I can only imagine the high and low Isaiah must have felt at his commissioning.
So often, we focus on the first half of this chapter, Isaiah 6, in which Isaiah sees a marvelous vision of the throne room of heaven. “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple…” We see where Isaiah gets wrecked in a good way with God, and experiences the unwarranted favor of the Lord, a measure of grace that is beyond his time.
Then God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” How could Isaiah not jump at the chance? After having such a life changing revelation of the holy power and yet grace of God, how could he not commit his life to the work of the Lord? And his reply confirms it, “Here I am! Send me.” In a place of total humility and surrender because of what he witnessed, he commits everything, not knowing what he signed up for.
God must have known just how difficult Isaiah’s task would be emotionally. He must have known that Isaiah was going to need a reference point to hold onto, which is why Isaiah must have been commissioned in such a bold fashion.
I have been meditating and chewing on the commissioning of Isaiah for a few weeks, and I thought there was a glimmer of hope in God’s words:
Go, and say this to the 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.
Then [Isaiah] said, “How long, O Lord?”
And [God] 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. (Isaiah 6:9-13)
When I first read the, “lest they see with their eyes… and turn and be healed,” part, I thought there was a glimmer of hope. I thought God was saying to keep proclaiming this message so maybe, just maybe, they would turn from their wicked ways and seek God again. I thought it was the unrelenting nature of God. But as I delved into the Hebrew text and studied it as best I can, that is not what God asked of Isaiah. Here is the best Megan paraphrase based on my study of the text:
Go and say this to Israel: “You listen with your ears and not your heart. You see with your eyes, and not your inner man.” I want you to continue to tell them this until they are callous, blind, deaf, indignant, and unresponsive. If you don’t, they will turn and be healed… I want you to keep saying this message until everything is utterly destroyed, burned away, removed, and forsaken. When I have finished, all that will remain is a stump, a holy seed for me to replant and regrow.
Do you see the hopelessness in Isaiah’s commission? God is basically asking, commanding, Isaiah to preach a message in which nobody will hear. Isaiah is prophesying to Israel through the Assyrian invasion, through the time when God is allowing Israel to be utterly destroyed for their wickedness and whoring after other gods. God is so done with Israel’s unfaithfulness, that He doesn’t want them to repent. God will always come to the rescue of the repentant heart, so He wants to make them dull and callous to the truth. Yet, He still wants truth to be preached knowing that it will not be received! All to weed out the remnant of Israel that will faithfully seek God and be replanted, the holy seed.
I can just picture the devastation of God’s request. I can just imagine the agony of preaching to a people you love and watching them continue to run away from God. It is heart shattering. And it must have been in these low moments, that Isaiah remembered his throne room experience. He must have remembered the holiness of the Lord, the majesty and splendor. He must have remembered how utterly ruined he felt as the angel touched a coal to his lips. He must have remembered the extreme measure of grace he was given, and out of a love and obedience to the holy God, he found the strength to continue.
We live in a world of people calloused to the word of God. We are commanded to continue to preach, to love, to minister, to share the truth of God to a people who may or may not turn to God. Still, we must never give up. We must keep preaching, keep fighting, keep interceding, until nothing is left in the world. We must persevere with Christ until the world is utterly destroyed and the return of the Lord is imminent. And what is our strength? Remembering who God is and where His grace has brought us. Grace empowers us to live a holy life surrendered to God, especially when the task is daunting and heart shattering.
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet, but I am sure Isaiah had his share of weeping, too. Perhaps this is the plight of the prophet, the mouthpieces of the Lord, to see the destruction of mankind, yet feeling powerless to remove it. If God told you to preach something, proclaim His truth even though it wouldn’t be heard, would you endure the heart ache?