IsaiahIsaiah, son of Amoz, who prophesied in Jerusalem, is included among the prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. (along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah)--preachers who boldly proclaimed God's word of judgment against the economic, social, and religious disorders of their time. More sees a vision of God in the templeThe Jerusalem temple, unlike the tabernacle, was a permanent structure, although (like the tabernacle) it was a place of worship and religious activity. On one occasion Jesus felt such activity was unacceptable and, as reported in all four Gospels, drove from the temple those engaged... More and is commissioned as a prophet.
Biblical prophets regularly report call visions, and the narration of these visions takes on a recognizable literary form.
Isaiah dates his vision “in the year that King Uzziah died,” about 738 B.C.E. In the temple, Isaiah sees the Lord–a figure so immense that just the hem of his garment fills the temple. As often the case, the prophet also is introduced to the heavenly realms, where angels serve God. The seraphs, probably winged snake-like creatures, modestly cover themselves in God’s presence (“feet” [Hebrew regel] might be a euphemism for genitals here, as it sometimes is elsewhere in the Old Testament). They sing, for the first time in the Bible, the liturgical “HolyHoly is a term that originally meant set apart for the worship or service of God. While the term may refer to people, objects, time, or places, holiness in Judaism and Christianity primarily denotes the realm of the divine More, holy, holy,” which becomes the never-ceasing song of heaven in Revelation 4:8, and is taken from there into frequent use in the church’s hymnody and liturgies.
Purging Isaiah’s “uncleanIn Hebrew law many regulations warned against impurity. Unclean things were numerous and included leprosy, menstruating women, dead bodies, shell fish, and pigs. More lips”–a symbol of his sinful self–with a coal from the altar is a form of sacrificeSacrifice is commonly understood as the practice of offering or giving up something as a sign of worship, commitment, or obedience. In the Old Testament grain, wine, or animals are used as sacrifice. In some New Testament writings Jesus' death on the cross as the... More. In the sacrificial system, God graciously provides a means to burn away the sin and guilt of the worshipers so they may be restored whole to the presence of God.
Typically, those called to speak for God are commanded to “Go and say,” as here, or “Go and tell.” Getting the words right is essential for a messenger, but so also is getting the setting right, applying the words to the appropriate context. Both mark the work of the faithful messenger.
Isaiah’s response, “Here am I” (Hebrew hinni or hinneni), is the response throughout the Old Testament of those addressed by God, from AbrahamGod promised that Abraham would become the father of a great nation, receive a land, and bring blessing to all nations. More (Genesis 22:1) to JacobThe son of Isaac and Rebekah, renamed Israel, became the father of the twelve tribal families More (Genesis 31:11), to MosesProphet who led Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land and received the law at Sinai More (Exodus 3:4), to SamuelThe judge who anointed the first two kings of Israel More (1 Samuel 3:4). It is the obedient response to anyone who calls, when the one called is ready and willing to be of service (Genesis 22:7). The sense is something like saying, “Yes! I am at your disposal.” We hear the sense most clearly when Mary repeats it in her response to the angel’s annunciation of the coming birth of JesusJesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity More: “Here am I, the servant of the LordThe Servant of the Lord is a term applied by Isaiah to the appointed leader who will bring God's justice to all nations. Biblical figures who are also considered servants of the Lord are Moses, David, and sometimes even the nation of Israel itself. The... More; let it be with me according to your word” (LukeThe "beloved physician" and companion of Paul More 1:38).
The message given to Isaiah to deliver is one of the most terrible words in the Bible. Israel’s rebellion has now brought a judgment that cannot be averted. Things have gone too far and they cannot be called back–the Assyrian menace is at the gateGates are openings in walls or fences for entrance and departure. In the Bible (as in Ruth and the prophets) the city gate was a commercial center where business and social transactions took place. In Amos the gate is the location of the law court... More, and God’s word will continue to fall on deaf ears as it has done in the past. Indeed, God says, it must now be so: minds and ears and eyes must be closed so that God’s judgment will be complete, producing a death of what now is, so that God can raise up something new (as God does in the second part of this book). There is no saving what is–things have gone too far–but God can and will make something new.