What a POWERFUL chapter in Scripture.
The Lord has revealed Himself to Isaiah, apparently as he has to no one else in history except Ezekiel, and John in Revelation. His power and presence shake the Temple. Isaiah sees seraphim and the Lord himself. What is his response?
v. 5: “Woe is me!” To me this is an odd response. Most people would consider it a blessing to see the Lord. In our culture we pray to see God’s face; we casually sing about it, and we read Scriptures about it (1 Chr. 16.11; 2 Chr. 7.14; Ps. 24.6, 27.4, 8; 105.4; Hos. 5.15). But Isaiah’s reaction is the opposite. He is noticeably upset and distraught. He cries out—he’s afraid of something. Rather than a feeling of joy and blessing, we can perceive that his is a reaction of fear, almost as if he expects to be judged. It was believed that anyone who saw God would die (Ex. 33.20; 19.21). I would think, though, even in that case, that if God takes your life, you go to live with him. But Isaiah is noticeably afraid of judgment, and he doesn’t seem to be taking solace in his relationship with God. At least right away, he isn’t at all proud to be admitted to the circle of those who have seen God. The prophet comes UNRAVELED. (In our lingo, he pees his pants.) He is SO aware of the vast disparity between Creator and creature, and between false pride and true glory. Not just righteousness (that he is guilty of some sins), but holiness—complete “other”. It’s not just God’s power, but Isaiah senses the source of all power and authority. The disparity isn’t just awe-inspiring, it’s terrifying. In warfare, there is deadly fear in coming against awesome weaponry that you’re no match for. In mythology, it’s a great beast or dragon that will completely destroy you. But this fear of Isaiah’s has no peer. Those other illustrations are child’s play compared to this. There is no earthly comparison for this. Try to imagine the scene. The sheer power, authority, and otherness.
But just as He did in Genesis 3, Exodus 3, the building of the Temple, the sending of the prophets, and eventually in the sending of His Son, God takes the initiative to reconcile Isaiah. “One of the seraphs flew…” Isaiah didn’t request it. God sent them to do his bidding. The fire represents God’s holiness and his provision for atonement. The fire is his presence and his glory. Just like alcoholism (a negative example), the problem is also the relief. Isaiah is cleansed, not by his own efforts, or any deserving, but purely by the grace of God. The same grace is available to Israel as a whole (1.18), but by their arrogance they had cut themselves off from it. This is all symbolism. Lips = ritual impurity; the fire from the altar = sacrifice for sin. Again, it’s God’s initiative, God’s action, and God’s decision.
Can you imagine being there and seeing what he is seeing?