The Sending of Isaiah. 1In the year King Uzziah died,* I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,a with the train of his garment filling the temple. 2Seraphim* were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered.b 3One cried out to the other:
“Holy, holy, holy* is the LORD of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!”
4At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.* c
5Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed!* For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips,d and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar.
7He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips,* your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”e
8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!” 9* And he replied: Go and say to this people:
Listen carefully, but do not understand!
Look intently, but do not perceive!f
10Make the heart of this people sluggish,
dull their ears and close their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,
and their heart understand,
and they turn and be healed.g
11“How long, O Lord?” I asked. And he replied:
* Until the cities are desolate,
Houses, without people,
and the land is a desolate waste.
12Until the LORD sends the people far away,
and great is the desolation in the midst of the land.
13If there remain a tenth part in it,
then this in turn shall be laid waste;
As with a terebinth or an oak
whose trunk remains when its leaves have fallen.* h
Holy offspring is the trunk.
* [6:1] In the year King Uzziah died: probably 742 B.C., although the chronology of this period is disputed. A high and lofty throne: within the holy of holies of the Jerusalem Temple stood two cherubim, or winged sphinxes, whose outstretched wings served as the divine throne (1 Kgs 6:23–28; Ez 1:4–28; 10:1, 20). The ark of the covenant was God’s footstool (Ps 132:7–8; 1 Chr 28:2), placed under the cherubim (1 Kgs 8:6–7). Temple: the holy place, just in front of the holy of holies.
* [6:2] Seraphim: the plural of saraph (“to burn”), a term used to designate the “fiery” serpents of the wilderness (Nm 21:8; Dt 8:15), and to refer to “winged” serpents (Is 14:29; 30:6). Here, however, it is used adjectivally of the cherubim, who are not serpent-like, as seen in the fact that they have faces and sexual parts (“feet”). See the adaptation of these figures by Ezekiel (Ez 1:10–12; 10:4–15).
* [6:3] Holy, holy, holy: these words have been used in Christian liturgy from the earliest times.
* [6:4] Smoke: reminiscent of the clouds which indicated God’s presence at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16–19; Dt 4:11) and which filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34–38) and the Temple (1 Kgs 8:10–11) at their dedication.
* [6:5] Doomed: there are two roots from which the verb here could be derived; one means “to perish, be doomed,” the other “to become silent,” and given Isaiah’s delight in puns and double entendre, he probably intended to sound both notes. “I am doomed!” is suggested by the popular belief that to see God would lead to one’s death; cf. Gn 32:31; Ex 33:20; Jgs 13:22. “I am struck silent!” is suggested by the emphasis on the lips in vv. 5–6, and such silence is attested elsewhere as the appropriate response to the vision of the Lord in the Temple (Hb 2:20).
* [6:7] Touched your lips: Isaiah is thus symbolically purified of sin in preparation for his mission as God’s prophet.
* [6:9–10] Isaiah’s words give evidence that he attempted in every way, through admonition, threat, and promise, to bring the people to conversion (cf. 1:18–20), so it is unlikely that this charge to “harden” is to be understood as Isaiah’s task; more probably it reflects the refusal of the people, more particularly the leaders, who were supposed to “see,” “hear,” and “understand,” a refusal which would then lead to a disastrous outcome (vv. 11–12).
* [6:11–12] The desolation described would be the result of the sort of deportation practiced by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians. Isaiah seems to expect this as an eventual consequence of Judah’s submission as vassal to the Assyrians; cf. 3:1–3; 5:13.
* [6:13] When its leaves have fallen: the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain, and the text may be corrupt. Holy offspring: part of the phrase is missing from the Septuagint and may be a later addition; it provides a basis for hope for the future.
a. [6:1] 1 Kgs 22:19–23; Jn 12:41.
d. [6:5] Is 29:13; Mt 15:1–11; Mk 7:1–13; Col 2:20–23.
f. [6:9] Mt 13:10–17; Mk 4:10–12; Lk 8:9–10; Acts 28:25–28.