"THE GLORY OF THE LORD"
Reading: Isaiah ch. 6
"We need have no doubt as to the subject matter of this sixth chapter, since it is fixed for us by the Spirit of God in an apostle. John, speaking of Jesus and quoting some of the words of the chapter, says: 'These things said Esaias when he saw his glory and spake of him.' We are therefore in the presence of a vision of the glory of the Lord Jesus enthroned as king of the whole earth; and as heirs of the kingdom 'if we suffer with him', are interested in tracing out the upbuilding matters therein presented."
Thus wrote Bro. C. C Walker concerning that chapter which we read from the prophecy through Isaiah. That chapter foreshadows the glory of Christ and his brethren when they are manifest in the Spirit to fill the earth with the glory of God. As such it has much in common with the visions of Ezekiel, of Daniel and of John in Patmos. It is also easy to discern analogies with the revelation of God's glory on the mount and in the midst of Israel.
There is, then, a great deal in the chapter on which we can well reflect for a few minutes before partaking of the bread and wine in remembrance of the sufferings of our Master and the glory which should follow.
First, let us look at the chapter in the light of the preceding five chapters. Those chapters provide the essential background to this sixth chapter, and indeed set the pattern for the whole prophecy. Essentially they provide a pattern of reproof, of punishment, of gloom, yet ultimate consolation, honour and rejoicing.
Look first at chapter 1,1: "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they have gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, nor bound up, neither mollified with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah." Very little relief there.
There follows an appeal in verse 16: "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
Chapter 2 opens with a much brighter picture, but this can only be realised as a result of the judgments depicted in the latter part of that chapter. Chapter 3 is another prophecy of doom. Verse 1: "For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water, the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, the captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.
The latter part condemns the women of Israel in particular. Verse 16: "The Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion," and so on. Verse 24: "It shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; instead of a girdle a rent; instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty. Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground."
Chapter 4 speaks of deliverance for a remnant. Verse 5: "The Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain"—a restoration of that guidance and protection given to Israel in her early days as God's nation.
Chapter 5 is a lament of God's vineyard—its failure, despite the utmost care, to yield fruit, and its utter desolation. Verse 5: "And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste." And then follows a series of woes. Verse 8: "Woe unto them that join house to house." Verse 11: "Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink." Verse 18: "Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope." Verse 20: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil." Verse 21: "Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight." Verse 22: "Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink." Now all this provides the essential background to this 6th chapter of the prophecy. Imagine the prophet—imagine the effect of these words upon him! Imagine his having to deliver such a message as this! He already knew the burden which he was to carry. Now he was given this wonderful vision to encourage him, to assure him that whatever Israel's position then, whatever lay immediately ahead of her, whatever the future of the world held, the ultimate destiny was assured: there would come a day when it could be said: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory."
Isaiah saw this vision of the glory of the Lord. Moses had a similar experience. Immediately after Israel's terrible failure in making and worshipping the golden calf, after the tent where God met with His people was removed to the perimeter of the camp, after Israel had seemingly been deserted by their God, Moses was given a glimpse of the glory of God.
Isaiah now had to testify to the failure of seven hundred years of care. Yet even as he saw this awe-inspiring vision of the thrice Holy One of Israel, he was filled with foreboding: "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips." But he was cleansed and assured of the realisation of God's ultimate purpose—"the whole earth is full of his glory." It was the same after Israel's failure when they first approached the borders of the promised land. They were threatened with cutting off; they were forgiven, and the assurance given that as truly as God lives all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.
No matter how weak the vessels God uses, no matter how great human failure, the ultimate realisation of God's purpose is assured. Man may fail; God cannot: and when His purpose is realised some from amongst mankind will be found to have risen above human frailty and been made perfect in the mercy of God. We can go forward in complete confidence in the realisation of God's plan, and if our faith is strong enough we can be assured of finding a place in that plan. So then, let us now look at this 6th chapter more closely. Verse 1 tells us that it was in the year that Uzziah died. This immediately gives the essential background of the chapter. Uzziah came to the throne at the age of sixteen and died at the age of sixty-eight. In the main it was a good reign and a very prosperous one. The record in Chronicles lists his many mighty works and sums up his life in the words: "He was marvellously helped, till he was strong." But then, we are told, "when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense." He defiled the temple, and he was immediately stricken with leprosy.
Now this vision of the prophet stands in complete contrast to this distressing scene. It was a vision of the glory of the Lord. Chapter 6.1: "In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke." "The Lord" of verse 1—Adonai—is the Supreme Ruler and Judge of the universe.
The Revised Version of verse 3 reads: "And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the fulness of the whole earth is his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke." The whole temple was transformed.
In the words of the Speaker's Commentary: "Here we are to suppose the prophet to be (in vision) gazing on the actual temple which has been profaned by Uzziah; but as he gazes, how changed is its interior! The veils have been drawn aside; and instead of the Shekinah enthroned on the churubim, there is the King of Glory, enthroned on high, the fringes of His Royal Robe filling the temple, so that no human priest could minister there. It is as if Sinai, with the glory of God on its summit, like devouring fire, stood within the sanctuary."
The fire of the seraphim (a word which means fiery ones), the earthquake, the thunder and the smoke, all take our minds back to that great manifestation of the glory of God when Israel first became a holy nation. Similar visions accompanied the conse¬cration of the tabernacle and the dedication of Solomon's temple. Thus was God's purpose again and again declared—a purpose which must be realised despite the failure of man.
Yet God's glory was not to be confined to the temple, or even to one nation; it was to fill the earth. It was not to be revealed in symbolic creatures of fire and majesty, such as the seraphim, but in a vast multitude taken from amongst men and made into a perfect habitation of God through the Spirit. As said the Psalmist: "the chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels (or thousands of changed ones): the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place."
Solomon said: "Will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?" Again, Isaiah declared: "Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?" "These things said Esaias when he spake of his glory," that glory yet to be revealed in us, the living temple of the Holy God.
Verse 1 tells us that his train filled the temple—his skirts, or the hem or fringe of his garment. The Lord was high and lifted up, and clothed with a garment whose fringes extended to the utmost corners of the temple. "Bless the Lord, O my soul," wrote the Psalmist, "O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain." Such was the garment filling the temple. The garments of the high priest had been designed for glory and for beauty, but they would pale into insignificance before the glory and beauty of this vision.
Verse 2 tells us of the seraphim—the fiery ones—above the vision of the Lord; as a cloud—a cloud of fire. We all know how again and again fire is associated with the glory of God, especially that glory yet to be revealed; how fire is associated with judgment and cleansing, and the first work in the future will be to judge and purge the earth of all unrighteousness. The noun here translated 'seraphim' is used elsewhere of the fiery serpents which appeared to Israel in the wilderness, judging and purging the people. Israel was delivered from those judgements by the lifting up of the brazen serpent. That serpent foreshadowed the lifting up of the Son of man, lifted up for the salvation of his people. So in every way this vision portrayed the work of God's mighty one.
We notice the similarity between the seraphim and the cherubim and living creatures of other visions. All had wings capable of vigorous movement and action; all had a face or faces, also feet. They were symbolic creatures but vigorous, active, living, bringing God's purpose to its glorious consummation. That consummation is declared in that 3rd verse. Giving a more literal rendering we could read: "One cried unto another and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh Sabaoth; the fulness of the whole earth is his glory." This is what the earth was created for—to express the glory of Yahweh. At present it is subject to vanity, but the creation is to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. There is great emphasis on this fulness in this vision. Verse 1: "his train filled the temple." Verse 3: "the earth is full of his glory." Verse 4: "the house was filled with smoke." Again we think of that spiritual temple, and of Paul's words concerning Christ, whom God gave "to be head over all things to the church, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." Verse 4 describes how the foundations of the thresholds were shaken, signifying again the power and majesty of God, but perhaps also suggesting to the prophet that there would come a time when this visible temple would be shaken and removed, leaving God's glory revealed in a spiritual temple. A new dispensation was to be revealed in which God would not dwell in a temple made with hands.
Again we think of the shaking of Mount Sinai and of the inspired comment in the letter to the Hebrews: "Whose voice then shook the earth; but now he hath promised, saying, yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire." This last phrase brings us back to the thought of judgment, clearly implicit in the smoke which filled the house, as many other references prove beyond doubt.
It is not surprising that such a scene of grandeur and power and fiery judgment struck fear into the heart of the prophet. He was at once made aware of his own weakness and insufficiency. The threefold statement of the holiness of Yahweh Sabaoth impressed on him his own uncleanness. Verse 5: "Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." As we have seen, he had already had the task of reproving the people for their uncleanness. Now he is made conscious of his own sinfulness. Here we see clearly the nature of this ministry of the prophets. To the people they represented God's mind, God's words, God's actions; but before God they stood as representatives of the people, conscious of the wickedness of their people, conscious of their own imperfection before the Holy One of Israel.
Isaiah describes himself as a man of unclean lips. Had he again in mind the experience of king Uzziah? The law said of the leper: "... his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean." All God's servants, with but one exception, have been bound to make this same confession, particularly when confronted, as Isaiah was, with the holiness and majesty of God.
For the prophet immediate provision was made for his cleansing. Verse 6: "Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a living coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." This could not have been a pleasant process. The fiery messenger and burning coal suggested severe purging, but the ultimate effect was cleansing. Even so it is in our lives; the purifying process is rarely a pleasant one. The many analogies used in the Scriptures clearly teach this, and the experiences recorded of faithful men and women show how it works out in practice. We must expect the same in our lives.
It is instructive to note that the fiery messenger himself could not effect this cleansing from sin. He needed a live coal from the altar. Thus the cleansing was only accomplished through sacrifice and prayer. Even so with our cleansing from sin, as these emblems of which we are about to partake remind us. The cleansing affected particularly the prophet's lips and speech—a cleansing appropriate to his mission as a messenger of Yahweh.
Having been cleansed, all hesitation went. Having shown proper humility and a sense of his own insufficiency he was cleansed, made acceptable to God and fit for Divine use. Verse 8: "Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me." The principle was later beautifully expressed by the same prophet: "Thus saith the high and lofty One whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."
We must share this spirit of the prophet. There will come a day when we shall be confronted by the majesty of God revealed in His Son. There could come a day when we are partakers of that glory yet to be revealed. That it will be revealed is certain, guaranteed by such visions as that we have been considering this morning. Whether we are partakers of it de¬pends on our attitude now, how far we share the prophet's faith and hu¬mility, how close we come to the example of the one we now remember. Let us, then, as we now take the bread and the wine, renew our faith and confidence in God's purpose, be encouraged by the certainty of the glory to come, and determine to serve and obey in trust and humility now. May we all at last share in the glory of that living temple which is yet to be revealed, when the judgments of God are over and when, as John recorded in Patmos, the temple is opened in the new heavens—and the temple is filled with the smoke from the glory of God, and from His power:—E. J. Toms