The Holiness of God, Isaiah 6:1-7
Good morning. The passage this morning is Isaiah 6:1-7. That’s our Bible study this morning in our Sunday School. And in this passage Isaiah is brought up into a vision of heaven and God discloses a glimpse of His holiness to Isaiah and Isaiah is terrified…terrified because he’s in the presence of perfect holiness, terrified because he’s in the presence of God. And so Isaiah acknowledges his sinfulness and submits to God and then God in His grace gives Isaiah a solution to his sin, forgives Isaiah for his sin. And the principle that I’m going to ask you all to take away from this passage this morning is that we must submit to God because He is absolutely in control. He has absolute authority over His creation which includes you and me.
Now let me just spend a couple of minutes on background with respect to Isaiah and the book. Isaiah’s ministry began in the mid 700’s B.C. and lasted, we think, the record is not perfectly clear but we think until the 680’s B.C. So if you look that up at a kind of bigger time schedule, King David lived around 1000 B.C. so about 250 years later is when Isaiah’s ministry started. He lived in Jerusalem and at this time the land of the Jews had been divided into two kingdoms. There was the northern kingdom called Israel and the southern kingdom called Judah and the capital of the southern kingdom was Jerusalem. And that’s where the prophet Isaiah lived. He had access to many kings, Josiah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Jewish tradition said that the reason that he had… when I said Jewish tradition it’s not found in the Bible so we can’t say definitively but there is some indication that the reason Isaiah had all this access to all these kings is that he was part of the royal family; he was a cousin of one of the kings, King Uzziah, and we’re going to see Uzziah here in a moment, verse 1.
He was sophisticated and an eloquent writer and you see that in the Book of Isaiah because the language of Isaiah is very eloquent in its Hebrew. And often his book, the Book of Isaiah, is called the fifth gospel; you know, you’ve got the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but often Isaiah is called the fifth gospel because it’s so rich in references to the Messiah, like the other four gospels.
Now there are basically three sections to the Book of Isaiah. Sometimes people divide it into two or three, I think three is the better division, and so there’s the first 39 chapters of the Book of Isaiah and what those chapters are saying is judgment is coming. Those chapters are directed to the people who are alive at the time Isaiah was writing and you know that is kind of a novel concept right? I mean, the preacher is actually preaching to people who are alive when he’s alive, well, that’s what these first 39 chapters are doing. And what Isaiah is saying is look, you’ve been rejecting God, you’ve been rebelling against God so judgment is coming; there’s going to be blessing ultimately but first judgment is coming and the judgment is going to be swift and brutal actually.
Then we have the next division in the book and that’s chapters 40-55, and that’s directed not to the people who are alive at the time of Isaiah but it’s directed to a future generation, 150 to 200 years later. This is a generation of the children of Israel who will be under the boot of the Babylonians. They will be slaves to the Babylonians and they will be in exile in this foreign, pagan land. They won’t be able to worship God in the way that God prescribed in the Old Testament, in Law, because they’ll be slaves to these pagan peoples there in Babylon. And the message of this part of the book is comfort and hope. The message is God has not forgotten you, you’re being abused by these foreign powers, or this foreign power in Babylon—God has not forgotten you! Have hope because God controls human history and God knows exactly what’s going on and God has a plan for your life. That’s the message of this second section of Isaiah.
The third and final section of Isaiah is chapters 56-66. And that’s not directed to the generation that’s alive when Isaiah was living; that’s not directed to the generation, he’s in exile in Babylon, that’s directed to the Jews who are returning from Babylon to the land of Canaan, to their land. And the message there is follow the Law, don’t abandon God’s mandates that He’s given to you, like your earlier forefathers did and that’s why they got exiled, so turn to Me, follow the Law, the Mosaic Law because that was the Law that they were told to follow by God…AND look forward to the coming Messiah because He’s coming, look forward to Him.
Now let me talk about one more technical point before we jump into our passage and this is a technical point about the actual Book of Isaiah, the writing of Isaiah. For thousands of years folks understood the Book of Isaiah to be written by Isaiah, right, as the son of Amos. That’s his name, Isaiah, son of Amoz. [Isaiah 1:1, “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem….”] His father was named Amoz. And starting in the late 1700’s and into the 1800’s a new view caught on and the view was that there were, because of the different divisions in the book, these different sections of the book, there must have been multiple authors is what the view says. And what the view… if I say “view” too many times you’ll think of that television show, right? [laughs] But they’re both wrong, but perhaps that’s a topic for another day.
This particular view of the Book of Isaiah said that one or two unnamed, unknown authors came along and wrote prophecies and that they were slapped to the back of what Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah had written, and then that’s how we have our Book of Isaiah, all 66 chapters. This newfound view caught on right after the Enlightenment and you know, the Enlightenment was this age of rationalism where folks said God, You have Your place but it’s over here on the side; it’s not in the forefront of our minds, it’s over here on the side and we’ll consult you from time to time but we’re not going to believe everything that’s in Your Word.
And so in this age of rationalism the supernatural was viewed as unlikely and viewed as something that folks just wouldn’t accept. Well, there are a number of problems with this view that there were multiple authors for the Book of Isaiah. One of their main arguments is that there was no way that Isaiah could have written the things that are in Isaiah, in the Book of Isaiah because he writes things that are not known for 150 or 200 years after he lived, because he lived in the 740’s, he writes about events that happened in the 540’s, 200 years later.
He specifically names the liberator of the Jews, this Persian general who would come and conquer the Babylonians and free the Jews and send them home, because that was the will of God. And so what Isaiah does is he named this liberator, who was a Persian king named Cyrus, and what the folks that don’t believe that all of this was written by Isaiah, what they say is look, Isaiah couldn’t have known that, he lived 200 years before, how could he know the name of someone who would liberate and free the Jews 200 years later. And they’re right, Isaiah, in his own finite human capacity could not have known that.
That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in; the Holy Spirit could, and did, disclose to Isaiah the name of the person, this general who would free the Jews and send them home and He did that for a reason. The reason the Holy Spirit had Isaiah record this specific piece of information was so that those Jews who were in captivity, who were under the boot of the Babylonians, who were suffering, who were being abused, who thought all is lost, so that they would know, wait a second, there was one of our prophets 200 years earlier wrote about this and he actually wrote of the name of the man who would come and free us and send us back to our homeland, so God is in control, that’s a source of comfort for us, God is in control. So the Holy Spirit did reveal it to Isaiah and that’s why he wrote it down.
The second reason why I submit that this view that there are multiple authors to Isaiah is false is because who believes a prophet that you don’t know? Who believes a prophet that you don’t know his name, you don’t know anything about him? How can you have one or two unnamed men who came along and gave these amazing prophecies about the Messiah and no one knows boo about them—nothing! We don’t know their names, we don’t know where they’re from, we don’t know their lineage, “Isaiah, son of Amos” we don’t know who their father was, we don’t know anything about them.
That’s just not how Jewish tradition worked when it came to prophets because for prophets in the Old Testament there was serious accountability for a prophet because if a prophet prophesied about something and it turned out that what he said was false and it didn’t happen, well, it was his head, he was stoned to death and that’s laid out as part of the Law. God tells them you do this, you execute that prophet and that’s laid out in Deuteronomy 18. So the idea that you had these one or two unnamed prophets that give all these prophecies like Isaiah 53, suffering servant, and no one knows anything about them, that’s just not Jewish written tradition and the way Jews treated the prophets in the Old Testament. That’s not just how it operated!
Finally, the New Testament supports only one author to the Book of Isaiah and no more. The New Testament writers, when they cite Isaiah, when they site Isaiah many times they’ll cite a verse in the first section of Isaiah and it’ll say, in the New Testament it’ll say “the prophet Isaiah said….” They’ll cite a verse in the second division of Isaiah and they’ll say (in the New Testament) “the prophet Isaiah said” X. They’ll cite a verse in the third section of Isaiah and they’ll say “the prophet Isaiah said Z. It won’t say multiple writers, or the people of Isaiah, it’s real clear that the prophet Isaiah wrote these different verses in the whole Book of Isaiah and there’s no distinction that the ne gives as to some unknown unnamed authors.
So I submit that there was one author to the Book of Isaiah and that’s Isaiah. With that background let’s get into our passage. What we’re going to see is that God’s authority is absolute because He is perfect holiness.
Verse 1, “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” Uzziah is the king of the Southern Kingdom there in Jerusalem and he died in the year 740 B.C. So we’re able to date this vision very precisely to that year. And notice that there’s a throne in this temple. Look midway through the verse, “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne,” and the verse ends with “His robe filling the temple.” Well, what’s curious here is that the temple in Jerusalem didn’t have a throne in it; the throne was over in the king’s palace, it’s all in his palace where the political power was, with the soldiers with their shields and armor and swords and spears. The temple was for spiritual worship, it’s for worship and spiritual power. But in heaven those two are combined; political power and spiritual power are combined in God because all power emanates from God. And this should be as source of comfort for us because when Jesus returns and rules the world for a thousand years He will exhibit His absolute authority like He exhibits it now in heaven, and that should be a source of comfort for us because we are aligned with Jesus.
Verse 2, “Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” These are earthly words describing a heavenly scene. These angels are hovering above the throne of God so God is on His throne, lofty and exalted with the train of His robe filling the temple. And then these Seraphim are hovering over the throne of God. This is totally foreign to our eyes and our ears and our earthly words and that’s because this is a heavenly scene. With two wings the seraphim hovers, almost like a bee would hover; with two wings he covers his face because not even these sinless creatures will look on the presence and holiness of God. With two wings they cover their feet, presumably their feet are the least honorable portion of their body and they’re showing respect by covering that.
Now let me talk a minute about angels. They’re immortal, they are not eternal because there was a time when they were created; they are created beings just like we are but they are immortal, they don’t die. They’re immaterial so they’re not made up of flesh and blood, physical atoms like we are but they can exhibit themselves as physical beings, as men, as they did in Sodom. In fact, they looked so real that the wicked men of Sodom wanted to do what they wanted to do to them. So they can exhibit themselves with a physical appearance. They also have what I’m going to call super powers. Now to them they’re not super powers, they are just their powers, but in relation to us they are super powers.
For example, they can travel billions if not trillions of quadrillions of light years from the third heaven to earth; the third heaven is the abode of God, the second heaven is the universe and the first heaven is from earth to the atmosphere. And so they can travel these very long distances quickly. You know, we’re doing good to get to the moon but not them; they have incredible strength as the one angel who the Scripture tells us appeared like lightening to remove the stone that was in front of the tomb of Jesus and he just sat on the stone as if to say it’s nothing to me. They have the power to make people blind, as the angels did to the men of Sodom to protect themselves from those men. They have the power to make men mute as the one angel made the father of John the Baptist mute in his moment of disbelief. God, on occasion, gives them power over weather as we see in Revelation 8 where some of the angels are given, at least on that occasion, power over earthquakes and hail and storms and power to destroy a third of the earth’s freshwater supply, which is going to be a cataclysmic event when it happens.
Now there are different classes of angels, the two I’m going to talk about are cherubim and seraphim. The cherubs, or cherubim if it’s plural, we believe, are the highest class of angels. The Bible doesn’t have a listing that says boom, boom, boom, here’s the priority of the classes of angels and so you have to look at the different Scripture and kind of get a sense of ranking and priority. And the reason why I say that cherubim are probably the highest class of angels is because Satan himself, before he fell, he was highest of angels before he fell, before he rebelled, was a cherub. Ezekiel 28 describes him as “the anointed cherub.” And the other reason why there’s a strong argument that cherubs are the highest class of angels is because when God gave instructions to the Israelites to build the ark of the covenant this box overlaid with gold, part of the instructions were to build these two angels, and they were cherubs, and over the angels resided the Shekinah glory, the special presence of God. Now God, of course, is omnipresent, He’s not limited to any particular space but He would have His special presence there with the Israelites and He resided, special presence, Shekinah glory, resided over the cherubs. And those are these two… you know, the wings outstretched as if they’re guarding the presence of God. Now God doesn’t need a guard because He’s God but it’s representative of their high rank.
The other type of angel that I’m going to talk about are the seraphs, those are the ones in our passage and they’re mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. This is the only spot in the Bible that mentions the Seraphs. They have a high rank because they are associated with God’s glory. And seraph in Hebrew means burning one; they’re afire in devotion towards God. They appear to survey priestly function in the favor of what? the holiness of God. There are two types of angels, fallen and elect; the fallen are the ones who rebelled against God and the elect are the ones who remain faithful to God.
Now what’s fascinating is that angels, God directs angels to help us, to help believers. And we see that in Hebrews 1:14 where we’re told that they’re ministering spirits to aid believers, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service” that’s help or aid, “for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” That’s you and me, that’s the folks who have trusted Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
Human reaction to angels is fear because they’re so much more powerful than us; they’re so much beyond us and that’s why we see in Luke 2, when the angel came to the shepherds and announced the birth of the Savior we’re told that the shepherds were terrified; they were greatly afraid. All these things about the angels are very impressive and that’s why they invoke fear when someone sees them in Scripture. But we have to remember they’re created beings and we should never worship angels. The world often loves to really focus on angels because they don’t want to focus on God, they feel like I can avoid accountability if I focus on a created being as opposed to the Creator.
So let’s focus on the angel-maker, God Himself, and we’ll see what these angels describe about the angel-maker here in verse 3. “And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.’” In Hebrew that “Holy” is Kadosh (קדוש) so this angel says Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, and the angel is saying this three times, holy, three times is designed to show the absolute unapproachable holiness of God. The angel is saying it three times also fits the three person nature of the Trinity, the Father, Son and Spirit.
Now the doctrine of the Trinity is not fully unpacked for us until the New Testament so we just see glimpses of it in the Old Testament. But here is one of those glimpses. This word “holy” is real interesting. It means set apart to God when it describes a person or a group of people or some place. But here’s it not being used to describe people or places; it’s being used to describe God Himself. So when the Scripture, when “holy” is used to describe God it means He is totally other, totally separate and distinct from His creation. He is totally above, transcendent of His creation. That’s the theological term transcendent. And that’s why God says in Isaiah 55,  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, declares the LORD,  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
God transcends His creation and He needs nothing outside of Himself. He is His own source of existence. We, on the other hand, have all kinds of needs; we need air to breathe, we need food to eat, we need to sleep, we need love. He IS love, you know, we say “I love you,” well for God, He IS love, He loves, He has an object of His love but He Himself IS love.
So here we see the absolute holiness of God, and that’s not only in the Old Testament but it’s in the New Testament as well. And that’s why we see in Revelation the four living creatures around the throne of God saying continuously “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY,” you see the three-fold repetition there as well, He “is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.” [Revelation 4:8] God is the same yesterday, today and forever; He is holy.
But getting back to verse 3 here, we see this phrase “LORD of hosts,” right, and one called out and said, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD of hosts.” Well, when I hear the word “host” I think of somebody at the Olive Garden greeting me and taking me to a table and giving me a menu. That’s not what “host” means here. It’s an old English word for armies and the Hebrew word here is Sabaoth, it means armies. This is the word that Martin Luther used in his hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God, Lord Sabaoth is His name, from age to age the same.” Here it means God’s extreme military power and authority. He’s the commander and chief of the armies.
And you say well what armies are we talking about; are we talking about an army of men from the 101st Airborne? From the Marine Corps or how about Navy Seal Team six who took out Osama Bin Laden? No, those are impressive warriors, America’s soldiers, impressive but they don’t hold a candle to the warriors in this army because the warriors in this army are these angelic super powered beings. That’s the army that we’re talking about. The Lord is the King of the angelic warriors, the angelic armies.
But then you see this beautiful balance in verse 3, we see a first “Holy, Holy, Holy” His transcendence, His otherness, He’s above His creation. But then He’s also engaged in it; He loves it, He sacrifices for His creation, He provides for His creation. So we see this balance of transcendence and then the theological term of Him providing and being involved in His creation is imminence, and that’s the phrase at the end of verse 3, “The whole earth is full of His glory.” He doesn’t just wind the clock up, the watch up and say there you go earth, there you go people, there you go creation. No! He’s engaged in it because he loves His creation. [Isaiah 6:3, “And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.”]
So this word “glory,” it’s the Hebrew word qadosh and it means heavy, not like putting something on a scale heavy, it means something that is weighty, that is substantial, significant. Only God is worthy of glory, no one else. And that’s why the Lord says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, [Nor My praise to graven images]. Because He alone is worthy of glory.
Verse 4, “And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” The Seraph’s voice is so loud that the foundation of the temple quakes. This temple/throne room, the foundation quakes and that’s because the Lord’s presence is always overwhelming. Here we see quaking and smoke and this is reminiscent of when the Israelites were introduced to God at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19, and there, when Moses introduced the Israelites to God the mountain and the ground quaked and trembled and smoke billowed out.
The same idea here, Isaiah is being introduced to the King of the universe and smoke and quaking happened here too.
Sometimes we get too comfortable with God; He’s not our buddy, He’s not our pal; it’s true that we are told in Genesis 15 that we are the friends of God, that’s true, but we shouldn’t take our relationship with God casually or flippantly. He is the King of the Universe, who is holy, holy, holy. He is the King of the angelic warriors who is holy, holy, holy and He is omnipotent, all powerful. And so the fact that He would even let us speak His name should inspire awe in us. The fact that He even revealed Himself to us should inspire wonder in us. This is the God who we worship.
We’re now going to see that God’s holiness demands that we acknowledge our sin and submit to Him, verse 5. [Isaiah 6:5] “Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of” can I say armies? “the LORD of hosts,’” the LORD of the armies, [can’t understand word] is the Hebrew word here and it sounds like something bad has happened. Right? And that’s what’s translated here, “Woe is me,” but we don’t really use “Woe is me” any more, I mean, those are kind of old English words, when your house fills with water, storm water five feet high and you haven’t been able to get to your house in two weeks and the sheetrock is growing mold you don’t walk up and say, “Woe is me,” in Hebrew you’d say [can’t understand word], something horrible has happened.
But we have to ask ourselves why is Isaiah, ISAIAH, this great prophet of God, this great man of God, why is he freaking out in front of God? What is troubling him? What’s troubling him is that he is standing in the presence of perfect absolute holiness and even the slightest of sins is magnified in the presence of perfect holiness. He’s standing before the King of the universe and he is terrified because of his sin. Isaiah’s humbled because of his inferiority to God because he’s a sinner. And he recognizes his need for God. And that’s what makes him so great; that’s why God can say I can use you because you’re submitting to Me in your humility. You recognize your need for Me, God says.
This is like the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:24, when Paul, when considering his sinful conditions says, “O wretched man that I am,” Paul… you’re the apostle Paul, what are you talking about, you’re “the man.” NO, Paul, when considering his sinful condition says “wretched man that I am.” Isaiah, when standing in the presence of God says, “Woe is me.” [Isaiah 6:5, “Then I said, ‘Woe is me….”] What they both are doing is recognizing their sinfulness and being humbled about it. They recognize their inferiority to God, or you could say their total depravity. Total depravity is this theological term, it doesn’t mean that we’re as bad as we can be; you know, everybody is not committing every sort of sin, everybody is not murdering everybody, everybody is not stealing from everybody. Everybody is not as bad as they can be, that’s not what total depravity means. Total depravity means we are incapable, totally incapable of achieving God’s holiness… TOTALLY INCAPABLE! God’s holiness and righteous are absolute and our righteous is kind of like relative righteousness. I say I’m better than that guy and I feel good about myself and then the next guy says well, I’m better than you and he feels good about himself. And then that guy says I’m better than you and he feels good about himself. So we kind of have relative righteous, or we think like this sometimes, I’m better than that guy and then I feel good about myself.
Well, God says no, everybody has missed the standard, everybody misses the mark; I’m the mark, I’m the standard of righteousness and NO ONE attains My standard of righteousness. This is our condition, this is why we need a Savior. This is why we need God to transfer to us or impute to us His righteousness, and that’s what happens at salvation, by grace, not by our merit, not by our works but by grace. All of humanity is condemned for three reasons: (1) they’re born with a sin nature; (2) Adam and Eve’s sin is transferred or imputed to them, Adam’s original rebellion against God. And (3) we commit our own acts of personal sin, either in thought or in deed.
Now some say look, wait a second, wait a second,! Those first two, I wasn’t there when Adam sinned, so why should Adam’s sin be imputed to me? And why should I be born with a sin nature? Well, the problem there is number 3, we all commit our own acts of personal sin and that confirms, that validates number 1 and number 2. Plus, if you want to talk about fairness, was it fair for the Father to take our sins and impute them or transfer them to Christ when He was on the cross? Was that fair? It was just an act of grace that God did for us. No one objects to that imputation because we’re happy to benefit from it. Salvation means that at the moment of faith in Christ God imputes, transfers, His righteous to us. That’s the free gift of salvation.
So the point here is we have to understand the significance of sin; it’s a BIG deal to God. It separates us from God and Paul and Isaiah recognize this and are humbled because of their sins when they consider God and the holiness of God. Isaiah understands that God has the moral authority to set the standard by which we should and shouldn’t live, and he recognizes that he and his people have violated God’s holy standard. Isaiah is not even qualified to speak to God. The instruments of speech and praise are his lips and his lips are unclean because he’s a sinner, like all of us.
So the Lord, in His matchless grace, provides a solution. That’s verses 6 and 7. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs.  He touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”’
This is similar to the temple in Jerusalem where there was an altar of incense and burning coals. And so the angel’s act of touching hot coals to the lips of Isaiah was a representative sign that Isaiah’s sins were forgiven by grace. And that’s the same for us, right? By grace our sins are forgiven if we trust in Christ for our salvation. Now we don’t need an angel to put a burning coal to our lips; all we need to do is trust that Christ has paid for our sins and we’re forgiven. Or after we are saved if we sin then we rely on 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins then He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins….” So this act by the seraph is a sign that Isaiah, who was already saved, had his sins forgiven and he’s now ready to have a conversation with the King of the angelic warriors.
That’s verses 1-7 and what they tell us is that God is holy; He is the King of the universe, the King of the angelic armies, and God has absolute power and authority, including over His creation which is us. Our sin puts us in rebellion against God and we have to accept God’s solution to our condition, which is faith in Christ that saves us and then after salvation confessing our sins to God if we sin. The point here is that we must submit to God because He is God and we are not.
I’m going to go over the remaining verses in Isaiah 6, verses 8-13 in the Wednesday night Bible class on October 4th and so that concludes our study this morning and I’m happy to try and answer any questions if anybody has any.