Isaiah sees God on a throne
Isaiah with six-winged angels1I saw the Lord in the year King Uzziah died. He sat on a high throne. The bottom of his robe extended outward, covering the Temple floor. 2Celestial beings called seraphs stood with him. They each had six wings. They used two to cover their faces, two to cover their feet, and two to fly. 3One of them said to another:
Holy, holy, holy.
The Lord of all. He fills the earth with his glorious presence.
Hot coal touches Isaiah lips5I said, “No! I’m going to die! I’m just a sinful man. I live in a world of sinful people. My lips aren’t fit to speak here. Yet here I am, looking at the King—the LORD of everything that exists!” 6One of the seraphs took a pair of tongs, picked up a hot coal from the altar, and flew over to me. 7The seraph placed the live coal onto my lips and said, “Now that this has touched your lips, your sins are forgiven. You’re not guilty anymore.”
God gives Isaiah a message to deliver8Then the Lord spoke: “Who should I send? Who will deliver our message?” I said, “I’m here. Send me. I’ll go.” 9He said,
“Then go and deliver this message to the people:
'Keep it up. Listen without understanding.
Look without realizing what you’re seeing.’
Turn them deaf.
Make them blind.
If you don’t, they might see what they’re looking at,
Understand what they hear,
And come back to me for healing.”
11I said, “How long should I do this?”
He said, “Until their cities lie in ruins
And all the people are gone
And the houses are empty
And the land lies desolate in destruction.
12Do it until the LORD sends the people far away,
Leaving the land deserted and empty.
13A tenth of the population will stay behind.
But they’ll be attacked and burned down again.
Yet, they’ll also be like mighty trees cut and burned,
Like the terebinth and the oak,
with life still hidden in the stump.
The stump will produce Israel’s holy seed.”
Uzziah, king of the southern Jewish nation of Judah, died in about 740 BC, give or take a few years. Scholars are still debating the date. He died perhaps just a few years after the international scene got tense. The source of the tension was the rise to power of Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III in 745 BC. He reigned in what is now Iraq until his death in 727 BC. He threatened the sovereignty of both Israelite nations.
Isaiah’s vision, if it was a vision, takes place in what sounds like heaven’s throne. Jews said the Jerusalem Temple was God’s home on earth and it was where the people could come to him for help and to worship. The earthly Temple, some taught, was a representation of God’s home in heaven.
Seraphs are described as celestial beings in God’s throne room who sound a bit like God’s personal assistants. In Christian tradition, they have been considered the highest order of angel. Cherubs are another kind of angelic being. They’re first mentioned pulling guard duty at the Garden of Eden, with orders to keep Adam and Eve from coming back after God kicked them out for eating forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:24).
“Holy” means one thing when talking about people and another thing when talking about God. “The Holy One” is a title of God. Scholars say that when the Bible says God is holy, it’s saying there is nothing like him; he’s unique, “wholly other” scholars say, and he’s perfectly loving and just and pure. When the word “holy” describes people or sacred objects in the tent worship center, for example, it’s talking about someone or something devoted to God and reserved for him. Worship utensils such as lampstands were considered holy because they were reserved for sacred use, devoted to God. People, too, were considered holy when they devoted themselves to God and to his goodness. They wear goodness like a skin and they begin to resemble the Bible’s description of their Father: “God is love….We know God loves us. We believe it with all our hearts because God is love. Everyone who embraces a life of love embraces God, and God embraces them. Love unites them” (1 John 4:8, 16).
The smoke may have been coming from one of the altars, such as the incense altar, which produces a fragrance for the room. Temple priests had a recipe exclusively for Temple incense (Exodus 30:34-38). No one else was allowed to use this recipe.
“LORD,” usually set in all caps, shows up more than 7,000 times the Bible. It refers to the name of God, abbreviated in ancient Hebrew writings as YHWH. Bible experts are left to guess what vowels to add. The current guess: Yahweh (YAH way). “Lord” typed in lower letters doesn’t refer to God’s name. Instead, it refers to him as a “master.” He’s the Boss.
More literally, “your sins are blotted out.” They’re erased or covered in ink. In the New Testament, they’ll be covered in the blood of Jesus (Matthew 26:28).
The “holy seed” seems to refer to the rebirth of Israel after the exile. Some scholars, however, say it could be a reference to the coming Messiah, who is sometimes described as a shoot or a branch from a tree (Isaiah 11:1).
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