The Day Isaiah was Terrified

“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. 6 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: 7 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. 8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:5-8).

As popular as contemporary worship appears to be, if history is a prelude to the future, it will not last. The modern emphasis on moving away from organized religion, away from religious ritual, away from form and ceremony is appealing, but only for a moment, because the soul cannot be satisfied with the mundane, the ordinary, the familiar.

The worship of God is mysterious, sublime, and transcendental. The spiritual world takes the soul of man from the realm of mortality to touch the eternal through prayer, meditation, praise, sermons, and songs.

There will come a time when the contemporary audience will want spiritual meat over milk. They will want the substance of the Word of God, and not just the silly talking of mindless chatter.

There will come a time when the contemporary worshipers will sense that their worship leaders are holding them back from the majesty of God. All the emphasis on self, self-esteem, and self-help techniques, pale into insignificance before the glory of God. The heart longs to sing about His majesty.

“Majesty, worship His majesty;
Unto Jesus be all glory, honor, and praise.
Majesty, kingdom authority,
Flow from His throne unto His own, His anthem raise.

So exalt, lift up on high the name of Jesus.
Magnify, come glorify Christ Jesus, the King.
Majesty, worship His majesty,
Jesus who died, now glorified, King of all kings.”

Jack W. Hayford, 1980

The contemporary God is not majestic. He is all too human. He loves everyone, and is offended at no one. Individuals can rage at Him, curse Him, ignore Him, or deny His existence. It does not matter. God has been tamed. Vengeance is not His. He will not condemn anyone, or anything. Homosexuals can worship in His presence without shame or guilt, as well as those who strive to keep His commandments. Those who deny the divinity of Christ, His virgin birth, His vicarious substitutionary death, and His bodily resurrection are welcomed into the presence of God without the need to repent and confess Christ as Lord. The contemporary God is innocuous.

God is dethroned in modern day Christianity, is so felt needs can be met. Ministers do not want to frighten people with a God who is judgmental. They want to be sensitive to those who are seeking after God, and not turn them away. So they dress down in the clothing, and dumb down the gospel message.

The real reason why the contemporary view of God is presented to the vast majority of people, is because the true revelation of God in His holiness, and splendor, is too traumatic to sinful humanity.

When Isaiah saw the throne of God, when Isaiah heard the angels crying, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”, when the prophet saw the billow robe of God’s garment filling the Temple, he cried out in terror, “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.”

When a person is confronted with the holiness of God, they tremble. John Calvin spoke of this in his Institutes.

“Hence that dread and amazement with which, as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God…. Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God” (Institutes of the Christian Religion I. i.3).

In Scripture, there is a pattern to human responses to God’s holiness. The more righteous a person is, the more that individual trembles when in the immediate presence of God.

Habakkuk went into the presence of God to inquire why the wicked prospered. The Lord came to the prophet to give an answer, resulting in a moment of spiritual terror. “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble” (Hab. 3:16).

When the Lord showed Himself to Job, the good man said, “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). On another occasion, “Job answered the LORD, and said, 4 Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. 5 Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:3-5).

When Peter was exposed to the holiness of God in Christ, “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

John Calvin was right to observe that the uniform testimony of Scripture is that individuals, when exposed to the holiness of God, tremble in His presence. When Isaiah saw the glory and holiness of God, he cried out in terror, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” The NIV translates the text, “Woe to me! I cried. “I am ruined.”

The word “woe” (Heeb. ‘owy [o’-ee] is a word of lamentation. Isaiah was crying out to the people to indicate his status, and theirs, before God. That was his function as a prophet.

Unlike the priests of Israel who spoke to God on behalf of the people, the prophet spoke for God to the people. God had a message He wanted to communicate. It was a message of supreme importance. It was a message about His majesty, their sinfulness, and the need for repentance.

The prophet of God spoke with authority. He never qualified his words by saying, “This is only my opinion,” or, “In my humble estimation,” or, “This may be the case.”

The prophet spoke to the people in a straightforward way and declared, “Thus saith the LORD!” The prophets knew they were vessels of Divine announcements.

The literary form of the prophet was the oracle.  

Among the most famous was the Oracle of Delphi (lit. womb) located in Greece, guided by the Phythia, or priestess who would make prophesies believed to be divinely inspired from a deity.  The sayings of the sibyls, and oracles were notorious for being open to interpretation.  

One famous prediction was the answer to a person who wanted to know whether it would be safe for him to join a military campaign. The answer was this. “Go, return not die in war”, which can have two entirely opposite meanings, depending on where a missing comma is supposed to be – before or after the word “not”.

On another occasion, a general was wondering whether or not to engage in battle. He was told, “If you cross the river, a great army will be destroyed.” He took the answer to mean a victory for himself. He crossed the river, and a great army was destroyed, his own.

The oracles were of two types. Some were good, others were bad. Christians sing about “weal” (happiness, blessing, prosperity), or “woe” (sorrow, despair).

When Jesus said, “Blessed are…” he was using familiar language to the people of His day, and pronouncing God’s blessing on those who listened to Him and kept His word.

The opposite of the Oracle of Weal, was the Oracle of Woe.

Hear the prophet Amos upon the nations and cities. “Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron” (Amos 1:3). Etc.

When Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, He said, “Woe unto you…” (Matt. 23:13-39).

Sometimes the woes of God are in triple form for emphasis on judgment apart from repentance.

“Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these. 5 For if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; 6 If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: 7 Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever” (Jer. 7:4-7).

“And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!” (Rev. 8:13).

The first oracle of doom which Isaiah pronounces is upon himself. “Then said I, Woe is me!” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah understood who God was, and he understood who he was. Isaiah was in a state of psychological disintegration, as he perceived himself, not with self-esteem, but with self-abasement.

A person who is healthy is described in terms of being integrated. There is a psychological wholeness to their thoughts, speech, and decisions. There is coherence and consistency.

A person who is unhealthy is disintegrated. Their thoughts are not coherent. Their speech is nonsensical. Their decisions are erratic. We say that such a person is “falling apart.”

Isaiah came apart when he saw the holiness of God. Everything he might had thought about himself, his goodness, his importance, his relative righteousness, was undone in the presence of God. He saw himself as what he was in the presence of pure goodness, holiness, and righteousness.

The veil was removed from the eyes of Isaiah. He was exposed, as every person will be exposed before God. In that day of ultimate judgment our lips will be silenced. We will not be able to speak to justify or defend ourselves, for there is no defense, or justification for any act of unholiness. We are masters of self-deceit. After all, “to err is human.”

Adam and Eve tried to give a defense for why they committed unholy acts, and appeared foolish in their feeble attempts.

It is far better to do what Isaiah did and put a hand on our lips “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19).


The mouth is the source of much sin, and shall be harshly judged. From our lips come forth lies, blasphemies, curses, and filthy communications. With our tongue we bear false witness, murmur, and criticize. We speak in a boastful way. We speak to vent our anger, spite, jealousy, and bad temper. We do not care who is listening, whether or not what we say is true, or who we hurt.

God has given us our mouths to praise Him, and express love, and adoration for Him. But we have misused our mouths. They should be covered. 

If a person is ever to do what Isaiah did, they must come into the presence of God on some spiritual level, and see God in His holiness. Otherwise, the heart will continue to deny, defend, or dismiss the imperfections, the sins in the soul.

How does a person have a God moment, whereby they get an insight into their sinful self, and a sight of God’s majestic glory and holiness?

It is possible that God will give a person a vision of Himself. It is possible that God will come to a person in a dream. “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;  17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:16-17).

It is possible that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the heart and mind through the reading of the Scripture, as Christian was smitten by the Word in the Pilgrim’s Progress.

It is possible that God will grant a person understanding, and repentance, through introspection, to see the magnitude of sin as he did with Isaac Watts in 1707.

“Alas! and did my Savior bleed,

and did my Sovereign die!

Would he devote that sacred head

for sinners such as I?

Was it for crimes that I have done,

he groaned upon the tree?

Amazing pity! Grace unknown!

And love beyond degree!”

When Isaiah fell before the Lord of glory and covered his mouth, God took pity on him. An angel was sent and laid a live coal on his tongue in a cleansing act. “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” (Isaiah 6:7).

The Lord did not try to sooth the self-loathing Isaiah engaged in by minimizing his sin, by suggesting the prophet was being too hard on himself, or by suggesting Isaiah was not as bad as he believed himself to be. No, no. This was no cheap grace. It required a red-hot burning act of cleansing, so hot the angel could not touch the burning coal, but had to use tongues. Then, the coal was put on Isaiah lips, which are very sensitive.

God was determined to thoroughly cleanse Isaiah. The Lord put the flesh of Isaiah to death.  God cleansed Isaiah. He purified him. The Lord cleaned his servant’s mouth, and made him a witness unto the nations of the earth. “Also, I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:7).

Would you like to confess your sin to God, and have Him forgive all your sins? Then know this. God is more eager to forgive you of your sins than you are to do wrong. But, there is a price to pay for repentance.

True repentance is very painful. It involves self-abasement, honest confession, and a desire to glorify God.

When a person is truly repentant they will say, “Here am I.” They will not say, “Here I am” as if they are telling God where they are geographically. No, the repentant heart says, “Here am I, all of me, for your service.  I am at your disposal. Amen.”

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