The vision of Isaiah is often used as a call for Christians to volunteer their missionary service for Christ. Isaiah’s response, “Here am I; send me,” is often used as a great missionary text. However, a closer look at the vision will cause us to question whether the application of this text is justified. Admittedly, the content of Isaiah chapter six seems to have all the hallmarks of a missionary call. There is the divine call, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” There is also the response, “Here am I; send me” (Isa. 6: 9). Finally, there is the divine commission, “Go, and tell this people…” (Isa. 6: 9). However there is one essential difference between Isaiah’s call and the Great Commission which is often overlooked. In Isaiah 6: 9-10, God commanded Isaiah to preach a message of judgment and condemnation. He was told to “make the heart of this people fat etc., lest they see … hear… and understand … and convert, and be healed.” In contrast, Christians are called to preach the gospel so that their hearers may not be condemned but have eternal life.
What then is the main message of the vision of Isaiah? In the light of the death of King Uzziah, God gave Isaiah this vision to assure him that He is still sitting on the throne controlling His people’s destiny and to cause him to understand his call of proclaiming judgment on the sinful nation and hope for the future remnant.
Isaiah’s vision is a reflection of Israel’s call at Mount Sinai. Israel had failed to fulfill her covenantal duties. Thus God had rejected them and would judge and send them into exile. Instead, He would fulfill His covenant through Isaiah and the faithful remnant. We also see a contrast between Isaiah and God’s people:
(1) I saw... my eyes saw… (vs. 1, 5). His people fail to see their true King (vs. 9, 10). (2) He heard and obeyed God’s call (vs. 3, 4; 8). His people did not hear and obey God’s call to be holy (vs. 9, 10). He was cleansed and forgiven (vs. 4). His people refused to repent and thus be forgiven (vs. 10b; 11, 12).
What can we learn from the vision of Isaiah? First, we need a fresh vision of the holiness of God. To have a fresh vision of God’s holiness, we need to look at the Cross. For in the Cross, we see both the grace and holiness of God manifested in Christ’s supreme sacrifice for humanity. God’s love is seen in his death for us. But his death is also a perfect satisfaction of God’s holiness.
Second, we need to see ourselves in the light of God’s holiness. Isaiah not only saw the King in His glory but he also saw his own unworthiness and cried out: ‘Woe is me! for I am undone …” (Isa. 6: 5). When we truly see ourselves in the light of the Cross, we will be drawn to seek cleansing and forgiveness for our sins.
Finally, we need to know that God will only use a holy vessel to carry out His plan. We cannot be His witnesses until our hearts are cleansed. Isaiah heard God’s voice only after his sins were atoned for.
Let us heed God’s injunction through the apostle Paul: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7: 1).
Rev. Mark Tay