… I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he coveredhis face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongsfrom the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.'”
God is holy and exceedingly glorious
Isaiah records a dramatic day in his life, when he saw God in His glory. He was sitting on a throne, that was high and lifted up. The train of His robe filled the temple. He was surrounded by angels whose name means “flame” – perfect and pure beings, who shielded their eyes and covered their feet in God’s presence, and constantly cried out: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Try to imagine this scene. The Bible says that God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see”. (1 Tim 6:16). But Isaiah gets a glimpse of God in His glory! He sees God lifted up. He sees Him as the sovereign ruler of the universe. He suddenly realizes that in fact the whole earth is full of his glory.
The sight of God’s glory makes Isaiah’s own uncleanness obvious
What was Isaiah’s reaction to this vision? He thought his life was over – that he was done for! He feared that he would be consumed by God’s judgment. When Isaiah came face to face with God’s holiness, he suddenly realized how unholy he himself was. He realized that he had no business standing there in the presence of God. He knew that he was not fit to see what he was seeing. He shuddered because he knew that he deserved to die immediately. He felt vulnerable.
Is Isaiah’s God our God? Do we realize that God is awesome in His Holiness? Our culture caricatures God like a soft sentimental “Santa Clause”-like figure. But that is not the God of the Bible. We sometimes think that the God of the Old Testament is different to Jesus. However, the apostle John, who lived and ate with Jesus for 3 years, says that the person Isaiah saw in this vision was none other than Jesus Himself (John 12:41). God the Father has exactly the same nature as revealed through God the Son, Jesus. The Bible also says that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. This means that the God Isaiah saw is the God who is ruling the universe today. Every single time anyone saw a glimpse of God’s glory, they all reacted in a similar way to Isaiah. For example, think of what happened to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Job, Ezekiel, Paul, John, and many others. Why? The Bible says that God’s eyes “are too pure to approve evil”, And that He cannot look on wickedness with favor. (Hab. 1:13). When we come in contact with God in His absolute perfection, our own sinfulness and wickedness stands in stark contrast. Isaiah confessed: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips”. The Bible says that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart. So the unclean lips that Isaiah is so conscious of, was evidence of his unclean heart.
At the time of Isaiah the nation of Judah was in a state of unprecedented prosperity. However because of this, they had turned away from God. We get a pretty good idea of how they were from the earlier chapters of Isaiah. Isaiah described them as those who “draw sin as with cart ropes (5: 18). Let us see how God describes the culture in Isaiah’s day, because it has an uncanny resemblance to the America we live in today.
- Materialistic (5:8)
- The women dress very seductively: “craning her elegant neck, flirting with her eyes, walking with dainty steps” (3:15).
- Arrogance in their military might (2:7)
- Moral relativism: they “call evil good and good evil. (5:20)
- They worshiped other gods (2:8)
- They were drunkards. (5: 11, 22)
- Theirs was a culture of bribery and corruption (1:23, 5:23).
- They did not care about orphans and widows, or about moral justice (1:17,23, 5:23)
- They were religious but in their hearts they had spurned God. (1:15-17)
- They rationalized their behavior: they were “shrewd in their own sight and wise in their own eyes”. (5:21)
Does this not sound very much like our culture today? Like them, we too are so busy in the stresses of everyday life, that we have spurned the God of the universe. We don’t care about the millions of orphans dying in the world. We don’t care about the sex-trade industry in third world countries. We put our confidence in our beauty or smartness, and we accumulate wealth. If you think about it, we are not much different to the people among whom Isaiah lived. But when Isaiah saw God, he could not face him. Until this point in his life, he had been proclaiming what was wrong with all the people around him. But when he saw God, he directed the condemnation to himself. “Woe is me! For I am lost”.
Recognition of his sins enables them to be covered by God’s grace.
Immediately when Isaiah recognized his guilt, a flaming angel took burning coal from the altar and touched his lips with it, and proclaimed that his sins had been atoned for, and his guilt had been taken away. Confession enabled his sin to be covered by God’s grace.
The seraph proclaimed to Isaiah that when God looked at Isaiah, He would not punish Isaiah’s guilt and sin, because it had been covered – it had been atoned for. The sacrifice on the altar from which the burning coal had been taken, would serve as an atonement for Isaiah’s sins. He was cleansed and made holy. He was now fit to stand in God’s presence, and he could do so without fear
After this, Isaiah’s life was changed forever.
Isaiah saw this vision “In the year that king Uzziah died”. That was way back in 740BC. Today, we are living 2,750 years after this event. So how does this passage apply to us today? Does it have any relevance at all, or is this just a historical curiosity? Our first thought may go along these lines: “If God were to reveal Himself to me like this, then my life too would be transformed”. Then we can dismiss the thought and continue with our daily lives. But to do this is to miss something really significant. There is a key that links this passage directly to us, and it is this:
God’s glory is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.
Fast-forward to now: God’s glory has been fully revealed through Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen His glory – glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). God’s glory has been revealed in Jesus Christ, in a way that is far superior to what Isaiah saw. Jesus once told His disciples: “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt 13:16-17). God’s glory as revealed in Jesus Christ is vastly superior because we see the heart of God in a way Isaiah never did, through the cross of Christ. The Bible says: “We all, with unveiled faces, are beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). This experience is available to each one of us. We can see God’s glory personally, in Jesus Christ.
I now want to say something very very serious. It comes directly from this passage – the very Word of God. After he was cleansed, Isaiah was sent by God to communicate to the people a certain message:
Keep on hearing, but do not understand.
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.
Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And blind their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their hearts,
And turn and be healed.
There is a state of hardness that can prevent us from seeing God’s glory.
The above passage suggests that there is a state of hardness that can blind us from seeing God’s glory. These words have been quoted multiple times in the New Testament – even by Jesus – to explain why people do not believe in Jesus. Remember that it was only after Isaiah saw God’s glory that he was able to fully see his own sinfulness, which enabled him to confess it and get cleansed. This passage says that those people whose hearts are hardened will continue living in their sin, and will not turn and be healed. They will be “wise in our own eyes” (Isa 5:21), and will not realize their need for a Savior.
This is a very serious situation, because this “blindness” makes them incapable of seeing God in His glory. So let me ask you a very important question. Have you seen God’s glory in Jesus Christ? If you have seen Him in His glory, you will revel in the gospel. You will want to read more and more about what Jesus has done for you when He died on the cross for your sins. It is only His death that can cover your guilt, and enable you to stand boldly in God’s presence, just like Isaiah was enabled to do – because He bore the punishment of your sins on Himself. When He becomes your Savior, you will have the Holy Spirit residing permanently inside of you, teaching you more and more about Him. The Bible will come alive, and when you read it your spirit will leap within you for joy. This is a very personal thing. Do you look at Him as the Fountain of living water? Are you sustained by Him? Are you satisfied in Him? Do you love to be with Him? Do you yearn to be with Him after you die, and spend eternity with Him in heaven? Ask yourself these questions seriously. If you have not experienced this deep desire for Him, then according to this passage it is because your heart is hardened, and that hardness will prevent you from seeing the glory of God in Christ, thereby getting the spiritual healing that you desperately need from your sins, through the death of Jesus.
God needs to soften our hard hearts, so that we can turn and be healed.
I have given a simple though critical self test. You can only fall into one of two groups – either you have seen God’s glory in Jesus Christ, or you have not – which would further indicate whether your heart is in a state of hardness or it is not. You know which group you fall into. This is between you and God.
Perhaps hearing this, you realize that it has not been your experience to see God’s glory in Christ? If so, it can only mean that you heart has been hardened. According to the Bible, those who die with such hardened hearts will experience the rest of eternity in hell, suffering the just punishment for their sins – so this is a very serious matter. The Bible says that the god of this world (i.e. Satan) has blinded the hearts of those who do not believe, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel and the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). If you are in this situation, you need your eyes opened, and your heart softened. God promises that he can soften your heart, and is willing to do so. He says in Ezek 36:26 “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone … and give you a heart of flesh, and I will put My Spirit within you”. He also says He is willing to give “salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Rev 3:18).
So ask God to do this miracle for you. Ask Him to open your eyes and soften your heart. Ask Him to let you see with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and understand with your heart, so that you can turn and be healed. He has promised that He will not turn away anyone who comes to Him. Ernestly entreat Him to soften your heart – He will do it, because He is a God of grace. And then your eyes will be opened to the vistas of God’s glory in Jesus Christ that will enthrall you thoughout eternity.
And to those of you who have seen God’s glory, let me just encourage you – keep gazing at Him. Drink of Him. Spend time with Him. Savor Him. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Revel in His presence. Tell others about Him. And even as you do this, you yourself will gradually become more and more like Him, “from one degree of glory to another”.