R.C. Sproul – (1) The Holiness of God – Isaiah 6

From the 2007 Desiring God conference. For notes or audio file:  click here for the Desiring God website (www.desiringGod.org)

Text – Isaiah 6:1-8

Isaiah’s Vision

6 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.And one called out to another and said,

“ Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The  whole earth is full of His glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the  temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,

“ Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Isaiah’s Commission

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.’
10 “ Render the hearts of this people  insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”

A few (my) notes from the message given at the Desiring God Conference:

  • If we are to desire God, it is imperative that we desire the God who is and not a god of our own imagination and what I’ve appreciated about John’s (Piper) ministry over these many  decades is that he knows who God is. And he doesn’t seek to hide the true God from people for convenience’s sake, but has been relentless and courageous, as we all must be to proclaim and set forth for all the people of God, the character of God in all of His glory.
  • Sproul states that Isaiah 6 is his favorite text that sets forth the holiness of God. Isaiah chapter 6 gives to us the record of Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. In order to be a prophet in ancient Israel it was a lonely task because at the forefront of that vocation was to be a prosecutor of God against people that violated the terms of their covenant with God. So, the life expectancy of a prophet in Israel was about the same as a first lieutenant in combat. It was not a pleasurable enterprise and the land was filled with false prophets, who made the task of the authentic prophet all the more difficult. And the thing that distinguished the false prophet from the true prophet was not simply that the true prophet was faithful to the word that God had given him, but, the true prophet was called directly and immediately by God. That’s why the prophets were so zealous to record the circumstances of their call, which Isaiah has done for us here in this chapter (Isaiah 6).
  • After reading Isaiah 6:1-10: What you have just heard is the unvarnished word of God. This is not an insight delivered from an ancient Hebrew teacher. This is a word that comes from heaven, with all of its inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy. Before which words, we as mortals should tremble. I don’t know what year King Uzziah died, sometime in the 8th century BC, but there is a bit of irony when pinpointing the kink’s demise as corresponding to the same year that a little village was founded across the Mediterranean, the village that would be named Roma. The city that, centuries later would provoke intersection between the force of the mightiest empire of antiquity with the man that was the chief subject of the future prophecy of Isaiah. The year Roma was born Isaiah was commissioned as a prophet of God. (Sproul suggests further reading on King Uzziah in 2 Chronicles ch. 26) Those of us familiar with Chronicles and Kings know that it reads like a rogue gallery, because most of the monarchs in Judah and in Israel were men of unspeakable wickedness and infidelity. We are hard pressed to find even a handful of Godly kings during that period. But, if we were to rate the great kings of that nation, surely David would be accorded first place. And in any important list of monarchs we would include Josiah and Hezekiah. But, we should  never exclude from that list this man who was Uzziah.
  • Uzziah came to the throne when he was 16 years old and he reigned in Jerusalem for 52 years. And, perhaps the only king in the history of the Jewish people, that had greater accomplishments on the battlefield then Uzziah was David himself.   Uzziah built the strength of the military to a level rivaling that of David. His agricultural project reforms brought unprecedented prosperity to the land. And, the Bible says of this king that for most of his reign that he did that which was right in the face of the Lord. Unfortunately, toward the end of his reign he became full of himself and he ended his life like a Shakespearean tragic hero. He got so puffed up with himself that he irrigated  his own province the right to perform the task of the priesthood. And so, he entered with his censor into the temple and moved to offer incense there, which absolutely shocked the priest. It horrified them in fact and they moved one man to stop the king from this act of sacrilege and they pled with him and said, „King, you are not permitted to minister here, in the sanctuary. God has set us apart for that task”. When they protested this intrusion into their domain, Uziiah became furious and demanded they give way so that he could perform what he wanted to do. At that instant God struck him with leprosy and forbade him any further entrance into the temple. He could no longer be the king, he could no longer worship in the presence of his people and he was consigned to solitary confinement in his dying days.
  • So, this man’s 52 year reign ended in shame and in disgrace. However, when he died it was truly the end of an era. And, when a monarch of this duration passes from the scene, there’s a sense of unsettled spirits among the people. They don’t know what the future will bring and I don’t know if that was the psychology that provoked Isaiah to enter into the temple. I don’t even know if he was in the ‘earthly’ temple  or if the vision he records here was a visit into the heavenly temple. In any case, the throne of Israel was vacant.
  • „I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne”- At approx. 14th minute Sproul explains the difference between the word Lord and LORD. LORD Yahweh is the name of God.  Add on Adonai, is the supreme title for God. God has many names in the Old Testament, but, the title that I say, that was most exalted is the title Adonai, which means ‘the one who is absolutely sovereign’. The God who is holy is the God who is sovereign.  He is Adonai, the supreme ruler of heaven and earth. Translation in the New Testament, of the Old Testament’s Adonai is the Greek word Kyrios (κύριος) for the title LORD. And, you know that title can be used in different ways. What is astonishing is that that  title which for the most part is reserved for God in the Old Testament Scriptures, is now given to the Son of God.
  • Philippians 2:9 ‘Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,”. What is this name that is above every name? Most people say, „Jesus”. No, that is not what Paul says. The name that is above every name is the name Adonai. The name Kyrios (κύριος), which is given to Jesus. And so Paul concludes that „at the name of Jesus, let every knee bow and every tongue confess that He is Adonai. John tells us that the content of this vision that Isaiah beheld was of the exalted Son of God, on the throne, prior to His incarnation.

  • Verse 1 – „I saw the Lord, sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. The train of His robe filled the temple. In the ancient times, the status of a ruler, the loftiness of a king, in many ways was measured by the stuff and substance of his garments. Were they purple? White, ermine, mink or simply wool? How big was the train of his garment? Here, Isaiah sees a monarch on the throne, high and lifted up and the train of his garment is so massive, that it furls over the sides of the throne into the front of the sanctuary and encompasses the entire interior of the sanctuary. There had never been a king like this before, where the train of his robe would fill the temple. That’s what Isaiah saw as he gazed into heaven.
  • „And above Him stood Seraphim, and what follows is an anatomical description of the seraphim. One of the most remarkable aspects of God’s work of creation is the efficiency with which God makes His creatures. He makes them and shapes them suitable for their environment. When He makes the Seraphim , He creates them with the anatomy suitable for their environment, because the immediate environment of seraphim is the presence of God.  And to be in the presence of God and the presence of His unveiled glory, every moment of the day, requires a certain anatomical apparatus. They’re given 2 wings to cover their eyes. Remember when Moses was on the mountain and he makes the great request; he said, „Lord, let me see your face”. And you know what God said, he said, „Moses, I don’t think you understand what you are asking for. I will carve out a cleft in the rock, I will place you there and I will pass you by and I will pass by you and let you have a momentary glance at my back, but My face shall not be seen. To look upon My face is to die”. Looking into the face of God is banned from our eyes, from the first sin. And the reason why we cannot see God is not because there is an innate deficiency with our eyesight. The problem is not with the eye, it’s with the soul. In the Beatitudes, who is given the promise that they will see God? The pure in heart. They shall see God. Moses’ heart was not yet pure; he wasn’t allowed to see God. We have that eschatological promise that John tells us, „We don’t know yet what we’re gonna be like, but, we do know this, that when He comes, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is- in His essence. Not by way of some refraction of glory, not by way of a simple burning bush, theophany or pillar of cloud or of fire, but we will see Him as He is (which is called the beatific vision, the vision that will give to our souls its supreme blessedness. But, in the meantime, He remains invisible, hidden from our eyes, inaccessible and His glory is so intense that even when His shekinah is manifested on this planet, to the eyes of the people like Saul on the road to Damascus, he’s blinded by it and it is so glorious in its intensity, that even the angels who are made to live in the immediate presence of God  every day, have to shield their eyes from the brilliance of His glory.
  • With 2 wings he covers his feet. Why that? The feet, biblically, are symbols of creatureliness. Back to Moses when he notices the bush that is burning without being consumed and the voice comes out of the bush saying to him, „Moses, Moses, take off your shoes from off your feet, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground”. What made it holy? It was the intersection, the visitation when God came into his (Moses) presence. (Moses) your feet are a symbol that you are of the dust. Your frame is of dust and your feet are of clay and in My presence, you cover your creatureliness.  And, even the angels, the seraphim’s in heaven, as exalted as they are, are still creatures, and so they cover their feet in the presence of God.
  • The other 2 wings are for flying. But, the real import of this vision that Isaiah records is not found in the anatomy of the seraphim, but in their message. ‘One called to another’, I imagine that this was some heavenly chorus, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts”- the God of the heavenly armies- the whole earth is full of His glory (his weightiness, his substance, his majesty- that provokes the angels to sing, „Holy, Holy, Holy”, what we call the three time holy. What’s the significance of that to the Jew? If they wanted  to express emphasis they used  repetition. Paul and also our Lord did it all the time. Do you notice that the seraphim’s don’t say that „God is holy”. Nor are they content to say that He is „Holy, Holy”. But the heavenly song that celebrates the character of God, declares that He is „Holy, Holy, Holy!” You see, taken now to the 3rd degree, taken now to the superlative degree, nowhere else in Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the 3rd degree. The Bible does not say „God is love, love, love”. Or „mercy, mercy, mercy”. Or „justice, justice, justice”. Or even „sovereign, sovereign, sovereign”. But, that He is „Holy, Holy, Holy”. (40 th minute with 20 more minutes to go)
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