And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
(Isa 6:5 ESV)
Isaiah's calling happened in the year of King Uzziah's death, at the beginning of King Ahaz's reign. At that time, Judah was at war with the Northern Kingdom, which had formed an alliance with Aram in the North to fight against their brother in the South.
THE VISION OF THE GREAT THRONE ROOM
Isaiah is said to be the son of Amoz (not the prophet), who was the brother of King Amaziah, which would make Isaiah of royal Davidic blood.
He is the most quoted prophet in the Brit Chadasha and truly earned the attribute of "messianic prophet."
Isaiah received visions and messages at the end of the reign of King Uzziah and during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. On the year of the death of King Uzziah, he received this vision and oracle:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
(Isa 6:1-4 ESV)
ISAIAH THE HUMBLE MAN
Isaiah was humbled by the awesome sight.
People sometimes tell me of their personal spiritual experiences. They talk about it in a very cavalier, almost familiar way as in trying to impress upon me that these are familiar event sto them. When I read the Biblical text though, whether in the Tanach or the Brit Hachadasha, spiritual experiences are anything but casual. They often leave their participants in a state of shock and awe. They usually very humbled by it and sometimes even sick. In the case of Isaiah, he felt extremely unworthy that he wanted to hide from it. Isaiah acknowledged that he was a sinful man; that he was not worthy of standing in the Holy Presence.
And I said:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips,
and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
(Isa 6:5 ESV)
As we read these words, we remember Ezekiel, a prophet who had the same experience (Ez 1:4-28). We also remember John on the Isle of Patmos who also was granted an audience in the Great Throne Room (Rev 4:1-8).
The original such experience was at Mount Sinai, which is why the Rabbis connected this section of Isaiah's prophecy with this week's parasha.
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off
(Exo 20:18 ESV)
It is said by the sages of Judaism that HaShem came down on Mount Sinai with His Throne. When Moshe was asked to build the Tabernacle, he was charged:
And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.
(Exo 25:40 ESV)
Isaiah's confession of sin opens the door for repentance and forgiveness. His sin is expiated by one of the coals of the altar (Rev 8:5). Targum Yonathan explains this scene, which finds similarity with personal experiences as related by Ezekiel and Jeremiah, symbolically saying, "And in his hand was a word ... and he placed it in my mouth, and said, "Behold, I have put the words of prophecy in your mouth, and your iniquities are put away, and your sins are expiated.""
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. (Isa 6:6 ESV)
And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
(Isa 6:6-7 ESV)
Coals from the same altar will be sent to earth at the end of times as part of the seventh seal of the Book being broken.
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
(Rev 8:3-5 ESV)
Now that Isaiah's sins are expiated, he is ready for the mission HaShem has for him.
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
(Isa 6:8 ESV)
Notice that Isaiah is rearing to volunteer before he even knows what the mission is going to be. An attitude we should all do well to emulate!
HaShem gives Isaiah a message designed to expose the people of Judea to their poor, dull, spiritual condition.
And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
(Isa 6: 9-10 ESV)
MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND PARABLES
Due to a translation mishap, this section sounds like HaShem is the One provoking the heaviness of the heart of the people in order to make sure they do not understand the message. Wouldn't that be counterproductive? A better understanding of the verb tenses in the text as referenced by Rashi, Kimhi, and Luzzato in the Septuagint reads differently:
Ye shall hear indeed, but ye shall not understand:
and ye shall see indeed, but ye shall not perceive.
For the heart of this people has become gross,
and their ears are dull of hearing,
and their eyes have they closed:
lest they should see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and be converted,
and I should heal them.
Understood with the proper verb tense, context, and translation, we now see that the resistance to the Word of God belongs to the people and not a matter of divine purpose.
There is another passage that is usually misunderstood in the same manner:
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
(Mat 13:10 ESV)
This passage is usually understood as Yeshua purposely hiding His important message from certain people, but wouldn't that be counterproductive? Jewish teachers used parables in order to explain complicated spiritual principles to simple folks in simple ways, not to hide it from them. In this chapter, Yeshua speaks to the people in parables but to His disciples who were closer to Him and who have been learning from Him, such tools were not needed and He could talk to them plainly.
THE RESULT OF BEING DULL OF HEARING
Isaiah knows the situation all too well. He knows that the people have not been serious with HaShem. He knows that they have rationalized sin for too long. Their heart was now so far from God, and what was worse, they didn't know it!
The sinner who is remains conscious of his prior sins is closer to Heaven than the self-righteous person who doesn't even know that he is far from God! Yeshua proclaimed the same message to self-righteous religious people of His generation:
“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
(Mat 21:31 ESV)
Grieved over the situation, Isaiah asks:
“How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
and the LORD removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.
(Isa 6:11-13 ESV)
In His mercy, HaShem will keep a remnant! Remnants mean hope; salvation; resurrection!
STUBBORN KING AHAZ
King Pekah of the Northern Kingdom had made an unholy alliance with Rezin the King of Syria in order to attack Judea.
In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it.
(Isa 7:1 ESV)
Ahaz was not used to praying to God. He and the people of Judea were afraid.
When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
(Isa 7:2 ESV)
HaShem will send the prophet and his son, whom Isaiah prophetically called, "Shear-jashub," meaning, "a remnant will return!"
And the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer's Field.
(Isa 7:3 ESV)
Isaiah tries to strengthen king Ahaz:
And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” thus says the Lord GOD: “‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. And within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’” (Isa 7:4-9 ESV)
Ahaz will not listen. Isaiah pleads with the King to ask God for a sign, any sign to prove that the prophecy he just uttered against Pekah and Rezin will come true.
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz:
“Ask a sign of the LORD your God;
let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”
(Isa 7:10-11 ESV)
King Ahaz doesn't budge. He even has the nerve to give his stubborn pharaonic stubbornness a semblance of religiosity:
But Ahaz said,
“I will not ask,
and I will not put the LORD to the test.”
(Isa 7:12 ESV)
Now it seems that Isaiah is getting a little irritated with King Ahaz,
And he said,
“Hear then, O house of David!
Is it too little for you to weary men,
that you weary my God also?
(Isa 7:13 ESV)
Isaiah then proclaims that whether King Ahaz wants a sign or not, HaShem will give him one.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall call his name Immanuel.
(Isa 7:14 ESV)
The sign that King Ahaz would receive was that one of his young wives would become pregnant and have a son.
The Hebrew word translated as "virgin/alma/עלנה" is really "young maid." A young maid can be a virgin, or not. Hebrew has another word, "Betulah/בתולה" for virgin. When coming to that section, the Jewish writers of the Septuagint chose to write the Greek equivalent of virgin, as they felt it was closer to the intent. Thus Matthew's use of the word "virgin" in Mat 1:23.
The fulfillment of this prophecy in the days of King Ahab was that Abi gave birth to who would become King Hezekiah, whom people for a time had thought might have been the Messiah.
This fact doesn't take away the exactness of Matthew's application, but it teaches us a lot on the Jewish use, application, and understanding of the prophetic word.
More details are given about this Hezekiah.
Isaiah predicts that he will be a good man trying to do God's will, that God would dwell with him and in him. Though King Hezekiah was not the Messiah he was a forerunner and an ancestor type of Messiah still respected by Jewish teachers.
He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.
(Isa 7:15-16 ESV)
PROPHECIES, PARTIAL AND ULTIMATE
When reading prophetic material, it is important to read it as Jewish sages read it. When a prophet utters a prophecy, it usually starts with some event that is contemporary to his time. As the oracle continues, it seems to take a "life of its own" if I may say so. Sometimes, a prophecy is given and only a part of it is fulfilled. In the mind of the sages, that means the part not yet fulfilled belongs to another time or even to World-to-Come. Many prophecies also have partial and ultimate fulfillments. This is a testimony to HaShem's atemporal nature.
In the parasha this week, we have talked about "stubborn Pharaoh." Now we are talking about "stubborn Ahaz." In both of these cases, stubbornness refused to be conquered because of personal pride and a mind already made up, regardless of the signs HaShem profusely accorded them in order to help them change their mind.
We may look at these and say, "How could they?", but can we sincerely look at ourselves and say that we respond positively to all HaShem strives hard to make us see?
We are entering into times that are getting more and more difficult. May we not be like Pharaoh and Ahaz. May we see the signs that are all around us, and especially look to Him who is our "Sign":
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart, and those who harass Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.
(Isa 11:10-13 ESV)
R' Gabriel Lumbroso