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We all have portions of Scripture and impressions of God that really impact the way we think, live, and interpret the world around us. Isaiah is a good biblical example of this idea. In Isaiah chapter 6, he was called by God to be a messenger; a prophet. Read the passage below and take note of the picture of God’s holiness (v. 1-4), and Isaiah’s reaction (v. 5).
1 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. 2 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. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 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!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”8 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.” Isaiah 6: 1-8 ESV
Can you see Isaiah pulling at his hair, and ripping his robes? Look, how the tears fill his eyes, and he falls to his knees. God's radiant splendor is turning Isaiah inside out and laying him bare. He is a man undone. His wealth, social standing, education, temple sacrifices and every other external obfuscation that keep him from truly seeing himself are being ripped away. This is a holy moment. There is only truth. One thought dominates Isaiah's mind until it bursts forth from his mouth, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips..."
Isaiah has had three experiences that will shape the rest of his life and ministry: he has experienced the holiness of God, come to understand his own utter lack of holiness, and chosen to say yes to God despite his lowliness. It probably isn't surprising that “the Holy One of Israel” is a major theme that is interwoven throughout Isaiah’s writing? First impressions matter.
In Bible College, it was this very passage of Scripture that made me fall in love with the prophets, and more deeply in love with the God for whom these prophets spoke. Major Prophets was my first class with Dr. Sande Woodson. On our first day, she took us to Isaiah 6 and presented this passage to the class. It was as if I was hearing those words for the very first time. I could feel Isaiah's awe and wonder, and his immediate recognition of his wretchedness. My heart quivered as if it wanted to shake itself lose from me as I realized that I too am a man of unclean lips. I could feel the impartation of a righteousness, not my own, as the seraphim touched the coal to Isaiah's lips. Still in the throws of the moment, I heard God's question to Isaiah as if He were speaking it directly to me, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" In my heart, I answered with Isaiah, "Here I am! Send me." That was a first impression that transformed me and my view of God.
I think there are three things that happened in this experience that I lived vicariously through Isaiah.
1. I had an encounter with God. He is sovereign and holy. I can trust and obey him.
2. I had an encounter with myself. As a result, I have no delusions about my worth without Jesus, and my complete inability to accomplish anything good without God.
3. I had an encounter with my purpose. I know that when God asks who will go, my response is to say that I'll go. I'm not worthy, I'm not ready, but my job is just to be willing. He'll take care of the rest.
What Scriptures or Experiences formed your "first impression" of God. Do they affect you to this day?
Scott Bond MDiv
Missionary Professor at Atlas Bible College