Monday, May 24, 2021

Isaiah 6:1-8

This passage occurs on Holy Trinity Sunday in Year B, most recently May 2021

Summary:  This passage beautifully contrasts Uzziah and the Lord as kings of Israel.  What emerges is a profoundly beautiful version of God's holiness...and also love for this world.  It is also a deeply political passage, reminding us, as Psalm 146 says, do not put your trust in princes; Yet Isaiah is not given permission to abandon this world (or the temple, or the state!)  This is a great word for us in 2021, as we recover from a year of death, a year in which our cynicism grew by leaps and bounds.  God has not given up on the world!

Key Words
- Contrasting Uzziah and the Lord
שנח-מוח ("year of death", vs 1)  This passage begins with an ominous wording:  "The year of death."  This will set up the contrast for the living Lord.  Someone asked in the comments if this word order was significant.  Perhaps I make too much of it, but it further adds to the contrast:  Death of earthly king.  Life of eternal king.  A nice connection to the Gospel passage paired with this, John 3:16

Also interesting to consider in 2021, given that we have lived through a year of death!

המלך ("king", vs 1 and vs 5)  Whether the people cried to return to their fleshpots in Egypt or called on Samuel to anoint a king, the question for Israel is always:  Who is your king?  The king on the "so-called" throne has died but the living Lord abides.  This is a king who is worshiped by eternal messengers

מלא ("full", 6.4) The word "full" is used three times in this section; the robe fills the temple; the house is filled with smoke; the earth is filled with God's glory.  It is a reminder that with God there is always abundance even amid deep scarcity.

המןבח ("altar", 6.6)  First point:  the word for altar comes from the word for sacrifice.  This connotation, clear in both Greek and Hebrew, is lost in English.  The sacrament of the altar then, is the sacrament of the place of sacrifice.  

Second point:  Uzziah ends his life with leprosy, punished by God for attempting to make a sacrifice -- instead of the priests -- in the temple.  (2 Chronicles 26)  Uzziah tried to claim to much power -- state and temple -- and God would have none of it.  A reminder that the kings of earth always try for more than is granted to them.  Also interesting that it will be the altar, where Uzziah sinned, where Isaiah will be commissioned to preach.

- Some further thoughts on holiness:
קדיש ("qadesh" meaning "holy", vs 3)  Hebrew does not use many adjectives; it simply repeats words to add emphasis.  To use a word three times means something is really holy.   This is the only time that the word Holy is repeated in the entire OT; in the book of Revelation the phrase will be used again threefold.  The use of holy three times here suggests that the temple is the location of the fullness of God's glory on earth -- heaven on earth!

It is also worth pointing out that Isaiah is acutely aware that he is unclean and not holy.  What keeps him unholy, most noticeably, is not simply his own sin but the collective sin.  

שרפים ("Seraphin" meaning "angels", 6.2)  The word "Seraphim" comes from the Hebrew word for snake, which comes from the Hebrew verb, "burn"; this is in fact, what the Seraphim will do, burn pure the lips of Isaiah.  This is terrifying image of angels!

As Fausset's Bible Dictionary says:
"3152.01 Isa. 6:2,3. God's attendant angels. Seraphim in Num. 21:6 means the fiery flying (not winged, but rapidly moving) serpents which bit the Israelites; called so from the poisonous inflammation caused by their bites. Burning (from saraph to burn) zeal, dazzling brightness of appearance (2 Kings 2:11; 6:17; Ezek. 1:13; Mt. 28:3) and serpent-like rapidity in God's service, always characterize the seraphim..."

צבאית ("Sabboth" meaning "army", 6.3) The word "Sabboth" or "hosts" here does not mean dinner or Sabbath; it means legions of war.  This is fascinating the long form of God's holy name in the Bible includes a title of war.  I believe this must be contrasted with Isaiah 2, where the swords will be transformed into plowshares on the mount of Lord.  God's "warrior" side is always a secondary or penultimate side, designed to purify and cleanse.  Obviously the problem is that people always believe their war is to purify and justify terrible atrocities.

כפר ("cover" or "atone"; 6:7)  Isaiah's sins are "blotted out" or "cleansed" or "covered" depending on the translation.  The root word here means atone.  It is interesting that the literal meaning of atone in Hebrew is cover, as in Noah covered (same word) his boat with pitch.  What might that mean to understand our sins as being covered?

שלחני ("Send" in this case (שלח) with (ני) on the end for "me!", 6.8)  We are forgiven and sent out into the world.  This idea of being sent is not a concept made up in the Gospel of John (or anywhere else in the New Testament.)  It is core to the prophets.  God gathers -- in this cases draws us into the temple -- to cleanse and send us.  Our holiness - our sanctification - is all about being made useful to God.  Why does God cleanse Isaiah?  Ultimately for the redemption of Israel.

1 comment:

Leslie said...

Would you mind clarifying this a bit? I do not see the grammatical/theological distinction right away.

"It is not, literally, the year King Uzziah died, but rather: In the year of the death of the King Uzziah"