Isaiah 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 middle of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(5) Then said I, Woe is me.—The cry of the prophet expresses the normal result of man’s consciousness of contact with God. So Moses “hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God” (Exodus 3:6). So Job “abhorred himself and repented in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). So Peter fell down at his Lord’s feet, and cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Man at such a time feels his nothingness in the presence of the Eternal, his guilt in the presence of the All-holy. No man can see God and live. (Comp. also 1Samuel 6:20.)

I am a man of unclean lips.—The prophet’s words present at once a parallel and a contrast to those of Moses in Exodus 4:10. The Lawgiver feels only, or chiefly, his want of the gift of utterance which was needed for his work. With Isaiah the dominant thought is that his lips have been defiled by past sins of speech. How can he join in the praises of the seraphim with those lips from which have so often come bitter and hasty words, formal and ceremonial prayers? (Comp. James 3:2; James 3:9). His lips are “unclean” like those of one stricken, as Uzziah had been, by leprosy (Leviticus 13:45). He finds no comfort in the thought that others are as bad as he is, that he “dwells in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Were it otherwise, there might be some hope that influence from without might work his purification. As it is, he and his people seem certain to sink into the abyss. To “have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,” was in such a case simply overwhelming (Exodus 33:20).

Isaiah

VISION AND SERVICE

THE MAKING OF A PROPHET

Isaiah 6:5
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In previous pages we have seen how Isaiah’s vision of Jehovah throned in the Temple, ‘high and lifted up,’ derived significance from the time of its occurrence. It was ‘in the year that’ the earthly King ‘died’ that the heavenly King was revealed. The passing of the transient prepared the way for the revelation of the Eternal, and the revelation of the Eternal more than compensated for the passing of the transient. But strengthening and calming as these thoughts are, they by no means exhaust the purpose of the vision, nor do they describe all its effects on the recipient. These were, first and immediately, the consciousness of unworthiness and sin, expressed in the words that I have taken for my text. Then came the touch of the ‘live coal from the altar,’ laid on the unclean lips by the seraph; and on that followed willing surrender for a perilous service.

These three stages flowing from the vision of God, recognition of sin, experience of purging, abandonment to obedience and service, must be repeated in us all, if we are to live worthy lives. There may be much that is beautiful and elevating and noble without these; but unless in some measure we pass through the prophet’s experience, we shall fail to reach the highest possibilities of beauty and of service that open before us. So I wish to consider, very simply, these three stages in my remarks now.

I. If we see God we shall see our sin.

There came on the prophet, as in a flash, the two convictions, one which he learned from the song of the seraphs, ringing in music through the Temple, and one which rose up, like an answering note from the voice of conscience within. They sang ‘Holy! holy! holy! Lord God Almighty.’ And what was the response to that, in the prophet’s heart?-’I am unclean.’ Each major note has a corresponding minor, and the triumphant doxology of the seraph wakes in the hearer’s conscience the lowly confession of personal unlikeness to the holiness of God. It was not joy that sprang in Isaiah’s heart when he saw the throned King, and heard the proclamation of His name. It was not reverence merely that bowed his head in the dust, but it was the awakened consciousness, ‘Thou art holy; and now that I understand, in some measure, what Thy holiness means, I look on myself and I say, “unclean! unclean!”‘

The prophet’s confession assumes a form which may strike us as somewhat singular. Why is it that he speaks of ‘unclean lips,’ rather than of an unclean heart? I suppose partly because, in a very deep sense, a man’s words are more accurately a cast, as it were, from a man’s character than even his actions, and partly because the immediate occasion of his confession was the words of the seraphim, and he could not but contrast what came burning from their pure lips with what had trickled from, and soiled, his own.

But, however expressed, the consciousness of personal unlikeness to the holiness of God is the first result, and the instantaneous result, of any real apprehension of that holiness, and of any true vision of Him. Like some search-light flung from a ship over the darkling waters, revealing the dark doings of the enemy away out yonder in the night, the thought of God and His holiness streaming in upon a man’s soul, if it does so in any adequate measure, is sure to disclose the heaving waters and the skulking foes that are busy in the dark.

But it was not only the consciousness of sinfulness and antagonism that woke up instantaneously in response to that vision of the holy God. It was likewise a shrinking apprehension of personal evil from contact of God’s light with Isaiah’s darkness. ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.’ What is to become, then, of the man that has neither the one nor the other? The experience of all the world witnesses that whenever there comes, in reality, or in a man’s conceptions or fancy, the contact of the supernatural, as it is called, with the natural, there is a shrinking, a sense of eerieness, an apprehension of vague possibilities of evil. The sleeping snake that is coiled in every soul stirs and begins to heave in its bulk, and wake, when the thought of a holy God comes into the heart. Now, I do not suppose that consciousness of sin is the whole explanation of that universal human feeling, but I am very sure it is an element in it, and I suspect that if there were no sin, there would be no shrinking.

At all events, be that as it may, these are the two thoughts that, involuntarily and spontaneously and immediately, sprang in this man’s heart when his purged eyes saw the King on His throne. He did not leap up with gladness at the vision. Its consolatory and its strengthening aspects were not the first that impinged upon his eye, or upon his consciousness, but the first thing was an instinctive recoil, ‘Woe is me; I am undone.’ Now, brethren, I venture to think that one main difference between shallow religion and real is to be found here, that the dim, far-off vision, if we may venture to call it so, which serves the most of us for a sight of God, leaves us quite complacent, and with very slight and superficial conceptions of our own evil, and that if once we saw, in so far as it is possible for humanity to-day to see, God as He is, and heard in the depths of our hearts that ‘Holy! holy! holy!’ from the burning seraphim, the easy-going, self-satisfied judgment of ourselves which too many of us cherish would be utterly impossible; and would disappear, shrivelled up utterly in the light of God. ‘I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear,’ said Job, ‘but now mine eye seeth Thee; therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’ A hearsay God and a self-complacent beholder-a God really seen, and a man down in the dust before Him! Has that vision ever blazed in on you? And if it has, has not the light shown you the seaminess of much in which a dimmer light detects no flaws or stains? Thank God if, having seen Him, you see yourselves. If you have not felt, ‘I am unclean and undone,’ depend upon it, your knowledge of God is faint and dim, and He is rather One heard of from the lips of others than realised in your own experience.

II. Again, note the second stage here, in the education of a soul for service-the sin, recognised and repented, is burned away.

‘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.’

Now, I would notice as to this stage of the process, first, that Isaiah singularly passes beyond all the old ritual in which he had been brought up, and recognises another kind of cleansing than that which it embodied. He had got beyond the ritual to what the ritual meant. We have passed beyond the ritual, too, by another process; and, though I would by no means read full, plain, articulate Christian thought into the vision of Isaiah-which would be an anachronism, and unfaithful to the gradual historical development of the idea and means of redemption-yet I cannot help pointing to the fact that, even although this vision is located as seen in the Temple, there is not a single reference {except that passing allusion to the altar} to the ritual of the Temple, but the cleansing comes in another fashion altogether.

But far more important than that thought is the human condition that is required ere this cleansing can be realised. ‘I am a man of unclean lips.’ ‘I am undone!’ It was because that conviction and confession sprang in the prophet’s consciousness that the seraph winged his way with the purifying fire in his hands. Which being translated is just this: faith alone will not bring cleansing. There must go with it what we call, in our Christian phraseology, repentance, which is but the recognition of my own antagonism to the holiness of God, and the resolve to turn my back on my own past self. Now, it seems to me that a great deal of what is called, and in a sense is, Evangelical teaching, fails to represent the full counsel of God, in the matter of man’s redemption, because it puts a one-sided emphasis on faith, and slurs over the accompanying idea of repentance. And I am here to say that a trust in Jesus Christ, which is unaccompanied by a profound penitent consciousness and abhorrence of one’s own sins, and a resolve to turn away from them for the time to come, is not a faith which will bring either pardon or cleansing. We do not need to have less said about trust; we need to have a great deal more said about repentance. You have to learn what it is to say, ‘I abhor myself’; you have to learn what it is to say, ‘I will turn right round, and leave all that past behind me; and go in the opposite direction’; or the faith which you say you are exercising will neither save nor cleanse your souls nor your lives.

Again, note that we have here set forth most strikingly the other great truth that, side by side, and as closely synchronous as the flash and the peal, as soon as the consciousness of sin and the aversion from it spring in a man’s heart, the seraph’s wings are set in motion. Remember that beautiful old story in the historical books, of how the erring king, brought to sanity and repentance by Nathan’s apologue, put all his acknowledgments in these words, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’; and how the confession was not out of his lips, nor had died in its vibration in the atmosphere, before the prophet, with divine authority, replied with equal brevity and completeness, and as if the two sayings were parts of one sentence, ‘And the Lord hath made to pass the iniquity of thy sin.’ That is all. Simultaneous are the two things. To confess is to be forgiven, and the moment that the consciousness of sin rises in the heart, that moment does the heavenly messenger come to still and soothe.

Still further, notice how the cleansing comes as a divine gift. It is purifying, much more than pardon, that is set forth in the symbolical incident before us. The seraph is the divine messenger, and he brings a coal from the altar, and lays that upon the prophet’s lips, which is but the symbolical way of saying that the man who is conscious of his own evil will find in himself a blessed despair of being his own healer, and that he has to turn to the divine source, the vision of which has kindled the consciousness, to find there that which will take away the evil. The Lord is ‘He that healeth us.’

But, further, the cleansing is by fire. By which, as I suppose, in the present context, and at Isaiah’s stage of religious knowledge and experience, we are to understand that great thought that God burns away our sins, as you put a piece of foul clay into the fire, and the stain melts from the surface like a dissipating cloud as the heat finds its way into the substance. ‘He will baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire’-a fire that quickens. A new impulse will be granted, which will become the life of the sinful man’s life, and will emancipate him from the power of his own darkness and evil.

Now, let us remember that we have the fulness of all that was shadowed to the prophet in this vision, and that the reality of every one of these emblems is gathered together-if I may so say-not with confusion, but with abundance and opulence in Jesus Christ Himself. Is He not the seraph? Is He not Himself the burning coal? Is He not the altar from which it is taken? All that is needed to make the foulest clean is given in Christ’s great work. Brethren, we shall never understand the deepest secret of Christ and of Christianity until we learn and hold fast by the conviction that the central work of Jesus is to deal with man’s sin; and that whatever else Christianity is, it is first and foremost God’s way of redeeming the world, and making it possible for the unholy to dwell with His holy self.

III. Lastly, and only a word, the third stage here is-the purged spirit is ready for service.

God did not bid the prophet go on His mission till the prophet had voluntarily accepted the mission. He said, ‘Who will go for us?’ He wants no pressed men in His army. He does not work with reluctant servants. There is, first, the yielding of the will, and then there is the enduement with the privilege of service. The prophet, having passed through the preceding experiences, had thereby received a quick ear to hear God’s calling for volunteers. And we shall not hear Him asking ‘Who will go?’ unless we have, in our measure, passed through similar experiences. It will be a test of having done so, of our having been purged from our evil, if, when other people think that it is only Eli speaking, we know that it is the Lord that has called us, and say, ‘Here am I.’

For such experiences as I have been describing do influence the will, and mould the heart, and make it a delight to do God’s commandments, and to execute His purpose, and to be the ministers of His great Word. Some of us are willing to say that we have learned God’s holiness; that we have seen and confessed our sins; that we have received pardon and cleansing. Have these experiences made you ready for any service? Have they made your will flexible-made you dethrone yourself, and enthrone the King whom the prophet saw? If they have, they are genuine; if they have not, they are not. Submission of will; glorying in being the instrument of the divine purpose; ears sharpened to catch His lowest whisper; eyes that, like those of a dog fixed on his master, watch for the faintest indication from his guiding eye-these are the infallible tests and signs of having had lips and heart touched with the live coal that burns away our uncleanness.

So, friends, would that I could flash upon every conscience that vision! But you can do so for yourselves. Let me beseech you to bring yourselves honestly into that solemn light of the character of God, and to ask yourselves, ‘How can two walk together except they be agreed?’ Do not put away such thoughts with any shallow, easy-going talk about how God is good and will not be hard upon a poor fellow that has tried to do his best. God is good; God is love. But divine goodness and love cannot find a way by which the unclean shall dwell with the clean. What then? This then-Jesus Christ has come. We may be made clean if we trust in Him, and forsake our sins. He will touch the heart and lips with the fire of His own Spirit, and then it will be possible to dwell with the everlasting burnings of that flaming fire which is a holy God. Blessed are they that have seen the vision; blessed they that have felt it disclosing their own sins; blessed they whose hearts have been purged. Blessed most of all they who, educated and trained through these experiences, have taken this as the motto of their lives, ‘Here am I; send me.’Isaiah 6:5. Then said I, &c. — The second part of this vision begins here, containing the sanctification of the prophet, in order to his undertaking of a great prophetical office, and showing, 1st, his state of mind upon the sight of the preceding illustrious vision: his consternation under a sense of his great unworthiness; and, 2d, describing the singular mode of his sanctification — Wo is me, for I am undone, &c. — That is, if God deal with me in strict justice. For I have made myself obnoxious to his displeasure; because I am a man of unclean lips — I am a great sinner, having offended him, as in many other ways, so particularly by my lips. And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips — I am an unclean branch of an unclean tree; besides my own uncleanness, I have, both by want of zeal and of diligence, and faithfulness in the discharge of my duty, involved myself in the guilt of their sins, and therefore may justly fear to partake with them in their plagues. Add to this, his consternation probably also arose, in part, from a sense of his want of due qualifications for the important office in which he was to be employed, and of his unworthiness to be God’s messenger to his people, or even to join with the seraphim in praising him. For mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts — The sight of this glorious and holy God gives me cause to fear that he is come to enter into judgment with me. Observe, reader, while sinners are presumptuous and secure, even in the acts of their worship, though merely formal and hypocritical, holy persons have always been filled with reverence and humiliation before God: and the more extraordinary the manifestations of God’s presence have been to them, the more have they reverenced and stood in awe of him, and the more have they abhorred themselves. Thus Job 42:5-6, Now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes! And thus may not only every penitent sinner, but every justified believer, say,

My humbled soul, when thou art near, In dust and ashes lies; How shall a sinful worm appear, Or meet thy purer eyes!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.Wo is me! - That is, I am filled with overwhelming convictions of my own unworthiness, with alarm that I have seen Yahweh.

For I am undone - Margin, 'Cut off.' Chaldee, 'I have sinned.' Septuagint, 'I am miserable, I am pierced through.' Syriac, 'I am struck dumb.' The Hebrew word may sometimes have this meaning, but it also means "to be destroyed, to be ruined, to perish;" see Hosea 10:15; Zephaniah 1:2; Hosea 4:6; Isaiah 15:1. This is probably the meaning here, 'I shall be ruined, or destroyed.' The reason of this, he immediately states.

A man of unclean lips - This expression evidently denotes that he was a "sinner," and especially that he was unworthy either to join in the praise of a God so holy, or to deliver a message in his name. The vision; the profound worship of the seraphim; and the attendant majesty and glory, had deeply impressed him with a sense of the holiness of God, and of his own unfitness either to join in worship so holy, or to deliver the message of so pure a God. A similar effect is recorded in reference to Abraham; Genesis 18:27; see also Exodus 4:10, Exodus 4:12; Jeremiah 1:6. A deep consciousness of guilt, in view of the holiness and majesty of God, is also described by Job:

I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear

But now mine eye seeth thee.

Wherefore I abhor myself,

And repent in dust and ashes.

5. undone—(Ex 33:20). The same effect was produced on others by the presence of God (Jud 6:22; 13:22; Job 42:5, 6; Lu 5:8; Re 1:17).

lips—appropriate to the context which describes the praises of the lips, sung in alternate responses (Ex 15:20, 21; Isa 6:3) by the seraphim: also appropriate to the office of speaking as the prophet of God, about to be committed to Isaiah (Isa 6:9).

seen—not strictly Jehovah Himself (Joh 1:18; 1Ti 6:16), but the symbol of His presence.

Lord—Hebrew, "Jehovah."

I am a man of unclean lips; I am a great sinner, as many other ways, so particularly by my lips, which being in a special manner consecrated to God by my prophetical office, should have been entirely devoted to him; but, alas! my speeches, either to God in prayer, or from God in preaching and prophesying to the people, have been mixed and defiled with so much irreverence, dulness, distraction of thoughts and affections, carnal fear, and many other infirmities, that I dread the thoughts of appearing before thy judgment-seat, which I see erected in this place. For Isaiah had been a prophet before this time, Isaiah 1:1, and was now called, not in general to his prophetical office, but to the delivery of this special message.

I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; I am an unclean branch of an unclean tree; and besides my own uncleanness, I have both by my omissions and commissions involved myself in the guilt of their sins, and therefore may justly fear to partake with them in their plagues.

Mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts; the sight of this glorious and holy God gives me cause to fear that he is come to judgment against me, together with others. Whilst sinners are secure and presumptuous, the holiest persons have ever been filled with great reverence, and ofttimes with doubts and fears, at any extraordinary manifestation of God’s presence. See Genesis 16:13 17:3 Judges 13:22. Then said I, woe is me,.... There's no woe to a good man, all woes are to the wicked; but a good man may think himself wretched and miserable, partly on account of his own corruptions, the body of sin and death he carries about with him; and partly on account of wicked men, among whom he dwells, Romans 7:24,

for I am undone; a good man cannot be undone, or be lost and perish; he is lost in Adam with the rest; in effectual calling he is made sensible of his lost and undone state; and under the power of unbelief may write bitter things against himself; but be can never perish, or be lost and undone for ever. The Targum is,

"for I have sinned;''

and his particular sin is after mentioned: some (o) render it, "for I have been silent"; as if he had not performed the duty of his office, in reproving for sin, or declaring the will of God: others (p), "for I am reduced to silence", I am forced to be silent; he could not join with the "seraphim", being conscious to himself of his vileness, and of his unworthiness to take the holy name of God into his polluted lips, as follows:

because I am a man of unclean lips; he says nothing of the uncleanness of his heart, nor of his actions; not that he was free from such impurity; but only of his lips, because it was the sin of his office that lay upon his mind, and gave him present uneasiness; there is no man but offends in words, and of all men persons in public office should be careful of what they say; godly ministers are conscious of many failings in their ministry. The Targum is,

"because I am a sinful man to reprove;''

and so unfit for it.

And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; such were the Jews, not only in Isaiah's time, but in the times of Christ and his apostles, who traduced him, as if he was a wicked person, calumniated his miracles, said he was a Samaritan, and had a devil; they taught for doctrines the commandments of men, and opposed and blasphemed the truths of the Gospel; and to live among men of a filthy speech and conversation is a concern to a good man; he is vexed and distressed hereby; he is in danger of learning their words, and of suffering with them in a common calamity.

For mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts; the same divine and glorious Person described in Isaiah 6:1 who is no other than the Lord Christ, King of kings, and Lord of lords, King of saints, and Lord of the armies, in heaven and in earth; and a lovely sight it is to see him by faith, in the glory and beauty of his person, and in the fulness of his grace; such a sight is spiritual, saving, assimilating, appropriating, very endearing, and very glorious and delightful: wherefore it may seem strange that a sight of Christ should fill the prophet with dread; one would think he should rather have said, happy man that I am, because I have seen this glorious Person, whom to see and know is life eternal; but the reason of it is, because in this view of Christ he saw the impurity of himself, and was out of conceit with himself, and therefore cries out in the manner he does; just as in a sunbeam a man beholds those innumerable motes and atoms, which before were invisible to him. It was not because of his sight of Christ he reckoned himself undone; but because of the impurity of himself, and those among whom he dwelt, which he had a view of through his sight of Christ: his sight of Christ is given as a reason of his view of his impurity, and his impurity as the reason of his being undone in his apprehension of things. The prophet, in these his circumstances, represents a sensible sinner, under a sight and sense of his sinfulness and vileness; as the seraph in the following verses represents a Gospel minister bringing the good news of pardon, by the blood and sacrifice of Christ.

(o) "quia tacui", V. L.; so R. Joseph Kimchi. (p) "Ad silentium redactus sum", Tigurine version.

Then said I, {l} 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 my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

(l) He speaks this for two reasons, the one because he who was a mortal creature and therefore had more need to glorify God than the angels, did not do it, and the other because the nearer that man approaches to God, the more he knows his own sin and corruption.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
5. Isaiah is overwhelmed with the sense of his own unworthiness; he feels himself cut off by a spiritual defect from participation in the solemn mystery which he, alone of mortals, has been privileged to behold; his eyes have seen, but his lips are impure.

I am undone] The Vulgate and other ancient versions give the impossible rendering, “I have been silent” (tacui). Jerome’s paraphrase is interesting as explaining the genesis of a curious legend, that Isaiah had already been a prophet, but had lost the gift of inspiration through his unfaithfulness: “quia tacui et non audacter Osiam regem corripui, ideo labia mea immunda sunt.”

a man of unclean lips] “A pure lip” is required for the worship of Jehovah (Zephaniah 3:9); Isaiah would fain join in the praises of the Seraphim, but the impulse is checked by the uncleanness of his lips, which is the impurity of his whole nature concentrated, as it were, in the organs of expression. Isaiah is not yet a prophet; but in this profound sense of the necessity for a consecration of the faculty of speech we must surely recognise an unconscious preparation for the task of speaking the word of God.

a people of unclean lips] Cf. ch. Isaiah 3:8. The vision of God which has brought his own sin to light, reveals to him also the sinfulness of the people among whom he dwells. They too are unfit to take the holy name of Jehovah on their lips; their whole worship of Him is profane. And this comes home to him as an aggravation of his guilt, that his mind is saturated with the atmosphere of ungodliness in which he lives and moves and has his being.

for mine eyes have seen the King] A second ground for the ejaculation “I am undone!” That the sight of God brings death to men is an idea frequently expressed in the O.T. (Exodus 19:21; Exodus 30:20; Jdg 13:22); the preceding clauses shew that to Isaiah’s consciousness the danger springs from sin, and not from mere creaturely frailty.Verses 5-7. - THE SEQUEL OF THE VISION - THE PROPHET'S SENSE OF UNWORTHINESS. The vision of God in this life, whether natural or ecstatic, cannot but produce in the beholder a deep feeling of his unworthiness. God "is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity;" even "the heavens are not clean in his sight" (Job 15:15). Man, being never wholly purged from sin while on earth, cannot but shrink from contact with the absolutely Holy. Hence Isaiah's cry (ver. 5); and hence, to comfort him, the symbolic action of the seraph (ver. 6) and his encouraging words (ver. 7). Verse 5. - I am undone; literally, cut off, destroyed (comp. Isaiah 15:1; Jeremiah 47:5; Hosea 4:5, 6, etc.). God once said himself, "There shall no man see me and live" (Exodus 33:20). Men expected to die even when they had seen angels of God (Genesis 32:30; Judges 6:22, 23; Judges 13:22). How we are to reconcile Exodus 33:20 with this passage, Job 42:5, and Ezekiel 1:26-28, is uncertain. Perhaps the ecstatic sight was not included in the "seeing" of which God spoke to Moses. I am a man of unclean lips. A man must be indeed" perfect" never to offend in word (James 3:2). Isaiah felt that he had often so offended. His lips were not "clean" in God's sight, and if not his lips, then not his heart; for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matthew 12:34). I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Men catch up the phraseology of their time, and use wrong forms of speech, because they hear them daily. "Evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33). "Roaring issues from it as from the lioness: it roars like lions, and utters a low murmur; seizes the prey, carries it off, and no one rescues." The futures, with the preceding לו שׁאגה which is equivalent to a future, hold each feature in the description fast, as if for prolonged contemplation. The lion roars when eager for prey; and such is now the war-cry of the bloodthirsty enemy, which the prophet compares to the roaring of a lion or of young lions (Cephirim) in the fulness of their strength. (The lion is described by its poetic name, לביא; this does not exactly apply to the lioness, which would rather be designated by the term לביּה.) The roar is succeeded by a low growl (nâham, fremere), when a lion is preparing to fall upon its prey.

(Note: In Arabic, en-nehem is used to signify greediness (see Ali's Proverbs, No. 16).)

And so the prophet hears a low and ominous murmur in the army, which is now ready for battle. But he also sees immediately afterwards how the enemy seizes its booty and carries it irrecoverably away: literally, "how he causes it to escape," i.e., not "lets it slip in cruel sport," as Luzzatto interprets it, but carries it to a place of safety (Micah 6:14). The prey referred to is Judah. It also adds to the gloomy and mysterious character of the prophecy, that the prophet never mentions Judah. In the following v. also (Isaiah 5:30) the object is still suppressed, as if the prophet could not let it pass his lips.

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