Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).
1. How does Isaiah describe the revelation the Lord gave him of Himself? See Isaiah 6:1-4 (printed below)
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne—high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. (2) Above him stood the seraphs, each one having six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two wings they covered their feet, and with two wings they flew. (3) They were calling out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.” (4) At the sound of their voices the foundations of the thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:1-4)
Isaiah describes this revelation of God in the following terms. The Lord was seen “seated on a throne;” He reveals Himself to be the true Ruler over the world, the sovereign Lord of creation and history. The Lord is seen to be “high and exalted;” His divine majesty and sovereignty are not to be compared to the temporal and temporary sovereignty of earthly rulers, the Lord is transcendent above all. As the Lord is seated upon His throne, He is attended by angelic beings called seraphs (literally, “burning ones”); their very being as “burning ones” illustrates the infinite purity and glory of the Lord. They are continually praising God; continually proclaiming His holiness and continually proclaiming His dominion over the earth: “the whole earth is full of his glory” (or, “the fullness of the whole earth is His glory.”)
2. How does Isaiah react to this divine revelation? See Isaiah 6:5 (printed below)
Then I declared, “Woe to me! I am ruined!—for I am a man with unclean lips and I live among a people with unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
Upon seeing the Lord of glory, Isaiah cries out, “Woe to me!” (he fears himself to be doomed) “I am ruined!” (literally, he is declaring himself to be destroyed). Isaiah goes on to explain the reasons for his terror: “I am a man with unclean lips.” The scene of the angelic beings ceaselessly praising God and testifying to God’s holiness, convicts Isaiah of what should be true of him, but what was, in fact, not the characteristic of his speech and life. Isaiah continues by saying, “My eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts.” What mortal, sinful man can see God and live? “‘We are doomed to die!’ he said to his wife. ‘We have seen God!’” (Judges 13:22); such was the reaction of Samson’s father when he and his wife saw the Lord.
3. What does the Lord now do for Isaiah? See Isaiah 6:6-7 (printed below)
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand which he had taken with tongs from the altar. (7) He touched my mouth with it and said, “See, this has touched your lips—your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)
The honest confession of sin on the part of Isaiah is met with the ministry of God’s mercy. “Then (following Isaiah’s confession) one of the seraphs flew unto me.” When there has been a sincere confession of sin before the Lord, then, by means of this angelic being, the Lord draws near to this man who could not draw near to the Lord. The seraph had “a live coal in his hand that he had taken with tongs from the altar.” The live coal represents the burning, sin-consuming holiness of God, here being applied in mercy to purify the repentant sinner and not consume him.
4. What task or ministry does the Lord give Isaiah? See Isaiah 6:9-10 (printed below)
He said, “Go and tell this people, ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand. Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ (10) Cause the heart of this people to become callous. Cause their ears to become closed, and shut their eyes; so that they may not see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return to me and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)
In verse 9, Isaiah is given the following commission by the Lord: “He said, ‘Go and tell this people, Keep on hearing, but do not understand. Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’” The people are instructed to continue to hear the Word of God, but without understanding; they are instructed to see the work of God, but without perception. Consider the commission the Lord here gives to Isaiah (verse 10), and its bearing upon our own souls: “Cause the heart of this people to become callous. Cause their ears to become closed, and shut their eyes; so that they may not see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return to me and be healed.” Isaiah’s continual preaching of the Word of God, following upon all the preaching done by all the previous prophets, would have the effect of making the people insensitive and unresponsive by virtue of the repetition of the message, especially in light of their present habit of unresponsiveness.
5. Why do you suppose the Lord gave Isaiah this particular ministry?
Isaiah’s ministry was a ministry of judgment, a ministry designed to produce hardening in the lives of a people who had refused to respond. Ironically, the very message that was originally intended for salvation would now become to them an instrument of judgment. How else could they be saved except by the preaching of God’s Word, declaring their sin and directing them to the Lord as their Savior? Yet, the continued exposure to that Word—without the response of faith and obedience—would result in the people becoming callous to that life-giving Word. What is presented here is a very mysterious and sobering phenomenon. It is a form of judgment enacted by God against those who have the privilege of hearing His Word, but who passively ignore or actively resist that sacred Word—and do so consistently and constantly.