Updated: Jun 1, 2021
This Week's Scripture & Reflection: Isaiah 6:1-7
Envision yourself standing in the immediate presence of the most influential person in your life. Do you stand in awe of this person given their history, status, and subsequent impact on you? Do feelings of intimidation or inferiority overwhelm you when you stop to consider the depth of their knowledge and wisdom in comparison to yours? Do you see yourself being more talkative or reserved in their presence? Often times, simply occupying the same space as a person or group of people that you greatly admire can make you increasingly more aware of your shortcomings than you were before, especially those things that you perceive to be shortcomings. Before that admired individual even has the opportunity to speak to you personally, their mere presence quickly provokes you to walk in a higher level of honor and integrity than you did prior to meeting them.
The prophet Isaiah could certainly identify with this sort of encounter. In the sixth chapter of the book holding his name, Isaiah finds himself standing in the presence of Adonai, another name for “the Lord”, in a glorious vision. He sees the Lord seated high and exalted on His throne with the train of His glorious robe filling the entire temple. Isaiah’s eyes then capture the heavenly angelic beings known as seraphim standing directly above the Lord, each one possessing one dominant set of wings for flying and two other sets of wings covering their faces and feet. Isaiah’s eyes had captured the glory of Adonai and His created angelic hosts; next, he would hear and feel the glory of Adonai! Isaiah watches and listens to the seraphim calling out to each other crying “Holy, Holy, Holy is,” Jehovah Tsaba, or “the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with His glory.” Such a profound declaration deserves a profound response, and so the foundations of the thresholds of the temple violently shook as smoke filled the temple as well.
It was abundantly clear to Isaiah whose presence he graciously inhabited, so much so that his own sinfulness became blatantly apparent to him in that moment. In verse 5, Isaiah cries out in the temple saying, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!”. The word “Woe” in the Hebrew language denotes lamentation, or mourning. In essence, Isaiah cried out in deep sorrow because while standing in the presence of a holy God, he became aware of his “unclean lips” and his residence among a people who also possessed unclean lips. Likewise, the word “unclean” in the Hebrew language means “foul”, which indicates the nature of the speech of Isaiah and his people. Though it pained him to openly acknowledge his sin in the presence of God, Isaiah did so, and he was rewarded: one of the seraphim flew to Isaiah with a burning coal in his hand that he had removed from the altar with tongs and touched Isaiah's mouth with it declaring, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
In the Bible, fire, among its many contexts, often symbolizes purification. Many a sacrifice was consumed with fire on the Lord’s altar according to His instructions to nation of Israel. God even refers to Himself as a “refiner’s fire”, that removes impurities and uncleanness (cf. Malachi 3:2 AMP). Therefore, the burning coal that was taken from the Lord's altar and pressed against Isaiah’s lips cleansed him of all his iniquity, thus making him purified in the presence of the Lord. Furthermore, Isaiah’s sin was forgiven, which restored him not only internally but also relationally between himself and the Lord. The beauty of this account is the Lord’s response to Isaiah’s confession of his sin through His angelic servants: cleansing and forgiveness with no condemnation in sight! Certainly, there was nothing within Isaiah himself that warranted spiritual cleansing and forgiveness, let alone the privilege to stand in the presence of the Lord with His train filling the temple! Yet, the seraphim, acting on behalf of their Lord and Master, demonstrated the Lord’s response to each one of us when we humbly acknowledge that we have sinned before and against Him!
The apostle John’s sentiments from his first epistle encapsulate the events of Isaiah’s encounter perfectly: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (cf. I John 1:9). This is, in fact, what Isaiah did: he confessed the uncleanness of his lips to the Lord, and God, through the seraphim, forgave his sin and cleansed him of all unrighteousness. For those of us who are believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we no longer reside under the domain of condemnation! (cf. Romans 8:1) We have been justified, that is declared not guilty on account of our sin, by faith in Christ Jesus, who took on God’s complete wrath against sin upon Himself on the cross. While we are no longer condemned, the Holy Spirit who dwells within us will convict us when we fall short of the glory of God the Father. Even still, when He convicts us, we are to do as the apostle John has instructed us to do and confess our sin to the Lord who is faithful and just to both forgive and cleanse us! He will neither despise nor reject a broken and contrite heart (cf. Psalm 51:17). Therefore, run to Him and embrace His loving forgiveness as He washes, cleanses, and restores you anew! Embrace His loving correction and call to turn away from your sin and to choose His way! He will make you clean from the inside out!