Isaiah 6:2
Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) Above it stood the seraphims . . .—It is noticeable that this is the only passage in which the seraphim are mentioned as part of the host of heaven. In Numbers 21:6, the word (the primary meaning of which is the burning ones) occurs as denoting the fiery serpents that attacked the people in the wilderness. Probably the brazen serpent which Hezekiah afterwards destroyed (2Kings 18:4) had preserved the name and its significance as denoting the instruments of the fiery judgments of Jehovah. Here, however, there is no trace of the serpent form, nor again, as far as the description goes, of the animal forms of the cherubim of Ezekiel 1:5-11, and of the “living creaturesof Revelation 4:7-8. The “burning ones” are in the likeness of men, with the addition of the six wings. The patristic and mediaeval distinction between the seraphim that excel in love, and the cherubim that excel in knowledge, rests apparently on the etymology of the former word. The “living creatures” of Revelation 4:7-8, seem to unite the forms of the cherubim of Ezekiel with the six wings of the seraphim of this passage. Symbolically the seraphim would seem to be as transfigured cherubim, representing the “flaming fire” of the lightning, as the latter did the storm-winds and other elemental forces of nature (Psalm 104:4).

Each one had six wings.—The thought seems to be that the human form was clothed as it were with six wings. One pair of wings covered the face in token of adoring homage (Ezekiel 1:11); a second, the feet, including the whole lower part of the human form, while with the third they hovered as in the firmament of heaven above the skirts of the glory of the Divine Throne. It is noticeable that the monuments of Persepolis represent the Amshashpands (or ministers of God) as having six wings, two of which cover the feet.

Isaiah

VISION AND SERVICE

A SERAPH’S WINGS

Isaiah 6:2
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This is the only mention in Scripture of the seraphim. I do not need to enter upon the much-debated, and in some respects interesting, question as to whether these are to be taken as identical with the cherubim, or as to whether they are altogether imaginary and symbolical beings, nor as to whether they are identical with the angels, or part of their hierarchy. All that may be left on one side. I would only notice, before I deal with the specific words of my text, the significance of the name. It means ‘the flaming’ or ‘burning ones,’ and so the attendants of the divine glory in the heavens, whether they be real or imaginary beings, are represented as flashing with splendour, as full of swift energy, like a flame of fire, as glowing with fervid love, as blazing with enthusiasm. That is the type of the highest creatural being, which stands closest to God. There is no ice in His presence, and the nearer we get to Him in truth, the more we shall glow and burn. Cold religion is a contradiction in terms, though, alas, it is a reality in professors.

And so with that explanation, and putting aside all these other questions, let us gather up some, at least, of the lessons as to the essentials of worship, and try to grasp the prophecy of the heavenly state, given us in these words.

I. The Wings of Reverence.

He covered his face, or they covered their faces, lest they should see. As a man brought suddenly into the sunlight, especially if out of a darkened chamber, by an instinctive action shades his eyes with his hand, so these burning creatures, confronted with the still more fervid and fiery light of the divine nature, fold one pair of their great white pinions over their shining faces, even whilst they cry ‘Holy! Holy! Holy! is the Lord God Almighty!’

And does not that teach us the incapacity of the highest creature, with the purest vision, to gaze undazzled into the shining light of God? I, for my part, do not believe that any conceivable extension of creatural faculties, or any conceivable hallowing of creatural natures, can make the creature able to gaze upon God. I know that it is often said that the joy of the future life for men is what the theologians call ‘the beatific vision,’ in which there shall be direct sight of God, using that word in its highest sense, as applied to the perceptions of the spirit, and not of the sense. But I do not think the Bible teaches us that. It does teach us ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’ But who is the ‘Him’? Jesus Christ. And, in my belief, Jesus Christ will, to all eternity, be the medium of manifesting God, and there will remain, to all eternity, the incapacity which clogs creatures in time-’ No man hath seen God at any time, nor can see Him.’

But my text, whilst it thus suggests solemn thoughts of a Light that cannot be looked at with undazzled eyes, does also suggest to us by contrast the possibility of far feebler-sighted and more sinful creatures than these symbolical seraphs coming into a Presence in which God shall be manifest to them; and they will need no veil drawn by themselves across their eyes. God has veiled Himself, that ‘we, with unveiled faces, beholding His glory, may be changed into the same image.’ So the seraph, with his white wings folded before his eyes, may at once stand to us as a parallel and a contrast to what the Christian may expect. We, we can see Jesus, with no incapacity except such as may be swept away by His grace and our will. And direct vision of the whole Christ is the heaven of heaven, even as the partial vision of the partially perceived Christ is the sweetest sweetness of a life on earth.

There is no need for us to draw any screen between our happy eyes and the Face in which we ‘behold the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father.’ All the tempering that the divine lustre needed has been done by Him who veils His glory with the veil of Christ’s flesh, and therein does away the need for any veil that we can draw.

But, beyond that, there is another consideration that I should like to suggest, as taught us by the use of this first pair of the six wings, and that is the absolute need for the lowliest reverence in our worship of God. It is strange, but true, I am afraid, that the Christian danger is to weaken the sense of the majesty and splendour and separation of God from His creatures. And all that is good in the Christian revelation may be so abused as that there shall come, what I am sure does in effect sometimes come, a terrible lack of due reverence in our so-called worship. What does that lofty chorus of ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ that burst from those immortal lips mean but the declaration that God is high above, and separate from, all limitations and imperfections of creatures? And we Christians, who hear it re-echoed in the very last Book of Scripture by the four-and-twenty elders who represent redeemed humanity, have need to take heed that we do not lose our reverence in our confidence, and that we do not part with godly fear in our filial love. If one looks at a congregation of professing Christians engaged in their worship, does not one feel and see that there is often a carelessness and shallowness, a want of realisation of the majesty and sanctity and tremendousness of that Father to whom we draw near? Brethren, if a seraph hides his face, surely it becomes us to see to it that, since we worship a God who is a consuming fire,’ we serve Him with far deeper ‘reverence and godly fear’ than ordinarily mark our devotions.

II. The Wings of Humility.

‘With twain he covered his feet.’ The less comely and inferior parts of that fiery corporeity were veiled lest they should be seen by the Eyes that see all things. The wings made no screen that hid the seraph’s feet from the eye of God, but it was the instinctive lowly sense of unworthiness that folded them across the feet, even though they, too, burned as a furnace. The nearer we get to God, the more we shall be aware of our limitations and unworthiness, and it is because that vision of the Lord sitting on ‘His throne, high and lifted up,’ with the thrilling sense of His glory filling the holy temple of the universe, does not burn before us that we can conceit ourselves to have anything worth pluming ourselves upon. Once lift the curtain, once let my eye be flooded with the sight of God, and away goes all my self-conceit, and all my fancied superiority above others. One little molehill is pretty nearly the same height as another, if you measure them both against the top of the Himalayas, that lie in the background, with their glittering peaks of snow. ‘Star differeth from star in glory’ in a winter’s night, but when the great sun swims into the sky, they all vanish together. If you and I saw God burning before us, as Isaiah saw Him, we should veil ourselves, and lose all that which so often veils Him from us-the fancy that we are anything when we are nothing. And the nearer we get to God, and the purer we are, the more shall we be keenly conscious of our imperfections and our sins. ‘If I say I am perfect,’ said Job in his wise way, ‘this also should prove me perverse.’ Consciousness of sin is the continual accompaniment of growth in holiness. ‘The heavens are not pure in His sight, and He chargeth His angels with folly.’ Everything looks black beside that sovereign whiteness. Get God into your lives, and you will see that the feet need to be washed, and you will cry, ‘Lord! not my feet only, but my hands and my head!’

III. Lastly-The Wings for Service.

‘With twain he did fly.’ That is the emblem of joyous, buoyant, unhindered motion. It is strongly, sadly contrary to the toilsome limitations of us heavy creatures who have no wings, but can at best run on His service, and often find it hard to ‘walk with patience in the way that is set before us.’ But-service with wings, or service with lame feet, it matters not. Whosoever, beholding God, has found need to hide his face from that Light even whilst he comes into the Light, and to veil his feet from the all-seeing Eye, will also feel impulses to go forth in His service. For the perfection of worship is neither the consciousness of my own insufficiency, nor the humble recognition of His glory, nor the great voice of praise that thrilled from those immortal lips, but it is the doing of His will in daily life. Some people say the service of man is the service of God. Yes, when it is service of man, done for God’s sake, it is so, and only then. The old motto, ‘Work is worship,’ may preach a great truth or a most dangerous error. But there is no possibility of error or danger in maintaining this: that the climax and crown of all worship, whether for us footsore servants upon earth, or for these winged attendants on the throne of the King in the heavens, is activity in obedience. And that is what is set before us here.

Now, dear brethren, we, as Christians, have a far higher motive for service than the seraphs had. We have been redeemed, and the spirit of the old Psalm should animate all our obedience: ‘O Lord, truly I am Thy servant.’ Why? The next clause tells us: ‘Thou hast loosed my bonds.’ The seraphs could not say that, and therefore our obedience, our activity in doing the will of the Father in heaven, should be more buoyant, more joyful, more swift, more unrestricted than even theirs.

The seraphim were winged for service even while they stood above the throne and pealed forth their thunderous praise which shook the Temple. May we not discern in that a hint of the blessed blending of two modes of worship which will be perfectly united in heaven, and which we should aim at harmonising even on earth? ‘His servants serve Him and see His face.’ There is possible, even on earth, some foretaste of the perfection of that heavenly state in which no worship in service shall interfere with the worship in contemplation. Mary, sitting at Christ’s feet, and Martha, busy in providing for His comfort, may be, to a large extent, united in us even here, and will be perfectly so hereafter, when the practical and the contemplative, the worship of noble aspiration, of heart-filling gazing, and that of active service shall be indissolubly blended.

The seraphs sang ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ but they, and all the hosts of heaven, learn a new song from the experience of earth, and redeemed men are the chorus-leaders of the perfected and eternal worship of the heavens. For we read that it is the four-and-twenty elders who begin the song and sing to the Lamb that redeemed them by His blood, and that the living creatures and all the hosts of the angels to that song can but say ‘Amen!’Isaiah 6:2. Above it — Or, rather, above him, as ממעל לוmight be better rendered; stood the seraphim — As ministers attending upon their Lord, and waiting to receive and execute his commands. The word seraphim, which, like cherubim, is plural, signifies burning, or flaming ones, from the verb שׂרŠ, seraph, to burn or flame. The expression here means spiritual beings, qui a claritate et aspectus splendore, quasi flammantes et ignei visi sunt, “who, from their brightness, and the splendour of their aspect, appeared as if they were fiery and flaming.” It is probable that both their name and their fiery, burning appearance were intended to signify, 1st, Their nature, which is bright and glorious, subtle and pure; and, 2d, Those qualities of fervent love to God, and zeal for his glory and service, which they possess. Each one had six wings — For the purpose immediately mentioned. With twain he covered his face — Out of profound reverence, as being sensible of the infinite distance between God and him, so that he durst not presume to look directly upon him, and judged himself neither able nor worthy to behold the brightness of his glory. And with twain he covered his feet — To signify the sense he had of his own natural, though not moral, infirmity; and his desire that God would not too severely examine all his ways and actions, commonly signified by the feet; because, though they did not swerve from God’s commands, yet they were not worthy of the acceptance, nor suitable to the dignity of so glorious a majesty. And with twain he did fly — Which implies his great readiness and alacrity, his activity and celerity in executing God’s commands. We may infer from this description of the seraphim, that they appeared in a human form: but whether that is the form they always bear, or whether it was only assumed on this occasion, cannot be determined.6:1-8 In this figurative vision, the temple is thrown open to view, even to the most holy place. The prophet, standing outside the temple, sees the Divine Presence seated on the mercy-seat, raised over the ark of the covenant, between the cherubim and seraphim, and the Divine glory filled the whole temple. See God upon his throne. This vision is explained, Joh 12:41, that Isaiah now saw Christ's glory, and spake of Him, which is a full proof that our Saviour is God. In Christ Jesus, God is seated on a throne of grace; and through him the way into the holiest is laid open. See God's temple, his church on earth, filled with his glory. His train, the skirts of his robes, filled the temple, the whole world, for it is all God's temple. And yet he dwells in every contrite heart. See the blessed attendants by whom his government is served. Above the throne stood the holy angels, called seraphim, which means burners; they burn in love to God, and zeal for his glory against sin. The seraphim showing their faces veiled, declares that they are ready to yield obedience to all God's commands, though they do not understand the secret reasons of his counsels, government, or promises. All vain-glory, ambition, ignorance, and pride, would be done away by one view of Christ in his glory. This awful vision of the Divine Majesty overwhelmed the prophet with a sense of his own vileness. We are undone if there is not a Mediator between us and this holy God. A glimpse of heavenly glory is enough to convince us that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Nor is there a man that would dare to speak to the Lord, if he saw the justice, holiness, and majesty of God, without discerning his glorious mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. The live coal may denote the assurance given to the prophet, of pardon, and acceptance in his work, through the atonement of Christ. Nothing is powerful to cleanse and comfort the soul, but what is taken from Christ's satisfaction and intercession. The taking away sin is necessary to our speaking with confidence and comfort, either to God in prayer, or from God in preaching; and those shall have their sin taken away who complain of it as a burden, and see themselves in danger of being undone by it. It is great comfort to those whom God sends, that they go for God, and may therefore speak in his name, assured that he will bear them out.Above it - Either above the throne, or above him. The Septuagint renders it, 'Round about him' - κύκλῳ αὐτοῦ kuklō autou. The Chaldee, 'The holy ministers stood on high in his presence.'

The seraphims - The verb שׂרף s'âraph, from which this word is derived, is uniformly translated "to burn," and is used frequently; see "Taylor." The noun שׂרף s'ârâph denotes, according to Bochart, the "chersydros," a serpent that lives in lakes and moist places; but when those places are dried up, it becomes a land serpent, and then its bite is very fierce, and is attended with a most dreadful inflammation all over the body. Rabbi Solomon says, that 'serpents are called seraphim because they burn people with the poison of their teeth,' perhaps because the idea of "heat and poison" were connected. The word is applied to the fiery flying serpents which bit the children of Israel, and in imitation of which a brass serpent was erected on a pole by Moses. It is translated 'a fiery serpent' in Numbers 21:8; Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6. In Deut; Deuteronomy 8:15; Numbers 21:6, it is rendered 'fiery,' and in the passage before us, "seraphims."

The word שׂרפה s'erêphâh often occurs in the sense of "burning;" Deuteronomy 29:23; 2 Chronicles 16:14; 2 Chronicles 21:19, ... The Septuagint renders it "seraphim," σεραφὶμ serafim; so the Vulgate and the Syriac. The Chaldee, 'his holy ministers.' Probably it is now impossible to tell why this name was given to the representations that appeared to Isaiah. Perhaps it may have been from their "burning" ardor and zeal in the service of God; perhaps from the "rapidity" of their motion in his service - derived from the rapid motion of the serpent. Gesenius supposes that the name was derived from a signification of the word denoting "noble or excellent," and that it was on this account applied to princes, and to celestial beings. Kimchi says, that the name was given with reference to their bright, shining appearance; compare Ezekiel 1:13; 2 Kings 2:2; 2 Kings 6:17. The word is applied to celestial beings no where else, except in this chapter. There is no reason to think that the seraphim described here partook of the "form of" the serpent, as the representation seems to be rather that of a man. Thus each one Isaiah 6:2 is represented as covering his "face" and his "feet" with his wings - a description that does not pertain to the serpentine form. God is usually represented as surrounded or encompassed by heavenly beings, as his ministers; Psalm 104:4; Daniel 7:10; 1 Kings 22:19; Psalm 68:17; Hebrews 12:22. The idea is one of special magnificence and grandeur. It is derived especially from the customs of monarchs, particularly Eastern monarchs, who had numerous princes and nobles to attend them, and to give magnificence to their court.

Each one had six wings - "Wings" are emblematic of the "rapidity" of their movement; the number here, perhaps, denoting their celerity and readiness to do the will of God.

With twain he covered his face - This is designed, doubtless, to denote the "reverence and awe" inspired by the immediate presence of God; compare Amos 6:9, Amos 6:10. The Chaldee adds, 'He covered his face so that he could not see.' To cover the face in this manner is the natural expression of reverence; compare the note at Isaiah 52:15. And if the pure and holy seraphim evinced such reverence in the presence of Yahweh, with what profouond awe and veneration should we, polluted and sinful creatures, presume to draw near to him! Assuredly "their" position should reprove our presumption when we rush thoughtlessly and irreverently into his presence, and should teach us to bow with lowly veneration and deep humility; compare Revelation 4:9-11.

He covered his feet - In a similar description of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1:11, it is said tha they covered "their bodies." In Isaiah, the expression clearly denotes not the feet only, but the lower extremities. This was also an expression of reverence drawn from our conceptions of propriety. The seraphim stood covered, or as if "concealing themselves" as much as possible, in token of their nothingness and unworthiness in the presence of the Holy One.

He did fly - He was quick to execute the commands of God. It may be observed, also, that among the ancients, "Mercury," the messenger of Jupiter, was always represented with wings. Milton has copied this description of the seraphim:

'A seraph winged: six wings he wore to shade

His lineaments divine; the pair that clad

Each shoulder broad, came mantling o'er his breast

With regal ornament; the middle pair

Girt like a starry zone his waist, and round

Skirted his loins and thighs with downy gold,

And colors dipt in heaven; the third his feet

continued...

2. stood—not necessarily the posture of standing; rather, were in attendance on Him [Maurer], hovering on expanded wings.

the—not in the Hebrew.

seraphim—nowhere else applied to God's attendant angels; but to the fiery flying (not winged, but rapidly moving) serpents, which bit the Israelites (Nu 21:6), called so from the poisonous inflammation caused by their bites. Seraph is to burn; implying the burning zeal, dazzling brightness (2Ki 2:11; 6:17; Eze 1:13; Mt 28:3) and serpent-like rapidity of the seraphim in God's service. Perhaps Satan's form as a serpent (nachash) in his appearance to man has some connection with his original form as a seraph of light. The head of the serpent was the symbol of wisdom in Egypt (compare Nu 21:8; 2Ki 18:4). The seraphim, with six wings and one face, can hardly be identified with the cherubim, which had four wings (in the temple only two) and four faces (Eze 1:5-12). (But compare Re 4:8). The "face" and "feet" imply a human form; something of a serpentine form (perhaps a basilisk's head, as in the temples of Thebes) may have been mixed with it: so the cherub was compounded of various animal forms. However, seraph may come from a root meaning "princely," applied in Da 10:13 to Michael [Maurer]; just as cherub comes from a root (changing m into b), meaning "noble."

twain—Two wings alone of the six were kept ready for instant flight in God's service; two veiled their faces as unworthy to look on the holy God, or pry into His secret counsels which they fulfilled (Ex 3:6; Job 4:18; 15:15); two covered their feet, or rather the whole of the lower parts of their persons—a practice usual in the presence of Eastern monarchs, in token of reverence (compare Eze 1:11, their bodies). Man's service a fortiori consists in reverent waiting on, still more than in active service for, God.

Above it stood, as ministers attending upon their Lord, and waiting to receive and execute his commands,

the seraphims; certain holy and blessed angels, thus called from fire and burning, which this word properly signifies; to represent either,

1. Their nature, which is bright and glorious, subtile, and pure, and spiritual, like fire; or,

2. Their property, of fervent zeal for God’s service and glory; or,

3. Their office and present employment, which was to execute God’s vengeance upon the Jews, and to burn them up like dross.

Covered his face, out of profound reverence, as being so sensible of the infinite distance between God and him, that he durst not presume to look directly upon him, and judged himself neither able nor worthy to behold the brightness of his glory.

Covered his feet; either,

1. His secret parts, which sometimes come under that name, as Deu 28:57 Isaiah 7:20 36:12; of which see more in my Latin Synopsis upon Exodus 4:25. And so this is done for our instruction, to teach us modesty and chastity. Or,

2. Their feet properly so called, as that word is generally used; from which use we should not depart without necessity, which, with submission, seems not to be in this place. And so this may signify a sense of their own natural, though not moral infirmity, and a desire that God would not too severely examine all their ways and actions, which the feet commonly signify, because though they did not swerve from God’s commands, yet they were not worthy of the acceptation, nor suitable to the dignity of so glorious a Majesty.

Did fly; which signifies their great forwardness and expedition in executing God’s commands. Compare Daniel 9:21. Above it stood the seraphims,.... Not above the temple, nor above the throne, much less above him that sat upon it, but either "by him", on the right hand and on the left, as Aben Ezra; or "near him", as Kimchi and Ben Melech; or "before him", as the Targum; or "round about him", as the Septuagint; all which denote the ministering form in which they stood; by whom are meant, not the Son and Spirit, as some of the ancients thought, who imagined the Father to be the Person sitting on the throne; nor the two Testaments, as Jerom; nor angels, which is the common interpretation; but ministers of the Gospel, the same with the four beasts in Revelation 4:6 and the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1:5 the Jewish commentators in general agree that these are the same with Ezekiel's living creatures; so Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and Kimchi; and the first of these cites the Midrash Agada, as saying this is the Mercavah, which is the name they give to Ezekiel's vision of the living creatures and wheels; and this appears by their name "seraphim", which signifies "burning", and so Ezekiel's living creatures are said to be "like burning coals of fire", Ezekiel 1:13 and the ministers of the Gospel are so called, because of their ministerial gifts, compared to fire, as the gifts of the spirit of God are, especially those which the apostles had bestowed on them, who were baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire, Matthew 3:11 and even the ordinary gifts of the spirit are signified by the same figure, 1 Timothy 1:6 and because of their light, which they have in the truths of the Gospel; and because of their fervent and ardent love to Christ and immortal souls; and because of their flaming zeal for his cause and interest: and this also appears by their situation near the throne, see Ezekiel 1:26 and Christ on it; where they stand as servants waiting upon him, and in order to receive from him, and where they enjoy communion with him; or "above" it may mean the temple, the church, where they stand in the highest place in it, and are over others in the Lord; they stand as servants to Christ, but preside in the church as the rulers and governors of it; to which agrees the Targum,

"holy ministers on high before him:''

and this further appears by their wings,

each one had six wings; as Ezekiel's living creatures, Ezekiel 1:4 and John's four beasts, Revelation 4:8,

with twain he covered his face; that it might not be seen, as the Targum adds; expressive of their modesty and humility, looking, upon themselves as less than the least of all the saints, and the chief of sinners, and as ashamed of themselves before the Lord; or that they might not look upon the divine Majesty, as Jarchi; or rather as being unable to look upon the dazzling glory and infinite perfections of his being; so Elijah wrapped his face in a mantle, when he heard the still small voice of the Lord, 1 Kings 19:12 and as Moses before him did, Exodus 3:6 being afraid to look upon God, conscious of creature distance, and of sinfulness and unworthiness; and therefore not so suitable to angels, who always behold the face of God, Matthew 18:10,

with twain he covered his feet; or body, that it might not be seen, as the Targum; as conscious of the imperfection of their conduct, walk, and conversation, as ministers and Christians, in the sight of God, however beautiful their feet may appear to others, Isaiah 52:7,

and with twain he did fly: or minister, as the Targum; this denotes their readiness and swiftness in preaching the everlasting Gospel, running to and fro with it, having their feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace: see Revelation 14:6.

Above it stood the {d} seraphims: each one had six wings; with two he covered his {e} face, and with two he covered his {f} feet, and with two he {g} flew.

(d) They were angels so called because they were of a fiery colour, to signify that they burnt in the love of God, or were light as fire to execute his will.

(e) Signifying that they were not able to endure the brightness of God's glory.

(f) By which it was declared that man was not able to see the brightness of God in them.

(g) Which declares the prompt obedience of the angels to execute God's commandment.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. Above it … seraphims] better, Seraphim were standing over Him, i.e. in the attitude of service. One standing in the presence of another who is seated is always said to be over him, whatever their mutual relations may be: 1 Kings 22:19; Genesis 18:2; Genesis 18:8; Exodus 18:13, &c. The Seraphim (probably “fiery beings”) are mentioned nowhere else in Scripture as angelic beings. Their function in this vision is purely symbolical. They are the attendants of Jehovah’s court or the ministers of the invisible sanctuary; they reflect the glory of God, and by their presence and actions suggest new and fuller conceptions of His ineffable majesty. The basis of the symbol is obscure. The serpents with which the Israelites were plagued in the desert are called Seraphim (sing. Sârâph: Numbers 21:6-9; Deuteronomy 8:15), and some connexion between the two uses of the word is probable. An intermediate link would be supplied by the “flying Saraph” of ch. Isaiah 14:29, Isaiah 30:6,—apparently an allusion to a widely diffused mythological notion; see Herodotus II. 75 on the winged serpents of Arabia. It is also worthy of notice that the brazen Saraph (Numbers 21:8) made by Moses must have been a conspicuous object in the temple at the time of Isaiah’s call (2 Kings 18:4). On the other hand the analogy of the Cherubim has led to the theory that both are personifications of the phenomena of the thunder-storm, the Cherubim representing the dark cloud and the Seraphim the serpent-like lightning (see Cheyne, Comm., and art. ‘Cherubim’ in Encyc. Brit.). Different elements, in fact, seem to be combined in the conception of the Saraph; but whether it had been already incorporated in the religion of Israel, or whether Isaiah was the first who lifted it into the sphere of pure spiritual ideas it is quite impossible to say. Isaiah’s Seraphim are winged creatures, but certainly not serpentine in form, probably human, or at least partly human, like the Cherubim (Ezekiel 1:5-14).

with twain he covered his face …] The sense is well expressed by the Targum: “With two he covered his face that he might not see; and with two he covered his body that he might not be seen.”Verse 2. - Above it stood the seraphims; rather, above him were standing seraphim. The "seraphim" are introduced, not as well known, with the article, but without it, as unknown. The word means "fiery ones," and is supposed to denote the burning love of the blessed spirits spoken cf. They appeared to the prophet as standing above the King as he sat upon his throne - "standing" to show their readiness to minister; but why "above him" is not so clear. Perhaps, simply, as those that stand are "above" those that sit; perhaps as ready to fly through infinite space at the bidding of him who was seated in his palace, as it were upon the ground. Their form, as seen by the prophet, appears to have been human, and only distinguished from ordinary humanity by the wings. Thus, though in name they resembled those other "fiery ones," which had punished the Jews in the wilderness (Numbers 21:6-9), there is nothing to show that Isaiah in any way connected the two. Each one had six wings. Gesenius is mistaken in saying that there are at Persepolis any six-winged figures ('Thesaurus,' p. 1342). The Persians not infrequently represented their genii with four wings ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 3. pp. 353, 354); but no six-winged figures have been found, so far as I know, among the Persian remains. With twain he covered his face, etc. The general idea of the six wings was probably rapid flight, the carrying out of God's behests "with speed swiftly." But, in the Divine presence, the wings were applied to a different use. One pair veiled the seraph's head from the intolerable effulgence of the Divine glory; another concealed the feet, soiled in their various ministrations, and unmeet for the all-pure presence; the third pair alone sustained the seraph in mid-air, as he hovered in readiness to depart on any errand on which Jehovah aright send him. Jehovah finds the human instruments of His further strokes, not in Israel and the neighbouring nations, but in the people of distant lands. "And lifts up a banner to the distant nations, and hisses to it from the end of the earth; and, behold, it comes with haste swiftly." What the prophet here foretold began to be fulfilled in the time of Ahaz. But the prophecy, which commences with this verse, has every possible mark of the very opposite of a vaticinium post eventum. It is, strictly speaking, only what had already been threatened in Deuteronomy 28:49. (cf., Deuteronomy 32:21.), though here it assumes a more plastic form, and is here presented for the first time to the view of the prophet as though coming out of a mist. Jehovah summons the nations afar off: haggōyim mērâchok signifies, as we have rendered it, the "distant nations," for mērâc is virtually an adjective both here and Isaiah 49:1, just as in Jeremiah 23:23 it is virtually a substantive. The visible working of Jehovah presents itself to the prophet in two figures. Jehovah plants a banner or standard, which, like an optical telegraph, announces to the nations at a more remote distance than the horn of battle (shophâr) could possibly reach, that they are to gather together to war. A "banner" (nês): i.e., a lofty staff with flying colours (Isaiah 33:23) planted upon a bare mountain-top (Isaiah 13:2). נשׂא alternates with הרים in this favourite figure of Isaiah. The nations through whom this was primarily fulfilled were the nations of the Assyrian empire. According to the Old Testament view, these nations were regarded as far off, and dwelling at the end of the earth (Isaiah 39:3), not only inasmuch as the Euphrates formed the boundary towards the north-east between what was geographically known and unknown to the Israelites (Psalm 72:8; Zechariah 9:10), but also inasmuch as the prophet had in his mind a complex body of nations stretching far away into further Asia. The second figure is taken from a bee-master, who entices the bees, by hissing or whistling, to come out of their hives and settle on the ground. Thus Virgil says to the bee-master who wants to make the bees settle, "Raise a ringing, and beat the cymbals of Cybele all around" (Georgics, iv 54). Thus does Jehovah entice the hosts of nations like swarms of bees (Isaiah 7:18), and they swarm together with haste and swiftness. The plural changes into the singular, because those who are approaching have all the appearance at first of a compact and indivisible mass; it is also possible that the ruling nation among the many is singled out. The thought and expression are both misty, and this is perfectly characteristic. With the word "behold" (hinnēh) the prophet points to them; they are approaching mehērâh kal, i.e., in the shortest time with swift feet, and the nearer they come to his view the more clearly he can describe them.
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