry. It might be possible to infer from his call recorded for us in chapter 6 that Isaiah was a priest, given the intimate references to the Temple. Even if we are to assume that all the details concerning the Temple were in respect of a heavenly vision, they were grounded in the reality of one who had stood in the court of the Temple and had seen things that only priestly eyes could describe. Certainly, he would be a voice from God to reform the hypocrisy of the ceremonial functions of the priesthood, 1.11-14.
We know little of his mother apart from the tenderness of which he spoke of mothers in general, drawn no doubt from his own personal experience, 49.14,15. Isaiah was a spiritual man who married a like-minded woman who was able to prophesy, 8.3. Through the prophetess he had two children, 7.3; 8.1: Shear-jashub (‘the remnant shall return’) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (‘speeding to the spoil he hasteth to the prey’). The prophetic names given to the children were for signs, 8.18. Isaiah saw his marriage, children, and family life all as vehicles for promoting God’s Word. Isaiah is clearly consumed with the will of God and the Word of God.
The legacy of the Prophecy of Isaiah is extensive. The prophecies are quoted frequently by the Lord Jesus in the Gospels and by Paul, particularly in the Epistle to the Romans, as he explains the gospel. Through the Book of Isaiah an influential man was saved, and doubtless he carried the gospel message to his part of Africa, Acts 8.28, and it was Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord read in Nazareth, when He publicly announced Himself as the One anointed to preach the gospel, Luke chapter 4. Isaiah has been called ‘an Old Testament Gospel’. Therefore, the call of this remarkable man, Isaiah, recorded in Isaiah chapter 6, is of interest to all Bible students.
Isaiah’s book of prophetic ministry contains vital prophecy regarding the coming Messiah, much of which is known by all believers. Some verses and chapters, for example, Isa.9.6 and the ‘Servant Songs’ in chapters 42, 49, 50 and 52-53, have been memorised by believers over the centuries, as they are such amazingly accurate and poignant prophecies of the Lord Jesus. We learn from Isaiah that the Messiah will be born of a virgin, that He is the mighty God but would become a servant and die a cruel death. We learn too that in His death He would suffer for our sins and rise from the dead. We also learn the refreshing news that Messiah will usher in a mighty kingdom that will be established in righteousness, and peace will flow like a river in this world. Here is a summary of seven key prophecies in Isaiah:
- Christ as a Sovereign, 6.1; Jn.12.41;
- Christ as a Son, 9.6; 7.14; Matt.1.23;
- Christ as a Shoot of life, 11.1-3; 53.2;
- Christ as a Steward – a sure placed Nail, 22.22,23; cf. Rev.3.7,8;
- Christ as a Stone, 28.16; cf. Eph.2.20;
- Christ as a Shepherd, 40.11,12; cf. 1Pet.5.4;
- Christ as a Servant, 42.1; 52.13-15.
The lines of truth that are developed in Isaiah can be centred around a question in Isa.36.4: “What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?”, which paraphrased means, ‘On whom are you depending?’ The call to Judah was to trust in the Lord and not affiliate with Assyria, chapters 1-39, or fraternise with the next world power, Babylon, which dominates in the second half of the Book, chapters 40-66. There is, therefore, a lot about sin and salvation in the Prophecy of Isaiah (the word “salvation” appears twenty-eight times and “Saviour” eight times) as he impresses upon the people the Saviourhood of God, for example, 12.2; 43.3; 60.18; 61.10. Isaiah called upon the people to depend on the Lord.
The Prophecy of Isaiah can be divided into three sections: Prophetic, chapters 1-35; Historic, chapters 36-39; and Messianic, chapters 40-66.
Chapters 1-35: Prophetic – Retribution, Restitution and Restoration
The epicentre of the Book is Judah, and Jerusalem in particular. However, there is a progressive enlargement from Judah, chapters 1-5, to Israel, chapters 6-12, then specific Gentile nations, chapters 13-23, and ultimately the world, chapters 24-27. There is a well-established pattern throughout the Book of first describing Jerusalem presently, in all its sin, and then describing a future restored Israel, which is well described in chapters 28-35.
Chapters 36-39: Historic – Epilogue, chapters 36,37; Prologue, chapters 38,39
The historical narrative of the Assyrian siege at Jerusalem and the dramatic demonstration of God’s power in the salvation of Judah are recorded here.
Chapters 40-66: Messianic – Redemption and Consummation
This section is divided into three by the words “no peace” 48.22; 57.21; compare also 66.24. The supremacy of Jehovah is established, in His attributes, in His act of redemption, in assessment and in future judgment upon earth. The kingdom established where Christ will reign is most beautifully described.
The call of Isaiah is found in Isaiah chapter 6. It is one of the most amazing sections of Scripture as Isaiah sees the Lord sitting upon the throne of glory. This section is worth meditating on, for all servants must have a vision of the glory of the Lord if they are ever to be used in His service. The call is demarked by four revelations:
- Revelation of the sovereign Lord on the throne – vv.1-4;
- Revelation of the sin of the servant Isaiah – vv.5-8;
- Revelation of the service of Isaiah: its character and context – vv.9,10;
- Revelation of a seed: the holy seed, a remnant, in the midst of judgment – vv.11-13.
There are three personal responses, which can also be used to divide the call:
- “Then said I, ‘Woe is me! for I am undone [dumb]’” v.5;
- “Then said I, ‘Here am I’” v.8;
- “Then said I, ‘Lord, how long?’” v.11.
There are several principles of Isaiah’s call that we must all learn in this chapter as we seek to establish and fulfil our own call.
God calls at a particular time.
Isaiah was called at a very particular time: “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw …” 6.1. The reference to the year that King Uzziah died means the death of Uzziah precipitated this vision, or at least was the background for it. This is the first historic reference in the Book of Isaiah and it is very significant because King Uzziah had been a good king but, sadly, had a desperate end, 2 Chronicles chapter 26. He had tried to be a priest, which was restricted to the family of Aaron, and this had resulted in him being cursed with leprosy. He died tragically as a leper. It is always sad when good men fail at the end. However, this was the stimulus to Isaiah’s call. He felt the weakness in the nation, the sadness of failure, and had the vision to see what God could do with a people who were obedient. Perhaps God will raise up someone today, through reading this book, who is burdened by the weakness of the surrounding spiritual conditions.
It was not only a time of spiritual decline but also of major transition. King Uzziah had died in the year Isaiah saw the vision recorded in this chapter and Jotham was taking over the charge of the kingdom. Many are called in similar circumstances when leaders pass away, and it is obvious that the Lord is calling them to take responsibility. We trust that all such will be encouraged by Isaiah’s call.
We learn from this then that God has a precise time when He calls His servants, often in days of weakness and transition.
God gives the servants He calls a vision of the glory of Christ.
Isaiah is in the court of the Temple and, seeing the incense cloud rise from the priestly censers and hearing the ‘Hallelujah’ of the Levites, he is suddenly transported into heaven to see the glory of the Lord: “I saw also the Lord” 6.1. Therefore, the call of Isaiah starts with a vision of the majesty of God. This is exactly what Isaiah needed. The word “also” means Isaiah saw other things as well, including the implications of Uzziah’s death, but the vision of the Lord was the key and it eclipsed everything else. All around him was weakness but having seen the glory of the Lord suddenly everything seemed possible. It was the Lord Who changed everything.
What exactly did Isaiah see? There is a mystery to these words, “saw … the Lord”. God said to Moses, “Thou canst not see My face: for there shall no man see Me, and live” Ex.33.20, and yet Moses “saw the God of Israel” Ex.24.10, and the Lord spoke to Moses “face to face” Ex.33.11. It would appear as if no human ever saw the full orbed glory of God, but some stupendous, partial manifestation of God’s glory was given to Moses and to Isaiah.
“The Lord” in Isa.6.1 is the word Adonai, emphasising God’s sovereignty. It is Jehovah in v.5, emphasising the eternality and faithfulness of God, Who was, and is, and is to come. What is also certain is that Isaiah saw the Lord Jesus, as the apostle John tells us: “These things said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him” Jn.12.41. This is, therefore, a proof text that the Lord Jesus is God. Like Isaiah, we need to learn to see the glory of the Lord Jesus and speak of Him. This is where our call commences: a vison of the glory of Christ. Everything in our life flows from having seen the exalted and glorified Lord Jesus Christ in a fresh way. Just as it was for Isaiah, this must be a very personal experience for each individual believer.
God’s call is above and outside of all events on earth.
Isaiah saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne” Isa.6.1. The throne on earth was empty after Uzziah died but the throne in heaven was filled. God was in complete control, and He had not surrendered His authority to anyone. He was not taken by surprise by events on earth. Indeed, He knew all about it before it happened. Isaiah saw His sovereign authority and rule. It is good for us to remember that the same is true today, in spite of what sometimes may appear to be chaos on earth.
Isaiah had his vision filled with a seated Christ. His vision was taken up with the glory of the seated pre-incarnate Christ. Our vision is occupied with One Who has taken glorified manhood into heaven, having dealt with all sin and uncleanness in His death and resurrection, and Who has now sat down in victory. In the New Testament we are encouraged to consider the Lord Jesus seated at the right hand of God. Psalm 110 is the great prophetic Psalm of the seated Christ and the first verse of the Psalm is quoted five times in the New Testament. It is there that we learn that it speaks of resurrection and exaltation, as God says, “Sit Thou”. It also speaks of anticipation of a new Kingdom era, as God says, “Sit Thou … until”. Finally, it speaks of the vindication of the Lord and the subjugation of all things under the Lord Jesus Christ, as God says, “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” A seated Christ brings rule and authority to a future world: “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory” Matt.25.31.
The eye that is trained on the Lord Jesus as seated and glorified in heaven, Col.3.1, will be consumed with Divine purpose and not easily swayed from the truth by troublesome events on earth.
God’s call elevates the vision of the servant.
Isaiah had high and lofty thoughts of God. He saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple” Isa.6.1. He saw the Lord in His position of pre-eminence and power. Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ “is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him” 1Pet.3.22. Believers should never use language which reduces our God, for our God is great “and greatly to be praised” Ps.145.3.
Isaiah focuses on how one part of the glory of God filled the temple. The “train” of His robe means the ‘skirts’ of His robe; the exterior part of His garments filled the temple. This is the Lord Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment, Ps.104.2. This is His essential glory as God.
The temple would have been a vision of the heavenly temple that Isaiah saw but it may well have been that Isaiah was in the physical Temple at Jerusalem at the time. The word “temple” expresses its character as a palace of the great King, Ps.11.4; 29.9; Hab.2.20. We too minister in the “heavenlies” but the reality of His powerful presence in our midst on earth when we gather together as an assembly is a pivotal truth.
Like Isaiah, we have a high calling, Phil.3.14, and we all need a vision of His glory if we are ever to be used in His service.
God calls us to act in a particular manner in His service.
The throne of God is surrounded by principalities and powers: “Above it [the throne] stood the seraphims: each one had six wings” Isa.6.2. Myriads of angels encompass God’s immediate presence. The seraphim are singled out here. The ‘fiery ones’ (it is the same word as the “fiery” serpents of Num.21.6,8) remind us of those celestial beings who fly to and fro, like a flash of lightning, Ezek.1.14. They seem to be particularly associated with the immediate presence of God. They appear to be above the throne as attendants, ready to obey. The Lord Jesus created these angels: “For by Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” Col.1.16,17.
Firstly, Isaiah seems struck by the reverence and awe which mark the angels as they cover their faces in the presence of the Lord: “with twain he covered his face” Isa.6.2. Angels are showing real homage, and this should likewise mark God’s people today: Peter writes that we should “be clothed with humility: for ‘God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble’” 1Pet.5.5. God uses humble people and those who, in their piety, pay homage and recognise the headship of Christ.
Secondly, a sense of the holiness is apparent as we read “and with twain he covered his feet” Isa.6.2. It reminds us of what the Lord said to Moses at the burning bush: “put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” Ex.3.5. Our feet often need washed from defilement, as the Lord taught us in John chapter 13. Our walk needs to be holy if we are to know how to worship and if we are to experience His call. God uses holy people and will bless their purity.
We then read of the angels’ wings: “and with twain he did fly” Isa.6.2. The third lesson is the importance of liberty and energy in our service. God does not use lazy people. There is something about the alacrity of angels and their promptness to obey the voice of the Lord which should resonate with every servant of the Lord. It is good to be hearty and enthusiastic in our service and be the “Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message” Hag.1.13. The Lord’s servants should not be marked by a sluggishness or doing things out of mere duty. Paul says, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” Col.3.23. God calls hearty people who are prompt and willing to serve Him.
God equips us in our call to His heavenly service.
According to Ezekiel chapter 1, when God spoke the angels folded their wings in reverence, but once he had given instruction, they flew. So, the extended wing speaks of service. They were not only willing and ready to do the Lord’s will in service, but they were also equipped for their sphere of activity. Similarly, the Lord not only gives us a suitable sphere in which to serve Him, but He also fits us for the particular work He has given us to do.
The way the angelic beings served the Lord in heaven is the way we should learn to serve Him while we are on the earth. We need to lift our eyes to heaven and rejoice that we are “partakers of the heavenly calling” Heb.3.1. It means that, like the angels, the way we move must be heavenly. Like the angels before the throne, so focused on the Lord, we must study Him: “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus” Heb.3.1.
The apostle Paul moved with consciousness that a heavenly host watched his movements on earth. He described himself as like being in an amphitheatre, with angels and men watching him, 1Cor.4.9 (the word “spectacle” is ‘theatre’). He described the Church as being like a school for angels, Eph.3.10. Let us then reciprocate and learn from the angels how to serve God.
God calls us to holiness with a holy calling.
The seraphim repeat the cry of “Holy” three times: “And one cried unto another, and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts’” Isa.6.3. John saw four living creatures saying the same words in glory: “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within. And they rest not day and night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come’” Rev.4.8. Matters which were thought to be of real importance were often repeated three times, Jer.7.4; 22.29.
Isaiah learns that his calling is a holy calling. It is emphasised and reemphasised to him. Peter learned this: “Because it is written, ‘Be ye holy; for I am holy’” 1Pet.1.16. The Psalmist learned this: “Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, for ever” Ps.93.5. We have a holy calling, 2Tim1.9; our walk should be marked by holiness.
The Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is suggested in the three repeats of “Holy, holy, holy”. “The Lord of hosts” or “the Lord of sabaoth” is an expression full of the sovereign power of God over all the hosts of angels and men. The seraphim worshipped the Lord for His holiness and the fulness of His glory, confessing that “the whole earth is full of His glory” Isa.6.3. He thus filled heaven, v.1, and earth, v.3. This would have a present and future thought. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the earth now, and in that sense, it is full of His glory. But this cursed earth which groans just now, Rom.8.22, will one day be rejuvenated, when the Saviour returns, and it will sing again, Rom.8.21,23. The Bible says, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” Hab.2.14. Hallelujah!
God’s call requires to be heard and felt.
This is the first time God’s voice, through the seraphim, is heard in this chapter: “at the voice of him that cried” v.4. Isaiah needed to hear the voice of God. It is only this that can change our circumstances, destiny and character. He also needed to feel the impact of God’s voice. The presence of the Lord was a felt reality, which was seen from the fact that “the posts of the door moved” Isa.6.4. The danger is that God speaks but we do not feel the effect. These are times that should evoke great repentance of heart. God calls those who are moved by His voice.
The presence of God is real: “and the house was filled with smoke” Isa.6.4. God’s presence can be sensed and felt (“moved”), seen, heard (“voice”), and even smelt (“smoke”). The vision had a prototype in the “smoke … as the smoke of a furnace” on Sinai, Ex.19.18, and in the glory-cloud of 1Kgs.8.10. The smoke filling the house indicates the fulness of His holy presence, just as it was after Moses had finished setting up the Tabernacle exactly as the Lord had shown him, Ex.40.34,35. The servant should be aware of and sensitive to the presence of God and the promptings of His Spirit.
God’s call helps each servant understand his own spiritual condition.
As a result of seeing the Lord Jesus Christ in glory Isaiah was able to clearly see himself as he really was: “I am a man of unclean lips … for mine eyes have seen the King” Isa.6.5. It is occupation with Christ, rather than self-occupation, that enables us to see our true spiritual condition and needs. This vision of Christ leads Isaiah to a conviction about his own sin and to a confession to God.
Isaiah responds to the vision of the Lord by saying, “Woe is me! for I am undone” v.5. The word “undone” can mean ‘cut off’, ‘ceased’ or ‘silenced’. It is worth noting that Isaiah was a prophet being used by God, yet He still needed God to quieten his spirit and silence him. We need to stand silently in awe of God and feel our nothingness. Isaiah’s defects did not hinder God from using him in the past, but at the same time he had to be made conscious of these, in order to confess and correct them to ensure further spiritual growth and development. The same is true of us.
Isaiah exclaims: “for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” v.5. Lifting our vision to see the King is a theme in Isaiah’s ministry, and Isaiah’s use of this theme commenced at the Lord’s call. He writes of the future reign of the Messiah as King: “Behold, a King shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment” Isa.32.1, and again, “Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty” Isa.33.17. He revels in the knowledge that “the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; He will save us” Isa.33.22; compare Isa.41.21; 43.15; 44.6. This is all because He has come to see in his call that the Lord Jesus is the King of the hosts of angels, v.5, and that, as King, “the whole earth is full of His glory” v.3. Our call requires us to see the King and not trust in ourselves.
God’s call will correct the specific issues in our lives.
Isaiah confesses: “I am a man of unclean lips” v.5. There was a particular area of the prophet’s life that the Lord touched and caused him to confess. The issue he had was in regard to his “lips”, which he confessed were unclean. When we see the Lord, we are directed beyond the general need for improvement in our lives to specific failures that need to be corrected. While this can be an unpleasant and humbling experience, it is evidence of the workings of the Spirit in our lives. We can be encouraged in these moments that He has given us such a spiritual sensitivity to the particular area in our life which needs to be changed. Peter would remind us: “For ‘He that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile’” 1Pet.3.10.
The Lord Jesus’ lips never reviled anyone even when he was reviled and “neither was guile found in His mouth” 1Pet.2.22,23. His lips are described by the lover in the Song of Songs as being “like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh” S of S.5.13. Let us follow in His footsteps and “by Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” Heb.13.15.
God’s call helps us to understand His people’s needs more clearly.
Once he humbled himself and made appropriate confession, Isaiah gained insight into the condition and need of the people of God around him, saying, “I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” v.5. So often we try to reverse this. We can see the failures in others and think we are above such difficulties. The Lord spoke about the man who tried to take the splinter out of his brother’s eye and had a plank of wood in his own eye, Matt.7.3-5! However, Isaiah became burdened about the fact that what he had seen in himself was what he could now see in others. He did the right thing with this spiritual insight and brought it before the Lord. We also learn from this that we will only truly be able to know others in the measure in which we know ourselves, and we can only truly know ourselves in the measure in which we know Christ as exalted and glorified.
This people of unclean lips is also the first revelation Isaiah had of how apostate the nation had become. We need not think that the source of our spiritual joy will be in the world around us. John says that the world is in the lap of “the Wicked one” 1Jn.5.19, Newberry margin, and urges us to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” 1Jn.2.15-17. We need to see the world for what it really is.
God’s call requires Divine support.
The ministry of the seraph is personal to Isaiah: “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me” v.6. If Isaiah is to be used it will require Divine personal support. The ‘fiery one’ flashed in urgent support of the servant. It is good to know that there is a ministry of angels to support us as God’s people. The writer to the Hebrews is clear when he says, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” Heb.1.14.
God’s call requires the personal application of Christ’s work on the cross to our individual circumstances.
The angel brings “a live coal [literally a ‘hot stone’] in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar” v.6. These hot stones were brought from the brazen altar to the golden altar and the incense was placed upon them, allowing the fragrance to pervade the Tabernacle and the Temple. If the incense was to be carried elsewhere, then golden tongs, Ex.25.38, were used to take the hot stones off the golden altar and to place them on a golden censer for carrying, Lev.16.12. It may be that Isaiah is seeing the heavenly golden altar that John saw, of which the earthly golden altar was a type: “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand” Rev.8.3,4. Or it may be that Isaiah was in the Temple on earth and he was being transported in vision from the golden altar on earth to heaven.
Isaiah had to learn that the consecration and equipping of his mouth in service sprang from the altar. The hot stone connected the brazen altar (place of sacrifice) and the golden altar (place of praise and prayer; see Rev.8.4). The work of Calvary not only saved our souls but equips us for service and gives us clean lips to praise His name. The work of Christ consecrates us in His service; our tongue is liberated, loosed and clean. The live coal, the hot stone, is a physical reminder of the intensity of Christ’s sufferings for all sin. The seraph could not put his hand on that coal but used golden tongs, a reminder to us that not even angels can take in completely or adequately grasp the immensity of the sufferings of Christ. Our worship, therefore, should be hot and not lukewarm.
The cleansing was a work done by the angel on the lips of Isaiah: “And he laid it upon my mouth and said, ‘Lo, this hath touched thy lips’” v.7. What the seraph did by taking the hot coal off the altar and bringing it to the lips of the prophet speaks of the practical application to our lives of the living truth of the cross of Christ. The cross answers to the altar. Our cleansing and restoration are based on His finished work, made real to us by the Holy Spirit through faith. The live coal touched the very issue Isaiah had confessed was the problem: his lips. The truth of the cross needs to be applied freshly by faith to any particular matter the Lord has made us aware of in our lives.
Isaiah learns: “and thine iniquity is taken away [‘departed/put away/removed’], and thy sin purged [‘atoned for’]” v.7. Isaiah experienced forgiveness and cleansing from sin. What wonderful words of assurance were spoken to him! In the New Testament, the apostle John gives us a similar assurance when he writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1Jn.1.9. Isaiah’s theology of forgiveness of sins is complete and final. Atonement is equated with the putting away of sin in this verse, which, as the writer to the Hebrews instructs us, was accomplished by the work of the Lord Jesus at the cross: “for then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath He appeared, to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” Heb.9.26. Our call to consecration is based on the sacrifice of Christ at the cross of Calvary. What a Saviour!
God’s call requires a personal response and commitment to whatever He commissions us to do.
Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord speaking and calling him: “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying” v.8. This is a critical aspect to confirm everyone’s call: the voice of God. Being in a right condition enabled him to discern when the Lord was speaking to him, indirectly but personally.
The Lord appeals: “Whom shall I send …?” v.8. Our ministry is a response of faith to God’s call to us. Isaiah is learning that he has to commit freely to this call. God will have it no other way.
The Lord clarifies: “and who will go for Us?” v.8. Isaiah understands that he was called to represent the Godhead in his service. It is important to recognise in our service for the Lord that we do not represent ourselves, an organisation, a cause, or even a local assembly. We represent God Himself in the fulness of Who He is and we need each person of the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to be able to carry out His will and work in the sphere to which He calls us.
The Lord appeals and Isaiah responds: “Then said I, ‘Here am I; send me’” v.8. The response is moving and heartfelt. Servants must be willing and available. This willingness to be at the full disposal of the Father is the very spirit that marked the Lord Jesus, for we read His prophetic words in Ps.40.7,8, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea Thy law is within My heart”, quoted in Heb.10.7. He came to do the will of Him Who sent Him, Jn.4.34, and did it so beautifully and perfectly. The Lord will make it clear to us if He has a particular sphere of service He wants us to be engaged in, but we need to respond in the above manner in order to fulfil it.
The response of Isaiah was unconditional. He was not given details as to what his ministry would entail until he had yielded unreservedly to do whatever the Lord would commit to him. We might be reticent to make a commitment to do a work for the Lord if we knew first what it would involve. However, once the heart and will are yielded to Him, we will be ready to face the challenges in the work which we will subsequently discover. This is the response to the call of God that pleases Him: “Send me”.
God’s call requires us to open our mouths.
Isaiah has to learn that his call is to a preaching ministry: “And He said, ‘Go, and tell’” v.9. Those “unclean lips” will now be able to preach the glad tidings. Isaiah could prophesy later: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, ‘Thy God reigneth!’” Isa.52.7. All believers need to hear this message: “Go, and tell”. Tell family, neighbours, friends, colleagues, of the Lord. The simplest Christian can tell the testimony of his or her own salvation. The blind man’s testimony was so powerful: “one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” Jn.9.25.
The Lord told others to go and tell, whether it was to a brother who needed encouragement, Lk.7.22; friends who needed to hear of God’s goodness and salvation, Mk.5.19; a brother who needed reconciled, Matt.18.15; authorities who needed to repent, Lk.13.32; or disciples who needed to hear news of the resurrection, Matt.28.7,10.
God’s call is not measured in success but in faithfulness.
The commission to Isaiah was to “go, and tell this people” v.9. “This people” has been described as a contemptuous designation of Israel. It is not being referred to as “My people”. The Lord was dissociating Himself from the people, as they had been rejecting Him. Isaiah’s call would not be confirmed by results but by faithfulness: “Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not” v.9. Isaiah learned that his commission was for a specific sphere of service. He was not going to see spectacular results from his ministry among the people of God. He was still to go and tell, and leave any results with God. He was not promised a great revival but, as we shall see in v.13, he was promised a remnant. It was the opposite mission to Paul, who was told to “open [men’s] eyes …” Acts 26.18, and who saw Europe and large parts of Asia ‘turned upside down’ by the gospel. In Isaiah’s case the people to whom he was preaching were only interested in the outward. They heard the prophet’s voice but did not understand; they saw what was taking place but did not perceive its significance. This was because they had rejected the message.
Isaiah was learning that his ministry was going to be at a time of deep departure. Most of Israel is going be wiped out by Assyria. “This people” were not lazy hearers but people who had rejected God. The Assyrian Empire would take them away, with only a tenth remaining in the land. This might also look forward to a day when antisemitism will be rife in the Tribulation period and Israel will be almost wiped out.
The words here, “Hear ye indeed, but understand not …”, and in the next verse are quoted by the Lord in Matt.13.14,15; Mk.4.12; Jn.12.40, and by Paul in Acts 28.26,27 and Rom.11.8. These words find a fulfilment at other critical times as well. At certain times God can say ‘Enough’ and allow people’s hardened hearts to stay hard.
Isaiah has to learn that his ministry may not be popular and that his prophecy might be rejected and that many of the people he would preach to would have greasy hearts, dull hearing and heavy eyes. Each of these three medical metaphors vividly describes a lack of response to the message. In some cases, the teaching of the Word of God will make listeners even harder against the Word. The pathway of service can be difficult and discouraging at times, which highlights again why we need to be fully yielded to the Lord in order to fulfil our commission faithfully, through the strength that He gives. God does not promise us ‘success’ and ‘popularity’ in our call but asks us to be faithful despite the opposition.
God’s call requires persistence.
Isaiah is learning that he is to persist despite regression and rejection; the Lord’s call requires persistence and perseverance.
The prophet asks the question which is ever on the lips of each believer: “Lord, how long?” v.11. How long shall all this unbelief last? How long until the Lord is given His rightful place? How long until the Saviour returns, and peace is established? How long shall this judgment last? Daniel cried towards the close of the seventy years of exile, “How long …?” Dan.8.13. The souls of the Tribulation saints who have been martyred cry, “How long, O Lord … dost Thou not judge …?” Rev.6.10. We still ask the same question. Thank God, there is an answer. There is an “until”. “From henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool” Heb.10.13. Our Lord Jesus is coming back again.
In Isaiah’s case the “until” was “until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate” v.11; that is, until the land of Israel would be totally destroyed, first by the Babylonians, and afterward by the Romans. Not only Jerusalem and the cities should be wasted without inhabitant, but even the single houses should be without man; and not only the houses of the cities, but even the country should be utterly desolate, v.12.
God’s call has hope.
The expression “And the Lord have removed men far away” v.12, means the Lord will cause this people to be carried away captive into far countries. The words point to the policy of deportation adopted by the Assyrian and Babylonian kings. Pul had attacked the kingdom of Israel ten or twelve years before Uzziah’s death, and had perhaps made the Assyrian policy known, though he had allowed himself to be bought off, 2Kgs.15.19,20. From the first hour of Isaiah’s call the thought of an exile and a return from exile was the keynote of his teaching. The vision moves from the Assyrian to the Babylonian as the instrument of punishment on Israel. The Romans also were but instruments to carry the Jews captive out of their own land and disperse them among the several nations of the world; it was the Lord’s doing, and a judgment which He inflicted upon them for their sins. The thought looks forward ultimately to end times. The expression “great forsaking in the midst of the land” v.12, can be rendered ‘great shall be the deserted space’; compare Isa.5.9; 7.22,23, or ‘the desolation be great’; that is, the call continues until a great portion of Judah is depopulated, Mic.3.12. The land should be greatly forsaken of men, and this should continue a long time, which therefore cannot be understood of the Babylon captivity, but of their present one. So, this looks forward to the day when Israel would be deserted for about two thousand years.
And have we not seen all this exactly fulfilled? Has Israel not been removed far away into the most distant parts of the earth? And has
their removal, or banishment, not been about 1900 years’ duration, before they started to return in 1948? And do they not still continue deaf and blind, obstinate and unbelieving? There is a sense in which the duration of Isaiah’s call answers to the duration of all calls: until the Lord comes.
We have seen the high, heavenly and holy calling in the first few verses. This section now reveals the hope of His calling. Israel will be restored. The great forsaking has an “until”; Israel will be restored back to their land and v.13 shows that there will be a spiritual revival too. We, too, have a hope of our calling, which is wrapped up in the gathering together of God’s people by Christ, as Paul outlines in Ephesians chapter 1: “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” Eph.1.18.
God’s call will have an impact despite the general apathy. There will be a remnant.
Isaiah is learning that there will be a produce, a remnant that will respond: “But yet in it shall be a tenth” v.13. A blessing from the Lord is given: ten percent of the nation will respond. We learn from Zechariah chapter 13 that at the end of the Tribulation period there will indeed be a judgment of the living Jew and a refining process will take place. (This is also found in Malachi chapter 3 and Ezekiel chapter 20.) Two thirds of the city of Jerusalem will be destroyed, Zech.13.8,9. It would look like the purging of the rebellious nation of Israel will take an even more extreme form worldwide, whereby at least ninety percent is purged; compare Amos 5.3.
The returning back to the land from Babylon is of course in view: “and it shall return … so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.” But this return is much wider than a return from Babylon or perhaps even Egypt, Jeremiah chapter 42, or Rome. In a future day there will be a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, Zech.13.1. There will be renewal for Israel and the nation shall return. This is more than a revival in Isaiah’s day; this points forward to the return of the Lord Jesus to earth, when “all Israel shall be saved” Rom.11.26.
Isaiah learns that in his call: “so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof” v.13. The holy seed: the few remaining Jews. They shall not be utterly destroyed but shall be like the life remaining in the root of the tree. No prophecy, perhaps, has been more remarkably fulfilled than that in this verse.
So, God has in view the blessing of His people and His purposes will be worked out and His plan executed to precision. A holy seed will be produced. God is able to use His servants to produce something for the glory of God. God’s call will never be in vain.
We have travelled through Isaiah chapter 6 considering the call of Isaiah and have sought to learn lessons for our own call. God’s character has not changed and although our circumstances are very different to those of the prophet Isaiah, the principles of our call are exactly the same. May these principles be used to guide us in our walk for His glory.