Click here for the reading: Isaiah 6:1-7.

The threefold “Holy” of the seraph in the throne-room of God is our connection to theme of Trinity Sunday. Who is this God that has called a people to be his own? Who is the King above all kings, in whose hands are the deep places of the earth? He is not impersonal, nor is he like the gods of the nations – capricious and capable of wickedness. His holiness is manifest in the unity of three persons in a perfect bond of love.

The grandeur of the sight is such that Isaiah can only describe the smallest detail of it: the train of Lord’s robe filled the temple. Isaiah saw the Lord of hosts, which means that he saw Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, a majesty and glory that leave him undone. The angels are not undone by the presence of God; nevertheless, even they cover their faces and their feet. What hope does a man have, much less a man of unclean lips, in the presence of Almighty God?

In the year that King Uzziah died, this commissioning of a prophet in the presence of God’s throne is poignant given the circumstances of Uzziah’s death (2 Chron. 26). No king of Judah, even though he seeks the Lord, can keep himself clean. Much less can he cleanse the people. The Lord must provide the cleansing himself. That cleansing does not happen merely by means of fire, which would burn but not save. Nor, as our Gospel lesson will reveal, does it happen merely by means of water, which would drown but not save. Rather, the cleansing needed comes by means of a word, which is why a prophet is commissioned in the throne room of God.

The blessings of God are not generic blessings. For Isaiah, who is to serve as God’s mouthpiece to Israel, it is precisely his lips which need cleansing. The burning one purifies his mouth with fire and a word of forgiveness. Now Isaiah can stand without terror in God’s presence, and he can speak with authority to an unclean people. What can lips thus cleansed do besides proclaim the holy and pure Word of God?

What follows in Isaiah is 60 chapters of prophecy that burn hotter than any fire could. It is a word that removes every excuse and warns against all deceit. It does not satisfy itching ears. It shatters the people and is a snare to the proud. But having razed the dull with their heavy ears and their blind eyes, God’s Word sprouts anew in the virgin who shall conceive. The Holy Trinity, in its majesty eternal, stoops to save sinners as the Son of God takes on human flesh and suffers as an obedient servant, as a lamb led to slaughter. That Spirit-breathed Word, the Gospel of forgiveness and salvation for man, reveals the glory of Father, Son, and Spirit, whom we worship and adore.

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 40:25-31.

“Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold the days are coming, when all that is in your house and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon.  Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 39:6)

Isaiah prophesied of the coming Babylonian captivity.  And strangely it seemed to have no effect on Hezekiah.  His response?  “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”  (Isaiah 39:8).  The King could live at ease without a worry of his children’s suffering.

It is those children of Hezekiah, and all who know the pain of exile from our true home, that Isaiah speaks to in chapter 40.  The prophesied exile would come and with it would come weeping and lamentation (see the entire book of Lamentations).  The words of Isaiah from chapter 40 give hope of return to exiles.

The theme of being in exile will return again in the epistle reading for the day.  And the day’s Gospel reading will note grief and sorrow like that which is voiced by Isaiah on behalf of the people of God, “My way is hidden from the Lord and my right is disregarded by my God.” (Isaiah 40:27).  It is well worth considering in what way the exile of Israel in the Old Testament compares and contrasts with the experience of the members of the Church in our day.  The preacher will want to ask himself if his hearers feel they are even in exile?  Is our heavenly citizenship valued over and above our earthly home, or vice versa?  Do we have a sense of the alienation from God that our sin has wrought or are we comfortable in it?  Unless that sense is known, the lament of Israel and the return that Isaiah speaks of will ring hollow.

But, where Christians are experiencing the tribulation of living in a spiritual Babylon and amidst an increasingly pagan world, there the prophecy of Isaiah will be received with joy.  The comfort that the Lord gives through Isaiah is not immediately obvious.  What would be most keenly desired is to have a promise of return.  But first, Isaiah reminds the people about who God is, with the implication being that He will surely cause them to return.

This may at first appear to be a subtle distinction, as God’s nature and His works always go together.  But, what is especially clear in the Isaiah reading for the day is that even while waiting for the Lord to work salvation for them, the people of God have strength.  How can this be?

Isaiah focuses on the power of the Lord.  His work in creation in especially highlighted.  The prophet summons the languishing people to look to the stars and see in them the power of the Lord.  The Creator’s power is clearly evident in the night sky and the consistency of the stars and constellations. 

However, this is not the first time that the Lord has pointed His people to the stars.  It was to Abram, awaiting as he was the promise of a son, that the Lord first pointed to the stars and connected His word of promise to their number, saying, “so shall your offspring be.”  When Isaiah points the people of Israel in exile to the stars He is simultaneously reminding them of their father Abraham and the Lord’s promise to him that would not be forgotten.

The Israelites had to wait in exile.  Christians too must wait for deliverance.  But in waiting there is strength.  The supernatural strength of the Lord God is given to His faithful people.  The final verses emphasize this with a dramatic promise.  Youths and young men, those paragons of energy and strength will faint and grow weary, but those who trust in the Lord renew their power.  And even more than that, they will be given the wings of eagles to soar through their challenges. 

As the preacher expounds on these amazing promises he will have a rich storehouse of examples to point to of God’s almighty power and promises for His people of old and new.  Isaiah’s rhetorical questions, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” (Isaiah 40:28) would well serve as a way to bring out the great treasures of God’s mighty acts of deliverance old and new.

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 55:10-13.

Creation tells out the Creator’s might. The rain and snow come down from the Creator’s hand, who has promised not to send so much at once that life on earth is extinguished. The rain and the snow come down by measure, and in their sending they make the earth fruitful and gladden the heart of man with what the earth yields. The sower and the eater are both provisioned by what comes down from above.

Thus the word comes down heaven from as the rain and the snow do. What is familiar in creation will be gloriously unfamiliar in new creation. A people stranded in exile will have the word from heaven preached to them, and the word will prove true. The nagging doubt of fruitlessness – that all this would come to naught like a field sown but not harvested – is dispelled through the promise that the word of God will accomplish His purpose and will prove fruitful at last.

Creation then becomes more than a way to grasp what the word of God does. Creation itself must turn in joy to praising the God who does these wonderful things with His word. The people of God will have joy and peace, and in their peaceful rejoicing the mighty things of creation – the mountains and the everlasting hills – begin to sing. The trees that are mightier and older than any man will clap their hands as all creation becomes a temple where the servants of God praise the God whose word is so mighty.

This word and this rejoicing will change creation itself from a bearer of evil and sadness – a place for thorns and for briers – to a place of quiet joys and peaceful shade – a place for the cypress and for the myrtle. What was inhospitable and dangerous will become garden-like and homey. Everything will be changed at His word.

This will be His everlasting fame – that He has made from the thorn a cypress and from the brier a myrtle. He has changed a fallen creation into a new creation that sings His praise and shelters His people. The word’s effect on creation is far greater than the rain and the snow, which water for a time and are good for a season. The word will work such changes in all creation that it will become an “everlasting sign” of His goodness and His wonders. Through the sign of Jonah – the sign of the Son of Man three days in the belly of the earth and then raised – the Lord will work a change in the earth – from death to life, from thorn to cypress – that will never be cut off, never change with the seasons, that will be forever fruitful.

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 60:1-6.

Epiphany was once Christmas and Epiphany and all their joy wrapped together. As the celebration of Jesus’s birth became separated from the coming of the Magi to worship the King of the Jews, Epiphany lost some of its luster. The prophet Isaiah restores the gleam to Epiphany in this glorious proclamation.

The advent of the Messiah is a call to awaken to a new reality. The nations without the Messiah are pictured as dwelling in a kind of pre-creation darkness altogether without light. The listener must awake because the Lord’s glory has risen like the sun. Jesus’s coming changes the reality in which the world lives as does the sun’s rising. Nobody can miss it. Nobody can mistake it. Nobody can remain unchanged. The time to wake up is now.

The nations and their kings come to seek these things. Isa. 60:3 is where the traditional attribution of kingship to the Magi is grounded, so that Epiphany prefigures the Last Day when the kings of the earth shall cast their crowns at the feet of the Sun of Righteousness.

The desolation that was once Jerusalem’s is no more because she is the place of pilgrimage for all nations. Now they come to her walls in holy fear rather than as anointed destroyers of an idolatrous nation. Through the Messiah the swords of the nations are turned to plowshares.

The days of Solomon return in the coming of the produce of the sea and the wealth of faraway lands on camels’ backs to Jerusalem. What will they find when they arrive? The difference between expectation and vision, between waiting and arriving, between what is promised and what has come is fruitful ground for the preacher.

It is neither advisable nor possible to preach on this text without mentioning the events of the Gospel reading. The prophecy goes with its fulfillment and is empty without it. The distinctives of this prophecy, however, cast a different light on the events of Matthew 2 than the Gospel reading itself does. The wrath of Herod contravenes the prophetic intention for the kings of the earth. The resistance of earthly rulers and their kingdoms to the advent of the Messiah is not within Isaiah’s announcement. The rejoicing over Jerusalem and in Jerusalem on account on her new Solomon, her dawning Light, is unthinkable in Isaiah. The deep wickedness and perversity of Herod’s sin and the terror earthly Jerusalem felt at the announcement of a new “King of the Jews” are more deeply dark for being absurd now that the Morning Star rises in the sky.

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 9:2-7.

King Ahaz sought all kinds of worldly helps in his war against Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel, including making an alliance with Assyria. Yet as seen in Isaiah 7, Ahaz never sought the help of the Lord. Thus, Isaiah declares to Ahaz that the Lord will raise up a true King, one who will rule His people in the way that Ahaz never did. How do we seek worldly help when facing life’s problems? Why do people often turn to those things? What does it mean to seek God’s help? How does Psalm 50 help us understand how to call on God?

The land of Zebulun and Naphtali was not a good one. Hiram called it Cabul in 1 Kings 9:13, meaning “like nothing.” In the time of Christ, the Jews held Galilee in contempt, as Nathanael remarks in John 1:46. Not only does it dwell in the darkness of war, it is also a backwater, the kind of place from which no prophet arose. Yet this people will see a great light. What things are we tempted to overlook? What can we learn from God repeatedly using them to carry out His mission? How ought we to deal with those who are “like nothing” in the world? How is Galilee like the word of the cross in 1 Corinthians 1?

Ahaz sought help from the world, turning to Assyria for military aid. He sought peace at any cost, even paying Assyria with gold and silver from the temple itself. Yet it accomplished nothing in the end. However, God promises that His people will rejoice when He brings a true peace. The oppressor shall be overthrown, as when Gideon routed Midian with 300 men, and all the spoils of war shall be burned. Why does the Bible point to past acts of God when dealing with present fears? Why are we so apt to forget the past when facing these fears? Why does God refer to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Exodus 3?

Isaiah prophesies that a Child will be born, one who will reign on the throne of David. He will be the King of Israel, the one that Ahaz tried to be. His reign will not be characterized by warfare and worldly alliances, but by peace and righteousness. This Child is the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of David. What do each of Jesus’ titles here teach us about His kingdom? Why is the promise of peace under the reign of Christ important for Israel and for us? How do we reconcile the promise of peace under Christ’s reign with the continued wars and problems we see in the world, even among Christians? Compare the words of Jesus in John 18:36. How should we understand the promises of an earthly kingdom in Isaiah in the light of what Jesus says there?

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 7:10-14.

Ahaz feared that the outcome of the alliance between Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel spelled disaster for Judah. The Lord commanded Isaiah to bring a message of peace to Ahaz, even though the king did not follow the Lord as his father and grandfather had done. Syria and wicked Israel alike would fall quickly, never to rise again. Why does God give blessings even to those who have rejected Him? In what ways does the Lord bless the unbelieving world? What should this teach us as Christians? Compare 2 Kings 3 and Elisha’s response to the king of Israel.

Even though the Lord specifically forbids putting Him to the test, Ahaz hears a remarkable offer. Ask a sign of God so that you may know that these two nations will fall. Put Him to the test! Yet Ahaz refuses, not out of piety, but out of cold unbelief. He will not give the Lord the opportunity to prove Himself. Why does the Lord normally forbid tempting Him? In what ways do we tempt God? What signs does the Lord give us, and how would we act like Ahaz with them? What signs does God give in Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2?

Ahaz rejects the Lord’s offer, but that will not stop God. The Lord Himself will give a sign, even though Ahaz did not ask for one. A virgin will conceive and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel. Why is it a comfort that God is faithful even when men are unfaithful? How do the Scriptures teach this truth, and what are other specific examples? Consider Paul’s statements regarding the faithfulness of God in Romans 3.

Immanuel is not a sign of mercy for Ahaz. The king rejected the Lord, and so the Lord rejected him and his house also. The boy shall eat curds and honey, the food of poverty. David’s house would fall, and the promised Son of David would not be rich like the kings of old, but poor and lowly. Why does the Lord set a limit to His patience? In what ways do we weary Him? Why does God seem to change His promise to David here? What should this teach us about watchfulness and repentance? What does the Lord mean in his answer to Moses in Exodus 33:19?

Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, the Lord’s promised sign. However, Jesus was born nearly seven hundred years later, even though the Lord used this sign to show that Syria and the northern kingdom would fall within sixty-five years. How does Jesus serve as a sign to Ahaz? How do the signs of God done in the distant past or what He promises to do in the future speak to us today? How do these signs serve as comfort or as warning? How does Paul answer this question in 1 Corinthians 10?

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 40:1-11.

Isaiah 40 marks a major turning point in the book. Hezekiah in the previous chapter has misunderstood the seriousness of what is about to happen. Israel is about to be taken away into exile. It seems contrary to God’s former promises to take away His people in this way. Are there times in our days when God seems to act contrary to Himself? How do we find comfort in the promises of God when He seems to be opposed to us or opposed to His own Word? What does Paul mean in Romans 8 when he says all things work together for good?

The threefold message of comfort speaks to Israel’s situation. It was not an accident of history that brought about the exile, but it was the just judgment for the sin of God’s people. Yet now that time of judgment comes to an end. Why do people think of themselves as victims in times of hardship? Why does this lead them to misapply God’s promises of comfort? How should we understand hard times in the light of God’s Word? Compare the words of Jeremiah 23 and the dangers of a false message of peace.

A voice cries out to prepare a way for the coming of the Lord. Note here that the image does not have God’s people in view, as if the highway being prepared was for them. Rather, God Himself is on the move, and all flesh will see the glory of what He has come to do for His people. Why does Isaiah focus on what God is doing when speaking of His glory rather than on His people? Why do we give God glory? Do we sometimes inadvertently try to take that glory for ourselves? How do the Gospel writers apply this passage in Matthew 3 or Luke 3, and why do they use it there?

As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:30, grass is a perfect picture of the transitory nature of this world. The grass which seems so green and lush withers as winter approaches. Flowers too, for all their beauty, disappear in a moment. Why do people treat the things of this world as if they were lasting? Where do people turn in times of trouble? Consider the book of Ecclesiastes. What is the ultimate message of the Preacher in the face of the vanity of life?

Isaiah describes the power and the glory of the Lord as a message of good news. As the rest of Isaiah 40 declares, our living God can do what idols and false gods cannot. The Lord laid the foundations of the world. Who is like Him? Since people usually associate Advent with the coming of Christmas, why is it important to talk about who God is and what He can do rather than simply what He has done? How can we see God’s glory in our own time? How does God speak to Israel about his glory in other passages like Ezekiel 36?

What image comes to mind when thinking of the life to come?  In the language of the New Testament, the new heavens and the new earth are frequently described as a feast or a perfect city.  This imagery can also be found in the Old Testament, such as the vision of the temple in Ezekiel.  However, this language of feasting and bridegrooms and cities tends to color our understanding.

More often in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit describes the life to come in terms of unimaginable fruitfulness.  The blessings of this life will be magnified beyond our ability to comprehend them in our current state.  Moses clearly set before the eyes of Israel the blessings which came with obedience in Deuteronomy 28.  Fruitfulness in the field, fruitfulness in the pasture, fruitfulness in the home (which translates to the blessing of many children), all of these things come for those who follow after the Lord faithfully.  This should not be perverted into a prosperity gospel, as if the Lord is just waiting to make us rich when we choose.  Israel at no point in her history came close to this kind of obedience to the will of God.  Rather, Moses shows the source of the imagery in Isaiah:  fruitfulness is the language of blessing and perfection in the Old Testament.

Paul refers to the beginning of this section in his discussion of the hardening of Israel in Romans 10. The Lord seeks out a nation which did not seek him, which is to say, the Gentiles (Isaiah 65:1). Israel provokes Him because of the hardness of her heart. Therefore, judgment must come upon Israel. “I will not keep silent, but I will repay” says the Lord (Isaiah 65:6). The partial hardening has come upon Israel so that the Gospel may go forth to bring in the fullness of the nations.  Judgment must come upon those who have rejected the Lord, even though they be His own chosen people. But God has not failed in His promises.

This, then, is Isaiah’s point when discussing the great Day when Christ returns in glory to bring about the new heavens and the new earth.  The judgment upon His people will come to an end. “I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.  I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people” (Isaiah 65:18-19).  All of the former things, those things which separated Israel, will pass away and be no more.  There shall finally be one flock, one Shepherd.

When Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, the partial shall give way to the fullness. There will be unimaginable fruitfulness in an unending joy. Isaiah 65:20 should be understood in this light.  Isaiah does not mean to say that death will remain in the life to come, but rather this fruitfulness will translate also into life.  Where we suffer the pain of miscarriage and infant mortality, then this evil will be no more.  Where we struggle to live to a hundred years, then it will be thought odd should a man die so young!  But as Revelation 21:4 makes clear, death shall be no more in that day.

They will build and inhabit their houses.  They will plant and enjoy their vineyards.  Those things which others had taken away in this life shall be theirs forever.  The Lord will execute judgment on those who afflicted them (Ezekiel 28:25-26).  His people will have justice and vengeance upon their enemies, and the Lord shall be in their midst.  “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

Is this language only poetic?  I do not think so.  On the one hand, it is written for a people who have been exiled and are lamenting the loss of their home.  The Lord had placed them in that land, after all, so the grief is particularly strong.  Also, because the imagery shifts, especially moving forward into the New Testament, it should not be interpreted in a literalistic way.  One would have to assume that death was part of the new heavens and the new earth if that was the case!

On the other hand, Isaiah presents a picture of the life to come in all of its glory.  No longer shall there be a curse.  No longer shall there be division and unfaithfulness among His people.  No longer shall foreigners occupy the land of promise.  The Lord will be among His people in glory and majesty.  Adam worked in the garden before the fall into sin.  Laboring in vain is part of the curse, not laboring in itself.  It may be that we will find a new labor, receiving from the hand of God those tremendous blessings which sin has destroyed in this life.  But whatever the reality will be, it does not change that Christ will reign triumphant over sin and death, rendering judgment on His enemies.

Distress and judgment shall come upon Jerusalem!  Isaiah says very clearly that foreign armies will surround the city and bring it down to the ground.  “And you will be brought low; from the earth you shall speak, and from the dust your speech will be bowed down” (Isaiah 29:4).  Yet this judgment will be swift and intense.  Isaiah compares the coming of these armies to “fine dust” and “passing chaff” (Isaiah 29:5).  They “shall be like a dream, a vision of the night” (Isaiah 29:7).  The fire of the Lord descending upon Jerusalem shall come quickly and pass by so quickly that there will be no time to prepare.

However, a yet greater judgment than this is poured out upon Israel.  The Lord is hardening their hearts because of their sins.  They will be blind, drunk without drinking wine, and asleep (Isaiah 29:9-10).  This is the Lord’s judgment upon a sinful and rebellious people, lest they turn and see and be healed (Isaiah 6:10).  Paul cites this verse in Romans 11:8 as evidence that the Lord will bring about a great wonder through this hardening.  Israel will stumble so that the nations may be brought in.  Everything will be turned right-side up.  Even the “spirit of deep sleep” in Isaiah 29:10 points to this, because it is the same sleep God poured out on Adam (Genesis 2:21), on Abraham (Genesis 15:12), and on Saul and his army (1 Samuel 26:12).  It is a sleep which marks a great turning point in the history of God’s salvation.

But Israel cannot see this for what it is.  They are like men attempting to read a sealed book or illiterate men who cannot read it at all (Isaiah 29:11-12).  Jesus cites Isaiah 29:13 against the Pharisees in Matthew 15:8-9, because the hardness of the hearts leads them, as it did their fathers, to honor God only in words and not with their heart.  Therefore, the Lord will “again do wonderful things with this people” (Isaiah 29:14) who He once delivered from Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm (Deuteronomy 4:34).  He will turn things upside down in His almighty power.  As Paul says when he cites Isaiah 29:14 in 1 Corinthians 1:19, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men,” a reversal which finds its fullest expression in Christ crucified, the stumbling block of the Jews.

Yet this is a stumbling block because the clay desires to say that it is not made by the potter or that the potter lacks understanding (Isaiah 29:16).  Why should God upset everything in this way?  Why should Jerusalem, the city of God’s favor (1 Kings 11:36), be cast down?  “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God” (Romans 9:20)?  God will do as He pleases for His own purposes, hardening Israel to bring in the fullness of the Gentiles.  “How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways” (Romans 11:33)!

Therefore, the lectionary reading for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity describes this reversal which is meant to make Israel jealous (Deuteronomy 32:19-22).  Lebanon, noted for its forests throughout Scripture (Judges 9:15; 1 Kings 4:33; 5:6; 7:2; etc.), will be reduced to a field, perhaps an orchard.  But the fruitful field will be regarded as a mighty forest.  Those who are deaf shall hear.  Those who are blind shall see.  The ruthless will come to nothing.  Those who watch to do evil will be cut off.  “Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, ‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’ But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people’” (Romans 10:20-21).

Jacob will then see his children in his midst, the children of the promise, because “it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7).  His jealousy for the Lord will lead to a real change of heart.  Those who have gone astray will understand and those who murmur against God will accept His instruction (Isaiah 29:24).  No longer will stumble over the cornerstone Christ, but they will believe in Him and be grafted in again to their own natural tree.  The sons of Levi will be purified, and they will offer up a sacrifice in righteousness (Malachi 3:3), living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).

I have talked earlier about Isaiah 6 at some length in the article “The Holiness of the Lord,” and I would encourage readers to read or re-read that article in conjunction with this lectionary study.  Briefly, Isaiah 6 speaks of the Lord’s utter uniqueness or holiness, from which even the sinless seraphim must avert their eyes.  But because all of Scripture is an inexhaustible mine, I will add additional notes here.

Isaiah 6 forms what is commonly referred to as Isaiah’s call.  This vision of the Lord is not Isaiah’s earliest, as his ministry has already begun in the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19).  Nevertheless, the clear language of Isaiah 6:8 justifies this title.  The Lord appears to Isaiah and sends him to the house of Israel to proclaim His Word (see the parallel calls of Jeremiah 1 and Ezekiel 2).

The reference to Uzziah, or Hezekiah, in Isaiah 6:1 places this passage shortly after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel.  His father Ahaz (or Amaziah) reigned in Judah when the last king of Israel, Hoshea, was set upon the throne (2 Kings 17:1).  However, by the end of Hoshea’s brief reign of nine years, Hezekiah had ascended to the throne of his father (2 Kings 18:1).  Even though Uzziah’s reign in Judah is long (compare 2 Chronicles 26:3 and 2 Kings 18:2, noting that the two authors have different starting points for counting), it still places Isaiah 6 within decades of the fall of the northern kingdom.

Regarding the passage itself, the Holy Spirit reveals through it several important truths about the Lord.  Holiness has already been mentioned elsewhere, as noted.  Closely connected to His holiness is the glory of the Lord.  Even though the “train [or hem] of His robe” is all that can be seen in Isaiah 6:1, it is enough to make the ground shake (Psalm 18:7; 77:18) and the house to fill with smoke (Exodus 19:18; 1 Kings 18:10-11; Revelation 15:8).

In addition to this revelation of the Lord’s holiness and glory, this passage also points to the Lord’s mercy and sovereignty.  The Lord is merciful, because Isaiah should have been destroyed at even this veiled appearance of the Lord.  “Man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  Yet the Lord does not reveal the fullness of His glory and covers over the sin of Isaiah, so that he is able to stand in His presence.

The Lord is sovereign, because His question “whom shall I send” reveals His will.  It should not be interpreted as a question of uncertainty, as if the Lord does not already have in mind what He will do.  He is not deliberating.  A statement in the form of a question frequently occurs in the Bible (see, for example, Revelation 7:13-14).  Rather, the Lord appears to Isaiah precisely so that His will is carried out with respect to the remaining kingdom.

Being the Old Testament reading appointed for Trinity Sunday, a few concluding notes regarding this central revelation are in order.  First, the doctrine of the Trinity proceeds from good and necessary consequences of various statements in the Bible.  The word itself appears nowhere in Scripture and is really only the best we have, even if the word itself can lend itself to misunderstandings.  But we should not imagine that it is not a clear teaching of the Bible for that reason, nor should we assume that verses like Isaiah 6:3 do not need to be unpacked.  The Holy Spirit fully reveals that God is the Most Holy Trinity, even if we have to take some steps to make this clear to us.

Second, regarding Isaiah 6:3 in light of the previous note, the threefold repetition of “holy, holy, holy” in itself is not a decisive “proof.”  Repetition may be only for emphasis also in the Bible, such as Jeremiah 7:4, Numbers 6:24-26, or the very common tendency of the Psalms to restate ideas in succession.  The threefold holy here also expresses the utter holiness of God, holy in a way in which we will never be.  Nevertheless, it is true that there is a hint of the doctrine of the Trinity here, but hints need to be clarified with far clearer passages.