William Kelly Major Works Commentary
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.Isaiah Chapter 6
This chapter opens a very different scene. It is not the law, but Jehovah revealed. Not that the people are one whit better; in fact it was only when Christ appeared seven centuries afterward, that man fully disclosed what he was and is. The law proved that man is not only sinful but loves sin; Christ's presence proved that he hates good - hates God Himself manifested in all the purity and lowliness, in the grace and truth, of Jesus. It was not only, then, that man was himself failing and guilty; but when an object was there in every way worthy of love and homage and worship, the perfect display of man to God and of God to man, He was a light so odious and intolerable to man, that he could not rest till it was extinguished as far as he could effect it. Still we are on ground sensibly and strikingly distinct; and this because the manifestation of Jehovah is in question, not the responsibility of Israel merely. Both chapters show the people judged, but the principles of judgement are wholly different.
It was not in Uzziah's palmy days that the prophet received this vision of glory and this solemn commission, but in the year when the once prosperous and now leprosy-smitten son of David breathed his last. Nevertheless "the year that king Uzziah died" looked very different from "the year that king Ahaz died" (Isaiah 14:28). Yet in the former came the vision which fully disclosed to the prophet the universal uncleanness of God's people; as in the latter a burden came on that enemy which vexed their south-western flank. In the former year, too, came Pekah to the throne of Israel, who laid the deadliest scheme with the Gentiles to destroy the line and hope of Messiah. Then, however, Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up, and the mere skirts of His glory filled the temple.
"In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, [is] Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth [is] full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke" (vv. 14). No vision more glorious had ever burst on human eyes: but if the attendant burning spirits embraced the fullness of the earth as the scene of His glory, His holiness was their first care and chiefest cry. Activity even in the winged seraphim is not all nor most. Not all six wings did each need for flight, but two only. "With twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet," in awe toward God and shame as to himself, in both the reverence that befits them in His presence.
The effect was immediate on the prophet. It is no longer woe unto these or those, but "woe to me." He is profoundly touched with a sense of sin and ruin - his own and the people's. But it is uttered in His presence Whose grace is no less than His glory and His holiness, and the remedy is at once applied. "Then said I, Woe to me! for I am undone; for 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, Jehovah of hosts. And there flew one of the seraphim to me, having a live coal in his hand, [which] he had taken with 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 is expiated" (vv. 5-7). Nor this only: for thus set free in His presence, he becomes the ready servant of His will. Before this there was no haste to act, but deep self-judgement, and true sense of the defiled state of His people, in the light of His glory. "Also I heard the voice of Jehovah, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here [am] I; send me. And he said, Go and tell this people, Hear indeed, but understand not; and see indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make its ears heavy, and smear its eyes: lest it see with its eyes, and hear with its ears, and its heart understand, and it be converted, and be healed" (vv. 8-10).
Grace thus gives confidence to do God's bidding; and though the sentence on the guilty people of God is an awful one, not only is it most righteous, but a remnant of grace is assured in the face of consuming judgement on judgement. This is not the way of the gospel which reveals Christ bearing divine judgement, but the believer saved in sovereign grace, made meet for sharing the inheritance of the saints in light at any moment, and waiting for Christ's coming as the chief joy. Judgement must be before the kingdom come for the remnant of Israel. Such is the charge, and we know how surely it was fulfilled in the judicial blindness which fell on the nation, when they confessed not their uncleanness and beheld no glory nor beauty in Christ present in their midst, and refused the testimony of the Holy Ghost to Him risen and exalted by the right hand of God.
But the Spirit of prophecy, if it pronounce the sentence of God on the people's unbelief, is none the less a spirit of intercession. "Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted for want of an inhabitant, and the houses for want of man, and the land be utter desolation; and Jehovah have removed men far away, and have multiplied forsakings in the midst of the land. But yet in it [shall be] a tenth, and it shall return and be for consuming; as the terebinth and the oak, whose stock [remaineth] when cut down: the holy seed [shall be] the stock (or trunk) thereof" (vv 11-13). That is, a vital principle survives, the nucleus of what will sprout again.
Nor is there a more surprising moral fact than the accomplishment of this divine sentence on the Jews to this day. Thousands of years have elapsed. The Messiah came, and confirmed it (John 12:40); the Holy Spirit followed, sent of Him and the Father, and He has fully ratified it (Acts 28:26-27). No recondite arguments are needed, no evidence from Nineveh or Babylon, from Egypt or Palestine. There the Jews are before all eyes, dead while they live, the standing witnesses of judicial blindness indicted, after incomparable patience with their unbelief, by their own aggrieved and thrice Holy God, Jehovah of hosts. And the mark is proved all the more indelible, because they were not permitted to abide in the land they defiled, which was to become utterly waste, and themselves removed far away.
Yet dispersed as they are everywhere, and really amalgamating nowhere, no changing circumstances change the Jews any more than lapse of ages: a fact which staggered the incredulous Hegel as inexplicable, but failed to convince; for unbelief is invincible to nature. And what adds to the wonder is that they outwardly honour the Old Testament, which we Christians believe as fully as our own scriptures. But like the philosopher, though staggered by Law and Psalms and Prophets that teach the sufferings of Messiah and the glories to follow, as well as their own scattering for unbelief, and the call of Gentiles during that sad interval, the Jews believe no more than the philosopher. But this prophecy, with others, makes it plain and accounts for all; and He Who smote with blindness has made it known here to them as to us; and, blessed be His name, He has set a limit to the sentence of woe. For the prophet that knew His grace said not in vain, "Lord, how long?" They are kept for His blessing and glory in the end. But oh, what tribulation and sifting and consuming yet! Burning judgement is to be their means of purifying in a way wholly distinct from what ushered the church into its place, a still more solemn and unique judgement having been borne by Him, Who died, rose, and ascended to be its Head. The Jews must pass through the tribulation which has no parallel (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24) before their deliverance comes. "Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it" (Jeremiah 30:7).
Thus, if the departure from God is to be punished with outward and inward visitation, a remnant is clearly indicated here, mercy rejoicing against judgement, and God making good His own glory in both respects. But that returned remnant must be thinned under the pruning hand of Jehovah. Still the holy seed shall be there, the stock or rooted stump* of the nation, when judgement has done its work over and over again. There is ever a remnant according to the election of grace.
* "Matstsebeth" is derived from a verbal root - to stand fast or establish - and thus in its primary sense means a pillar. Hence it can naturally express what sustains a tree when cut down. Some take it as the root, others as the trunk or stump; but the destruction seems to go farther than leaving the stump erect, so that the idea of the Targum that it means the gap, or that part of the substance which contains the spring of life, seems agreeable enough to the context.
We may also observe that, while Isa. 5 begins the impeachment of Israel's guilt as responsible under the law, Isa. 6 first and briefly presents their sin in despising Christ's glory or disbelieving it, as John 12:40 applies this prophecy. So far is the earlier half of the book from being heterogeneous with the later, that these are just the twofold Indictment which we had there, expanded and applied with mature and touching beauty.
Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
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.
Then flew one of the seraphims 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.
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,
And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.