In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and His train filled the temple.
Above Him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
Then said I, “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts.”
Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he touched my mouth with it, and said, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin forgiven.”
And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Then I said, “Here am I; send me.”
And He said, “Go, and tell this people, ‘Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.’ Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they sea with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.”
Then said I, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities be waste without inhabitant, and houses without man, and the land become utterly waste, and Jehovah has removed men far away, and the forsaken places be many in the midst of the land. And if there be yet a tenth in it, it also shall in turn be eaten up: as a terebinth, and as an oak, whose stock remaineth, when they are felled; so the holy seed is the stock thereof” (Isaiah 6:1-13)
Too many of us have been guilty of lightly dismissing this account as an unimportant mystic vision of a God who is in some kind of hyper-state of glory. Why then did it affect the prophet so radically? My own suggestion is that the prophet saw the King in the greatest moment of His majesty. In other words, God chose to express His deepest essence and being in a moment of time in the life of Isaiah, and that anyone who would contemplate that moment rightly will be altogether devastated and undone. With that in mind, I am led to believe that Isaiah saw the crucifixion of the King, because nothing reveals the majesty of God more than in the depth of His suffering, experienced and borne for us as atonement! You may ask how Isaiah could have seen the crucifixion of Jesus six or seven centuries before the actual event. Let us not forget that the Lord was “slain from before the foundations of the earth were laid.”
This is not just a chance episode in the life of the prophet; it is the unfolding of a remarkable pattern; a sequence of events by which the prophet, who already had a ministry, and was already cautioning and warning the nation of its sin from the very first chapter of his book, now enters a new dimension. His subsequent ministry as one sent was no longer merely to warn or to caution, but to judge. His word would now constitute judgment: Israel will not hear, will not see, and their hearts will be dulled because the prophet has spoken to them in a new depth of urgency, weight and authority as one sent.
How many of us have sufficiently dwelt on the word sent as we ought? Do we understand the significance of the difference between one who went and the one who is sent? However well-meaning it might be, is not most of our Christian activity self-initiated or committee determined? Do we know, and I mean really know, what it is to be sent from the One who is enthroned?
How many of us have a self-motivated itch to go and to do, and to cut a swathe for ourselves and our ministry? How many sendings are there of the kind that initiated the early history of the church? Those that were sent turned the world upside-down. Do we sufficiently honor and esteem the phenomenon of sending? Do we understand the difference between the consequences of the work that results from one sent in comparison to the work of one who is self-initiated in his going? Are we even assured that the world needs to be turned upside-down? Or do we see the world as needing merely to be modified and have some of its excesses reduced? Do we see the world as being evil? Are we chafed by its immorality?
Everything hinges upon seeing the Lord as the Lord. My greatest grief over the condition of the church, its leadership and its prominent ministers is that they do not know God as God to any significant degree; they do not know Him as He in fact is. Without this knowledge of God, we are condemned to a hollow counterfeit much more in harmony with our own approving ambition and intentions. Consequently, there is no fear of God, and we will find ourselves taking liberties and initiating conduct that was not sent from heaven. Everything rests on seeing the Lord high and lifted up and enthroned in His majestic glory, but brought to perfection in the moment of His most excruciating suffering at Calvary. That is what this prophet saw, and he cried out “I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips!”
The problem is not so much the “unclean lips” as it is, “I am a man.” We do not know how deeply humanistic man is as man. We do not see how deeply the intrinsic nature of man is opposed to God. We do not see how our ambitions and self-initiated activity could possibly be an act of direct rebellion against God. We do not see our unwillingness to wait to be sent as being any particular offense to God. Isaiah saw himself: “Woe is me, I am undone, I am a man.” And if I am a man, of necessity my lips are going to be defiled, even though a prophet.
Until we agree and come to this low estimation of ourselves, we will always suffer the loss of the high exaltation of God. The two things are inextricably joined. Who of us thinks they can perceive the truth of themselves as man? Is not our estimation of ourselves far out of proportion to the way in which we really need to see ourselves? However, when we see ourselves in comparison to God, we become as dead men.
This is the way of sanity; this is truth; this is reality; it is the foundation of any true sending. Why would God send half-baked believers anywhere into the world? What are they going to communicate? They cannot communicate anything that exceeds where they themselves are in their own estimation. Yes, they might bring some measure of good, but they are not going to turn anybody’s world upside-down. Only one who is sent from the Throne bears the authority and anointing of that One who sends.
“Who will go for us?” The word “who” haunts me; it suggests very few candidates. How often do you find a believer who has risen above the prevailing culture and the correctness of his doctrine, who really knows God as God, who sees God as terrifying, stupefying and vast? When was the last time you met someone who has seen God in His greatest act, namely, the revelation of the nature of God in His suffering and death, which has ever and always been His nature? The only thing that the cross did was reveal what God always was and is; He is a servant, a sent one Himself.
What did it mean for this sent Son, who had lived eternally in the presence of the Father, to forsake that exalted and unimaginable condition of relationship, and to come down to this earth and take upon himself the form of a man? He began life as a helpless infant in a manger, and suffered everything that was required of Him a son of man, a son of David, a son of Abraham. We do not know the humility of God until we have rightly pondered what it meant for the Son to come down into this earth. It was the crucifixion before the crucifixion. Every instance of it, every act of it is the issue of self-denial; it is the issue of compassion and concern for others at the expense of oneself. We need to probe and examine this more than any other consideration, more than our yearnings to become sophisticated in understanding of last days’ movement of the Jews and the Church’s mandate toward them during that time.
“Who shall go for us?” We are back to that piercing question. The only one who can go is the one who has seen, and having seen, comes to such a place of repulsion over himself that he is undone. This was Isaiah, the prince of the prophets speaking. If he could say, “I am undone” at the seeing of God as He really is in His glory, what shall we say? And until we say it with the same heart-piercing cry, we will never be a candidate for being sent. But, what does this whole cosmic drama wait on? The text itself tells us: “In the year that king Uzziah died.” What would the Lord be trying to say here? Does the death of the king have something to do with the revelation given to the prophet?
My own intuition is that the death of the king was the decisive factor that set in motion the entire episode. But, why is this so important? Why does a death have to necessarily precede a revelation of this magnitude? This is a revelation that issues in a call, and the call issues in a judgment upon Israel by a prophet going forth as a sent one. And not only that, but it is a judgment upon Israel that is still valid to this day. As a nation, Israel is still bound; her eyes are closed, her heart is numb; she cannot see, cannot hear and cannot understand. Jews are civil and gracious on any other subject, but on this they become impenetrable because the judgment has been decreed.
Apart from a few “remnant” Jews like myself, the nation itself presently stands under this judgment. You wonder why so many Christians eagerly believe God has called them to be prophets. That eagerness betrays their own over-estimation of themselves. What if your speaking would mean a necessary judgment for the hearers? Some measure of judgment goes forth in the prophetic proclamation that is designed to bring to death areas of the flesh that are impudent, untrained and undisciplined and need this judgment. It is not a pleasant task. Only those who are dead, and see themselves as undone, are the ones who are capable of going and pronouncing that kind of judgment. It is all the same to them whether the hearers are blessed or judged. The issue is obedience to a “Go, and say to them…’
We are moving towards a concluding episode in the salvational history of mankind with regards to the people Israel. Israel is under judgment through a prophetic word, but the judgment needs to be reversed and the people be released by another sending. If it took a sending to bring the judgment, in my opinion, it will take a sending to end the judgment by sent ones who have seen the Lord, and know Him in His majesty, high and lifted up, and who are stricken to death at their own vain presumptions about themselves. They are those who see themselves “as good as dead,” and unless a coal comes off the altar of God, they will not presume that they can speak for God.
From the text we know that God does not in any way placate the prophet; He is silent, but sends an angel with a coal from the altar, clearly implying that He is in complete agreement with the prophet’s own estimation of himself. The important point to note is the reaction of the prophet to the revelation of God in His resplendent majesty as crucified, which is what evoked such a sense of his own shame. Karl Barth wrote that the reality of sin cannot be known or described except in relation to the one who has vanquished it.
How many of us can say that we know the reality of sin? I am absolutely assured that if we do not know the reality of sin as God sees it, and as Isaiah saw it, we have no reality. The reality of sin is the necessary foundation of all human reality, and if we do not have it, all of our grandiose categories about redemption and the cross are only just a vapor; they are “sound and fury signifying nothing.”
More than we know, we have unsuspectingly reduced our beliefs to a body of doctrine. Our agreement with certain evident truths will never affect anything in us or in the world. And why would God send anyone in that condition? Has He nothing better to do, no better candidate to send than someone with a shallow notion of sin? Why would He send anyone who has fallen short of the acknowledgement of His glory, and who has little knowledge of what atonement means or what He has paid to obtain it? Paul knew the terror of the Lord with regard to sin and could therefore persuade men. This kind of knowing needs to be an object of our highest priority. How do we come to know the reality or the terror of sin, realizing that that is the underlay of everything? What did Jesus do and perform that was so consequential, worthy of our admiration, let alone our adoration if we do not understand what He met in His death?
Have we noticed how the world is dying, without foundations and oblivious to eternity? Has the world been told what sin is, or what judgment and hell are? Has it not rather dispensed with Jesus as a peripheral “nothing,” celebrated at Christmas time to give the department stores the occasion for our orgies of buying? Even Japan has a Christmas. The world has turned the Advent of the birth of the Son, who met the sin problem in His death, into a culture for commerce. How is it that we are not chafed over that? How is it that we can so easily join the world right into those stores and indulge ourselves as much as any rather than boycott the event itself? Have we been able to persuade Jewish life of the terror of sin? Or do they look upon our celebration of Christmas as just a harmless, Gentile equivalent of their Chanukah? Is not their Chanukah as much a false piece of baloney as our Christmas? And the world continues to spiral down into death while these things are celebrated as being somehow real.
There needs to be a great cry going out from Christendom, an acknowledgment that we have not seen or perceived rightly the great, central event of history, the Advent of the Son from Heaven who took upon Himself the form of a man, and suffered the consequence for the sin of mankind in order to appease the honor of His Father, who had been disgraced by a sinful, covenant-breaking humanity. Until that revelation has broken upon our hearts, and until we have seen sin in the context of the suffering, the humility and the anguish of His soul, we have not the knowledge of sin, and therefore everything will suffer in proportion.
Do we really know how intrinsic sin is to mankind and to his nature? To have an inadequate sense of sin is to have an inadequate sense of God. If we have a low estimation of sin how than can we exalt God? Is this not the thing that keeps us from adoration of God in its truest and deepest sense? When we do come to true adoration, we will have come to the ultimate place of relationship with God, and I believe this is the place of reality that releases the authority and power of God on the basis that we can now be trusted by the Living God.
We need to have a greater esteem for the word “sent.” Will we be willing to wait to be sent, knowing that we are presently unqualified, and that we have nothing really to communicate that would turn the world upside-down? Will we be willing to wait for God to impart to us an authority to face nations or peoples who are intrinsically hostile or indifferent to our message? The only way that anyone will begin to rightly hear us is dependent upon their recognition that indeed we are sent ones in the authority of God, bearing a sent word.
From the text we have seen that Israel’s present condition as a nation has been condemned to judgment by the word of a prophet. Israel’s condition has not changed from that day to the present one. The “until” has not yet come, and when it comes it will come in apocalyptic devastation and ruin in present-day Israel. My intuition is that the judgment that came upon Israel by the prophetic speaking of Isaiah needs to be relieved by another prophetic speaking. But where are the Isaiahs of our generation? Can there be a corporate sending, a corporate “Isaiah” who could be sent, whose speaking now will open eyes rather than close them, open hearts rather than close them, save rather than condemn?
I believe it is waiting for those who are sent, waiting for those who have seen the truth of their condition and have cried out over it, because they have seen the Lord as He is, high and lifted up. But what precipitates everything? The year that Uzziah dies! When we can say “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts” and that “the whole earth is full of His glory,” not just in triumphal moments, but in the moments of death and disappointment and what seem to be the severest contradictions of God, then we have arrived! We have come to true knowledge; we have seen the Lord and we have seen ourselves as He sees us. Only then will He purge and send us.
Message spoken by Art Katz
Kansas City, Jan. 2006
Scripture verses from the ASV Bible
Transcription by Lars Widerberg
Editing by Simon Hensman