1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “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!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”– Isaiah 6:1-8 ESV
This chapter seems a bit out of place. It provides details concerning Isaiah’s divine call, but appears after the first five chapters, which contain a summary of Judah’s sin and God’s coming judgment. It would appear that Isaiah wanted to begin his book with a clear description of the state of affairs in Judah so that the people would understand the nature of his message to them. Now, in chapter six, he reveals that he is a messenger sent from God. He has received a commission from Yahweh Himself, and has been tasked with the responsibility to warn the people of Judah of what God has ordained, unless they repent and return to Him.
Isaiah prefaces this chapter by providing the date of his calling. It was in the year King Uzziah died. That would have been around 740 B.C. It’s interesting to note that King Uzziah was one of the few godly kings to reign in Judah since the split of the kingdom after Solomon’s reign. He reigned over Judah for 52 years, but like so many of the other kings of Judah, Uzziah failed to remain faithful to God. He enjoyed the blessings of God, but allowed them to go to his head.
But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the Lord, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!” – 2 Chronicles 26:16-18 NLT
Don’t miss the details concerning Uzziah’s sin. He had entered the sanctuary of the temple and burned incense on the altar of incense. In other words, he had taken on the role of the priest and, in doing so, had violated the law of God. He had committed the very same crime that had resulted in King Saul’s removal and replacement by David (1 Samuel 13:9).
When confronted by the high priest, Uzziah had reacted with rage, screaming at Azariah and the other priests. As a result of his actions, God struck him with leprosy. And the text tells us that he remained a leper until his death.
So King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house, for he was excluded from the Temple of the Lord. His son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Chronicles 26:21 NLT
His God-ordained disease banned left him unclean and banned from ever entering the temple again. He spent the remaining years of his life in quarantine, secluded in a separate house and unable to govern the people of God.
And in the year of his death, Isaiah was given a vision by God. It is not coincidence that Isaiah saw God in His holy temple, the actual temple in heaven. He was given a glimpse into the actual Holy of Holies where God sits on the mercy seat. The author of Hebrews wrote of the existence of the true temple in heaven where God dwells.
That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals.
For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. – Hebrews 9:23-24 NLT
The earthly temple was modeled after the heavenly one. And while Uzziah, in his pride, had entered into the earthly temple and offered unlawful sacrifices to God, Isaiah was allowed to see into the heavenly temple where God’s presence dwells. And he describes it in great detail.
I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. – Isaiah 6:1 ESV
Isaiah, like John in the book of Revelation, was given the privilege of seeing God Almighty in all His glory. And Isaiah describes God as sitting on his throne, the mercy seat located in the Holy of Holies. We know this is the location of God’s throne because of Isaiah’s description of his immediate surroundings.
Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. – Isaiah 6:2 ESV
Over in the book of 1 Kings, we have a very similar description of the Holy of Holies in the temple Solomon constructed.
He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long. The two cherubim were identical in shape and size; each was 15 feet tall. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He overlaid the two cherubim with gold. – 1 Kings 6:23-28 NLT
These two cherubim are not to be confused with the two that were located on the top of the ark of the covenant. Notice their size. They were 15-feet tall and on permanent display in the Holy of Holies. It was inbetween these two massive statues that the ark of the covenant was to be placed.
Then the priests carried the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant into the inner sanctuary of the Temple–the Most Holy Place–and placed it beneath the wings of the cherubim. – 1 Kings 8:6 NLT
But, while the cherubim in Solomon’s temple were lifeless statues, the two that Isaiah saw standing above the throne of God in heaven were living creatures. And they cried out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3 ESV). This is very similar to the scene John saw in his vision of the heavenly throne room.
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8 ESV
In both visions, the emphasis is on the holiness of God. The whole earth is full of His glory. He is all-pervasive. Yes, He sits on His throne in the Holy of Holies, but He is not restricted in any way. God’s glory fills the entirety of His creation. And it is that fact that makes the sins of Judah so much more egregious. The reaction of Isaiah reveals that he fully understood the dramatic contrast between the holiness of his God and the sinfulness of his own people.
“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!” – Isaiah 6:5 ESV
He even saw himself as unworthy to stand before a perfectly holy and righteous God. Even his lips were contaminated by his sinfulness, making him unworthy to sing the praises of his God. And he was not alone. The entire population of Judah was marred by sin. Like Uzziah, who found himself covered with leprosy and banished from the temple, the people of Judah were covered by the guilt of sin and unwelcome in God’s presence. It was their sin that separated them from God. Their unrighteousness kept them from approaching the righteous King, the Lord of hosts.
But with Isaiah’s confession of guilt came cleansing and forgiveness. One of the cherubim touched his lips with a hot coal from the altar of incense and pronounced:
“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:7 ESV
The apostle John reminds us that this incredible opportunity is available to any and all who will simply confess their sins to God.
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. – 1 John 1:9 NLT
Isaiah required cleansing before he could act as God’s spokesperson. He needed to have his own sins forgiven before he could deliver God’s message to the people of Judah. We see this lived out in the life of Aaron, the original high priest, who, each year on the day of atonement had to offer sacrifices on his own behalf before he could intercede for the people of God.
Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. – Leviticus 16:11-13 ESV
Once cleansed from his own sins, Aaron could then offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. And, after having received cleansing for his sins, Isaiah was ready to serve as God’s messenger to His people.
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.