How do you describe the presence of God? How do you convey the majesty of heaven? And what about heavenly beings? Is it possible that the descriptions, few and mysterious as they are, are not intended to be taken literally? And is it possible that the person given the vision was allowed to see what was needed in the moment? What you see and how you see may be difficult to communicate; to put into terms that make sense; that convey the essence of the vision.
In Isaiah 6:1-7 the prophet Isaiah is granted a vision of the throne room of God. What he saw was the master; the Lord; Adonai; sitting on his throne. And make no mistake, this is a scene of majesty; of Adonai exalted and lifted up. And just the train of the robe, which also demonstrates majesty, fills the Temple. The word can mean palace and since the vision is of a throne room that would make good sense. Some view this as an overlapping between heaven and earth; between the physical and the spiritual. The majesty of God fills the temple. And this also would make good sense. I’m not sure that we have to decide as long as we get an impression of the tremendous glory of God.
And the Seraphim take a stand above him. Probably the image is one of readiness to serve. But what are Seraphim? The word saraf means “burning, fiery,” or “serpent.” The word is used of the fiery serpents sent by God to bite the people of Israel in Numbers 21:6 and the bronze serpent Moses made as a standard to heal those who had been bitten. This is the only place where the spiritual beings called Seraphim are mentioned. You have cherubim (Genesis 3:24); angels or messengers (Genesis 16:7; et all); living beings (Ezekiel 1:5-21); four living creatures (Revelation 4:6-11); prince (Daniel 12:1). One source assumes that these are all names for the same being, while others see different beings being distinguished. The living beings of Ezekiel have four wings, while the living creature of Revelation 4 have six wings. Here the Seraphim have six wings. With two the fly; with two they cover their face (probably illustrating the glory of God); and with two the cover their feet. Why? Good question. Either feet is a euphemism for genitals or more likely, the feet were covered because the ancient Near Eastern peoples believed it was dishonoring for others to see the soles of your feet. Either way, this is about the glory of God.
And because this is about the glory of God, one of the Seraphim cried out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh of armies, the whole earth is full of his glory.” Yahweh is separate; sacred. He is outside of any sense of what is common or mundane. And the earth is full of his abundance; his splendor; his honor. And here again we may see the overlapping of heaven and earth. God is sitting on his throne in heaven and at the same time his abundance is filling the whole earth. The entrance or door post or threshold trembled or tottered at the voice. This was not a calm declaration. This was an ejaculation of praise that reverberated the rafters. And then the temple filled up with smoke. This is similar to the cloud that filled the temple in 1 Kings 8:10. This is a symbol of God’s presence. For the Jewish people the Temple was where heaven and earth met; where the presence of God could be felt.
Isaiah is understandably overwhelmed by all of this. He burst out with a woe, which is an impassioned expression of extreme grief. The word “ruined” means “cease, stop, cut off, undone.” The sense of ruined or lost would make good sense. But some have suggested the idea of silence. He may be compelled to burst out in praise of Yahweh’s holiness and glory, but his lips are unclean. Yahweh is too holy to receive praise from Isaiah’s defiled lips. Maybe both concepts can be found here. In his words there may be an expectation of sudden death. Yahweh is just too holy for a person to gaze upon (cf. Exodus 33:20). Thus, “I am destroyed” fits admirably. However, death does not await Isaiah, but rather cleansing. One of the Seraphim takes a burning coal from the altar and touches it to Isaiah’s lips and tells him that his iniquities are turned away and that his sin is covered over.
Our God is a holy God. Too holy for anything casual from us. He is not a teddy bear god. He is Father; but he is a set apart from the mundane earthly fathers. He is holy! And you? You are a person with unclean lips. Under the new covenant we do not need a Seraphim to touch us with a burning coal. We have the blood of Jesus. The guilt of our sins have been washed away so that we can approach Holy God. Approach then my friends. Approach and be awed by the glory of God in the Highest. Shalom.