Can you imagine what it would be like to talk to someone who had actually seen God? If someone claimed to have seen God, would you be interested in what that person had to say? Would you lean in a little closer to hear their story?
Isaiah 6 records the firsthand account of someone who saw the living God with his own two eyes. Isaiah had an encounter with the Holy One of Israel; in his own words, he says, My eyes have seen the King! And what he saw was glorious.
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. 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. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.Isaiah 6:1-4
Isaiah is unequivocal when he says, I saw the Lord. Now, it’s true that no one can see God and live; we learn that truth in Exodus 33:20. When God says this to Moses, the idea is that the fullness of God’s glory would be too much for us — it would kill us if we were to glimpse His face unmediated. That’s how glorious God is! But God apparently dialed down His glory enough that Isaiah could catch a glimpse of Him and live to tell about it, much like He did with Moses all those centuries earlier. One commentator calls this “a gracious condescension” on God’s part. It is an act of grace that Isaiah receives this vision.
And what Isaiah sees is majestic, glorious, and — most of all — holy.
Isaiah hears the seraphim calling out to one another. “Seraphim” literally means “burning ones.” Apparently these are angels of fire with six wings and it seems that Isaiah sees them hovering over the throne of God. And the seraphim are calling out these words of praise:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!
In ancient Hebrew, repetition was often used as a way of denoting something of a superlative nature. But scholars have noted that this is the only time in the OT you find a quality being “raised to the power of three.” So when the angels say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” they are essentially praising God’s infinite holiness. God is completely, totally, absolutely holy. One scholar puts it this way: “God’s holiness means that he is separate from everything that is sinful, utterly removed from the profane world, and glorious in majesty.” Isaiah catches a transformative glimpse of the holy God. Throughout the rest of his prophetic career, Isaiah’s favorite way of describing God will be to refer to Him as “the Holy One of Israel.”
It is worth noting that Isaiah receives this vision while worshipping God at the temple. The Israelites believed that heaven and earth met at the Temple in Jerusalem and Isaiah’s vision brings this to bear. He looks up into heaven to see the Lord sitting on His throne but the train of his robe filled the temple. And when the seraphim praise God for His holiness and His glory, the doorposts begin to shake and the room fills with smoke. It really is an awesome scene.
This is what worship is really about. Worship ushers us into the presence of the infinitely hoy God. We come in awe before the glorious throne of God. In worship, we confess God’s holiness but we also confess our sinfulness — which Isaiah does in the next verse. Worship is intended to capture our hearts and our imagination as we ponder the holiness and the majesty and the grandeur of God. How sad, then, that the meaning of worship in our day has been reduced to something as superficial as “song style” — but that’s what has happened.
Our worship is about the life of the holy God, not the preferences of sinful man.