The Lord High and Lifted Up (6:1-9)

Bible Passage: Isaiah 6:1-9

These verses contain one of the classic visions of God from the Old Testament. Isaiah is given a picture of the throne room of heaven, and he sees the Lord on his throne, worshipped by angels. This causes Isaiah to see himself in a new light, and he recognises his own uncleanness and inadequacy, before volunteering himself for God’s mission.

God’s Glory: The vision that Isaiah sees rolls back the curtain and displays God in all his glory. It happens against the setting of the death of a human king, and is meant to show that whilst a throne may be empty on earth, the throne in heaven most certainly isn’t. The very hem of God’s robe fills the temple, showing how much bigger and more transcendent the Lord is than the temple building – God cannot be constrained into a dwelling made by human hands. The Lord is surrounded by angels – even the most glorious spiritual beings cannot compare to him or rival him, and they devote themselves to worshipping him, a scene also picked up in Revelation 4:8. It is important to note, that whilst Isaiah speaks of seeing ‘the LORD’ in general terms, elsewhere in the Bible we are told specifically that it was the pre-incarnate Jesus that he saw (see John 12:41).

Human Inadequacy: Having seen the glory of God, Isaiah emerges with a new perspective about himself. Whereas previously he might have thought quite well of himself, now he is undone and pronounces woe upon himself. This is the opposite of a blessing, and it is saying that things are not well. In the light of the holiness and beauty of God, Isaiah sees his own lostness and the uncleanness of both himself and his people. There is something powerful in catching a glimpse of God to see our own failings, and the same dynamic happens to Simon Peter in Luke 5:8 as he begins to grasp who Jesus is. Isaiah’s recognition is not the end of the story though, as the seraph touches his lips with a coal from the altar and declares his guilt departed and his sin blotted out. The altar in the presence of God speaks of the place of sacrifice, and because of Christ’s sacrifice for us, our sin is blotted out.

God’s Mission: Once Isaiah’s sins have been cleansed, the heard the voice of the Lord asking who shall go. This is a great missionary rallying call, and though Isaiah does not know how it will play out for him he signs up to the task. In the end it proves a frustrating experience for Isaiah, as he was sent to those with deaf ears, and his message would only harden them further. Sometimes this is the way as we are sent out for God (and the same idea is picked up in Acts 28:26-27 about Paul’s own ministry in Rome. Sometimes as we share the gospel people will respond, and sometimes they will be hardened. Our role though is to be faithful to the mission that we have been given and to respond to God’s invitation to go.

Potential Applications:

  • Isaiah’s recognition of his sinfulness prompts us each to reflect on our own state before God. This could be a moment for a call to repentance and to receive the Lord’s forgiveness.
  • The question ‘who will go’ is a great challenge to us all for evangelism, both locally and further afield. Invite your congregation to respond to the Lord’s call to go.
  • This passage gives a big vision of God. Be sure to lift people’s heads, and respond with a God-focussed praise and worship time.