Daily Devotional: Isaiah 6:1-7
King Uzziah reigned fifty-two prosperous years as the king of Judah. 2 Chronicles 26:1–15 tells of how he brought peace and security to Judah, particularly fortifying the nation with the building of cities and towers throughout the land. Uzziah added to Judah’s might and military renown.
However, by the end of his reign, things were looking grim for the Israelite people. For all the good that Uzziah did, he was not perfect; he transgressed God’s law by attempting to offer incense in the temple himself, something only the consecrated Levite priests were authorized to do. As a consequence the Lord made Uzziah leprous, to the day of his death (2 Chronicles 26:21).
This is the context of Isaiah 6. The (mostly) good king Uzziah, who had brought much stability and peace to Israel, is now dead. Assyria and other nations appear as a looming threat. Will God provide another king? Has he abandoned his people? Surely God must see this as the most important problem!
Isaiah does not receive answers to questions. Instead, he receives a vision of God himself, recorded in Isaiah 6:1-3:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Isaiah has a vision of God, sitting enthroned, the very edge of his garments filling the temple. Angels exist around his solely to give praise to his holiness, his majesty. Compare the 52 years of Uzziah’s earthly kingship, his earthly glory compared to God’s eternal overwatch that covers everything. God’s merest garments inhabit the very place that Uzziah was forbidden to go.
Then God speaks in verse 4, and “the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” It seems that the overwhelming majesty and holiness of God is enough to keep those unholy at a distance, and forbid sight. Nothing unholy may be near this holy God.
Isaiah’s response is the only appropriate one. There is no time for pleas, supplications, or vain speech. Isaiah simply cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (verse 5). When brought into the presence of God, Isaiah sees reality for the first time; there exists one, most holy God, and he (Isaiah) is a most unholy man with unclean lips.
Isaiah is not left in his guilt, his condemnation. God provides atonement for unclean lips (Isaiah 1:6-7):
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah 6 recounts how God establishes Isaiah as his prophet to Israel particularly. With a vision of God as he is, enthroned in heaven, ruling and reigning over all things, Isaiah response is to acknowledge this holiness contrasted with his own uncleanness. God’s response to Isaiah’s cry is to give him what he needs most: to have his guilt taken away and his “sin atoned for.” Isaiah was being prepared to be God’s messenger to a rebellious Israelite nation; the people of Judah would ultimately reject and ignore the Lord’s message through Isaiah to return to God and be faith to him (Isaiah 1:19–20).
God has given us just what we need in a time of instability, uncertainty, with the very real presence of threats on our doorstep. We have the perfect revelation of the glory of God, fully displayed in the person and work of Jesus. The holy, glorious God, still fills the whole earth with his glory. The angels continually praise him. And having seen his glory, God provides an atonement superior to the burning coal from the angel’s hand; Christ’s death and resurrection has covered us.