1. In the year that king Uzziah died. This is usually the beginning of the sixth chapter; but some think that it is the beginning of the book itself, and that in collecting the prophecies of Isaiah an error was committed. The reason which they assign is, that the Prophet here declines the office of a teacher, which he would not have refused if he had hitherto discharged it; that he appears to be a mere novice as yet unacquainted with his calling; and besides, that he declares that he has now seen the Lord, and that he has not seen him before. But such arguments I consider, as I have already noticed, to be too feeble and unsatisfactory; and I reply that it ought not to be thought strange that he was so completely overpowered by this extraordinary vision as to forget that he was a prophet. For there was no feeling in him which was not overpowered by the presence of God, so that, like one who had lost his senses, he willingly plunged himself in darkness, or rather, like one who despaired of life, he of his own accord chose to die. And it is necessary that the godly should he affected in this manner, when the Lord gives them tokens of his presence, that they may be brought low and utterly confounded. Besides, in the person of his servant God intended to strike his rebellious people with alarm; and therefore we need not wonder if he offers an apology for himself under the overwhelming influence of fear, and likewise because he had not felt the weight of his office, as he now felt it, after having beheld an illustrious display of the majesty of God.
But why was not this vision exhibited to him at the beginning? I answer, it was necessary in regard to the time, that he might be more and more confirmed in the discharge of his office. We have an instance of this in the Apostles themselves; for at first they were sent out with an injunction not to pass beyond the limits of Judea, (Matt. 10:5;) but after that Christ had risen, he again set them apart in a new and solemn manner, breathed on them, bidding them receive the Holy Ghost, (John 20:21, 22;) and not only so, but sending his Spirit from heaven in the form of tongues of fire, in vested them with extraordinary power. (Acts 2:3.) Thus, on account of the various changes of times and of kings, it was necessary that Isaiah should be encouraged and again attested by a new vision; that he might be excited to perseverance, and might afterwards proceed with greater cheerfulness in his course; and also that the Jews might perceive his ministry to be supported by heavenly authority.
This appears to me to be a sufficient reason why this vision was not exhibited to him at the very beginning, but after that he had for some time discharged the office of a teacher. That this was not the beginning of the prophecy is evident enough from the consideration that the preface, which we have already examined, is much better adapted for the commencement, and more appropriate than what is contained in this chapter; and every approach having been shut up by the hard-hearted obstinacy of the people, it was proper that he should burst forth in this vehement manner. Besides, it is probable that he had long performed the office of a teacher under King Uzziah, who, I think, was dead before this prediction was published. In short, the Prophet means that it was not till he had commenced his course that God appeared to him.
Some think that death here means leprosy, which undoubtedly was a civil death, when the king was compelled to withdraw from the society of men, and to lay down the reins of government, (2 Kings 15:5;) but I choose rather to take death in its literal sense. So then, I think that Isaiah uttered the former predictions during the reign of Uzziah, even after he had been struck with leprosy; and that when he had died, and Jotham had succeeded him, this vision was presented to Isaiah. We know what various commotions are produced by a change of kings, so that we need not wonder that Isaiah had his calling again sealed. But the prophecy itself, which follows, will sufficiently show that he had been a public teacher for some time before he saw the Lord; for it relates that the blinding of the people, whose obstinacy he had experienced to such an extent that he might have been induced to cease from his undertaking, for he saw that he was doing no good. The Lord, therefore, confirms him by this vision, that the opposition may not prevent him from boldly discharging his office, and performing what he undertook at the commandment of God.
I saw the Lord. It is asked, How could Isaiah see God who is a Spirit, (John 4:24,) and, therefore, cannot be seen with bodily eyes? Nay, more, since the understandings of men cannot rise to his boundless height, how can he be seen in a visible shape? But we ought to be aware that, when God exhibited himself to the view of the Fathers, he never appeared such as he actually is, but such as the capacity of men could receive. Though men may be said to creep on the ground, or at least dwell far below the heavens, there is no absurdity in supposing that God comes down to them in such a manner as to cause some kind of mirror to reflect the rays of his glory. There was, therefore, exhibited to Isaiah such a form as enabled him, according to his capacity, to perceive the inconceivable majesty of God; and thus he attributes to God a throne, a robe, and a bodily appearance.
Hence we learn a profitable doctrine, that whenever God grants any token of his presence, he is undoubtedly present with us, for he does not amuse us by unmeaning shapes, as men wickedly disfigure him by their contrivances. Since, therefore, that exhibition was no deceitful representation of the presence of God, Isaiah justly declares that he saw him. In like manner, when it is said that John saw the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove, (John 1:32,) the name of the Holy Spirit is applied to the outward sign, because in the representation there was no deception; and yet he did not see the essence of the Spirit, but had a clear and undoubted proof, so that he could not doubt that the Spirit of God rested on Christ.
Secondly, it is asked, Who was that Lord? John tells us that it was Christ, (John 12:41,) and justly, for God never revealed himself to the Fathers but in his eternal Word and only begotten Son. Yet it is wrong, I think, to limit this, as some do, to the person of Christ; for it is indefinitely, on the contrary, that the Prophet calls him God. Nor do their views derive any support from the word אדוני, (adonai,) which seems particularly to apply to Christ; for it is often applied to God in an absolute and unrestricted manner. In this passage, therefore, God is mentioned indefinitely, and yet it is correctly said that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ, for at that very time he was the image of the invisible God. (Col. 1:15.)
Sitting upon a throne. He could not have given a better description of God, in regard to place, than in the person of a Judge, that his majesty might strike greater terror into the Jews; for we shall afterwards see the dreadful judgment which the Lord pronounced from his judgment-seat. But lest we should suppose that the Prophet contrived the manner in which he would paint God, we ought to know that he faithfully describes the very form in which God was represented and exhibited to him. It may be questioned whether the Prophet was conducted into the temple, or saw this vision while he was asleep. Though many things are frequently adduced on both sides, which are fitted to leave the matter in doubt, yet it may be conjectured with some probability, that even if he had not been within the temple, this vision might have been presented to him, either in his own house or on a field, in the same manner as to other prophets.
And his remotest parts filled the temple. Almost all the commentators understand by this the fringes of his robe, though it may be understood to refer to the extremities of the judgment-seat, giving us to understand that its dimensions were so vast as to extend to every part of the temple. He intends to ascribe to God a venerable aspect, and far beyond any human form. There is great weight in the circumstance that he appeared in the temple; for he had promised that he would meet with his people there, and the people expected his answers from that place, as Solomon had expressly stated at the dedication of it. (1 Kings 8:30.) In order, therefore, that the people might understand that those things came from God, on whom they called every day, and on whom they relied with a vain confidence which puffed them up, this vision was exhibited to the Prophet in the temple. To the certainty of what was said it contributed not a little, that he openly proclaimed that the discourse was not pronounced to him by any mortal man, but was a heavenly oracle, uttered by that God whose name they were accustomed disdainfully to hold out as a pretence, whenever they wished to make any extravagant claims; for otherwise this prophecy would have been harsh and repulsive, and needed great confirmation. It was also not uncommon with the Prophets to say that this Lord spake to them from his temple, or from his sanctuary.
1 The date of Uzziah’s death has been much disputed (see Introduction, p. 437). Isaiah 14:28–32 is an oracle from the year of the death of King Ahaz, and it has a clear appropriateness to the political situation of that time. We should not be surprised, therefore, to find something similar here. We can well imagine the spiritual value to the prophet himself of a vision of the almighty King when an earthly reign of over fifty years had come—or was coming—to its end. Remember, too, that although in general terms Uzziah had been a good king, eventually he was judged by God for a particular sin (2 Ch 26:16–23), so it is not surprising that this chapter has much to say about sin. The vision of the Lord’s transcendence never left Isaiah—the exaltation of Israel’s great God is a frequent theme in his oracles (cf., e.g., 2:10–22; 37:16; 40:22; 57:15).
What does “temple” signify here—the earthly or the heavenly place of worship? Virtually all modern commentators assume the former, though Delitzsch is an important exception. Some of the older commentators, including Young, who did assume that the earthly temple was intended, doubted whether the prophet was physically present in it and thought it possible that he may have been transported there in a vision. It is impossible to be certain, but happily it makes little difference to our understanding of the chapter and its message.
1 In the year of King Uzziah’s death. It is apparent that for some reason Isaiah wished to locate this vision in time. What that reason was is less apparent. Engnell and Ringgren have suggested that an enthronement ceremony may have been the occasion for the experience.25 If so, the enthronement ceremony at the beginning of Jotham’s reign might have been particularly moving. Another possibility is that Isaiah wanted to indicate the inaugural nature of his vision and so placed it in this way at the beginning of his ministry. But an even more compelling reason is the theological one. Judah had known no king like Uzziah since the time of Solomon. He had been an efficient administrator and an able military leader. Under his leadership Judah had grown in every way (2 Chr. 26:1–15). He had been a true king. How easy it must have been to focus one’s hopes and trust upon a king like that. What will happen, then, when such a king dies, and coupled with that death there comes the recognition that a resurgent Assyria is pushing nearer and nearer? In moments like that it is easy to see the futility of any hope but an ultimate one. No earthly king could help Judah in that hour. In the context of such a crisis, God can more easily make himself known to us than when times are good and we are self-confidently complacent. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death … mine eyes have seen the king.”
I saw the Sovereign. Although the Hebrews normally believed that to see God was to die (Gen. 32:30; Exod. 19:21; 20:19; 33:20; Deut. 18:16; Judg. 13:22), it was also true that various individuals were permitted to see him (frequently in context with the references just cited). These appearances served different purposes, but an element of encouragement and confirmation was frequently involved (Gen. 16:9–13; 28:13–15; Exod. 24:9–11; 34:5–10; Judg. 6:11–24). Because the person had seen God he was enabled to act in the way required. Cheyne says that the use of ʾaḏōnāy, “the Sovereign,” here (and in vv. 8 and 11) is a Masoretic emendation. He argues that the Masoretes did not want to admit that a person could see Yahweh. Therefore they softened the assertion by changing the divine name to this title. However, that the name is used in v. 5 (lit. “Yahweh of Hosts”) argues in favor of the originality of the term. On this view, the prophet is perhaps stressing that the deity he saw is the absolute overlord of the earth with whom all people have to do.
sitting on a throne. The whole quality of Isaiah’s experience is one of awe, perhaps more so than any other recorded theophany. Part of this is due to the visual imagery which the prophet uses. The reader, visualizing the scene, is with Isaiah and feels the raw edge of terror at being where humanity dare not go. It is unimportant whether Isaiah was in the actual temple at the time of the event. In his vision he was there and the reader is with him. Evidently the veil had been removed and there, where the ark should be, is a great throne. Here again the absolute sovereignty of God is being stressed. He alone is king, hēḵāl, the word here used for temple, contributes to the concept of God’s kingship. It is a loanword whose ultimate origin is in the Sumerian language of the third millennium B.C.: E. GAL (lit. “big house”), a term used for the house of the god who was considered to be the king of the city-state. This origin shaped the meaning of the word as it was borrowed into successive Semitic languages. Its essential meaning was “palace,” but whether the palace of the human king or the divine king depended strictly upon the context (cf. 1 K. 21:1 and Ps. 45:16 [Eng. 15]). So here the temple is God’s palace. He is king, not Uzziah or Jotham or Ahaz.
high and lifted up. According to their position in the sentence these words should modify throne. This God sat on a high and towering throne. However, the Masoretic punctuation separates the two words from throne, making them modify the Sovereign. This is in accord with other usages of this combination in this book. In these other occurrences (52:13; 57:15) the phrase modifies persons rather than things. So here, as the passage is now punctuated, it is saying that God was lifted up, exalted, by means of the throne. The emphasis upon God’s exaltation is entirely in keeping with the themes of the book. Human attempts at self-exaltation are the height of folly. Only God is exalted.
As in Exod. 24:10, where the pavement under God’s feet is described, so here the description of God’s appearance can rise no higher than the hem of his robe. It is as though words break down when one attempts to depict God himself. When we press the elders of Israel, they tell us how blue the pavement under God’s feet was; when we press Isaiah, he tells us how immense God’s robe was. Did the robe fill the temple? No, God did! The import is clear. There is a barrier beyond which the simply curious cannot penetrate. The experience is too personal, too awesome, too all-encompassing for mere reportage. Each one of us must aspire to our own experience of his presence.
1. In … year … Uzziah died—Either literal death, or civil when he ceased as a leper to exercise his functions as king [Chaldee], (2 Ch 26:19–21). 754 b.c. [Calmet] 578 (Common Chronology). This is not the first beginning of Isaiah’s prophecies, but his inauguration to a higher degree of the prophetic office: Is 6:9, &c., implies the tone of one who already had experience of the people’s obstinacy.
Lord—here Adonai, Jehovah in Is 6:5; Jesus Christ is meant as speaking in Is 6:10, according to Jn 12:41. Isaiah could only have “seen” the Son, not the divine essence (Jn 1:18). The words in Is 6:10 are attributed by Paul (Ac 28:25, 26) to the Holy Ghost. Thus the Trinity in unity is implied; as also by the thrice “Holy” (Is 6:3). Isaiah mentions the robes, temple, and seraphim, but not the form of God Himself. Whatever it was, it was different from the usual Shekinah: that was on the mercy seat, this on a throne; that a cloud and fire, of this no form is specified: over that were the cherubim, over this the seraphim; that had no clothing, this had a flowing robe and train.
Ver. 1.—In the year that King Uzziah died. The year b.c. 759. probably. We cannot determine from the phrase used whether the vision was seen before or after Uzziah’s death. I saw also; rather, then it was that I saw (Comp. Exod. 16:6). The Lord. Not “Jehovah,” as in vers. 3 and 5, but “Adonay,” for greater reverence. Sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. The imagery is, of course, taken from the practice of earthly kings. Elaborate thrones were affected by the great monarchs of Egypt and Assyria (Lepsius, ‘Deutmäler,’ pt. iii. pls. 2, 76, 100, 121; Layard, ‘Nineveh and Babylon,’ p. 150). Solomon’s throne was perhaps even grander than any of these (see 1 Kings 10:18–20). It was placed at the summit of “six steps.” so that its occupant was “high and lifted up” above all his courtiers. His train. Not his train of attendants, but “the skirts of his robe.” Flowing robes were commonly worn by great monarchs. Filled the temple; or, the palace. The same word is used in Hebrew for both. Dr. Kay supposes the prophet to be “in vision gazing on the actual temple—to see its veils drawn aside, and instead of the Shechinah enthroned on the cherubim, to behold the King of glory, enthroned on high, the fringes of his royal robe filling the temple, so that no human priest could minister there.” But, as Mr. Cheyne observes, “palace is more in harmony with the picture than temple.” It is the heavenly palace of the King of kings into which the prophet’s gaze is allowed to penetrate.
1 a בשׁנת־מות המלך עזיהו, “In the year of King Uzziah’s death.” The coregencies of Judean kings in this period make the precise date difficult to determine. Bright (HI) places it in 742 b.c.e. Donner puts it in 736 b.c.e. (“The Separate States of Israel and Judah,” IJH, 395). In the Vision of Isaiah, it marks the date when God’s fateful decision was made to destroy Israel and send its people in exile.
אראה את־אדני, “I saw my Lord.” The Vision presents the speaker without identification. It is usually presumed that Isaiah the prophet speaks here. The assumption is based on the view that Isaiah wrote the book (or at least this part) or that the succeeding narrative and autobiographical sections (7:1–8:18) form a unity with this (Duhm calls it a Denkschrift, “memoir”) and are to be dated from the eighth century. If the Vision is seen essentially as a fifth-century composition and as a unity, this may be questioned. If the reader is intended to read these as Isaiah’s words, why is he not introduced at the beginning? Also the unidentified first-person speech must be studied in light of other such speeches in Isaiah (such as 5:1–6; 21:3–4, 10; 22:4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 61:3; 62:1–6). One does well to reserve judgment on the issue.
Whether the account is spoken by the historical prophet or (on behalf of him) by the literary prophet, its purpose is clear. It is a claim for divine authority in the task at hand. It claims to place this work with other reports from those who “stood before the Lord,” who saw God and lived.
1 b The throne-room description is the first and only one in the entire Vision. It may well serve to give the background for all the other scenes where God is the center of discussion and drama (such as chaps. 1–5 and 40–59). God is clearly the Heavenly King, exalted on his throne. YHWH is called “king” in 6:5, 24:23, 32:1, 33:17, 41:21, 44:6, and 52:7. His glorious presence dominates the scene, “his robes filling” the room. ההיכל, “the hall,” may refer to the temple in Jerusalem or the great heavenly hall. The word cannot settle the question, but the context favors a heavenly setting.
6:1. Since Isaiah ministered during King Uzziah’s reign (1:1) Isaiah’s vision of God in the year … Uzziah died would have occurred within the 12 calendar months before or after the king’s death in 739 b.c. If the vision occurred before Isaiah began his ministry then obviously the vision was before the king’s death. However, if the vision came sometime after the prophet’s ministry started-see comments earlier under “B. Isaiah’s commission (chap. 6)”-then Isaiah could have seen the vision within the calendar year (739 b.c.) either shortly before or shortly after the king died.
This time notation points to a contrast between the human king and the divine King (v. 5), God Himself and to some contrasts between Uzziah and Isaiah. In Uzziah’s long (52-year), prosperous reign (2 Chron. 26:1–15) many people were away from the Lord and involved in sin (2 Kings 15:1–4; Uzziah is also called Azariah). By contrast, God is holy (Isa. 6:3). In pride, Uzziah disobediently entered the temple (insensitive to the sin involved) and was struck with leprosy which made him ceremonially unclean (2 Chron. 26:16–20). Isaiah, however, was sensitive to sin, for he stated that he and his people were spiritually unclean (Isa. 6:5). Though Uzziah was excluded from the temple (2 Chron. 26:21) Isaiah was not.
Three things struck Isaiah about God: He was seated on a throne, He was high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple. In the most holy place of the temple in Jerusalem, God’s glory was evident between the cherubim on the atonement cover over the ark of the covenant. Therefore some Israelites may have erroneously thought that God was fairly small. However, Solomon, in his dedicatory prayer for the new temple, had stated that no temple could contain God and that in fact even the heavens could not contain Him (1 Kings 8:27). Therefore Isaiah did not see God on the ark of the covenant, but on a throne. Almost 150 years later Ezekiel had a similar experience. He envisioned God being borne along on a great chariot throne by living creatures called cherubim (Ezek. 1). To Isaiah, the throne emphasized that the Lord is indeed the true King of Israel.
God’s being “high and exalted” symbolized His position before the nation. The people were wanting God to work on their behalf (Isa. 5:19) but He was doing so, as evidenced by His lofty position among them.
The Lord’s long robe speaks of His royalty and majesty. His being in the temple suggests that though He hates mere religiosity (1:11–15) He still wanted the nation to be involved in the temple worship. The temple and the temple sacrifices pictured the righteous dealings of the sovereign God with His covenant people.
6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah had a vision of the King of kings. We learn from John 12:39–41 that the King he saw was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. F. C. Jennings comments:
He, like John of Patmos, becomes “in the Spirit,” and sees Adohn (the name of God as the supreme Lord of all; and here, as in Romans 9:5, “Christ who is over all, God, blessed forever”) with every accompaniment of majestic splendor, sitting on a Throne, which is itself “high and exalted,” for “His Throne ruleth over all;” yet, while sitting on this lofty Throne the hem of His raiment fills that glorious temple.
6:1 King Uzziah died in 740 b.c., signaling the end of an age. This good king (2 Chr. 26:1–15) would be eventually replaced by wicked Ahaz (7:1); the relative prosperity of the first half of the eighth century would be replaced by the Syro-Ephraimite wars and the Assyrian campaigns into Israel. King Uzziah had been one of Judah’s best rulers, but he had succumbed to pride (2 Chr. 26:1–5), leading to his leprous condition. When he became proud, God had to discipline him. The throne where the Lord is seated, high and exalted, represents His eternal, sovereign, and universal rule. He is high above all other kings, but at the same time He is concerned about the welfare of His people. Temple means “palace”—the Lord’s throne on earth with its counterpart in heaven.
6:1 King Uzziah’s death. After 52 years of reigning, leprosy caused the death of Uzziah in 739 b.c. (cf. 2Ch 26:16–23). Isaiah began his prophetic ministry that year. He received the prophecies of the first 5 chapters after his call, but at 6:1 he returns to authenticate what he has already written by describing how he was called. I saw. The prophet became unconscious of the outside world and with his inner eye saw what God revealed to him. This experience recalls the experience of John’s prophetic vision in Rev 4:1–11. lofty and exalted. The throne was greatly elevated, emphasizing the Most High God. train. This refers to the hem or fringe of the Lord’s glorious robe that filled the temple. temple. Though Isaiah may have been at the earthly temple, this describes a vision which transcends the earthly. The throne of God is in the heavenly temple (Rev 4:1–6; 5:1–7; 11:19; 15:5–8).
6:1 In the year. Around 740 b.c. King Uzziah died, marking the end of a lengthy era of national prosperity (see 2 Chronicles 26). Uzziah had contracted leprosy for flouting God’s holiness, and his son Jotham had been his co-regent for about 10 years (2 Chron. 26:16–21). I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne. The undying King holds court above. The words high and lifted up appear elsewhere in Isaiah (Isa. 52:13; 57:15) and seem to be part of his distinctive style (see Introduction: Date). John 12:38–41 brings two of these together, implying that John saw the servant of Isa. 52:13–53:12 as not only messianic, but divine. The temple in Jerusalem modeled the temple in heaven (cf. Heb. 9:24; Rev. 4:1–4).
6:1 Isaiah’s vision of the glory of God anticipates the glory of God in Christ (John 1:14; 12:41; Rev. 4:2–10).
6:1 Uzziah. He died in 740 b.c., having suffered from leprosy (2 Chr. 26:16–21).
I saw. Isaiah describes a “theophany,” a visible manifestation of God. God’s coming is often attended by such phenomena as earthquakes, smoke, fire, and lightning (13:3 note; 29:6; 30:27–31; Ex. 19:18, 19; Ps. 18:7–15; 50:3; 97:2; Mic. 1:3, 4; Nah. 1:3–8; Hab. 3:3–15).
the Lord. Adonai in Hebrew, meaning “Sovereign.”
throne. The Lord rules heaven and earth from His throne. The choir of seraphim (6:2 note) and the splendor of God’s holiness inspired the prophet throughout his ministry.
the temple. In his vision he saw not the temple in Jerusalem, but the heavenly temple (cf. Rev. 4:1–8).
6:1 Isaiah apparently chose first to record the heart of his message and then to present his call to the prophetic ministry. This occurred c. 740 b.c. (see chart, “The Divided Kingdom”). Isaiah experienced a theophany, i.e., an appearance of God, which is a temporary yet physical manifestation. The chief importance of the theophany is its revelation of God or its unfolding of a divine message, while its physical aspects are merely to enhance and authenticate the revelation. Isaiah did not see the physical form of God (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16), but he experienced a manifestation of His glory in human form. Unlike a theophany, the “incarnation” was a permanent, visible manifestation of God in Jesus Christ. Other examples of theophanies include the appearances of the Angel of the Lord (Ex. 32:34; 33:14, 15), Moses’ confrontations with the Lord (Ex. 3:2–6; 19:18, 19; 33:23; 34:6, 7), and the visions of Jacob (Gen. 28:12–14; 32:22–30) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:26–28).
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