A Retelling of God’s call on Isaiah
Many years ago, I was out one night in the Himalayan mountains, enjoying the incredible privilege of spending the night in a Tibetan village high on the mountainside. As I walked outside that night, I couldn’t help but be drawn towards the heavens and get caught up in the most beautiful display of stars that I’ve ever seen. The night sky was so brilliant that it was illuminating the mountain tops all around me for as far as you could humanly see. And in that moment, I realized just how small I was and how vast God is. I couldn’t believe that God would allow me such an experience.
And in Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah has an even more awe-inspiring experience. A fear-inducing experience. The temple doors are shaking on their hinges as angels proclaim holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, that the whole earth is filled with his glory. The presence of God was filling every nook and cranny and space of the temple. And Isaiah found himself in the presence of a God who shakes the very foundations of the earth.
And when Isaiah realizes that he’s in the presence of an intensely holy God he begins fearing for his life. Without a doubt, he knows just how small he is, and how all-encompassing God is. It was common belief that no person could be in the presence of God because the holiness of God destroys any sin in its presence. Isaiah doesn’t just think it’s over. He knows it’s over and cries out, “Woe to me, a man of unclean lips who lives among a people of unclean lips because I’ve seen God!”
But the story doesn’t end with Isaiah’s demise. No, Isaiah’s story is just beginning. One of the angels, whose very praise of God is shaking the temple foundations, comes to Isaiah and purifies his lips with a hot coal from the alter. The God who establishes the entire universe, was coming to a mere man, a nobody in the presence of an infinite God, who establishes all life in this world, and inviting him to be a messenger on God’s behalf.
And God calls out, who shall I send? Who will go out for us? And Isaiah responds, here I am Lord. Send me.
Isaiah’s story is one of moving from life, to new life. And Isaiah isn’t the only human whose ever experienced this call from God. Jesus when he was first calling his disciples had similar encounters. The disciple Peter when he realizes that he’s in the presence of Christ falls to his knees and proclaims, “Go away from me Lord, I’m a sinful man.”
May you know just how small and insignificant you are. And may you know how vast and holy God is. But ultimately, may you know how greatly this vast God loves you, and how much this God wants to call you into his presence despite your insignificance because this vast God sees you as significant.
Every story can be broken down into a few parts. The setting, where the story takes place and why it might be important. The characters and their emotions and thoughts invested in the story. A tension that needs resolved. A resolution that brings us through the tension, and a through line (aka main idea) that carries the story through from beginning to end.
The Setting The beloved king Uzziah has died and God has appeared to Isaiah in a vision as the God-King of not only Israel, but of the world.
- Beloved King Uzziah of Judah has died.
- Isaiah who has a vision of God on the throne as a reminder that even though a beloved king has died, God is the king who eternally reigns. He cries out Woe because he knows he’s an unclean man in the presence of a Holy God. There could be no escape or no place Isaiah could go to escape from God’s holiness because God’s presence filled both the temple and the world. The seraphim touching Isaiah’s lips with a live coal made it possible to praise this Holy God with his lips. This purification made it possible for Isaiah to be in the presence of the Lord. When God says, “Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?,” Isaiah is able to become God’s servant-messenger and proclaim, “Here I am. Send me!,” not because of anything Isaiah has done, but because of who God is.
- The Lord, YHWH sitting on the throne with the train of his robe filling the temple. The train filling the temple is indicative that even Israel’s most grand architectural structure couldn’t contain God in all of God’s power and might. Isaiah sees the Lord as both God and King in the temple.
- Seraphim proclaiming that King God was holy, holy, holy, and that the whole earth was full of his glory, another allusion to the size of God in the world. God not only filled the temple, but also the world and in a time when people feared the Assyrian King, it’s a statement that God’s kingship is above that of the Assyrian King and that this world belongs to God. The sound of their praise of God shakes the temple and perhaps it’s appropriate to affirm that praising God shakes the earth.
The Tension Ritually unclean Isaiah finds himself in the presence of a Holy God who not only fills the temple, but also fills the world. Isaiah is filled with fear because he knows he’s in the presence of God who shakes the foundations of the earth with his holiness and at this point his life is in danger of imminent destruction.
The Resolution God in his holiness sends an angel to not only make Isaiah pure so he can be in the presence of God, but calls on Isaiah to move from a spirit of fear to one filled with power as a servant-messenger of God.
The Through Line Coming to terms with who we are and God still partnering with us in this world.
Why has this story endured? Anytime we have a recorded encounter of someone who survives being in the presence of God, it will be a story to tell. The significance of this story, is that God calls Isaiah, perhaps Israel’s most well known prophet. His prophetic ministry to the Israelites must have been daunting knowing they wouldn’t listen. But looking back through the lens of today, how incredible is it that
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? We sometimes wrestle around with a “God of the hammer” outlook. We tend to believe God is ready to strike us down with a hammer because of our sin when in reality, God wants to make us clean because God not only loves us, but wants us to be a part of his mission in the world.
How does this story help us love God? It’s a story about a vast God whose very presence shakes the foundations of the earth yet calls an insignificant man to go into Israel on his behalf. We truly are insignificant but God see us as significant and that truly is love. Our response is to recognize that God doesn’t have to recognize us.
How does this story help us love others? That sad reality of Isaiah’s calling is that he was sent to a people that ahead of time weren’t going to respond to God and God sends Isaiah anyway. Our loving others can’t be based on their response to us.