A Personal, Initially Painful, but Ultimately Pleasing Encounter with the Holiness of God (2)
In this article we continue our study of Isaiah 6 and what it tells us about the Son of God, whose “glory” Isaiah saw (see John 12:41). A careful reading of this passage will show that Isaiah saw three things: the Lord, the angels, and himself.
Isaiah sees the Lord
We are told in v. 1 that he saw “the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up’ with the train of his robe filled the temple.” I don’t know what Isaiah meant when he said he “saw” the Lord. Did he “see” God in the same way you see me right now? Did he experience a vision or a trance? Also, how do you “see” what is invisible? God is spirit. God has no body, at least not until the time that the Second Person of the Trinity took on flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. In John 12:41 we read that he saw the Lord’s “glory.” Was this a literally visible manifestation of God’s transcendent brilliance, a display of what the OT calls the “shekinah” glory of God? In the final analysis, we don’t know. But that shouldn’t keep us from digging further into the text.
The word “Lord” here is usually printed in our Bibles as “Lord” as over against “LORD”. The former is a translation of the word Adonai which means “the sovereign one.” The latter is a translation of Yahweh which is the most sacred name of God, the name by which he reveals himself to his covenant people.
The name Jehovah is not technically a biblical one. It comes from the consonants in Yahweh and the vowels in Adonai to create “Jehovah”. For example, we read in Psalm 8:1 – “O LORD [Yahweh] our Lord [Adonai], how majestic is your name in all the earth.” LORD is the name of God while Lord is his title.
King Uzziah, one of the more godly kings who ruled Judah, died in @ 740 b.c. (see 2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chron. 26). He ascended the throne at the age of 16 and ruled for fifty-two years. One king was dead, but Isaiah was about to make contact with the King who never dies. One king had lost his power. Another never will. One king, Uzziah, has seen his authority pass to the next generation. Another will rule from generation to generation. An earthly nation mourns the passing of its monarch. A heavenly nation praises the perpetuity of its monarch's reign. Uzziah's power was limited and fleeting. God's power is limitless and forever. Needless to say, the contrasts in v. 1 are striking.
Isaiah sees the Angels
Secondly, Isaiah sees the angels (vv. 2-4). This is the only place in Scripture where the seraphim are mentioned. The word literally means, “burning ones”. Do they “burn” because of their proximity to God? Perhaps. In other words, does their “burning” reflect their own holiness that comes from having been created by the Holy One of Israel?
Observe what is said about their posture and their praise. As for their posture (v. 2), they covered their faces and eyes, for even among the angels it is forbidden to gaze directly at the glory of God. As Alec Motyer put it, “They covered their eyes, not their ears, for their task was to receive what the Lord would say, not to pry into what he is like” (76). They cover their feet, perhaps an allusion to Moses' experience of being on “holy ground.” Others have suggested it points to their humility. Or perhaps since it is our feet that connect us to the earth, they are symbolic of our creatureliness. Although angels are not earthbound or human, they acknowledge their status as mere creatures in the presence of the Creator. Thus “in covering their feet they disavowed any intention to choose their own path; their intent was to go only as the Lord commanded” (Motyer, 76).
As for their praise (vv. 3-4), they ascribe holiness unto the Lord. As someone once said, holiness is the only attribute of God raised to the third power! Nowhere do we read, “Gracious, gracious, gracious,” or “Loving, loving, loving,” or “Powerful, powerful, powerful!” Some have argued that it implies triunity, one “holy” for each person of the Godhead. Most likely the Trisagion, as it has come to be known, is simply an example of a Hebrew literary device in which repetition is used for the sake of great emphasis (cf. Gen. 14:10; 2 Kings 25:15). Note several things.
(1) He is the Lord of “hosts,” a reference to his military role. God is the warrior who engages the enemies of his people. He stands at the head of a mighty heavenly host, an army of angelic powers against whom no one can stand. That certainly ought to inspire our confidence in his ability to fight our battles.
(2) Although God is holy and therefore transcendent, he is not remote. The infinite loftiness of God, implied by the reference to his holiness, does not entail his aloofness. God is great but he is not geographically distant. Observe the three-fold emphasis on fullness or God's “filling” the temple and the earth (vv. 1,3,4). This thrice-holy God is intimately near those who love him.
(3) The impact is shattering! There is trembling (cf. Ex. 19:18; Acts 4:31) and the presence of smoke (Isa. 4:5; Ex. 33:9). Not long ago a survey was taken among people who had abandoned the church. They simply stopped attending. When asked why, the overwhelming response was: “Because it was boring!” But as R. C. Sproul has said, “We note here, when God appeared in the temple, the doors and the thresholds were moved. The inert matter of doorposts, the inanimate thresholds, the wood and metal that could neither hear nor speak had the good sense to be moved by the presence of God” (40-41).
What is important to remember is that we are now the temple of God! If the inanimate structure of the old covenant trembled and shook at God's presence, what is our response, we in whom this same glorious and holy God now lives? How can there be the slightest indifference or coldness or routine or mere ritual or mindless habit in our worship when this same God lives and abides in us?
To be continued . . .