Have you ever seen something that captured your attention and just held it spell-bound for minutes at a time? It must have been a little like that for Isaiah in his vision of the Lord, high and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple.

For the wonder of this heavenly vision to really sink in for the modern reader, we probably need to understand the background to Isaiah’s visit to the temple that day. First, Isaiah was the court prophet. His ministry spanned the reigns of Uzziah, Ahaz, Jotham and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (Isa. 1:1). Uzziah was a good king whose reign had come to a disappointing end. He had been a good king, and God had blessed him greatly. He had become king at 16 years old, and followed God most of his life (2 Chron. 26:1). The surrounding nations brought tribute to him and he exerted a lot of influence in the region. He built towers, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, amassed a formidable army and developed an extensive military stockpile (2 Chron. 26:2-15). Having reigned 52 years, Uzziah, also called Azariah in 2 Kings 15, died, as a leper, living in a “separate house”, a sanitorium (2 Kings 15:5). The overall assessment of his life was that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done (2 Kings 15:3).

In 2 Kings is not clear how or why Uzziah contracted leprosy. Even though he did right in the eyes of the Lord, Uzziah had become full of pride. He believed his own pressed, and one day tried to enter the very temple where Isaiah was now praying at the footstool of the throne of God. He entered to offer sacrifices and to usurp the one role withheld from him, that of priest. He was king in a kingdom where his rule was well established and supreme, or so he thought. But the priests resisted the kings attempts to breach the separation of powers, at the risk of their lives, and for his impudence God smote Uzziah with leprosy ( 2 Chron. 26:16-20). He died with the mark of his disobedience prominently displayed on his forehead (2 Chron. 26:20).

Isaiah on the other hand was a prophet, a member of the royal family, tradition has it (Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press). The account of his visit to the temple this day is an account of his call to prophetic ministry and office. There are several things that tend to confirm that this was a difficult time for Isaiah, a time for introspection, a time of disappointment even, a time of the loss of a friend in Uzziah. It may have been a watershed moment in his life, and Isaiah may have gone to the temple to seek the direction of God for his life on out into the future. We know that the son of Uzziah, Jotham and later his grandson, Ahaz, became wicked kings, who refused to worship or acknowledge God. Ahaz point-blank refused God’s invitation to ask for a sign to confirm that he would deliver Judah from her enemies (Isa. 7:12). Although Ahaz was afraid of the invaders, greatly afraid along with the people of Jerusalem, he vehemently opposed the notion of turning to or relying upon God. So he sent to the Assyrians for help instead (2 Kings 16:7-9). God’s response was to give him a sign anyway, leading to the most famous of Isaiah’s prophesied, that the virgin would conceive and give birth to a son who would be called Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa. 7:14). Isaiah must have been feeling the burden of a disappointing end to the reign of a basically good king, and the awful prospect of the beginning of the reign of an evil and wicked man. His heart was heavy, even broken that day he bowed in the presence of God, in the temple.

We might even ask why was he there? Why did he go to the temple as he sought to work through his feelings and disappointment, even grief? We don’t know, but it may have had something to do with attempting to find some closeness to God, some connection with the Lord that would set his mind and heart at rest. What transpired was utterly life transforming.

The description of the vision Isaiah saw is vivid and real. It was something he saw with his own eyes, whether literally or visionary. It was the Lord he saw, and he saw him as exalted, lifted up, what Chuck Swindoll calls “lofty.” God is so far above Isaiah, so much greater, so much more powerful, being worshipped by angels, that the effect is chilling. Whenever Isaiah finally speaks in a moment or two, it will be in utter self-deprecation (Isa. 6:5). The sight of God in his temple has overwhelmed him completely. He saw angels flying about the throne room of God, crying “Holy, holy, holy…” and this added to the awe and the sense of his own inadequacy and wretchedness. In light of the purity of God, he was lost and undone, wicked and sinful, unable to look at God or to expect that he will have any lasting claim on God’s friendship or fellowship. He is undone. It will not happen. It is not possible. The angels who cry and attend the throne of God, cover their faces in awe of him, too; even these burning ones , as holy as they are, cannot behold God without feeling a need for modesty and respect. Isaiah has no chance, he is totally undone!

What he saw, he saw in the temple. It is obvious that Isaiah had gone to the place of worship or prayer, a place to meet with God. He went where he knew he could find the Lord, where he believed God’s presence was to be found. Whether he entered the holy place, or knelt in the outer court we do not know. We do know that on other occasions in Israel’s history, at the dedication of the tabernacle (Ex. 40) and the temple the glory of God filled the place, spilling out of the Holy of Holies like an overflow of water (1 Kings 8:11; 2 Chron. 5:14; 7:1-3). In the conception of Israel’s theology, the glory of God, the sign of his presence, later called the Shekinah (indwelling), met with them at Sinai (cf. Ex. 19), and then journeyed with them from Horeb and eventually to Jerusalem (cf. Ex 33-34). The Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant behind the final veil, in the Holy of Holies, in both the tabernacle and temple, was the particular locus of God’s glory among his people.

The Mercy Seat eventually acquired the title the “throne of God” under the influence of king David, and it was said over and over that God was enthroned between the Cherubim on it (1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chron. 13:6; Ps. 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16). In Isaiah’s more fully developed theology, following David and Solomon, he could speak of heaven as God’s throne, and earth as his footstool (Isa. 66:1). David called the ark and the temple the footstool of God on earth (1 Chron. 28:2), and Solomon made a replica of it as part of his own throne, where his throne symbolised the throne of God, with an attached footstool (2 Chron. 9:18). The picture was that the throne of God in heaven extending to his footstool in the temple, joined at the Ark of the Covenant, on the Mercy Seat. God reigned in heaven and on earth among his people. So when Isaiah saw the robe of his train filling the temple, it is because Isaiah is bowed before the ark, the throne of God, at his footstool, and his robe flows all about Isaiah as he worships and seeks God.

Isaiah is surrounded by God presence. Angels call out to one another… exalting God by reciting his attributes. In Revelation we see a similar scene with angels and sometimes saints in heaven worshipping God and expressing their adoration and love for him by reciting his attributions in acknowledgment of God’s greatness (Rev. 4:8; 5:9-10, 12-14; 7:10-17; 11:15-18; 15:1-4; 19:1-10). It is both a proclamation and an acknowledgement. So as Isaiah bows before God, What do you think would be the cry that would go up? Which of great attributes stand out so much that angels are prompted to recite the wonder of it day and night? It is, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” It is God’s holiness and purity that dominate the scene as Isaiah bows in the temple of the Lord.

The effect of the vision is to convict Isaiah of his own sinfulness and unworthiness in the sight and presence of God. His cry is, “But I am an unclean man with unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips!” (Isa. 6:5). It is a realization and a confession that spontaneously comes to his mouth as he experiences the presence of God and is brought face to face with God’s holiness. It is a desperate cry, because Isaiah knows that he has no claim on God or God’s presence as he is, in his unworthy condition. His sense in that moment of worship and reflection is to recognize the holiness of God, and the sinfulness of his own heart. He and God had never seemed to far apart from one another, as they did at that moment.

It is God who breaks the tension. He is the one who takes the initialtive to speak! He commanded the angel to take a living coal from off of the altar and touch Isaiah lips, to sanctify and cleanse him. God puts an end to the sin and to the separation between he and Isaiah in one moment. God takes the intiative because Isaiah has nothing he can do about his condition. If things change, God will have to change them. And God does! God is willing to change them in the context of this worship setting, Isaiah’s submission and the recognition of his need. By going to the temple, Isaiah placed himself in the right location for God to challenge and commission him. Isaiah is so emboldedned by the cleansing that when the calls goes out for a messenger to take the word of God to the people, Isaiah confidently replies that he is available!

Isaiah went into the temple a diappointed, grieving, anxious and possibly broken man. He entered the temple not convinced about himself, and sensing his inadequacy and unworthiness. He entered to seek God in prayer and worship. He left the temple transformed, cleansed, sanctified, chosen, called and commission to do the work of God. Worship is transforming. It should be transforming.

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