In Rikk Watts’ Isaiah class, he says that chapter 6 of Isaiah is the theological hinge to the book.
- 1.1-2.5: Introduction to Isaiah. A lawsuit is inaugurated on the basis of the Deuteronomy covenant/law code.
- 2.6-5.30: On the basis of Israel’s present condition, a sentence is given. Judgment and salvation leads to…
- 6.1-13: Yahweh’s appearing as the great King and Judge in his Temple. Isaiah is called to effect the sentence of ultimate sanction (with salvation for a remnant).
- 7.1-9.7: The sanction inaugurated:
- Syro-Ephraimite War
- Judgment is brought on faithless Ahaz and salvation is brought through Yahweh’s Davidic prince – a contrast between kingships.
So Isaiah 6 is the commissioning call of the one who will implement the sentence of judgment on Israel. The blinding, deafening, and burning are all related to judgment on idolatry. Since Judah worships idols she will become as blind as they are, “hence she too will be burned in the fires of judgment, just as they are” (pdf handout, 55).
Structure of Isaiah 6
1. Vision (6.1-7):
The inescapable conflict between Yahweh’s “glory” and Israel’s “heavy” iniquity issues in Israel’s judgment.
- Setting (vv1-4)
- Purification (vv5-7)
2. Commission (6.8-13):
Isaiah’s purging with fire is to become Israel’s experience.
- Commission (vv8-10)
- Outcome (vv11-13)
Isaiah 6 has been a famous “Call to Christian Service” for many. Yet, as Watts rightly points out, this is not everybody’s call. Isaiah was called to preach, but nobody would listen. This is not the kind of call people dream of having. “I love it when nobody listens to me,” said by nobody.
This vision takes place in the year that Uzziah died. He has been the best king since Solomon, and there is plenty of uncertainty as to who will rule over Judah now. But Isaiah receives a vision of the true King of Heaven, and his heavenly council (see 1 Kings 22.19-28 where, like here, judgment is soon to be announced).
In contrast to “the haughtiness and self-examination of men” (2.11-14, p56), here it is YHWH, not Israel, who is high and lifted up. The attitude of the seraphim is one of reverence in God’s presence, covering their faces and feet and crying “Holy, holy, holy.” In contrast, Israel couldn’t care less about their sin. What Isaiah alone knows will soon be known by all.
Isaiah identifies himself with Israel. Watts says the ‘unclean lips’ may be crucial because it indicates false confession (Exod 20.7). Perhaps Isaiah hasn’t grasped both the enormity of what it means to serve holy Yahweh and the enormity of Israel’s sin. It may be a metaphor for covenant unfaithfulness, that of Israel’s unclean confession (Isa 8.13).
The heated coal/stone is put on Isaiah’s lips, thus purifying his lips and rendering righteous confession. Isaiah’s purification is by fire. Israel too will be purified by the fires of trial and judgment.
And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (6.9-10).
Other translations soften the Hebrew text.
And he said, Go, and say to this people, Ye shall hear indeed, hut ye shall not understand; and ye shall see indeed, but ye shall not perceive. For the heart of this people has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.
“Seeing you will understand and your eyes will be appalled at the idolatry surrounding idolatry.”
Though we see they do give at least one interpretive clue as to Israel’s problem: idolatry. G. K. Beale says that Israel’s blindness and deafness is connected to their following of idols, and this is seen is Psalms 115 and 135.
2 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
8 Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
9 O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
10 O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
11 You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
This psalm speaks of how the Lord does as he pleases. He has chosen Israel as his own possession. He is above all gods. He does what he pleases to do. In that we see his strength. He brings clouds, lightning, and rain. He struck down the firstborn of Egypt. He sent signs and wonder against Egypt. He struck down nations and kings and gave the land as a heritage to his possession Israel.
Yahweh deserves praise for he is good. He will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.
He is unlike the idols of silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have eyes, ears, noses, and mouths, but they do not see, hear, breath, or speak. Those who make and trust them become like them.
Israel has rejected God for so long that it is as if God says, “You want to follow after your idols? So be it. I’ll give you what you want then. I will make you to be like your idols… blind, deaf, dumb, and heard-hearted.” So Yahweh ‘creates’ Israel in the image of the gods they worship. “The people will become like the very idols they worship – blind and deaf” (57).
There is a back-and-forth debate in Isaiah about the wisdom of trusting Yahweh. Israel thinks they can see. They think they have wisdom, but it’s based on “idolatrous catagories.” They think they are clever and wise to partner with Assyria, but God gives them over to their own wisdom. God here, in his judgment, gives Israel up (Rom 1.24) to their own wants and desires, their own idolatries (the nation’s chief sin, 1.29-31; 2.6ff).
In Deuteronomy 4.15-28 the “primary sin against the covenant is… idolatry” (57). The result is “utter destruction and exile among the nations” (Deut 29.22ff; 31.16-18).
Isaiah asks how long this will happen. Yahweh responds that the cities will be laid wate, and if there is a tenth remaining they will be burned again. Again? When was the first?
For they shall be ashamed of the oaks
that you desired;
and you shall blush for the gardens
that you have chosen.
For you shall be like an oak
whose leaf withers,
and like a garden without water.
And the strong shall become tinder,
and his work a spark,
and both of them shall burn together,
with none to quench them.
They shall be burned by their idolatries and by Yahweh’s judgments, just like their idolatrous trees. There is a stump that remains, and this might be a remnant, a holy seed. That might be the tenth (or ‘stump’) that remains. As this is already too long, in my next post we’ll look a bit at how Is 6.9-10 is brought over the the NT. If there is a remnant spoken of here in Isaiah, the NT Israel is it, and they are still idolatrous.