I AM DEEPLY CONVICTED in my heart that this is one of
the most important studies you have ever undertaken. Isaiah has a
message about God that, if we let it take us and shake us, we will
never be the same. A joy-producing, fulfillment-enhancing,
life-exhilarating change. The kind of change you would expect when you
are gripped by the Creator and Designer of your own soul.
Ready-here we go.
Every journey begins with the first step. This first step in climbing
God's great mountain means we walk in Isaiah's footsteps and see
what Isaiah saw-the immense, indescribable, incomprehensible holiness
of God. Maybe you're thinking, Whoa, can't we start with His love
or mercy or something more friendly, and then sort of work our way up to
holiness? The answer is no. We don't get to choose where we
start-God is in charge of that. So we'll start where God started with
Isaiah-with His holiness.
Holiness. What image does that conjure up in your mind? My
earliest image of holiness is standing in a little country Baptist church.
I was maybe five years old, staring straight ahead with my brothers,
all stiff and stale, my suit and tie choking the life out of me. In the same
row were my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, all gripping
the pew in front of them till their knuckles turned white. They sang
at the top of their lungs, a medieval organ backing their trio .
"Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee."
For me, God's holiness was connected with the clock ever so
slowly ticking out the remaining minutes of the monotonous message
while I squirmed on the hard seat searching for relief from the heat
and longing to be free from constraint. Do you relate in some way to
Possibly you think of holiness as a list of rules to freeze freedom
and crush your creativity. Maybe you have known some people who
claimed to be fired up about holiness, but there's nothing appealing
about their lifestyle or perspective on living a God-centered life. They
live by black-and-white thinking that says, "This is holy, and that is
not." Rule lovers-they delight to point out who is not making the
grade on their latest checklist of absolute rules for holiness.
That's not God's kind of holiness.
God does not present His holiness as a horizontal prescription
for human activity. God displays holiness as the central and defining
essence of His character. I know some people think that God is
defined by love, but I would beg to differ. If love was at the very center
of God's nature, then He could have welcomed us into heaven without
the atoning death of His Son, Jesus. Fact is, God's holiness
demanded that sin be paid for, and then His love compelled Him to
pay the price Himself.
To know God as He truly is requires dispelling our human notions
of holiness and thinking about it in a fresh, new way. Let's start
there-with a lofty view of exalted holiness from the God who said, "Be holy,
for I am holy." When we allow ourselves to be gripped by that
reality, no human standard of goodness, no man-made regulation of
righteousness, no plastic, legalistic creed will ever again substitute for such
a fearful and wonderful encounter.
So let's bag what man says about God's holiness and let the
ever-new message of God's Word shape our ideas about Him. The Bible has
the power to change our lives by introducing us to a God whom our
culture, even our Christian culture, has ignored, softened, and
minimized. A true glimpse of God in all His holiness will rock your world
to the core. I want that; don't you?
If your answer is yes, then stand with me at the base of God's
holy mountain. Warning: There's no way we can scale the heights of
holiness in this brief study or even in our short lifetime. After
reading the next few pages, we won't say, "Oh, I get it. What's next?" But
through the eyes and words of the prophet Isaiah, we can step a little
closer. In humble dependence, we can ask God to reveal to us more
of His holiness, and I'm confident He will.
Gripped by the Holiness of God
Just to remind you, our man Isaiah flashed like a shooting star over
the dark sky of a morally corrupt culture. His specific, God-given
call was to minister to the affluent leaders of his day. Isaiah knew what
it was like to move among self-sufficient people. They had power,
money, and influence-what more did they need? Sound familiar?
I talk to people all the time who have deceived themselves into
thinking that they've got life hardwired. They have a good education,
a good job, and a good portfolio. Their life is moving along at a
pretty good pace, so they think they don't need God.
If I could, I would take these loved ones by the shoulders and
shake them . hard. I would say, "Do you realize what you are saying?"
But since it's not proper for a pastor to do that sort of thing, I'll
settle for saying loud and clear, "Wake up, dude! It's not about whoyou are. It's all about who God is." That's what Isaiah figured during
the event recorded in Isaiah 6:1-7. (Now's a good time to go back
and read the passage on the first page of this chapter if you did not
do so earlier.)
God allowed Isaiah to peek into His heavenly throne room and
glimpse His holiness like no human being has ever done! And he was
seriously laid out, or we would say "gripped," by what he saw.
Isaiah's vision of this scene above the ceiling is one we desperately,
desperately need in the church today. Why? Because it blows away the
comfortable, manageable God we've fashioned for ourselves. It reminds
us how small we are and how great He is. So great, in fact,
that He is unapproachable except in the ways He has prescribed.
Did you ever learn about the children of Israel's desert wanderings?
The people and priests understood God's innate holiness far better
than we ever have. When God instructed them to build the
tabernacle, He included a place for Himself
called the Holy of Holies that was so sacred, so
ominous that only one person once a year could
enter, and only with an offering. The place was
filled with such mystery that every year, before
that one priest entered, they would tie a rope of
bells around his ankle, just in case he did something
wrong and was struck dead on the spot.
Then the other guys could pull him out of the
Holy of Holies without meeting the same end. The priests of old had
a mega, reverential awe of God and His holiness.
Back then nobody confused the creature with the Creator. God
is set apart way above any human standard. Set apart for a special
purpose. There was no one like God. That's why this vision Isaiah had
of entering God's throne room is so cool. And God invites us, through
Isaiah's eyes, into a place very few people have ever been. How many
times have we said we want to know God? Well, here's our chance.
Let's explore Isaiah's vision one piece at a time.
In the year of King Uzziah's death (v. 1)
The date 740 B.C. may not mean much to you and me, but to Isaiah's
original readers, the date marked the end of an era. King Uzziah
had been a fixture in Israel, ruling the nation for fifty-two years.
For the most part, they had been good, peaceable years. So, when leprosy
finally took his life and his long reign ended, the country was
thrown into incredible turmoil. Imagine what it would be like if we
had a president for fifty-two years and felt secure and accustomed to
his ways. Everything is operating like clockwork-then suddenly
every television channel interrupts programming with the stunning
news from Washington that the president is dead.
When Uzziah died, the nation's moral climate went into a tailspin.
People began to think, "If I'm going to make it in this crazy culture,
it'll be on my own, doing what I think is right for a change."
In the midst of this moral confusion, God called Isaiah to speak
In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord (emphasis added)
Think of the significance of those four words. "I saw the Lord."
Who could ever be the same? Now, whether he was waking or sleeping,
whether he had a vision or a dream, we're not told. But Isaiah was
supernaturally allowed to see the very throne room of God.
Notice the word "Lord." When it's Lord (all caps), it refers to God's
covenant name, Yahweh. But here Lord is lowercase, referring not to God's
name, but to His position. Isaiah is really saying, "I saw the ultimate
Monarch! I saw the Sovereign! The Ruler over everything! I saw Him!"
John 12:41 indicates that Isaiah actually saw the pre-incarnate
Christ, the second person of the Trinity. It couldn't have been God the
Father, as is commonly thought, since John 1:18 says, "No one has seen
God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of
the Father, He has declared Him" (NKJV). So, Isaiah was allowed to see
Christ before His incarnation. Before Jerusalem, before Nazareth, before
Bethlehem, Isaiah was given one quick glimpse of Jesus, the second
person of the Trinity, in all of His glory . and it took his breath away.
. sitting on a throne
Notice what Isaiah saw in the next phrase. "I saw the Lord
sitting on a throne." Sitting-not pacing back and forth. Sitting-not
wringing His hands. Sitting-not struggling or searching. Not God.
Where was He? He was seated. He was settled. He was secure. He
I wrote in the margin of my Bible, "Why so settled and so seated?"
The answer is: because He is in control. He knows it. Everyone in
the throne room knows it. No one is worried.
I am struck by that truth each time we sing a particular worship
song at Harvest Bible Chapel. The lyrics include the phrase, "You are
in control." When I sing it, I think of this verse in Isaiah. God is
seated on the throne. He is in control. Wow, that sure puts into
perspective any burden I carry on my heart. How difficult could this problem
be for God, no matter how monstrous it might seem to me? What
problem would seem large to the One who is sitting on a throne? My
problems are nothing to Him. He is in control! Even of this? (Think
about your biggest worry right now.) Yup. He's even controlling that.
Even this? (Think about the biggest issue facing our world today.) Eventhat. The Lord is sitting on His throne.
. lofty and exalted
Notice the Lord isn't just sitting on any old throne. "I saw the
Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted." I believe that the main
reason the church has lost its moral vision is because it has lost its
high and exalted view of God. We have embraced the comfort of His
nearness at the expense of His transcendence. God is not the "man
up-stairs." God is not an old codger with a white beard. God is ineffable
glory, and He dwells in unapproachable light. The Bible says that no
one can see God and live. He is lofty and exalted.
. with the train of His robe filling the temple.
The train is the part of the robe that communicates honor. Seldom
seen today except at formal weddings, the train is the symbol of
grandeur and royalty. If you've ever seen a video clip of the
coronation of Queen Elizabeth many years ago at Westminster Abbey, you
would remember that the train of her robe went all the way down
the aisle and almost to the back door of that cathedral. It took
several courtiers to carry the train of her robe during her coronation.
What does Isaiah say about the robe of almighty God? He says it
fills the temple! Down the aisle and back again, back to front, front
to back, doubling and redoubling. The symbol of God's splendor fills
the temple. So awesome is this view of God that Isaiah can look no
higher than the train of His robe. Isaiah cannot elevate his eyes
beyond the hem of our Lord's garment.
Just imagine, if the hem of our God's robe fills the temple, think
of His presence! Isaiah, so overcome by the sight of this holy God, can
only describe the fringe of His clothing. Isaiah is so completely
awestruck that he has to look away and says in effect with his next
phrase, "Let me tell you about the angels."
Seraphim stood above Him (v. 2)
The seraphim are the angels that exist in the throne room who
instantaneously do the bidding of almighty God-ever standing to serve
the seated Sovereign. The Hebrew word seraph literally means "the
burning ones." Though we have more questions than we can answer
about the seraphim, we are given a limited physical description of them
and their role. Picture two lines of angels coming out from the throne
of God, "each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and
with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew" (v. 2).
Why six wings? Two cover their faces lest they see the glory of God
and die. Always serving but never able to look upon the Holy One.
Two wings cover their feet which symbolize their lowliness-lest God
see them and the shame they feel in the presence of infinite holiness.
And with two more wings they flew. It's interesting that four of their
six wings are for relating to God; only two are for serving Him.
The verbs covered and flew are continuous action. The angels'
motion is ceaseless as they fulfill with precision every wish of almighty God.
And they don't just fly; they speak as they hover around God's throne.
And one called out to another . "Holy, Holy, Holy" (v. 3)
You got that picture in your mind's eye of the seraphim forming
two lines coming out from God's throne? Now, listen as they call out
back and forth, from one line to the other in an antiphonal chorus that
through ages of time has gone on without interruption. And what do
they say? Imagine all the things they could say about God. They could
say, "Merciful, Merciful, Merciful God!" They could say, "Loving,
Loving, Loving God!" But God, in a mystery we could guess at but never
comprehend, chose that the words spoken continuously before His
throne would be of His holiness.
So these burning ones call back and forth, back and forth, back
and forth, never ceasing: "'Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
the whole earth is full of His glory."
And this never stops. This praise never ceases. It goes on and on and
on through countless eons of time. This brings to mind a well-known
Bible teacher who recently visited our church and ridiculed modern
worship as a collection of repetitious diddies. How strange that such
a good man would not be fond of something God not only appreciates
but has ordained, namely the endless, changeless chorusing of a
single line of certainty. When the truth is significant, there is great
power in repetition, especially if the subject is an attribute of God.
Actually, in the Hebrew language when someone writing or speaking
wants to emphasize something, he or she will repeat the word. For
example, if they wanted to tell you that they fell into a pit, they would
say "pit." But if it was a really deep pit, they would say that they fell into
a "pit" pit. While several times in the original language of Scripture
we can read a repeated word for emphasis (for example, shalom, the
Hebrew word for peace used in Isaiah 26:3, is literally "peace, peace,"
meaning peace now and peace for eternity), nowhere in all of Scripture
do we see an attribute repeated three times. This three-peat is used
only of God and only of this attribute. The seraphim are saying that God
is not just holy, and not just "holy, holy," but that the Lord of hosts is"holy, holy, holy"! The whole earth is full of His glory! Think of that
chorus as it goes on endlessly and eternally. In fact, it's going on at this
very moment. Isaiah stood there stunned and silent as he gazed upon
the transforming scene and trembled in the presence of God.