In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 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!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:1-8)
Are you interested in having a personal revival? Isaiah’s vision provides an inspired paradigm, stressing what is needed:
- A fresh revelation of God’s holiness,
- The willingness to admit whatever God shows us, and
- A thorough cleansing of our hearts.
Context for Isaiah’s vision was “the year King Uzziah died,” 740 B.C. Assyria under King Tiglath-Pileser III had risen to world dominance, and Israel lay directly in its pathway of conquest. If ever there was a need for a godly king, it was now. Why did God wait until this moment to give Isaiah a vision of His holiness?
Could it be that the material blessings Israel had enjoyed under the 52-year reign of godly Uzziah had somehow prevented Isaiah from sensing his own spiritual need? Could it be that one of the sovereign purposes for allowing sorrow and loss in our lives is to shake us out of complacency and awaken us to spiritual needs?
Isaiah experienced a personal revival as he humbly responded to his vision of God’s holiness.
What Isaiah Saw (6:1–4)
Commenting on this vision, the Apostle John tells us that Isaiah saw the King of Glory, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, upon His heavenly throne (John 12:41). Attending Him were six-winged beings called seraphim.
From the description of their wings, one pair covering their eyes, one pair covering their feet, and the third pair enabling mobility, it seems that the seraphim were expressing reverential awe and godly fear as they exclaimed, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (6:3).
It has been noted by many commentators that the focus of the seraphic worship was not on God’s sovereignty, His righteousness, His mercy or even His love. Rather, the holiness of God occupied their attention.
The threefold repetition, “holy, holy, holy,” expresses the truth that God is holy in the superlative degree—His holiness is incomparably awesome.
The threefold repetition, “holy, holy, holy,” expresses the truth that God is holy in the superlative degree
When Scripture speaks of God’s holiness, it is speaking of His separateness due to the unique excellence of His being, character, and attributes. He is the quintessence of all that is pure, good, righteous, wise and powerful. In all that God is and does He “is glorious in holiness” (Exod. 15:11)—separate, incomparable, and uniquely excellent.
The phrase, “the whole earth is filled with His glory,” suggests that all the earth reflects that excellence. By contrast, a pagan god in the ancient Near-Eastern world could be holy without being glorious—that is, without being uniquely excellent.
There were, in fact, many gods believed by their worshippers to be holy—separated from ordinary humanity by their power and wisdom—but they were degenerate in their character and therefore not uniquely excellent. God’s holiness is completely different. His unique excellence and incomparability set him apart from all other gods.
For example, He is incomparable in knowledge, power, goodness, and moral purity, separating from all else. Just as God is separated and uniquely excellent in the character that constitutes His holiness, Isaiah realized that God wants His people, who bear the image of God, to be uniquely excellent in their character as well.
A holy God requires a holy people (Lev. 11:44, 45). Our holiness begins at the new birth. We are positionally made holy by virtue of being separated from sin to God as His possession through our union with Christ.
But He wants our positional holiness to be expressed in personal holiness by our behavior. We are to become like Him in our character and conduct.
This requires the removal and cleansing of anything in our lives that would hinder us from being completely holy.
What Isaiah Said (6:5)
“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
When Isaiah saw God’s exalted position as King and heard the seraphic exclamations of His holiness, he realized anew that God had the sovereign right to set the standard for holy behavior.
One of the primary requirements for holy behavior is separation from all that God declares sinful or defiling. He taught this concept of holiness to Israel when He said, “I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people…Ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from other people, that ye should be mine” (Lev. 20:24, 26).
Further, God expected his people to demonstrate their holy behavior by faithfully obeying all His commands (Lev. 20:7, 8). When Isaiah saw God’s holiness, he thought his end had come.
God expected his people to demonstrate their holy behavior by faithfully obeying all His commands
Because God’s holiness was like a consuming fire to sin, it was an Old Testament conviction that no one could see God and live (Exod. 33:20). Although he did not see the LORD face-to-face, Isaiah did see the throne and the train of His robe, as well as the seraphim.
As he heard God’s holy character being praised, he became aware that he was a man of “unclean lips. His holiness did not measure up to the standard God had set for His people. What Isaiah meant by his confession of “unclean lips” is largely dependent upon the answer to two questions:
- What was Isaiah’s spiritual condition at the time of his vision?
- Why did Isaiah wait until chapter six to tell us about it?
Isaiah 1:1 informs us that Isaiah ministered “in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, kings of Judah,” whereas Isaiah 6:1 tells us that Isaiah did not have his vision of God until after Uzziah died. To minister “in the days of Uzziah” indicates he was engaged in prophetic activity before Uzziah died.
Therefore his vision could not be the record of his call into prophetic ministry. It seems logical to conclude that the first five chapters of Isaiah contain the essence of his prophetic ministry prior to his vision.
If this is true, we can confidently assert that Isaiah understood the necessity of being born again, for he preached a clear doctrine of repentance from sin. He declared in chapter one, “Wash you, make you clean…put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil….Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:16, 18).
It seems, therefore, that Isaiah’s vision is neither his call to prophetic ministry nor his initial conversion. Rather, it is the record of God showing Isaiah his need for a deeper and more thorough cleansing beyond that of forgiveness and the new birth. The source of our words is our heart (“Out of the heart the mouth speaks” Mark 7:20–21).
Consequently, when Isaiah confesses he is a man of “unclean lips,” he is evidently seeing for the first time the true motivation that lies behind all spiritual uncleanness: the desire and drive to have one’s own way. As Isaiah later explains, the reason we all like sheep have gone astray is because each of us turns to his own way (53:6).
Although a child of God, Isaiah saw and confessed his self-centered condition of heart.
What Isaiah Experienced (6:6–7)
“Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”
After Isaiah had confessed his spiritual need, God mediated his cleansing through one of the seraphs and a live coal of fire from the heavenly altar. Self-centeredness, identified and described by the terms “iniquity” (crookedness) and “sin” (missing the mark that God sets), is recognized, confessed and cleansed.
It is interesting that the Psalmist David used these same terms to describe the nature of inherited depravity. He wrote, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa. 51:5).
Neither the Psalmist nor Isaiah were talking about the deliberate practice of willful sin. Rather, they both were speaking of the condition of heart that drives us to seek our own way. And it was this inward self-centeredness that was cleansed from Isaiah’s heart.
What Isaiah Heard (6:8a)
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’”
After his cleansing experience, Isaiah was able to hear the voice of God. The verb “saying” (an active participle) seems to imply that God had been speaking all along, but Isaiah could not hear Him.
The impediments of hearing were now removed.
How Isaiah Responded. (6:8b)
“Then said I, Here am I; send me.”
With self-centeredness cleansed and a renewed ability to hear the voice of God, Isaiah quickly consecrated himself to the Lord and was given his new commission.
Do you desire to have a personal revival? Are you able to hear God speaking to you? Why not ask God to give you a fresh vision of His holiness? Ask him to show you the things that hinder your walk with Him.
Have you become aware of your self-centeredness, which is the desire to have your own way? Why not confess it and ask God to cleanse your heart? A fresh vision of God’s holiness, confession, and cleansing—these are the pathway to a personal revival.
Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.