By Mike Willis
As one reads the prophets of the Old Testament, admiring their faith, sometimes he is unaware of the struggles they experienced in life. Jeremiah is not called “the weeping prophet” without reason. His life was hard. Hosea experienced the marital conflicts common to many others who have lived with an unfaithful spouse.
Isaiah is one of God’s most admired prophets. We are impressed with the messianic revelations given to him such as the prophecies of (a) the virgin birth (Isa. 7:14); (b) the miracles of Jesus (Isa. 35); (c) the harbinger of Jesus (Isa. 40:3) and (d) the suffering servant (Isa. 53). However, we may forget what a heavy burden he was called upon to bear when he was called by God.
The Call of Isaiah
The call of Isaiah came in the “year that Uzziah died” (6:1). Uzziah was the king of Judah who became so filled with pride that he entered into the Temple to offer worship to the Lord, in place of the High Priest, and was smitten with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-21). As a result of his leprosy, he had to appoint his son Jotham to take care of official business, serving as his co-regent. Isaiah was called to his work in the year of Uzziah’s death. How often God’s call through the preaching of the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14) leading to one’s conversion or his decision to become a preacher is so momentous that one can remember exactly what circumstances surrounded it!
The call of Isaiah came in a vision of God (6:1-4). He saw the Lord on his throne (6:1). His throne was lifted up. His train filled the Temple. He was attended by six-winged seraphim (6:2). The seraphim cried, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (6:3). The thrice repeated “holy” has been thought from ancient times to be a reference to the Trinity, as also indicated by the plural pronoun “us” to refer to God in 6:8. It is the Bible text from which the song, “Holy, Holy, Holy” was written. The foundations of the threshholds were shaken and the house was filled with smoke (6:4).
Isaiah’s Consciousness of Sin
The call of Isaiah made him deeply conscious of his sin. When God appeared to Isaiah, he said, “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.” On the occasions when man has been in the presence of God, he is made aware of his sins. Consider some of these examples: (a) Moses: “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou stand- est is holy ground” (Exod. 3:5). (b) Moses: “And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exod. 33:20). (c) Gideon: “And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face. And the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die” (Judg. 6:22-23). (d) Peter: “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea” (John 21:7). One can never adequately serve the Lord until and unless he has a vision of his own sinfulness.
Contrast Isaiah’s consciousness of his sin with the attitude of the Pharisees as demonstrated in such passages as Luke 18:11-12; 7:39; 15:1-2, 24-32; 19:7; Matthew 3:7-10. Isaiah had a deep awareness of his own sinfulness that qualified him to be able to proclaim the grace of God to others. He wrote of the self-righteousness of his own people in that day saying,
I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts; a people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick; which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels; which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day (Isa. 65:1-5).
These people had to become aware that their own “righteousness” was but “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Isaiah said, “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken anymore? Ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Isa. 1:4-6). Who was better prepared to make others aware of their sinfulness than one who was first aware of his own?
When men begin to “trust in their own righteousness” and look down their self-righteous noses at those not as righteous as they are, they display the same attitude as did the Pharisees. Isaiah had first to realize his own sinful condition before he could effectively convict others of their sin. The Lord cleansed Isaiah of his sins (6:6-7). Praise God! There is forgiveness from the Lord (Exod. 34:6-7). All of God’s messengers are forgiven sinners pointing other sinners to the Lord’s forgiveness.
Isaiah’s Compulsion to Go
When the Lord appeared to Isaiah, he asked, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” (6:8). (Note the plural pronoun “us,” as it also appears in Genesis 1:26. The plural pronouns are consistent with the trinitarian nature of God.) God had a mission for Isaiah. However, he wanted a volunteer, not a slave serving against his own will. So, God asked, “Who will go?” rather than ordering Isaiah to go against his will. Men can run from responsibility, like Jonah. Or men can accept responsibility willingly, like Isaiah. Isaiah volunteered to serve saying, “Here am I send me.”
Many of God’s servants are reluctant servants. Moses made every kind of excuse before accepting the mission that God had for him. (a) “They will not believe me” (Exod. 4:1). (b) “I am not eloquent” (Exod. 4:10). (c) Send some- one else: “And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send” (Exod. 4:13). Jonah ran from God before accepting his mission.
I am convinced that most of those who preach do so because they cannot do anything else, because the Spirit of the Lord is constraining them to speak. Jeremiah tried to restrain himself, but could not. “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jer. 20:9). Job said, “For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me. Behold, my belly is as wine which hath no vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles. I will speak, that I may be refreshed: I will open my lips and answer” (Job 32:18-20). David said, “I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue” (Ps. 39:2-3). The apostles said, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Friend, if you can turn off and on your desire to preach, like a faucet, you don’t need to preach.
The sad situation for Isaiah was that he had to preach to an audience who refused God’s word. Many of God’s prophets were blessed to preach to receptive audiences. Thousands responded to Jonah, so much so that he was angry that God’s judgment did not come on Nineveh. On Pentecost thousands obeyed the gospel. In the Philippines hundreds are obeying the gospel.
But, for Isaiah and others of God’s prophets and preachers, God’s message was rejected. God told Isaiah before he went that the people would not hear (6:9-10). Think of some others who preached to men unwilling to hear: (a) Noah (Gen. 6:1-5); (b) Elijah and Elisha; (c) Jeremiah; (d) Jesus.
Isaiah asked for how long he was to preach (6:11). One would think that his time would be shortened because of their refusal to hear. However, God said that he wanted him to preach until the cities were destroyed.
When God sends men to preach to an unwilling audience, he can give them a “hard head.” God said to Ezekiel, “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Ezek. 3:8-9). He strengthened men to withstand the people’s rejection of the word of God that they preached.
May the Lord give us “hard heads” to keep on preaching to this generation that is so deaf to God’s word, to an audience that is deaf to its saving message. Let us present the testimony of the Lord to this generation that is more interested in its mutual funds than in morality, entertainment than in enlightenment, and sensualism than in salvation. Then, when the Lord’s second coming occurs, men will know that the gospel was preached among them.