Criswell Theological Review 6.2 (1993) 207-222
[Copyright © 1993 by
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ISAIAH'S CALL AND ITS CONTEXT
IN ISAIAH 1-6
PAUL R. HOUSE
Commentators have offered a variety of opinions on Isaiah's call
within its context in Isaiah 1-6. Part of this diversity stems from the
call's placement. Unlike his fellow prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel,
whose call experiences open their books, Isaiah's initial command to
preach seems to come in chapter 6. This difference has led to specula-
tion on the authorship, date, compilation, setting, and purpose of the
whole section. Though these issues cannot be solved beyond question,
it is necessary to examine them to analyze Isaiah's call effectively.
Therefore, this article will explore Isaiah's call in its context by not-
ing the section's genre, historical setting, structure, biblical context,
placement, contents, and theology. This discussion will conclude that
Isaiah 6 functions as a linking passage between the book's presenta-
tion of the difficulty of the prophet's message in chapters 1-5 and the
difficulty of the prophet's ministry in chapters 7-12. It will thereby
demonstrate the strenuous nature of Isaiah's life and work.
Isaiah 1-6 and Prophetic Literature
Isaiah begins the latter prophets segment of the Hebrew canon.
As the opening prophecy, it sets the tone for the rest of the books.
Themes, images, and personae that appear here emerge again and
again in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve. The importance
of this observation lies in its ability to help explain the logic of the
placement of Isaiah 6.
The prophetic genre uses both narrative and poetry to proclaim
its message.1 Thus, what separates prophecy from the law and the
1 Of course, scholars are currently debating the nature of Hebrew poetry and its
existence. This article uses the terms in their traditional sense. However one defines
Hebrew poetry, it is evident that Isaiah 1-5 and Isaiah 36-39 utilize different syntactical
208 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
writings is its content, not its mode of composition. B. D. Napier ar-
gues that five basic themes distinguish prophetic literature: (1) Word
and symbol, (2) election and covenant, (3) rebellion and judgment, (4)
compassion and redemption, and (5) consummation.2
R. Clements basically agrees with Napier. He thinks canonical
(written) prophecy stresses the inspiration of the prophet's words and
destruction and restoration of
phasis was attached" to restoration, and
assumes a variety of forms in the prophets.3 Napier and Clements offer
a balanced view of prophetic themes, in contrast to commentators who
tend to over-emphasize the prophets' concern with sin and doom.4
Isaiah 1-6 constantly claims to present God's own words. Twice
the passage says that Isaiah received these messages as "visions" from
the Lord (1:1; 2:1). God is quoted repeatedly (1:2-3, 24-26; 5:1-2; etc.).
Chapter 6 presents an episode where Isaiah speaks with God face to
face. Claims for direct inspiration permeate these chapters and the
whole prophecy as well.
Yahweh and the prophet denounce sin in great detail in chapters
1-6. These denunciations set the stage for later calls to repentance
and offers of consolation. Often, the Lord announces the nation's
wickedness (e.g., 1:2-3), and then Isaiah explains the implications
Yahweh's comments for
introduces God's condemnations (e.g., -15).
edness becomes so evident by 6:5 that Isaiah admits, "I am a man of
unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips."
Because of this sin, God will punish
not recognize their master (1:2-3), so Yahweh will purge the rebel-
styles and that Isaiah 6 combines both styles. Cf. Robert Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred
the Hebrews (original
The Idea of Biblical Poetry (New Haven: Yale, 1981); Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical
Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985); and Mona West, "Looking for the Poem: Reflec-
tions on the Current and Future Status of Biblical Hebrew Poetry Analysis," Beyond
Criticism: Essays in Old Testament Literary Criticism (ed. Paul R. House;
2 B. D. Napier, Song of the Vineyard: A Guide Through the Old Testament (Phila-
delphia: Fortress, 1982) 250.
3 Ronald Clements, "Pattems in the Prophetic Canon," Canon and Authority: Es-
says in Old Testament Religion and Theology (ed. G, W. Coats and B, Long; Philadel-
phia: Fortress, 1977) 45.
4 Many early critical scholars tend to argue that the prophets preached judgment,
and that any mention of hope must be an addition to the text. Cf. Ivan Engnell's survey
and refutation of this tendency in The Call of Isaiah: An Exegetical and Comparative
Study (Uppsala/Leipzig: A-B. Lundequistska/Otto Harrassowitz, 1949) 20-23.
John D. W
in Isaiah 1-33 (WBC 24; Waco, TX: Word, 1985) 1-77.
Paul House: ISAIAH'S CALLAND ITS CONTEXT IN ISAIAH 1-6 209
lious nation of all His foes (-26). This purging will occur on the
day of Yahweh, a time of reckoning () that will humble the proud
ile will be the most obvious sign that the "day" has come (). Only a
remnant of righteous persons will remain in the land after the judg-
ment ceases (6:9-13).
God punishes to effect redemption. After the devastation, all na-
tions will worship Yahweh together in
harshest punishment (). Though chapters 1-6 stress sin and judg-
ment, they do not neglect restoration altogether. Renewal remains
Yahweh's ultimate purpose.
Clearly, Isaiah 1-6 introduces the basic themes of the prophetic
genre. Isaiah will participate in the main traditions of prophetic
preaching. Since condemnation and calls for repentance are so prom-
inent, his audience may not appreciate his message. His ministry may
not prove easy or popular.
Historical Setting of Isaiah 1-6
Some scholars attempt to date chapters 1-5 fairly specifically. For
describes the Syro-Ephraimite crisis. At this time
16:7-9). Since chapter 6 is dated about seven years earlier, Hayes and
740, or, in other words, a few years before Uzziah's death.6 In their
Isaiah 1-6 comes from Isaiah's early ministry, when
wickedness has yet to place them in political danger. Chapters 7-12,
then, are sermons delivered during and after the 733 crisis that inau-
gurates a new, politically conscious phase of Isaiah's ministry.7
Other commentators are more cautious. For instance, J. Oswalt
thinks chapters 1-5 are broad introductory messages that have no
"more direct relationship with chaps. 7-12 than they do with any
other segment of the book."8 Thus, they can only be dated sometime
during Isaiah's career. R. Clements says that chapter 1 is an introduc-
tory collection of texts from various periods of Isaiah's ministry. Most
6 John H. Hayes and Stuart Irvine, Isaiah the Eighth-Century Prophet: His Times
and His Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1987) 52-53.
7 Ibid. Note, too, their discussion of chaps. 7-12 (113-220).
Oswalt, The Book
of Isaiah, chapters 1-39 (NICOT;
mans, 1986) 173.
210 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
of chapters 2-6 originates during 733-725, since these passages are
similar in content to Isaiah 7-9, though messages of hope like 2:1-5,
4:2-6, and 6:12-13 are post-exilic additions.9 E. J. Young essentially
agrees with Oswalt's assessment of the section, and though they date
more oracles after 587 than Clements, Kaiser and Gray also think
much of chapters 1-6 comes from eighth-century Isaiah.10 Other au-
thors could be cited, but the point has been made. These writers con-
clude that Isaiah 1-5 arises from a variety of eighth-century settings
and introduces the book in some way. All agree that Isaiah 6 occurs
The prophecy itself offers no exact life setting for chapters 1-5.
Two inscriptions appear, but they merely state that Isaiah delivers
these messages sometime "during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz,
and Hezekiah" (1:1) and that they consist of comments "concerning
Uzziah's death" (6:1), but this reference reveals little. It sets a date for
the call experience without divulging how Uzziah's death affects
Isaiah. The book's internal evidence can be interpreted in a number
of ways, as the survey of scholarly opinions noted above indicates.
Therefore, chapters 1-5 can only be dated sometime during the
reigns of the kings listed in 1:1, or between 783-687.11 Again, chapter
6 takes place near 740. Isaiah's ministry spans from at least 740, and
sooner than 701, when Sennacherib invades
Because chapter 6 mentions Uzziah's death, it is possible to
suggest a general historical situation for Isaiah 1-6. Uzziah rules ef-
fectively from ca. 783-742.12 He helps
military success at a time when Jeroboam II (ca. 786-746) enjoys an
even greater reign in Samaria.13 Despite these prosperous times, Yah-
weh is not pleased with the people. Hosea and Amos, who minister
during the earlier decades of Uzziah and Jeroboam's era, charge the
people and their rulers with a variety of individual and societal sins.
By the time Uzziah dies, the people are ripe for judgment.
9 Ronald Clements, Isaiah 1-39 (NCB; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) 2-8.
E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah: Vol. 1,
chapters 1-18 (
mans, 1965) 233; Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972) 1-7; 23, 53,
73; G. B. Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Isaiah 1-27 (ICC;
thors' opinion on specific texts at this point in the article. What matters is their agree-
ment about the general date and purpose of chaps. 1-6.
Bright, A History of
12 Ibid., 254-55.
Paul House: ISAIAH'S CALL AND ITS CONTEXT IN ISAIAH 1-6 211
threaten the region and will eventually destroy
prophet, Isaiah should have even less hope for
ate future than his predecessors.
Structure of Isaiah 1-6
A passage's structure unites its various themes, images, ideas,
characters, plots, points of view, and time sequences. It is the glue
that holds artistic pieces together. E. V. Roberts states:
Structure is a matter of the relationship among parts that are usually de-
scribed in terms of cause and effect, position in time, association, symme-
try, and balance and proportion. . . . Literary artists universally aim at a
unified impression in their works, and because literature is a time art. . . ,
the study of structure attempts to demonstrate that the idea and the re-
sulting arrangements of parts produces a total impression.14
Because of its ambiguous historical background, this section's struc-
ture is particularly important to grasp. If the chapters are introductory
in nature, then their progression of thought becomes extremely vital.
Certain "seams" exist in these chapters. First, both chapters 1 and
2 have inscriptions which separate them into two distinct segments.
chapters 2-4 form a unit, since 2:1-4 describes
ous future, 2:5-4:1 warns of coming judgment, and 4:2-6 returns to the
theme. Third, 5:1- 7 is a song about
Fourth, 5:8-30 consists of woes against
a dated, narrative account. Sixth, 7:1 presents a totally different setting
from chapter 6. Except for 5:1- 7 and 5:8-30, each seam also marks a
Linguistic parallels help link these sections. L. Liebreich notes
that variations on fmw (sm') ("hear") and wdq (qds) ("holy") occur
and 1:10.15 The Torah is the object of the "hearing" in , and
rejection of the Torah for
ther, 1:4 and charge that
, 19, and 24 mention Yahweh's holiness, and chapter 6 presents
Yahweh as the thrice-holy one.17
14 Edgar V. Roberts, Writing Themes About Literature (3d ed.;
NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973) 119.
16 Ibid., 38.
17 Ibid., 39.
212 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Thematic progression is evident as well. Chapter 1 utilizes sev-
eral common prophetic rhetorical devices, each intended to shame the
repentance.18 Yahweh exposes
comparing them unfavorably to an ox and an ass (1:2-3). Next, God
asks the people why they are determined to perish (1:4-9). The land
has been devastated, so why do they remain stubborn? Why not
"wash" themselves of this sin (-17)? After all, repentance will
As a last resort, Isaiah calls
(-26) and once again demands repentance (-31).
Chapter 2 uses a new inscription to break from chapter 1, but it
continues the sin, punishment, and restoration sequence. P. R. Ackroyd
places 2:1-5 with chapter 1, thus creating two segments that begin
with condemnation and conclude with hope (1:2-2:5 and 2:6-4:6).19
Though this ordering is possible, it fails to accept the separate in-
scriptions as clear divisions and does not recognize another viable
structural option. If 1:1-31, 2:1-4:6, and 5:1-30 are distinct units, then
1:1-31 and 5:1-30 begin and end with oracles of doom. Conversely,
2:1-4:6 begins and ends with words of hope. This rhetorical strategy
either as a message of doom or hope. Unfortunately, they reject threats
and promises equally. No wonder Isaiah despairs over the nation's un-
cleanness in 6:5.
sion rejected, Yahweh declares
people (2:6-11). God will therefore set a "day of reckoning" () to re-
move idols (-22), proud officials (3:1-15), and rich and haughty citi-
zens (-4:1). Apparently the people choose to inherit the glory descri-
bed in 2:1-4 by suffering the devastation promised in -4:1 (cf. 4:2-6).
Chapter 5 begins with a parable (5:1-7), moves to a series of woes
(5:8-23), and ends with predictions of exile (-30). The parable, or
"song" (5:1), denounces the way
pression and murder (5:7). Since
"Woe" awaits all who rape the land (5:8), live for wine (5:9), pervert God's
word (), and take bribes (). The people refuse blessing (2:1-5;
4:2-6; 5:1-2), so a purging disaster has become inevitable (-30).
The first five chapters have done more than introduce the book's
contents20 or simply stress the message over the messenger.21 After
17 (1964) 468.
19 P. R Ackroyd, "Isaiah 1-12: Presentation of a Prophet," VT Sup 29 (1978) 43.
20 Cf. Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39, 173.
21 Cf. Young, Isaiah 1-18, 234 and Geoffrey W. Grogan (EBC 6; ed. F: Gaebelein;
Paul House: ISAIAH'S CALL AND ITS CONTEXT IN ISAIAH 1-6 213
all, some major Isaianic themes, such as the coming Messiah and the
fall of the nations, receive very little treatment, and 1:1 and 2:1 make
Isaiah quite visible to readers. Rather, chapters 1-5 reveal the callous-
ness of the people and, thus, the difficulty of the prophet's ministry.
Regardless of his rhetorical skill, he will be rejected. Neither threat
nor promise will change the people. Yahweh will have no choice ex-
cept to destroy his vineyard. With this desperate situation in place,
Isaiah 6 presents the prophet's call. The reader now knows the obsta-
cles Isaiah faces.
Isaiah 6 has its own structure, since it narrates a single event, yet
continues the main emphases of chapters 1-5. N. Habel suggests that
this episode unfolds like other OT call stories22 and therefore divides
Isaiah 6 as follows: (1) divine confrontation (6:1-2); (2) introductory
word (6:3-7); (3) commission (6:8-10); (4) objection (6:11a); (5) reas-
surance (6:11b-13).23 Habel notes that God offers Isaiah no sign like
those given Moses and Gideon.24
There are several difficulties with this arrangement. First, it is
not logical to divide 6:1-2 from 6:3-4, because both texts narrate
connecting parts of the same vision. The scene is broken by Isaiah's
speech in 6:5. Second, Isaiah's startled "how long?" () is hardly
''as bold as'' the objections "of Jeremiah or Moses"25 as Habel asserts.
Jeremiah gives a reason for not prophesying and has significant later
confrontations with Yahweh.26 Moses makes repeated excuses for not
has already volunteered to go do God's work (6:8). It is best, then, to
leave -13 as one section, since these verses all describe the diffi-
culty of Isaiah's ministry to a soon-to-be-judged nation. Third, Habel's
labelling of 6:11b-13 as "reassurance" is questionable. Certainly
Isaiah learns that judgment will not last forever and that punishment
will help forge a new, purified people (). Still, Isaiah receives
no special promise of God's presence as did Moses (Exod ), or
promise of survival as did Jeremiah (Jer -19). Again, these verses
focus on immediate struggle and long-term hope. The volunteer is
learning his task. Isaiah 6 is a call story, but it does not match Habel's
6:1-4 describes Isaiah's vision of God, that 6:5-7 presents Isaiah's
22 Norman Habel, 'The Form and Significance of the Call Narratives," ZAW 77
23 Ibid., 310-12.
24 Ibid., 312.
26 Note Jeremiah's "confessions" found in -12:6; -21; -18; 18:18-
23; and 20:7-18.
214 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
"sense of unworthiness; and that 6:8-13 details Isaiah's commis-
sion.27 Clements claims that -13 is a sixth-century addition to the
text and therefore separates 6:8-11 and -13.28 Otherwise, he
Young simply divides the chapter into vision (6:1-7) and commission
(6:8-13), while Gray separates the passage into vision (6:1-4), effect
Isaiah (6:5-8), and message for
Given the chapter's generic and thematic characteristics, it is best
to adopt the following combination of the suggestions made by Hayes
1. Isaiah's Vision of God (6:1-4);
2. Isaiah's Sin and its Cleansing (6:5-7);
3. Isaiah's Commission (6:8-10);
Difficult Ministry and
This ordering reflects the main ideas in chapters 1-5. God reveals him-
self to a disobedient people bound for punishment (1:1-31). Unlike these
people, Isaiah repents, and receives the dubious honor of preaching to
rebellious nation. As 2:1-5 and 4:2-6 state, however,
a future, but one forged from the fires of a punishing day of Yahweh
(2:6-4:1). Thus, the structural progression in Isaiah 1-6 is fairly clear:
"Woes" Connected with
4. Isaiah's Call to Minister to the Rebellious Nation (6:1-13).
The Placement of Isaiah 6
As has been noted above, Isaiah 6's placement in the book has
caused much discussion. Some of the debate stems from curiosity about
a call story so late in a prophecy, while concern about chronology fuels
other discussions. Scholars normally accept variations on two basic so-
lutions. Either this chapter discusses Isaiah's initial call, and the func-
tion of chapters 1-5 must be considered as an introductory word of
some kind, or chapter 6 begins a second phase of the prophet's work.
Most commentators adopt the first solution. E. J. Young and
G. Grogan simply believe Isaiah stresses his message more than him-
self.30 This theory does not explain why Isaiah would ever insert him-
28 Clements, Isaiah 1-39, 72.
29 Young, Isaiah 1-18,231,253; Gray, Isaiah 1-27; 102-9.
30 Cf. Young, Isaiah 1-18, 234, and Grogan, 54.
Paul House: ISAIAH'S CALL AND ITS CONTEXT IN ISAIAH 1-6 215
self into the story, or why more of the major elements of Isaiah's
message are not included in chapters 1-5. Gray, Kaiser, and Clements
follow K. Budde's contention that 6:1-8:18 forms "a memoir written by
the prophet himself, and relating to prophecies at the time of the
Syro-Ephraimite war."31 These authors therefore argue that redac-
tional concerns account for the call story coming after other material.
Chapters 1-5 and 6:1-8:18 may have existed as separate collections be-
fore being joined by a final editor. Though this redactional reconstruc-
tion deserves extensive discussion, it is impossible to do so here. It is
only possible to note the function of chapters 1-5 and chapter 6 in
this viewpoint. Clements states that the main "theme of this memoir
is how Ahaz came to refuse the message which Isaiah gave to him"
and how this refusal brought punishment on king and people.32 Simi-
larly, Kaiser concludes that the call account reveals "that God's judg-
ment was already decreed when he called him to a task that went
beyond all normal feeling and understanding."33 Both Kaiser and
Clements highlight refusal and judgment. To them, chapters 1-5 an-
nounce these themes, chapter 6 calls Isaiah to proclaim them, and
chapters 7-12 show the prophet experiencing them.
P. Ackroyd, L. Liebreich, and J. Oswalt believe that chapter 6
serves as both "a suitable conclusion to the chapters before it, and an
equally suitable introduction to the chapters which follow."34 Liebre-
ich thinks Isaiah 6 draws together the early chapters' emphases on
Yahweh as king contrasts the activity of
kings in chapters 7-12.36 Ackroyd says that Isaiah 1-12 introduces Isa-
iah's role as preacher of doom and hope. Given this purpose for the
section, chapter 6 draws together both
future" and its present "recognition of failure and doom."37 Thus,
the chapter does balance this major section of the book.
Oswalt agrees that the "recognition of the double function of
chapter 6 is fundamental to an understanding of its position in the
book."38 He decides, however, that chapters 1-5 are very broad and
introductory. Therefore, chapter 6 does conclude chapters 1-5, but
does more as well. The text also introduces chapters 7-39 by offering
31 Clements, Isaiah 1-39, 70. Cf. Gray, Isaiah 1-27, 99, and Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, 73.
32 Clements, Isaiah 1-39, 71.
33 Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, 73.
34 Liebreich, "The Position of Chapter Six," 40.
35 Ibid., 38-39. See also this article's discussion of the structure of Isaiah 1-6.
36 Ibid., 39.
37 Ackroyd, "Isaiah 1-12, 45.
38 Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39, 173.
216 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
or they can rebel and face the devastation outlined in -13.3 Like
Ackroyd, then, Oswalt claims that Isaiah's call sets him apart as a
preacher of hope that emerges from doom. He also uses Isaiah as a
Some authors adopt the position that Isaiah 6 announces a new
phase of Isaiah's ministry. J. Calvin argues that chapters 1-6 are chro-
nologically correct. Isaiah receives a prophetic call "after that he had
for some time discharged the office of a teacher."40 Calvin assumes a
chronological ordering of the book, but such an ordering was unneces-
sary for the original audience, since 1:1 divulges the book's setting. His
emphasis on Isaiah's work as teacher may also reflect Calvin's belief
that teachers "have an ordinary office in the church."41 At any rate,
Calvin's position has no textual evidence other than the position of
1-5 and chapters 6-12 reflect different settings. The early chapters
are addressed to a general audience, and admonish "the population
about particular actions, ethical stances, and faith postures."42 Later
chapters deal with problems among "the Davidic court and its sup-
Isaiah's attempt to change
Though the rhetorical styles vary somewhat in chapters 1-5 and 6-12,
there are also several similarities. Too, -15 condemns the nation's
rulers, and Isaiah never mentions the earthquake noted in Amos 1-2
14:5. Thus, Hayes and
need to sustain their argument.
Isaiah 6 does act as a linking text. Chapters 1-5 detail the sins of
Clearly the nation ought to repent, yet refuses to do so. Chapter 6 ad-
mits this national sin and announces its long-term cure. Chapters 7-
12 explain how Isaiah announces the cure to the rebellious people
little success in changing them. Thus, the reader learns
is a difficult audience, Isaiah has a difficult task, and Isaiah will expe-
rience a difficult ministry.
39 Ibid., 174-76.
40 John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, chapters 1-32
(trans. William Pringle; reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989) 199.
41 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (trans. Ford L. Battles; re-
John T McNeill;
43 Ibid., 63.
44 Ibid., 69-78.
Paul House: ISAIAH'S CALL AND ITS CONTEXT IN ISAIAH 1-6 217
Contents of Isaiah 6
N. Habel correctly identifies Isaiah 6 as a call story.45 Though
there are problems with his division of the text, as has been noted,
Habel does reveal that Isaiah 6 parallels call stories like those of
Gideon, Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Each account includes an ap-
pearance of, or statement from, Yahweh, a commission, and a com-
ment about the difficulty of each person's ministry. These elements,
along with Isaiah's sense of sinfulness, provide the four main the-
matic divisions of this chapter.
Isaiah 6:1-4: Isaiah's Vision of God
6:1. Isaiah says his call occurs "in the year of king Uzziah's death,"
which is a
difficult date to determine. Hayes and
dates scholars assign the kings of Isaiah's era "may vary as much as a
decade or more."46 Uzziah's reign is particularly hard to fix, since he is
co-regent with his son Jotham in the last years of his life (2 Chronicles
26-21). Bright's 742 date for Uzziah's death, though, leaves enough time
for the events of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah's reigns.47
Many scholars argue that Uzziah's death greatly affected Isaiah.
G. A. Smith thinks this king, who had led
tively, was probably the young prophet's hero.48 Oswalt notes that
Uzziah was the only king Isaiah had known. Thus, his death, and the
mounting Assyrian threat brought on by Tiglath-Pileser III's ascen-
dancy, helped Isaiah realize that
spiritual and political decisions would soon be made. Smith's theory is
intriguing, but has no support in the text. Oswalt's comments are
probably accurate. Early readers of Isaiah would definitely recognize
the transitional nature of this time.50
Isaiah sees "Adonai sitting on a throne, high and lifted up." This
phrase refers to God's kingship and sovereignty, images that appear
throughout the book (e.g., chaps. 13-23; 37:23-24; 40:18-22). Uzziah
may be dead, but the Lord remains sovereign. A second image rein-
forces this picture of greatness. The edges of Adonai's robes are
"filling the temple." God is too magnificent for the temple to contain.
45 Habel, "The Form and Significance."
47 Bright, History, 254.
48 G A
Smith, The Book of Isaiah, chapters 1-39
49 Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39, 177.
50 Of course the call could have come before Uzziah's death. Cf. Gray, Isaiah 1-27,
102. Still, readers would note the changing political scene.
218 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
6:2. "Seraphim," or "burning ones," stand before the Lord. This
term is used several ways in the Old Testament, including to describe
a burning serpent (Num 21:6) or flying serpent (Isa ; 30:6).51
Here the word applies to six-winged creatures who fly before the
Lord, praising him as they go (6:3). The mighty God has unusual
6:3. These "burning ones" increase the distance between the Lord
and human beings. Isa 5:16, 19, and 24 have already established God's
holiness.52 Now the "seraphim" declare tOxbAc; hvAhy; wOdqA wOdqA wOdqA
(qados qados qados YHWH sebaot "Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of
hosts"). Some writers have been tempted to find the trinity in this
formula, but Young rightly concludes, "The number three seems to be
employed primarily for the sake of emphasis."53 God is totally dif-
ferent in nature, character, and worth from the human race or the
Engnell observes that the second half of 6:3 also carries "em-
phatic import."54 Not only is Yahweh holy, he also fills the earth with
"his glory." The phrase OdObK; Cr,xAhA-lkA xlom; (melo' kol-ha'ares kebodo)
parallels lkAyheha-tx Myxilem: vylAUwv; (wesulayw mele'im 'et-hahekal)
from 6:1. God's gJory fills the earth, just as it fills the throneroom of
the Lord. The ruler of the earth governs by inherent holiness. This
verse sounds wonderful until one realizes that "where God's glory is
manifested, there is judgment for sin, for the two cannot exist side by
side. . . . "55 Yahweh's ethical perfection ("holy") makes his presence
("glory") eliminate sin.
6:4. The initial vision of God ends with the building's founda-
tions shaking at the voices of the seraphim, and the area filling with
smoke. The reference to smoke re-emphasizes Yahweh's presence.
Engnell notes that smoke accompanies appearances of God in Exod
40:34 and 1 Kgs 8:10ff. as well.56 Smoke covers God in Leviticus 16, so
perhaps smoke protects Isaiah from viewing the Lord, which could
cause Isaiah's death. Regardless of the smoke's exact purpose, Isaiah
has now seen evidence of Yahweh's greatness, heard the seraphim's
comments on God's holiness, and felt the shaking of the building. His
senses have been assaulted by Yahweh's power.
51 BDB, 977.
52 Cf. Liebreich, "The Position of Chapter Six," 38-40.
53 Young, Isaiah 1-18, 244.
54 Engnell, The Call of Isaiah; 37.
55 Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39, 181.
56 Engnell, The Call of Isaiah, 37.
Paul House: ISAIAH'S CALL AND ITS CONTEXT IN ISAIAH 1-6 219
Other scenes of a divine throne room appear in the OT. For in-
stance Job 1-2 portrays the Lord and Satan in conversation in God's
"control room." The text that parallels 6:1-4 the most, however, is
1 Kgs 22:19ff. Here God sits on a throne, has heavenly messengers,
and reveals a message to a prophet. The texts differ, though, since one
of the heavenly beings carries the Lord's message, not a human
prophet, and there is no prophetic commissioning in 1 Kings 22. Ap-
parently Isaiah shares a common OT vision. Certainly the whole OT
attempts to explain in understandable terms how Yahweh rules the
Isaiah 6:5-7: Isaiah's Sin and its Cleansing
6:5. Given his experience in 6:1-4, it is no wonder Isaiah cries,
me, for I am ruined." This "woe" (yOx ['oy])
"woe" (yOh [hoy]) in 5:8-23, except that Isaiah is wise enough to sense
"woe" on it. Why does Isaiah feel so unworthy? Because he knows he
is "a man of unclean lips" ( MyitapAW;-xmeF;. wyxi yKi [ki teme' sepatayim])
who lives in a nation filled with unclean lips.
"Unclean" often refers to ceremonial uncleanness in the OT,58 so
perhaps Isaiah feels unworthy to remain in God's temple. F. Delitzsch
suggests that Isaiah mentions his lips because he could not match the
praise of the seraphim.59 Clements offers a better solution. He claims
Isaiah realizes his unfitness to act as God's spokesman.60 Thus, Isaiah's
make it an unlikely prophet, just as
lips" make it a poor elect nation. Both Isaiah and the nation should ex-
pect "woe" for their "uncleanness." Isaiah fears for another reason.
Not only is he a sinner, but he has also seen God. Jacob has a similar
fear, as does Yahweh for Moses (Gen 32:30; Exod 33:20). Clearly,
Isaiah has good reason to feel "ruined."
6:6-7. The Seraphim immediately come to Isaiah's aid. They pu-
rify his lips with a coal from the divine altar. God's desire to cleanse
and forgive is evident. Isaiah can now speak for God. Besides Yah-
weh's kindness, this cleansing emphasizes the
57 Note Habel's contention that the similarities between Isaiah 6 and 1 Kgs -
21 strengthen the argument that Isaiah 6 is indeed a typical call story. Habel, “The
Form and Significance," 310.
58 BDB, 379-80.
Franz Delitzsch, Isaiah (reprinted;
60 Clements, Isaiah 1-39, 75.
220 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
rebellion. Forgiveness would come just as quickly for
as for Isaiah if the nation would change.
Isaiah 6:8-10: Isaiah's Commission
6:8. Gratitude leads to service. Isaiah hears God ask "Whom
shall I send, and who will go for us?" Yahweh allows Isaiah to volun-
teer. Calvin believes "for us" (UnlA [lanu]) refers to the trinity, and Gro-
gan says the phrase suggests God's majesty or "fullness of being."61
Oswalt thinks, in light of 1 Kgs 22:19-21, that "for us" probably refers
to the heavenly council, which is probably the best interpretation.62
Regardless of the identity of "us," Isaiah feels compelled to answer
the question. His ykiHelAw; ynin;hi (hinni selaheni, "Here I am, send me!")
echoes other obedient cries of ynin;hi, such as Abraham's in Gen 22:1
and . It also contrasts excuses such as those made by Moses and
Jeremiah.63 Isaiah responds unreservedly to the all-powerful and all-
6:9-10. Now Isaiah learns the specifics of his task. The MT reads
that he must tell the people, "Listen and listen, but do not understand.
Look and look, but never perceive" (6:9). Then uses three hiphil
imperatives--"make fat" (Nmew;ha [hasmen]), "make heavy" (dBek;ha [hak-
bed]), and "shut" (fwahA [hasa'])--to describe Isaiah's effect on the peo-
ple's heart, ears, and eyes. Since the hiphil carries causative force, it
appears that Isaiah must intend to harden the people.
C. A. Evans notes that the Dead Sea Scrolls change the negative
particle lxa ('al) in 6:9 to lfa ('al), which would mean Isaiah must
preach to effect understanding and knowledge. Further, the first
hiphil imperative (jmew;ha) has no nun, which changes the word's
"make appalled." In this reading
saves them from horrible sights and sounds.64 Evans also observes
that the LXX makes the verses descriptive, not imperatival.65 Thus,
"from Yahweh and his prophet to the people themselves."66
Four factors argue in favor of the MTs reading of Isaiah's task.
First, changing the first hiphil imperative does not totally blunt the
next two. Why would an appalled heart cause heavy ears and closed
eyes? Second, the latter half of begins with a strong averting con-
61 Calvin, Isaiah 1-32, 213; Grogan, EBC, 57.
62 Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39, 185. .
63 Cf. Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12,82.
64 C. A Evans, "The Text of Isaiah 6:9-10," ZAW 94 (1982) 416.
66 Ibid., 418.
Paul House: ISAIAH'S CALL AND ITS CONTEXT IN IsAIAH 1-6 221
junction "lest" (NP, [pen]).67 The second half of the verse explains what
the first half seeks to avoid, and adding a vav ("and") to NP,, as Evans
suggests,68 does not erase this syntactical intention. Third, chaps. 1-5
will make them even more callous. Fourth, Isaiah's startled reaction
in implies the extreme difficulty of the preaching, not just disap-
pointment at a lack of response. Therefore, Isaiah must live with the
fact that he will preach repentance, but that this preaching will
harden his hearers.
Isaiah 6:11-13: Isaiah's Difficult Ministry and
6:11. A startled Isaiah inquires "how long" he must pursue this
mission. Engnell states "that the Hebrew ytamA-dfa ('ad-matay) is a
technical term from the phraseological fund of the lamentation
psalms. . . . "69 Often the question is asked in frustration, or during a
time of perceived injustice (cf. Pss 74:10; 82:2; 94:3).70 This phrase is
not a response to a normal instructional assignment. God's answer is
not typical either. Isaiah must preach until the cities have no inhabi-
tants and the land lies "utterly desolate; or until the threats made in
2:6-4:1 come true.
6:12-13. Several scholars, including Clements and Kaiser,71 think
these verses are an addition to the text, since they speak of deporta-
tion, desolation, and a remnant. In this view, -13 was inserted in
post-exilic times to explain the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions
and to offer the exiles hope. Isaiah's predictions of doom were thereby
vindicated and his predictions of hope kept alive.72
Linguistic and thematic details argue against this position. Eng-
nell asserts that the verses' stylistic unity is evident, since the devasta-
tion images build to the announcement of a "holy seed" (wd,qo fraz,
[zera' qodes]), a remnant, for the holy God.73 Verse 11 ends with a
play on words that continues in v 12. The houses will have no "man"
(MdAxA ['adam]), the "ground" (hmAdAxEhAv; [we'ha'adama]) will be desolate,
and Yahweh will "remove men (MdAxAhA [ha'adam]) far away." Also, the
metaphors of desolation in 6:11b and 6:12b are similar. It is logical to
68 Evans, "The Text," 416.
69 Engnell, The Call of Isaiah, 44-45.
70 BDB, 607.
71 Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, 84; Clements, Isaiah 1-39, 78.
72 Cf. Ackroyd, "Isaiah 1-12," 46.
73 Engnell, The Call of Isaiah, 47.
222 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
conclude that a hard, impenitent nation under God's judgment will
Despite the horrors described in 6:9-12, all is not lost. There will
still be a "tenth" (hy.ArWifE ['asiriya]) in the land.74 This remnant may
be burned, it may be like a felled tree, but it will survive. Restoration,
outlined in 4:2-6, will emerge at some future point.
will never lack a "holy seed." Isaiah learns that he will get to an-
nounce restoration, not just sin and punishment.
Isaiah 6 draws together the main thematic emphases of chaps.
1-5. The God
remains a powerful, holy Lord (6:1- 4).
sin and must face the day of Yahweh (cf. 2:6-4:1 and 6:9-12). Re-
newal will overtake the nation's wickedness only when punishment
has done its work (; ).
Isaiah 6 also instills great respect in readers for Isaiah the
prophet. No part of his mission is easy, as chaps. 7-12 reveal Thus, he
way to the nation's future blessings. Like Moses, who must deal with
Pharaoh's hardened heart, and Jeremiah, who can expect total opposi-
tion, Isaiah's commission is extremely difficult. He can expect few
positive results. He can expect restoration to come at a high national
cost. Still, he can depend on the power, holiness, and mercy of God.
The holy God must destroy sin, yet will do so to create a holy people.
74 Verse 13 is notorious for its textual problems, and these difficulties cannot be
explored here. Still, the restoration theme emerges in any reconstruction of the text.
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