Isaiah 1-39 - Lesson 4

By Harold Shank

The Great Vision (Isaiah 6)


  1. The student will be able to reflect on the holiness and glory of God.
  2. The student will be able to explain the call and commission of God's workers
  3. The student will be able to reflect on the issues raised by God's commission to Isaiah.
  4. The student can describe God's plans for the remnant.


  1. A Bible for each student
  2. A copy of Isa 6 in the NEB
  3. A diagram of Solomon's temple (consider using:…/3/35/SolomonsTemple.png)
  4. A handout listing the main points of the lesson Theme: In Isaiah 6, the prophet encounters the holy God and becomes part of God's mission.

Setting the stage:

  1. Review
    1. Isaiah 1-5 alternates between two contrasting visions of Jerusalem.
      1. Isa 2:1-4 and 4:2-6 focus on what God will do with an obedient Jerusalem.
      2. Isa 1, 2:5-4:1 and 5 describe the reality of a Jerusalem that does not know God.
    2. The book of Isaiah is theocentric, that is, it reveals a holy God of justice and righteousness who seeks the best for his people, who seeks relationship. The book explores that relationship through the use of metaphors: father-son, doctor-patient, husband-wife, and farmer-vineyard.
    3. In the parable of the vineyard, God makes a crucial decision to destroy his unproductive vineyard due to their lack of justice and righteousness. The parable unfolds in a way that invites the people of Jerusalem and all who follow to advise God on a course of action. Just in case the situation in Jerusalem is misunderstood, the middle section of Isaiah 5 under the heading of six woes reveals the low state of righteousness and justice in God's chosen city. At the end of the chapter, General God commissions the army to move on his city.
  2. Preview
    1. What lies behind these two contrasting visions of Jerusalem? Isa 6 responds with the great vision in which the prophet is in God's presence where the issue of Jerusalem's future is decided. Although the reader knows the decision has been made based on the vineyard parable, now the book of Isaiah makes full disclosure.
    2. Isaiah 6 contrasts with the surrounding chapters. The most noticeable change is that while Isa 1-5 has been mostly poetry, Isa 6 begins a section of prose. Isa 1-5 has been sermons; Isa 6 starts a section of narrative or biography. As we will see, there are deeper contrasts than the literary ones.
    3. Isaiah 6 unfolds in four parts:
      1. Worship of God-1-7
      2. Commissioning of Isaiah-8-9a
      3. Hearts of the people-9b-10
      4. Qualities of the future-11-13

Learning Experiences:

  1. Worship of God-1-7
    1. Read Isa 6:1-7 and note the descriptions of God. There are at least 11 in these verses. Which of these descriptions of God do you find most helpful?
      1. Sitting on throne
      2. High
      3. Lifted up
      4. Train filled temple
      5. Surrounded by seraphim
      6. Holy
      7. Lord of Hosts
      8. Whole earth filled with his glory
      9. Shook foundation
      10. Called with voice
      11. Sitting in smoke
    2. Two critical words in Isaiah that describes God both appear in this passage.
      1. God's glory fills the earth. The Hebrew Bible uses the word glory to refer to the visible manifestations of God. Often God appears in fire, smoke, or light. The word glory describes these appearances.
      2. God is holy. Most people today use the word holy to describe a high level of moral behavior. Clearly God is the model of that aspect of holiness and demands that ethical response, but the OT goes beyond moral behavior with the word "holy". Holy describes the "otherness" of God. The Bible often describes God in human terms (here he is "sitting" with a "train" and has a "voice"). In some way humans share certain qualities of the divine being. However, the way in which God is "other than" humans makes up that part of God which is beyond humanity and, therefore, is called holy.
    3. Isa 6:1-7 as a worship scene
      1. Contrast this worship scene with Isa 1:10-15 and 2:1-4.
      2. What is the "order of service?" Walter Brueggemann lists this order
        1. Praise-vision of splendor-1-4
        2. Confession-acknowledgment of his holiness-3
        3. Forgiveness-awareness of inadequacy-5-7
        4. Commissioning-sent out on a mission-8-9
      3. How does this passage instruct us on worship?
  2. Commissioning of Isaiah-8-9a
    1. Read Isaiah 6:8-9a and note the key questions about the commissioning of Isaiah
      1. What had to be in place before Isaiah is sent out?
        1. He had to worship
        2. He had to be forgiven
      2. Why does God use people to accomplish his mission?
        1. God uses human assistants to illustrate the kind of relationship he wants with all people.
        2. Since God is on a mission, he enlists all his followers to join that mission.
        3. Human assistants speak on his behalf.
    2. Many students believe the call/commissioning of Isaiah makes a crucial point about the authority of the book. According to Isaiah 6, why does Isaiah preach? On whose authority does Isaiah proclaim words of hope and judgment?
    3. What role does the work of the preacher play in the divine human relationship? According to Isa 6, what role does the word of God have to play in worship?
  3. Hearts of the people-9b-10
    1. Read Isa 9b-10. These difficult words suggest that God makes the people unresponsive to him because he does not want them to turn and be healed. This predicament is well stated by Andrew Davies [in Double Standards in Isaiah: Re-evaluating Prophetic Ethics and Divine Justice. Leiden: Brill, 2000, 143-44], "God is judging Israel for their failure to do something that he himself had made impossible."
    2. Many different explanations are offered to explain this dilemma including the following. Which of the following best fit the passage?
      1. Isaiah received his call in 742, but came back in the 680s near the end of his life and wrote in the commission which in hindsight he saw as unproductive.
      2. From other cases of hardening the heart (see Pharaoh in Egypt in Ex 7-11, Saul in 1 Sam 16-19, Micaiah with Ahab in 1 Kings 22 or Judas in the NT) this pattern appears
        1. God calls for a certain action
        2. The individual refuses
        3. God confirms their refusal which is described as God hardening their heart.
        4. The Old Greek translation of this verse says that the people hardened their own hearts indicating at least that this question is an old one.
      3. Despite this commission, Isaiah goes on to call the people to repent (1:18; 28:16; 30:15, etc), to give them hope (8:16-18) and to ask them to believe in God (7:9; 12:2; 26:3, etc) suggesting that these words imply something besides God taking away human free will.
      4. If the people will not respond, why does God send Isaiah?
        1. There will be a remnant who needs to hear his message-see v 13
        2. God is ultimately fair and will not condemn those who have not heard
        3. This passage in Isaiah seeks to show future reader why God punished his people-they did not listen
      5. This passage explains
        1. Why the people in Isaiah 1-5 did not respond to Isaiah's preaching
        2. Why Ahaz is about to reject Isaiah's urging (see Isa 7-8).
      6. God did make it impossible for them to respond, but he did not take away their free will. This is the clearest understanding of the teaching here, but it seems to defy human logic. We are faced with accepting the teaching or relying on our reason. How might a fully postmodern person understand this contradiction?
      7. God does not close the hearts of all people, but only "this people" (10). This is not a universal situation, but one particular to Jerusalem. Just as God used Judas against his will for his purposes so he uses the people of Jerusalem for his will.
      8. This poetic description of Jerusalem simply echoes what has already been decided in Isa 5:1-8.
  4. Qualities of the future-6:11-13
    1. Read Isaiah 6:11-13 and evaluate Isaiah's response to the negative news of 6:9b-10.
      1. What would you have said if you had received this commission?
      2. How is Isaiah's statement typical of an Israelite response to bad news? Compare Psa 3-5 and 13. Laments often included the question, "how long?"
    2. Does God answer Isaiah's question?
      1. Do you expect God to give a date to Isaiah?
      2. Characterize God's response (a set of circumstances not a time).
      3. When we ask God, "When?" or "How long" how does this passage help us to understand his response?


  1. Isa 1-6 contrasts the unfaithfulness of Jerusalem with the faithfulness of Isaiah.
    1. How does your city reflect the same two responses?
    2. How does your congregation echo those positions?
    3. Do you find any evidence in your own life of being in both camps?
  2. Think about Isaiah 6:9b-10. Can a person get so far from God that there is no way back? What do you say to a person who has drawn that conclusion? How could Isa 6 be helpful or hurtful in that discussion?
  3. Discuss the call of Isaiah.
    1. Share stories of people who have a calling or commission from God?
    2. Why do young people often feel called by God to take up his mission?
    3. Is calling only for the young? How old do you think Isaiah was in Isaiah 6?
    4. How does a person know if they are called? A helpful website for those seeking to know God's will is

Additional Study:

Use this material if the class spends more than one week on Isaiah 6.

  1. Worship of God
    1. Discuss where the events of Isa 6 take place.
      1. What clues does the text give?
      2. Is Isaiah dreaming or is this an actual experience?
      3. Some think it takes place in heaven since there is dialogue among the heavenly court ("who will go for us") in ways that reflects other heavenly scenes (see Job 1 or Psa 82, for example where God speaks to other beings in heaven).
      4. Others believe Isaiah is in the Jerusalem temple. Study a diagram of the Solomonic temple to determine where Isaiah might be. Is the smoke from the altar of burnt offering or the incense table?
      5. Why would Isaiah be in the actual temple?
    2. Isaiah describes God as "high and lifted up" (6:1). This description of God is consistent with what Isaiah has preached in Jerusalem that exalted itself rather than God (2:11, 17; 5:16). Isaiah will continue to emphasize that God is the high, lifted up and exalted one (see for example: Isa. 2:11, 17; 5:16; 12:4, 6; 25:1; 30:18; 33:5, 10; 52:13; 57:15).
      1. Discuss how Jerusalem was failing to exalt God.
      2. Include the self-exaltation of the people through their pride (see chapter 2), their failure to reflect God's justice and righteousness in the way they treated "his people" the poor, and their dependence on militarism, idols and accumulation of wealth and power.
  2. Read Rev 4:8. Why is holy used three times?
    1. The great Isaiah scroll [see pictures at g/images/great-isaiah-scroll.jpg, the oldest complete copy of any biblical book now known, only has holy twice.
    2. Rev 4:8 seems to imply that God is holy throughout time-past, present and future.
    3. Students of the Hebrew language point out that Hebrew often repeats items for emphasis, so God is the holiest.
    4. Some have noted in the vision that God is holy in heaven, in the temple and on the earth.
    5. Others note that the seraphim spent all their time repeating the word holy, so the three uses are just representative of an infinite number of holies.
  3. How does the placement of the call/commissioning after Isa 1-5 advance the point of the book? In the discussion make sure to note the input of these passages: 1:1, 10, 20, 24; 2:1; 5:13, 24. Also note the ways in which Isa 6 contrasts with the earlier part of the book:
    1. Uzziah is dead; God is alive
    2. Jerusalem sought to fill themselves, God fills the temple and the earth
    3. Woe to Jerusalem (5:8f) now woe to Isaiah
    4. Jerusalem fails to exalt or lift up God (2:11, 17) but here God is lifted up.
    5. Jerusalem sinned and can't get well (1:2-6), but Isaiah is fully cleansed
    6. In 5:26-30 it is dark and getting darker, yet in a temple filled with smoke, Isaiah says "my eyes have seen the King"
    7. Isaiah sees but the people of Jerusalem will not see.
    8. What do you make of these contrasts? What does it say about authority?
  4. Calls to ministry
    1. Numerous people are called and commissioned in the Bible. Make a list (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul, etc.). Compare and contrast Isa 6 with the others
    2. Isa 6:1 is the first specific date in the book. John Bright. A History of Israel. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Westminster, 200], p. 493 has a chronology of this period. You can see the chart at The year is 742 BC. Students often wonder why this scene is at chapter 6 rather than chapter 1. Discuss why it appears here. See below.
    3. Many divide these scenes into two types:
      1. A call in which God makes his initial request (see Jeremiah 1)
      2. A commissioning in which God directs someone he has already called (see Micaiah in 2 Kings 22).
      3. Does this division into two types help us understand Isa 6?
  5. Hearts of the people
    1. Consider how the NT uses this passage. Divide into groups and have each group study how the text is used in the following passages
      1. Mt 13:14-15
      2. Mk 4:12
      3. Lk 8:10
      4. Jn 12:40
      5. Acts 7:51
      6. Rom 11:8
      7. Why did the NT authors see the rejection of Jesus as a parallel to the rejection of the prophetic word?
    2. Read ahead to see how Isaiah uses the same language later in the book
      1. Isa 29:8
      2. Isa 32:2
      3. Isa 35:5
      4. What is different about the later references? What is the same?
  6. Qualities of the future
    1. Compare God's words in vv 11-12 with what Isaiah has already preached. Tell which items in this statement are linked with earlier passages. See 1:7; 5:6, 8-10, 13, and 24. Is this worse, better or about the same as the earlier descriptions?
    2. Read v13 from several translations. The Hebrew text is difficult to understand and the ancient translations often took it in different ways. Find the NEB which translates the words of the Great Isaiah scroll here.
    3. Paraphrase this passage into everyday English.
    4. Discuss the implications of the holy seed.
      1. The Septuagint omits this verse. Some argue from this omission that the verse is a latter addition to Isaiah's text. However, in Isaiah the Hebrew text is preferred above the Greek text.
      2. Even in the face of what appears to be total destruction, God cannot leave the scene completely dark. Even in the midst of the worst to come, there is a glimmer of hope. What other signs of hope are there in Isa 1-6?

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