Vol. IX — No. 25 June 23, 1968
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
In Christ Jesus, who together With the Father and the Holy Ghost we worship as the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity, Fellow Redeemed:
“There shall no man see me, and live.” Ex. 33:20. So said the Lord God to Moses in response to his request, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.” But the Lord did permit Moses to see His “back parts,” but not His face. No man can see the Essence of God and live, but God has from time to time revealed manifestations of His glory.
Our text is just such an instance. Isaiah saw the Lord in a vision. He was not under the influence of hallucinatory drugs, as is slanderously suggested by some modern Bible critics who consistently confuse Satan’s work with the work of the Spirit of God. No, but in some way the physical and natural use of his senses was suspended, and he saw and heard with an inner eye and ear that which man can neither hear nor see naturally. He saw the Lord God and he heard the song of the seraphim. What he saw was interpreted to him by what he heard. Let us listen and learn of our God, for—
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” Glory suggests something visible that in turn reveals and proclaims something invisible—the nature and the attributes and the characteristics of our God. The night the Christchild was born the heavens were illumined, and the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest.” The shepherds saw a physical manifestation that proclaimed the faithfulness and love and grace and mercy of the Lord God who that night was fulfilling His promises of salvation by sending His Son to this earth.
What did Isaiah see and what did it mean? The vision made an impression upon him that never grew faint. Isaiah remembered the exact time of the vision, “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” It was a picture of grandeur and majesty without parallel—a picture of might and power that knows no limits. The throne symbolized ruling and governing and controlling all things. Seated upon that throne was the Lord. “Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.” The seraphim are the highest rank of angels, outranking even the cherubim. Not even they dare gaze Upon the face of God or peer into His Essence. They covered their faces with their wings. With another pair of wings they covered their own feet, as though ashamed and embarrassed by being seen of the Lord. For though the seraphim are holy and confirmed in their bliss, yet the created holiness of the seraphim finds itself ill at ease in the presence of that perfect purity of the holy, holy, holy Lord. With another pair of wings they did hover about the throne, as “one cried to another—antiphonally—and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” What Isaiah was permitted to see in heaven is invisibly present over the whole earth, for the earth is full of the glory of the Lord!
The seraphim proclaimed the glory of the Lord. In so doing they have answered for man of every age the question: “How big is your God?” It is part of the depravity of human nature to belittle God. The greater man becomes in his own eyes, the smaller God becomes to him. But man’s warped vision of God does not affect the glory of God. It only makes man the victim of that God whose glory fills the earth. We have witnessed again this past week the striking down of a national leader whose wealth and power and style surpass anything any of us could ever hope for or even perhaps dream of. A short time ago we witnessed how a self-appointed leader of nations, de Gaulle, was embarrassed by his own people. Let your mind run over the great ones on the earth today. Let it run through the pages of history and contemplate the men of glory and majesty in ages past. All of that accumulated human glory and power and majesty is but as a flickering candle before the sun when compared to the glory of our God.
This is what the song of the Seraphim proclaims: “The glory of our God fills the earth.” What a sustaining assurance this is! It appears as though we are entering a period of anarchy in our own land. The rule of law appears to be losing out to the use and the threat of violence. Congress must appropriate millions to protect national leaders who heretofore could move freely throughout the land without fear of assassination. The very foundations of our society are being shaken. He cannot but feel the effects in our lives. Yet as children of God we know that our God can preserve His own in the midst of anarchy here on earth and that He can and does achieve His will and purpose among men. For our God things never get out of control. He always remains in charge, for His glory fills the earth.
The song of the seraphim also—
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts.” Why did the seraphim sing a trishaqion, a triple holy? For emphasis a double or a repeated holy would have been used according to common usage. The triple holy has been interpreted by believers of all ages to be an indication and a manifestation of the Trinity.
The mystery of the Trinity was begun to be disclosed at the beginning of time. In the account of the creation of man we read, “And God said. let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Gen. 1:26. The use of the plurals, “let us,” “our image,” and “our likeness” point to the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The Angel of the Lord, who is not a created angel, but who is identified as the Lord, revealed that there is more than one Person in the Godhead. So also the Holy Spirit is revealed as a separate Person. The first verse of the 6lst chapter of Isaiah reads as follows: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek…” Notice that the Holy Spirit is distinguished from the Lord God, who in turn is distinguished from the Messiah. When He preached at Nazareth, the Lord Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, identified Himself as the One speaking that prophecy centuries before. The Holy Trinity was known, in veiled form, to the believers of the Old Testamert. The hymn of the seraphim with its “Holy, holy, holy” points to the Trinity.
What was known in veiled form in the Old Testament has been revealed more clearly in the New Testament. After the baptism of our Lord the Son was standing on the banks of the Jordan. The voice of the Father called from heaven, “This is My beloved Son.” The Holy Spirit appeared visibly in the form as of a dove. Father, Son and Holy Ghost—each a separate Person—yet one in Essence and Being. This is the mystery of the Holy Trinity. This is the one true God. Deny the Son and you deny the Father and lose the Holy Spirit. Place the Son lower than the Father and the Spirit perhaps lower than the Son and you lose all. The moment anyone dares to permit any concept of God, other than the Trinity, to find a legitimate place in his mind besides the Trinity—that moment he becomes an idolator. One God there is—no more! But that one God has not left Himself to be described and pictured and imagined by the mind of man. All and every human effort to identify God to render His self-identification void is blasphemy. God has revealed Himself as One, who is three separate but equal Persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Seraphim knew this and pointed to it with their song. Let us worship and confess the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity.
The hymn of the seraphim and their activity also—
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts.” Our God is holy, that is, absolutely separate from sin. From one point of view the nature of God rages against all sin and evil as a consuming fire. The terrible judgments of God upon sinful mankind are evidence of His holiness—the curse of death, the worldwide judgment of the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha, the destruction of Jerusalem and the nation of the Jews. From an opposite point of view the nature of God reaches out with a consuming love For sinful mankind. That is also evidence of His holiness—the first promise of a Savior, the faithfulness of God to that promise down through the ages and the fulfillment of it in the Sending of His Son to remove the curse of sin.
This is the chief concern of our holy God—the purging of man’s sin. That concern we can see dramatized in the experience of Isaiah. Isaiah reports, “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah calls himself “a man of unclean lips.” He names but one part of his body, but a part that is so frequently an instrument of sin. Isaiah confesses that he dwells “in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” He is surrounded by people infected with the virus of sin. What right has he to stand in the presence of the holy God? what hope of survival does he have? “Woe is me! for I am undone!” This same reaction the shepherds experienced when the glory of the Lord shown round about them. Peter gave expression to the same feeling when he cried, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Luke 5:8. How else can the sinner feel in the presence of the holy God? Must we not all confess with David, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Psalm 130:3.
The Lord God did not say to trembling Isaiah, “I’ll overlook your sin. Forget it. It isn’t anything to worry about.” No, for each sinner has reason to cry out, “Woe is me! for I am undone!” The Lord had a plan to purge man’s sin. That plan is revealed symbolically by the action of one of the seraphim. “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” Even as fire will cauterize a wound, so the glowing coal from the altar of heaven purged away the sin of Isaiah.
Whoso readeth, let him understand! The altar symbolizes sacrificing, for sacrifices were made upon the altar. What the Lord God revealed was this that a sacrifice was necessary for the purging of sin. It was a sacrifice that God Himself would have to make and would make. Man had and has the power to commit sin and to make himself guilty of iniquity, but man has no power to remove his iniquity or purge his sin. God had to come to the rescue. God had to provide for the removal of iniquity and the purging of sin. And that He did with the offering of His Son upon the altar erected in the form of a cross on Calvary’s hill.
What is pictured here symbolically in this vision to Isaiah was revealed to him prophetically and recorded by him in the fifty-third chapter of his book. There he wrote of the Suffering Servant of the Lord, who would be wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, suffer punishment so that we might be healed and purged from our sin. This is the chief concern of our God—a concern that came to a climax with the events that took place on Good Friday whose success was proclaimed by the events on Easter morning.
You and I are the beneficiaries of our God’s concern. Our iniquity has been removed. We have been purged from our sin. Oh, give thanks unto the Lord. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.