God is making preparations for the calling of Isaiah. Isaiah hasn’t been asked to go yet. First, Isaiah has to recognize his position and be made clean from his sins.
The only ‘preamble’ to this vision that we are given is its timing. It happened somewhere in the year that King Uzziah died. We don’t know, however, if it was a vision Isaiah received while asleep, one he received as he went to sacrifice at the Temple, or if it came to him on a street corner. We also don’t know what Isaiah was doing at the time of his visitation. Was he seeking God, was he plowing in his fields, or was he sitting at his table.
When first looking at the vision, I would assume that it happened while he was inside the Temple but that can’t be. Isaiah would have been struck DEAD for entering the temple itself. He was of the line of Judah, not Levi. He could not enter the Holy place or the Holy of Holies. His sacrifices, like the rest of those not in the line of Levi, had to go through the priests to present their sacrifices before the Lord.
Isaiah, and the rest of Judah, had surely heard stories of the altar and the Temple. Stories describing God’s beautiful craftsmanship through the hands of man. The Law told of how holy it was inside the Temple and the furnishings within. So, I don’t believe he was physically in the Temple. I’m inclined to think it was a dream. An IMPORTANT dream though. Regardless of whatever, whenever and wherever, it changed Isaiah’s life. And it is still changing lives today.
In Isaiah’s dream I would bet that, when viewing the Lord, he did NOT see God’s face. Even the seraphim in this dream were covering their faces and their feet. God was too holy to be seen or have places where dirt normally dwells exposed. God also told Elijah that no man had seen His face and lived. I believe that somehow God obscured His face in this dream without masking who He was. Isaiah KNEW it was the Lord, without having to call upon someone else to interpret his dream.
This dream also showed God inhabiting the Temple. He had not yet withdrawn His presence because of the people’s sin. The seraphim didn’t say God’s glory stopped at the Temple door. They said, “The whole earth is full of His glory!” (verse 3b). God’s glory covers the whole earth whether man acknowledges it or not. I see it in the roses that bloom outside my home. In the smile of a child. In a beautiful sunny day. In the rain that falls on a parched place. In the music that runs through my heart. In SO MANY places!
I’m running off on a side trip. Feel free to skip ahead. I was thinking about God’s train filling the temple, the smoke being contained within the temple and the foundations of the threshold that shook. Isaiah is living in the time when God has chosen to dwell among His people; the ones He called and set apart. He has restricted His visible physical presence/representation to the Holy places. These places are holy in the first place because He designed them to be that way. God was separated from man by the vail in the Temple. Even Isaiah was on the other side of the threshold.
When the seraphim said that God’s glory filled the “whole, earth”, the very foundations of the threshold shook. God was shaking the dividing line; preparing for when He would no longer be separated from man by a physical barrier. For His presence and Spirit cannot be contained to one place for long, no matter how beautiful the ‘container’.
Back to Isaiah’s dream now. In Isaiah’s dream, he recognized that he was “unclean” and not worthy to stand in the presence of God. He did not directly ask for help. But neither did he run away. He stated his position as he saw it. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (verse 5). He had seen God while unclean and therefore counted himself as “lost.” And, other than this statement, he made no efforts to clean up himself in that moment. He relied on God to do what He would.
I’m curious why Isaiah concentrated on his lips instead of his heart. Was he a man of an “unclean” heart? Did he say “lips” because he assumed that God would want him to talk about this visitation and he wanted his speech to do justice to the experience? Did God prompt his spirit to say “lips” while in this vision? Jesus tells us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Maybe this is why Isaiah focused on his mouth instead of his heart. He may have known that a clean mouth meant a clean heart.
The remedy the seraphim brought to Isaiah dealt with exactly what Isaiah had identified as his deficiency; his lips. The coal was taken from the altar that God had sanctified and proclaimed as the place for Israel to burn offerings to Him. The place HE made holy with His presence. To preserve that holiness, even the seraphim used tongs to grab the coal burning there. As a spiritual being, the seraphim would probably be able to withstand the heat of the coal if it was in his hand, but he would have displaced God’s holiness by touching it with his own hand. This way the holiness of God touched only Isaiah’s lips. And the coal DIDN’T burn him! It was a purifying fire, not a destructive one.
The coal went deeper than Isaiah’s lips. It went to his very soul. It atoned for ALL his sin and took away his guilt. Isaiah was clean all the way through his heart, mind and body. NOW he was prepared for what lay ahead. He didn’t have to wait long.
I’m not sure what the Holy Spirit would have me take from this passage today. It may be that He simply wanted me to look closer and see the preparations God made for Isaiah’s life. I KNOW He has made preparations for my life, but they haven’t included a dream such as this; yet. I will trust Him to know what needs doing in my life and seeing to it that it gets done so that I can serve Him the best way I know how. God does not call the equipped but equips the called. ONLY when they trust Him and allow Him to have His work in their lives.
Father God, thank You for sharing Isaiah’s story with me. For helping me look a little deeper. And for inspiring me to wonder what You have/are equipping me to do. I have NO DOUBT that You have a plan for my life. Help me to get out of Your way while You prepare the details. Whatever, whenever, and wherever, You choose, I PRAY I will faithfully go. Take the coal & cleanse ALL of me! I want to be Your faithful servant.