Isaiah 1: 6: "The whole head is sick"
We are to get more acquainted with some of the prophets whom the Lord sent to Judah and Jerusalem to warn and teach the people. We have met some of these prophets, and there are more whom we must know; and we must learn where in our Bible to find their printed words. Who remembers a prophet in Jerusalem when Hezekiah was king? He gave Hezekiah courage from the Lord when the Assyrians came up to the city walls with their insulting words. He came to Hezekiah when he was sick. He told the king that he did wrong when he showed all his treasures to the messengers from Babylon. We will read that story again today.
Isaiah was the prophet who brought to King Hezekiah the words of the Lord when he was sick and when he was in danger from the Assyrians. Isaiah belonged to an important family in Jerusalem, and he may have been related to the king. Isaiah also spoke warnings and promises from the Lord to all the people. We will read Isaiah 6:1-8. It tells how the Lord called Isaiah and made him brave for his work. He seems to have been in the court of the temple in Jerusalem, where the altar was with the fire always burning on it. The seraphim were probably human forms with wings; they also had hands and feet. They remind us of the cherubim on the cover of the sacred ark. What did the seraphim say? What did one of them do? Then when Isaiah heard the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" He said, "Here am I; send me." He was prophet in Jerusalem for forty years. He rebuked the people for their evil ways. Some words of Isaiah are very beautiful, looking beyond the times in which he lived to the coming of the Lord. (Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-9)
Isaiah is the first of the major prophets. Each prophet has certain characteristics that clearly distinguish him from all the rest. There is Amos, the desert shepherd, with his unflinching condemnation of Israel. "Prepare to meet thy God." Hosea reveals the love of God toward a wayward and sinful people. "I desire loving-kindness, and not sacrifice. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love. O Ephraim, how shall I give thee up?" Joel pictures the dreadful nature of the approaching day of judgment. "The day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?" Obadiah predicts the punishment of Edom. And Jonah pronounces the church's message to the Gentiles to repent. Historically, these prophets precede Isaiah. They belong to the times of Jeroboam II, Zechariah, Shallum, and Menahem, kings of Israel, and of Uzziah and Jotham, kings of Judah, or from about the year 760 to about the year 740 B.C. Then comes the prophet Isaiah who deals with the decline of Judah. He was evidently called "in the year that King Uzziah died," about 740 B.C. (Isa. 6) He exercised his public office throughout a long and most eventful period of national history, during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (1:6) until at least the year 700 B.C. The great invasion of Sennacherib referred to in Isa. 36 and 37 took place in 701 B.C. For the purposes of our studies we may divide the prophecies in Isa. 1-39 into four sections: those belonging to the reign of Jotham, 1-6; those relating to the times of Ahaz, 7-12; those concerning the nations and the relations of Judah to Assyria, 13-35; and those belonging to the reign of Hezekiah, 36-39. The chapters from 40 to 66 are historically connected with the exile of Judah.
During the ministry of Hosea and Amos, there was great prosperity in Israel. This accompanied the long peaceful reign of Jeroboam II (41 years). Similar was the prosperity in Judah while Jeroboam's contemporary Azariah or Uzziah reigned there (52 years). Great was the abuse of the blessings showered upon them. We shall see how Amos and Hosea condemned Israel for its sins in this period. No less searching is Isaiah's condemnation of the people of Judah. The land is full of silver and gold and treasures but is also full of idols. (2:7-8) The people are proud and self-confident. (2:11 and on) They practice evil without shame. (3:9) The rich grind the faces of the poor (3:14-15); they increase their territorial possessions with the intent of owning everything. They acquire a monopoly of the land, the source of living. (5:8) The fashionable women in Jerusalem are sorely condemned for pride and extravagance. (3:16-24) And woe be to them that revel in strong drink. (5:11-12) "Hell hath enlarged herself, and openeth her mouth without measure." (5:14) In such a state of society as this, we cannot wonder at the terrible arraignment of this rebellious people in chapter one.
Give special thought today to Isa. 6:1-8, the call of Isaiah and his strengthening for his work. The vision seems to have come to Isaiah in the temple court. Note the suggestion to the younger children about the seraphim (which is a plural word). Isaiah was fearful until the vision gave him courage. Compare the call of Moses (Exod. 2:10-11; 4:10-12); of Jeremiah (Jer. 1:6-9); of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1-3). All these men were fearful till the Lord strengthened them for their work. And remember the Lord's promise of the Holy Spirit to be with the apostles, to give them what to speak. (Matt. 10:19-20) Where have you heard before the words of verse 3, "Holy, holy, holy," etc.? Compare Rev. 4:8.
The vision of Isaiah when he received his call is impressive. The message which he was to deliver (6:9-12) is painful. It will harden the hearts of the people, till nothing is left but the very smallest remnant of good. The impression made upon the prophet by the words of the seraphim (6:3) is reflected in the title, "The holy One of Israel," which occurs very frequently in this prophecy and is only to be found in six other places in the entire Word. The expression is quite characteristic of this prophet, as are also his references to the promised tenth or remnant by means of which the nation shall be saved. This was revealed to him. (6:13) This verse might be translated better, "Yet in it shall be a tenth part, and it shall return, and shall be to exterminate or extirpate: as a terebinth (not teil tree) and oak whose stem is in them, when cut down: the holy seed shall be the stem thereof." The root meaning of both words for terebinth and oak is the same—hardy and strong. The sense of the passage is now clear. As the stem of these hardy trees has an enduring life in it to put forth new stock, so this indestructible remnant has power from the Lord to increase and save His people. How strongly this thought is presented in 1:9, and elsewhere throughout this prophecy.
Isaiah means "the salvation of Jehovah," similar to the meaning of the words Joshua and Hosea. And these three, Joshua, Isaiah, and Hosea, are the first of the former, major, and minor prophets respectively. It is a vision or insight into the saving work of the Lord in humanity and the church. The Lord has done everything for us, yet have we turned to self, even to the entire neglect of the Lord and His Word. (Isa. 1:1-8) Very little acknowledgment of wrong exists within. (Verse 9) This remnant is the consciousness of having broken the ten commandments as taught to us in childhood. (The ten precepts signify remains. A. 576) It is through this that people are saved. Because evil is so strong within—"there is no health in us"—external worship is of no avail. (Verses 10-15) Therefore, we must repent, listen to conscience, and reform, and the Lord will give us good in place of evil. (Verses 16-19) Otherwise the Word is falsified, the church is taken away, and given to others. (Verses 20-27) Evil must surely produce destruction. (Verses 28-31)
Make today some study of Isa. 6:1-8, the call of Isaiah and his strengthening for his work. It was a vision with heavenly meaning, like visions described by John in Revelation. The first verse speaking of the death of an earthly king and of the Lord exalted as the heavenly king seems to lift our thought and the prophet's thought above earthly conditions which are fearful and discouraging to a higher plane where all is Divine brightness and strength. The seraphim and their wings are emblems of the Divine truth and its power, into the service of which Isaiah is called. (Compare the horses and chariots of fire of Elijah and Elisha.) The wings are emblems of the Divine truth in its supporting and protecting power, applied to higher and lower things of life. The words uttered by the seraphim (verse 3) are also in acknowledgment and praise of the Divine truth. Such is the spiritual meaning of "Holy" and of "Glory." Truth alone points out evil and condemns, but the touch of the Divine love is healing and the prophet finds courage for his mission. (A. 2921; E. 580) Compare the rushing mighty wind and cloven tongues of fire with which the Holy Spirit came to the apostles.
Chapter 6 presents a wonderful vision of the Lord in His Divine Word. Compare with this vision that of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:5, 13-15) and that of John in Patmos (Rev. 4:2, 6, 8). The four animals and seraphim and cherubim signify the same thing. (A. 2921) The wings covering the face and feet signify the protection of the Divine Truth: wings to fly are truths with power of ascending and giving us a broader view of life. All truths of the Word proclaim the holiness of the Lord. The church is full of His glory. (Verse 3) But the doctrine of the Word is misunderstood by those who are in evils. (Verse 5) Yet the power to perceive the truth of doctrine (the lips) is purified by the application of the Divine Love (the live coal from the altar). (Verses 6, 7; E. 580) Then the Word will open and reveal the saving truth from the Lord. (Verse 7) It declares that an evil life destroys the church within. The heart that is hardened in evil becomes spiritually dead. (Verses 9-12) The only hope is in rendering obedience to those inflexible precepts inculcated in our minds in early years. We must begin with the truth as we know it, the truth we understand best because we have learned to appreciate its practical meaning by repeated application to our conduct of old. We begin with that. It is the holy seed which is the stem or stump from which in time will burst forth buds and blossoms and fruit, and finally new seed within the fruit to perpetuate its kind to eternity. There is no other way of being saved than through this very small remnant.