33. Isaiah (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 33.  Isaiah (1)

Isa 6:1     In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

From the sublime to the ridiculous! Going from a love song to a mountain of prophecy in search for highlights is probably the definition of culture shock!  There is so much in this incredible mountain of prophecy that includes a short passage of history. Commentators often divide the book into

  • Part 1: The Book of Judgments (Ch.1-35) which also includes a heavenly vision and Isaiah’s calling,
  • Part 2: An historical interlude, which anchors Isaiah in the reign of Hezekiah (Ch.36-39), and
  • Part 3: The Book of Comforts (Ch.40-66),

the titles giving a sense of the overall themes found in these prophecies.

I was originally intending to move into looking at two different sorts of prophecy in Isaiah but as I think about it, the calling of some of these prophets is so dramatic that they must feature among the highlights of the Bible. In Jeremiah it comes in the first chapter, in Ezekiel it comes in the second chapter, but in Isaiah we have to wait until the sixth chapter before Isaiah’s calling is shown to us.

Uzziah reigned from 792 to 740 and in 1:1 we are told he saw visions in the reigns of four kings of Judah (the southern kingdom), starting with Uzziah, and so it is possible that he received the contents of chapters 1 to 5 before Uzziah died. We cannot be sure but if that was so, it shows us that prophets could receive words from God (and there a number in Old Testament history of whom this is true) without having that personal encounter that we find here and in Jeremiah. (We don’t hear of it, for example, of Daniel) So why does the Lord give Isaiah such a revelation? Perhaps the answer is in the historical context and what the vision reveals.

From the verses of chapters 1 to 5 (and, indeed, many subsequent chapters) the state of Judah was not spiritually good. However, there had been a period of stability under Uzziah who we can see from above ruled for over fifty years, yet in the last five years, Assyria had started expanding its power under Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727) and had started invading neighboring areas, which included Canaan in the north at least. And now Uzziah dies. I parallel this with the death of Queen Elizabeth II in the UK (which must happen one day!). She has presided as head of the UK, as at early 2017, for 65 years, the longest reigning monarch. As such she has been and remains a figure exuding stability. When she eventually dies, there will be an enormous psychological hole in the psyche of the United Kingdom. Such is how it would have been when Uzziah died after a similarly long reign – and especially as there was an air of uncertainty about the future with the rising power of Assyria. It is into this context that this revelation comes. So what does it reveal and how does that impact on this historical context?

Note how the vision starts off: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (v.1) In the vision (and so it is a mental and spiritual picture, not actual reality) he is shown God and the picture of God is of a mighty ruler. He is seated on a throne which historically is the place from which rulers make pronouncements but it is in a temple. He is robed as a king quite obviously and the train of this robe stretches out to fill this temple. Now this is difficult to comprehend but what it does say is that the size, magnitude or length of this train is so great that if there are any other occupants of this temple, they would have to be standing on it (have you ever thought that?). If that is so it signifies a closeness but also a submission to this king. Above this king there are angels (v.2) singing or at least declaring the truth about this king (v.3) that this king is “the I AM almighty” and He is holy, thrice holy emphasizing it, He is utterly different from any other being in existence, and His glory can be seen (by those with eyes to see) throughout the earth. As they speak, the place shakes, such is the power of the revelations they speak out.

The impact on Isaiah is immediate. He feels totally unworthy, unclean, doomed! (v.5). Now there is obviously an altar in this temple with fire upon it and one of the angels takes a red-hot coal from this altar and touches his mouth with it and declares, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (v.6,7) However we may interpret this it means that before anything else, Isaiah’s past human history – and by implication, guilt – is removed by an act of God. He is put at ease before the Lord.

What follows is intriguing. The Lord implies a task and in so doing presents it before Isaiah: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (v.8a)  The redeemed and cleansed Isaiah now feels able to be used by God and, “I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (v.8b) to which the Lord gives him marching orders for his future ministry. (v.9-)

Now what has all this said, this historical context and this vision? It says that naturally speaking Isaiah, no doubt like everyone else in the land, would be feeling uncertain about their future now the stability of Uzziah’s reign has gone and there are threatening noises from the north. They lacked a king, a protective ruler. And so Isaiah is given this revelation of God on high, God who is the I AM, the Eternal One first revealed like this to Moses, but also the Almighty One, the All-powerful One, the utterly different one who is THE king, the ruler over all things. Isaiah, through the experience, is transformed and knows that God has cleansed and equipped him, made him fit for the task.  Isaiah, through the revelation, has been transformed in his thinking, in his understanding for he has seen the Lord of the Universe; he has a king who is supreme, he knows the Lord and in that he will be utterly secure, in the face of his own people’s unbelief and in the face of invading unbelievers. Bring it on!

Now you may not have had a vision in this form but, as a Christian, a child of God, you have had and have received the revelation of the Son of God who has come and put you right with God. The more we know of this revelation the more we, like Isaiah, see we have a Lord who is Lord over all, who is in total, supreme and sovereign control, ruling (as Psa 100 prophetically says) in the midst of His enemies. He is working out His plans and purposes and no one will stop them coming to fruition at the appointed time. You and I can have the same sense of having been cleansed as Isaiah was. You and I can have the same sense of security through revelation that Isaiah had. You and I, like Isaiah, when we have a need presented before us by the Lord, can say with him, “Here am I lord, send me,” in the sure knowledge that He has done everything that has needed to be done to prepare and equip us for whatever He puts before us. Whatever He places before us, will not be too much for us, because He is with us and He has given us all we need to accomplish it. Hallelujah!

1.5 The Throne of God

Meditating on the Judgements of God: 1.5  The Throne of God

Psa 9:7,8  The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.

There is a truth about God which is perhaps so obvious that we rarely think about it. It is that God rules and judges and reveals to us a picture of Him sitting on a throne in heaven. A throne is a place where a sovereign reigns, and it a place of sovereign control. This whole concept of a throne speaks historically of a sovereign ruler, one who is all-powerful and with all authority. We may have lost this in the light of the monarchy in the UK in the twenty first century where the Queen is a figurehead and the power is actually with Parliament. That has not how it has been in history. The monarch was the one with the power, the one in absolute control and a benign and stable monarch (and God is at least this) had the power to be able to take time to weigh everything before him.

The first mention of God’s throne comes through Moses (Ex 17:16) because he recognized that when they prayed against the Amalekites, they were appealing to God on His throne: “hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD.” He saw that God was a ruler who presided over the affairs of men and would act and bring changes as part of His rule.

For the real revelation of the throne room of heaven we have to turn to the prophets. Isaiah declared, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isa 6:1)

Ezekiel also had a vision from heaven: “Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.” (Ezek 1:26)

Even Daniel saw it: “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.” (Dan 7:9)

John on Patmos was also privileged to see into heaven: “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders,” (Rev 4:2-4) and near the end of Revelation, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.” (Rev 20:11,12)

Yes, these prophets were allowed a look into heaven and each saw God on a throne, ruling.  Job 1 doesn’t actually mention a throne but we are shown the deliberations of God in heaven. Micaiah the prophet also had such an insight: “Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the LORD said, `Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?” (1 Kings 22:19,20). It is of God working out His strategies as He rules.

The psalmists also had this idea in the back of their minds so often: “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne,” (Psa 47:8) and, “Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity,” (Psa 93:2)  and Jeremiah added, “A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary.” (Jer 17:12)  But a throne even appears in respect of the work of Jesus as the writer to the Hebrews indicates: “The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,” (Heb 8:1)

But it takes some of the psalmists to catch something of the action of God from His throne in heaven: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom,” (Psa 45:6) and, Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you,” (Psa 89:14) and, righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” (Psa 97:2). The bringing of righteousness and justice is the work of a Judge, which brings us right back to our subject. God sits on a throne in heaven, ruling over all the affairs of everything He has created. He had made everything perfect from the outset but with the coming of the Fall, things go wrong, and things are done wrong. God does not sit back and just let it all happen.

In His role as Judge we may suggest that:

  • 1) He assesses all that happens and determines whether it was righteous or unrighteous (i.e. conforming to His original design, or not!),
  • 2) He decrees what should happen in respect of those events, and specifically in respect of the people involved, and
  • 3) He then acts in accordance with that decree, and this we see as the act of judgement that appears in the records of Scripture.

Now we need to reiterate what we have said before when we had observed He is perfect. This is vital to understand.

  • In the first stage, His assessment is uniquely accurate because He alone sees and knows all that happens and there is nothing about it that is outside His knowledge and understanding.
  • In the second stage, His decree of what should happen is perfect because He alone has the knowledge, understanding and wisdom to know what various outcomes would produce. So He knows that if He does nothing, what will come about. He knows if He brings discipline whether it will bring a change in life. In this determining the decree He knows whether terminating a life or lives will be the best for these people and, even more, for those who are left.
  • In the third stage, bringing about the judgement, we will find that this may come through a variety of means and it will be this that we will go on to consider in later meditations.

Bear in mind what we have observed in some of these verses. Wherever God makes a decision in His rule from the throne in heaven, where He sees and knows all things, His thinking, His decrees and His actions will always conform to righteousness and justice.

God Enthroned

God in the Psalms No.2

Psa 2:4-6 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion , my holy hill.”

In the second psalm we are presented with a truth that utters a challenge to every unbeliever in the world. So often, people get on with life, ignoring God and doing their own thing, in the false belief that they are the ones in charge. This psalm challenges that.

Our verses above start by revealing God as one who is seated on a throne in heaven, and a throne denotes a ruler. In fact, more than that, this psalm reveals God as The Supreme Ruler! The psalm itself starts by wondering why nations, peoples and kings conspire, plot and take their stand against God and His chosen servant, the anointed one (v.1,2), saying that they will break free from God’s ‘chains’ (v.3). That’s how they view the Lord. Such have been scientists, philosophers and others who have foolishly said, “We don’t need a belief in a God any more,” and have seen the Bible as imposing ‘chains’ on their lives. (The truth is, of course, exactly the opposite, but that is how sin views it!)

The Lord’s response to this is to laugh. He knows the reality of this, the folly of their words. He knows that they are so small and He is so great that it’s like an ant challenging an elephant to a show of strength! (our comparison). But such folly also generates anger in the Lord. God’s anger is always righteous anger. It is the response to crass stupidity, to people purposefully being wilfully stupid when they should know better. Really, says the Lord, is that what you think (implied)? Do you want to know the truth? I have put MY king in
Jerusalem, that’s who the anointed one is.

In the Old Testament, kings and priests were anointed with oil as a symbolic sign of receiving God’s Holy Spirit to enable them to perform the task they have been called to. Thus the king of the day, David, was the Lord’s anointed one. Yet even more the Bible shows us, Jesus was the Lord’s anointed one who came two thousand years ago to bring the reign of God to the whole earth, not merely in one special nation. So when the Lord says He has placed His king in
Zion (Jerusalem), it means, I have brought my earthly ruler and he is my representative of my reign on earth, so you’d better realize that you need to bow before him. The reference in v.12 to kissing the son indicates a bowing before a sovereign by a lesser subject, to kiss their hand or even feet, as a sign of subjection. (This is what worship means).

What is this psalm revealing about God? That He is THE Lord of Lords who reigns from heaven, but He has a delegated anointed leader on the earth who is His representative. Thus any talk about breaking loose from God’s rule is folly because, whether we realize it or not, He IS the Lord and He will not cease to be simply because we utter words. He is THE Lord, even if He sat on His throne silently saying and doing nothing. He is God Almighty, the One who has all knowledge and all power and before whom human beings are merely tiny objects who could be obliterated in a second.

Oh no, don’t come out with any silliness about breaking free. You can do what you like – and God will let you – but be under no illusions, He will hold you to account and He will bring that time of accounting when He deems it fit. The fact that He holds back is, as we said in the first study, simply because He graciously gives time for repentance, preferring to bring salvation rather than destruction if it is possible (2 Pet 3:9), but be under no illusions, He IS the Lord and He DOES reign, whatever men may think or say! The challenge is, therefore, have we submitted to His rule?

Oh, and just a final word, picking on an oblique comment we made earlier. The truth is that God comes to our lives that are bound by sin and He sets us free with His love. Jesus’ coming was to remove our guilt and sin and open the way up for us to live new God-empowered lives that are utterly fulfilling, but self-centred and godless sin can only see it as ‘spoiling our games’. How silly!

12. A Holy God

(We resume our series in Isaiah that we started several weeks ago)


Isa 6:5 Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Part of our task, you may remember, in this set of meditations, is to see the same God in the Old Testament as is described in the New, especially in the light of the apostle John’s assertion that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Now when we read Isaiah, chapter 6, you may think that is not immediately discernable, but I want to suggest otherwise. Come with me and see.

Isaiah 6 is one of the relatively few instances in the Bible when we are given a deeper insight into God or into heaven. It happened as a clear event at a particular point in history: “In the year that King Uzziah died.” (6:1a). Historians tell us that this was 740BC. In that year something very special happened to Isaiah: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (6:1b). Now we have to assume this was a vision because we are not told he was lifted up into heaven, but nevertheless it is very clear. We don’t need to go through the details of the vision here except to note that the emphasis that comes through the vision is God’s holiness.

Now the concept of ‘holy’ or ‘holiness’ is unique to God. It has no meaning outside of God. God, the Bible tells us, IS holy. In respect of Him it suggests being utterly different, perfect, entirely without flaw in any way. When it is used in respect of a person or thing, it means given over to or dedicated to God so that it may take on His characteristic of perfection.

It is this idea of holiness that produces in Isaiah such a strong response: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (6:5). Something about the presence of the Lord, conveyed to Isaiah the Lord’s perfection and his own absence of perfection or, to put it another way, his uncleanness. Now this is a similar reaction to that which we find in Simon Peter when he realises something about Jesus in his boat (Lk 5), a sense of unworthiness to be in the presence of this One.

Now I don’t know if you ever watch adventure or sci-fi films but every now and then the hero finds himself (and it tends to be a man) before some great being, and the thing that is always conveyed is a sense of fear of what this great being might do to the hero. They have it in their power to, at the very least, kill the hero. That is quite a different experience from what we have here. Isaiah is filled with a sense of his own doom, certainly, but it is because of his own inadequacy, his own failures, his own sin – especially in the light of the perfection of the One before him. This guilt is what so many of us struggle with and, despite the protestations of atheists who don’t like this talk, it is the biggest problem that we wrestle with, as so many therapists or counsellors will testify.

So here is Isaiah with a problem. He is a sinner in the presence of a holy and perfect God and he realises that he is guilty of having said wrong things (his lips) which reveal what he is like on the inside. He is guilty. There is no question about it; justice demands his punishment, he feels. It is an instinctive response within him. He is doomed! But what do we find? “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (6:6,7). One of the angelic beings, who do the bidding of God, does something so that his guilt is taken away. Note that Isaiah didn’t do anything. It was done for him.

Now fire in the Old Testament has a double meaning. It is first the wrath of God that destroys sin but, second, it is also the work of God burning up and dealing with sin so that the sinner is freed. Thus we have in this vision a burning coal taken from the altar that was there, which is clearly a place of meeting with God where sin is dealt with. Thus the coal from this altar is taken to Isaiah and he is cleansed. An altar in the Old Testament is a place of sacrifice where a life is given up, a substitute for the sinner, and his or her sin is visually and graphically destroyed before their eyes. Thus Isaiah’s guilt is dealt with and he is freed from this feeling, so that now he can stand before God guiltless and is now available to be used by God to go and speak to His people, which is what follows.

Now of course in the Old Testament, there was no more explanation given than we have mentioned above, but the picture was very clear. Part of God’s design-rules (the Law) told the sinner who felt guilty how to deal with their sin. Take an offering and sacrifice it at the Tabernacle or Temple, as a substitute for their own life, and God would see it as a sign of their repentance and He would grant them forgiveness. It is only when we come to the New Testament that we see the eternal sacrifice offered for every person who wants to avail themselves of it, Jesus Christ the Son of God. He stood in as our substitute when he died on the Cross at Calvary. Only an eternal being could do that for the sin of every person who has existed and will existed, who want to avail themselves of this method of being freed from sin.

What do we have here in both Old and New Testaments? A picture of a loving God who realises, having given man free will and knowing man would exercise that free will wrongly, that man would be helpless to deal with his own guilt and for the sake of eternal justice, that guilt could only be taken by God Himself in the form of His Son. Thus we have possibly the most famous verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) What we have here, is the God of love who is more concerned to reconcile sinners to Himself than He is to judge or destroy them. As He said through Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32. THIS is the God of both the Old and New Testaments, a God who reaches out to remove our guilt and reconcile us to Himself, a God who seeks to draw us into relationship with Himself so that we can be re-established in His blessings to enjoy the life and the world He has provided for us to enjoy! Hallelujah!