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.
Verses 1-4. - THE VISION OF GOD SEEN BY ISAIAH. It is thought by some that this vision, and its sequel, constitute the original call of Isaiah to the prophetical office, and in order of time precede all the other contents of the book. But the position of the "vision" in the book is strongly against this view. Prophets who relate their original call naturally place it in the forefront of their narrative (Jeremiah 1:10; Ezekiel 1:1). It is quite possible, as Bishop Lowth says, that this was "a new designation, to introduce more solemnly a general declaration of the whole course of God's dispensations in regard to his people, and the fates of the nations." The vision itself may profitably be compared with Ezekiel's first vision, which it much resembles (Ezekiel 1:4-28). Verse 1. - In the year that King Uzziah died. The year B.C. 759, probably. We cannot determine from the phrase used whether the vision was seen before or after Uzziah's death. I saw also; rather, then it was that I saw (comp. Exodus 16:6). The Lord. Not "Jehovah," as in vers. 3 and 5, but "Adonay," for greater reverence. Sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. The imagery is, of course, taken from the practice of earthly kings. Elaborate thrones were affected by the great monarchs of Egypt and Assyria (Lepsius, 'Deutmaler,' pt. 3. pls. 2, 76, 100, 121; Layard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 150). Solomon's throne was perhaps even grander than any of these (see 1 Kings 10:18-20). It was placed at the summit of "six steps," so that its occupant was "high and lifted up" above all his courtiers. His train. Not his train of attendants, but "the skirts of his robe." Flowing robes were commonly worn by great monarchs. Filled the temple; or, the palace. The same word is used in Hebrew for both. Dr. Kay supposes the prophet to be "in vision gazing on the actual temple - to see its veils drawn aside, and instead of the Shechinah enthroned on the cherubim, to behold the King of glory, enthroned on high, the fringes of his royal robe filling the temple, so that no human priest could minister there." But, as Mr. Cheyne observes, "palace is more in harmony with the picture than temple." It is the heavenly palace of the King of kings into which the prophet's gaze is allowed to penetrate.
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.
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.
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
Verse 3. - One cried; rather, kept crying (comp. Revelation 4:8, "They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy"). But the prophet scarcely goes so far; he describes only his vision - they did not rest while the vision was vouchsafed him. Holy, holy, holy. The Church on earth has taken pattern by the Church above; and the "Trisagion" is ever being repeated in one part of the earth or another without ceasing: "Thou continuest holy, O thou Worship of Israel." There is no attribute so essential to God as this. It is for his holiness, more than for anything else, that his creatures worship him. The triple repetition has been understood in all ages of the Church as connected with the doctrine of the Trinity. Holy is he who has created us, and bidden us worship him in the beauty of holiness Holy is he who has redeemed us, and washed away our sins, and made us by profession holy! Holy is he who day by day sanctifies us, and makes us in very deed and truth, so far as we will permit him, holy! The whole earth is full of his glory. Even in heaven the seraphic thoughts are turned to earth, and its relation to its Divine Creator is made the subject of angelic utterances (comp. 1 Corinthians 4:9; Hebrews 12:22). The lesson which they gather from their contemplation, even under all the miserable circumstances of the time, is a cheering one: "The whole earth is full of God's glory." Men, whether they will it or not, are working out God's purposes, advancing his designs, accomplishing the ends that he desires (see Homiletics on Isaiah 5:25-29).
And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
Verse 4. - The posts of the door moved; rather, the bases of the thresholds shook (compare Revised Version). The shout of the seraphs shook the very foundations on which the thresholds of the gates of heaven rested - a testimony to the energy with which it was uttered. At the voice of him that cried; i.e. "at the voice of each and all." The house was filled with smoke. "Smoke" is sometimes the mere sign of the presence of God, as in Isaiah 4:5; but more often it indicates his presence in anger or judgment (see Exodus 19:18; Exodus 20:18; Revelation 15:8). Here there had been no smoke at first, and we must suppose it, therefore, a sign of the anger which finds vent in ver. 9-12.
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.
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).
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:
Verse 6. - A live coal; or, a glowing stone, as Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Knobel, and Mr. Cheyne understand (comp. 1 Kings 19:6, where a cognate word is used). The tongs... the altar. The presence of an altar in the heavenly dwelling, with the usual appurtenances, is assumed (comp. Revelation 6:9; Revelation 8:3). The altar is, no doubt, an altar of incense, and of gold, not of stone; but the incense is burnt upon stones heated to a glow, and it is one of these stones which the angel takes with the golden tongs of the sanctuary (Exodus 25:38).
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.
Verse 7. - He laid it upon my mouth; literally, he caused it to touch my mouth; i.e. "he touched my mouth with it." He brought it into contact with that part of him which the prophet had recognized (ver. 5) as the seat of impurity. Thine iniquity is taken away. By the contact the prophet's impurity is purged, and he is freed from it. The symbolical net showed
(1) that sin could be purged;
(2) that the highest angelic nature could not, alone and of its own force, purge it; and
(3) that the purging could come only from that fire which consumes the incense that is laid upon the altar of God. Dr. Kay suggests that this fire is "the Divine love."
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.
Verses 8-13. - THE PROPHET ENTRUSTED WITH A SPECIAL MISSON. We do not know what special call Isaiah had had previously. Perhaps he had been brought up in the "schools of the prophets." Perhaps, when the "word of the Lord" came to him, he had accepted the fact as sufficient call. Now, however, he had, in vision, a clear and distinct call and mission (vers. 8, 9). He was told to "go," and instructed as to what he was to say (vers. 9, 10). As before (Isaiah 1-5.), while in the main he was to denounce woe, he was still to proclaim the survival of a remnant (vers. 10-12). Verse 8. - Whom shall I send? (comp. 1 Kings 20:20). Such questions enable those who wait in the courts of heaven to show their zeal and readiness. Who will go for us? Some explain the plural pronoun as used of the Almighty and those with whom he is consulting. But he does not really "consult" his creatures (infra, Isaiah 40:14; Romans 11:34), nor do his messengers do his errands for them. The plural form is best explained by the light which ver. 3 throws on it, as indicative of the doctrine of the Trinity (comp. Genesis 1:26).
And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
Verse 9. - Hear ye indeed... see ye indeed; literally, In hearing hear... in seeing see - with the force of "Listen and bear; look and see;" "Attend, "that is," with the outward souse, and catch all that sense can catch, but without perception of the inward meaning" (see Matthew 13:14; Mark 4:12, etc.). This is what they would do. Isaiah is bidden to exhort them, in grave irony, to do it.
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.
Verse 10. - Make the heart of this people fat. Isaiah is commanded to effect by his preaching that which his preaching would, in fact, effect. It would not awaken the people out of their apathy, it would not stir them to repentance; therefore it would only harden and deaden them. The words have a national, not an individual, application. Shut their eyes; literally, besmear their eyes; or, seal them up. Such sealing has been employed by Oriental monarchs as a punishment. And convert; i.e. "turn to God." Our translators have used the word in an intransitive sense.
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,
Verse 11. - Then said I, Lord, how long? Either, "How long am I to continue this preaching?" or, "How long is this blindness and callousness of the people to continue?" Isaiah assumes that he has not heard as yet God's final purpose; that there is some merciful intention kept in reserve, which is to take effect after the close of the period of judgment. The cities... the houses; rather, cities... houses. An entire desolation of the whole land, and extermination of its inhabitants, is not prophesied, and never took place. Nebuchadnezzar "left of the poor of the land to be vinedressers and husbandmen" (2 Kings 25:12; Jeremiah 39:10). Even when the great mass of these persons went into Egypt and perished there (Jeremiah 44:11-27), a certain number escaped and returned to Palestine (Jeremiah 44:14, 28). The land; rather, the ground, the soil.
And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
Verse 12. - And the Lord have removed men far away. The Assyrian and Babylonian policy of deportation is pointed at. Pul had attacked the kingdom of Israel ten or twelve years before Uzziah's death, and had perhaps made the Assyrian policy known, though he had allowed himself to be bought off (2 Kings 15:19, 20). And there be a great forsaking; rather, and the desolation be great; i.e. till a great portion of Judah be depopulated.
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.
Verse 13. - But yet in it shall be a tenth, etc.; rather, and should there still be in it a tenth; i.e. should there still remain, after the great deportation, a tenth part of the inhabitants, "this again shall be burned up," i.e. shall be destined to further judgment and destruction. The trials of the Jewish nation under the Persian, Egyptian, and Syrian monarchies may be intended. As a teil tree, and as an oak, etc.; rather, as the terebinth tree and as the oak - trees which shoot up again from the stock after being cut down; or, as the prophet expresses it, "have a stem in their destruction." So to Judah shall remain, after all, a "holy seed," which shall be its "stem" or "stock, "and from which it shall once more "take root downward, and bear fruit upward" (Isaiah 37:31).