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One of the more arresting and perhaps even terrifying stories of the Old Testament is the account of the prophet Isaiah's encounter with the holiness of God.That experience is found the sixth chapter of the book bearing that prophet’s name .
Isaiah, whose name means "The Lord Saves," began his ministry in 740 B.C., the year King Uzziah died, v. 1, and prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah. His message consisted of a warning from Israel's God that her sin would result in captivity at the hands of the Babylonians. Although Jerusalem would not fall to Babylon until 587/6B. C., Isaiah brought the certainty of the fullness of God's judgment to bear upon his blind and deaf people, vv. 9-10; 42:7. However, after His judgment upon sinful people, the Lord would redeem them from captivity after the manner in which He had delivered them from Egypt, 35:1-10; 5 1:9-11; cf. 11:15-16. How did the Lord prepare this prophet for such a rigorous ministry, one that would not be characterized by dazzling spiritual feats characterizing contemporary revivalism, but one that, according to modern- day standards, would be a failure for Isaiah’s proclamation would render the already calloused people, “dull of heart, heavy of ears, blind of eyes lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts and turn and be healed." v. 10.? The Lord God prepared his prophet for such a taxing ministry by granting him a vision of His holiness.
The opening words of this chapter tell us that it Isaiah’s experience was very traumatic. So often we tend to overlook the introductory words: "In the year that King Uzziah died, .." Yes, this statement is an objective, historical marker but more importantly, it sets the tone and the theme for the rest of our passage. The significance is to be found in the reason that King Uzziah died. According to 2 Chron 26:16-23, the prideful King Uzziah usurped the authority of the priests by insisting on burning incense to the Lord on the altar. In return for stubbornly rejecting the warnings of Azariah the chief priest and the other priests present, the Lord struck him with leprosy at the very scene of his crime. He remained in this leprous state, in separate housing, until the day he died. It was on this day, the day of his ignominious death, a death that was caused by his foolish refusal to acknowledge the holiness of God, that the prophet Isaiah was given, in circumstances of encouragement and not judgment (as in the case of Uzziah), a vision of the holiness of God. Since Uzziah recognized God's holiness but arrogantly rejected it, how would Isaiah receive it? Since Uzziah understood the implications of the holiness of God but refused to let them take root in the depths of his heart in order to bring forth a life of genuine consecration to God, especially in the realm of worship, how would Isaiah respond to this very phenomenon? Since Uzziah disregarded God and His holiness and as a result of his gross sin, forfeited his kingship, then how would this prophet react to these truths? Those are the questions confronting us at this time. God’s holiness brought death to Uzziah but would Isaiah find life?
In the first place, note the terrifying view that disrupted Isaiah’s life – it was the view of ".. 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." vv. 1-2. It was the revelation of the holy God up close and personal, as stated in the opening to ABC's “Wide World of Sports” television program a few decades ago, an engaging but also a challenging and threatening sight, with which this prophet was overwhelmed. The Holy One of Israel is shown in his majestic omnipotence, highly exalted upon his throne with His glory filling the temple and above him were the seraphim, literally, the burning ones, indicating their purity, but whose sinlessness is completely devastated by God's holiness – they cover their feet with which they serve Him and their faces because they dare not look upon Him. Their purity was as the most wretched depravity in the presence of a holy God. So irresistible is the Lord's holiness that they break out in antiphony, that is, in a call and response pattern, proclaiming "holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" v. 3. When confronted with the holiness of God, they respond in total humility, anticipating the response of Isaiah, by singing what is known as the trisagion, meaning thrice holy price, "holy, holy, holy."
What really did Isaiah see? He saw that the fiery ones who were were perpetually in the divine Presence and whose duty was to minister to God, could not even look gaze upon his face, could not make eye contact with Him. And this was only the beginning; this was merely an introduction that the prophet was given. The major portion and the most profound instruction of the revelation were still to come.
What do we learn from this? From this we learn that having a heart for God above all, means that God is holy and that we are not. Indeed, so holy is He that we dare not look upon His face; we cannot stand in His Presence. This is utterly devastating – – but at the same time, when properly understood, the holiness of God prompts us to repent of our sins. Genuine repentance causes us to examine ourselves in the light of God's blazing holiness.