Jehovah God Is in His Holy Temple
1, 2. (a) When does the prophet Isaiah receive his temple vision? (b) Why did King Uzziah lose Jehovah’s favor?
“IN THE year that King Uzziah died I, however, got to see Jehovah, sitting on a throne lofty and lifted up, and his skirts were filling the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1) With these words of the prophet, the 6th chapter of the book of Isaiah begins. It is the year 778 B.C.E.
2 Uzziah’s reign of 52 years as king of Judah was, for the most part, a brilliant success. Doing what “was right in Jehovah’s eyes,” he enjoyed God’s backing in his military, building, and agricultural ventures. But his success also came to be his undoing. Eventually, his heart became haughty, “so that he acted unfaithfully against Jehovah his God and came into the temple of Jehovah to burn incense.” Because of this presumptuous act and his rage against the priests who censured him, Uzziah died a leper. (2 Chronicles 26:3-22) It was about this time that Isaiah started his prophetic service.
3. (a) Does Isaiah actually see Jehovah? Explain. (b) What scene does Isaiah behold, and for what reason?
3 We are not told where Isaiah is stationed when he sees the vision. But what he sees with his physical eyes is clearly a vision, not an actual sighting of the Almighty, as “no man has seen God at any time.” (John 1:18; Exodus 33:20) Still, to see the Creator, Jehovah, even in vision, is an awesome sight. Sitting on a lofty throne, which symbolizes his role as everlasting King and Judge, is the Universal Ruler and Source of all rightful government! The skirts of his long, flowing robe fill the temple. Isaiah is being called to a prophetic service that will magnify Jehovah’s sovereign power and justice. In preparation, he will be given a vision of God’s holiness.
4. (a) Why must descriptions of Jehovah seen in vision and recorded in the Bible be symbolic? (b) What is learned about Jehovah from Isaiah’s vision?
4 Isaiah provides no description of Jehovah’s appearance in his vision—unlike the visions reported by Ezekiel, Daniel, and John. And those accounts all vary as to what is seen in heaven. (Ezekiel 1:26-28; Daniel 7:9, 10; Revelation 4:2, 3) However, the nature and purpose of these visions must be borne in mind. They are not literal descriptions of Jehovah’s presence. The physical eye cannot see what is spiritual, nor can the finite human mind comprehend the spirit realm. Hence, the visions present in human terms the information that is to be conveyed. (Compare Revelation 1:1.) In Isaiah’s vision a description of God’s appearance is not necessary. The vision informs Isaiah that Jehovah is in his holy temple and that he is holy and his judgments are pure.
5. (a) Who are the seraphs, and what does the term mean? (b) Why do the seraphs hide their faces and feet?
5 Listen! Isaiah continues: “Seraphs were standing above him. Each one had six wings. With two he kept his face covered, and with two he kept his feet covered, and with two he would fly about.” (Isaiah 6:2) Isaiah chapter 6 is the only place in the Bible where we find mention of seraphs. Obviously, they are angelic creatures in Jehovah’s service who rank very highly in privileges and in honor, being stationed about Jehovah’s heavenly throne. Unlike proud King Uzziah, they occupy their position in all humility and modesty. Because of being in the presence of the heavenly Sovereign, they cover their faces with one set of wings; and with reverence for the holy location, they cover their feet with another set. Close to the Universal Sovereign, the seraphs are all the more self-effacing, so as not to distract from God’s personal glory. The term “seraphs,” meaning “fiery ones” or “burning ones,” suggests that they radiate brightness, yet they hide their faces from the greater brilliance and glory of Jehovah.
6. What is the position of the seraphs in relation to Jehovah?
6 The seraphs use their third set of wings for flying and, no doubt, to hover, or ‘stand,’ in their places. (Compare Deuteronomy 31:15.) As to their position, Professor Franz Delitzsch comments: “The seraphim would not indeed tower above the head of Him that sat upon the throne, but they hovered above the robe belonging to Him with which the hall was filled.” (Commentary on the Old Testament) This seems reasonable. They are “standing above,” not as superior to Jehovah, but as waiting on him, obedient and ready to serve.
7. (a) What assignment do the seraphs fulfill? (b) Why do the seraphs declare God’s holiness three times?
7 Listen, now, to those privileged seraphs! “This one called to that one and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of armies. The fullness of all the earth is his glory.’” (Isaiah 6:3) Their assignment is to see that Jehovah’s holiness is declared and that his glory is acknowledged throughout the universe, of which the earth is a part. His glory is seen in all that he created and will soon be discerned by all earth’s inhabitants. (Numbers 14:21; Psalm 19:1-3; Habakkuk 2:14) The threefold declaration, “holy, holy, holy,” is no evidence of a Trinity. Rather, it is a threefold emphasizing of God’s holiness. (Compare Revelation 4:8.) Jehovah is holy to the superlative degree.
8. What results from the seraphs’ declarations?
8 Although the number of seraphs is not mentioned, there may be groups of seraphs stationed near the throne. In melodious song, they repeat one after another the declaration of God’s holiness and glory. What result do we note? Listen again as Isaiah continues: “The pivots of the thresholds began to quiver at the voice of the one calling, and the house itself gradually filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:4) In the Bible, smoke or a cloud often provides visible evidence of God’s presence. (Exodus 19:18; 40:34, 35; 1 Kings 8:10, 11; Revelation 15:5-8) It denotes a glory to which we human creatures cannot approach.
Unworthy, Yet Cleansed
9. (a) What effect does the vision have on Isaiah? (b) What contrast is evident between Isaiah and King Uzziah?
9 This vision of Jehovah’s throne has a profound effect on Isaiah. He records: “I proceeded to say: ‘Woe to me! For I am as good as brought to silence, because a man unclean in lips I am, and in among a people unclean in lips I am dwelling; for my eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of armies, himself!’” (Isaiah 6:5) What a stark contrast there is between Isaiah and King Uzziah! Uzziah usurped the position of the anointed priesthood and impiously invaded the Holy compartment of the temple. Although Uzziah saw the golden lampstands, the golden altar of incense, and the tables of “the bread of Presence,” he did not see Jehovah’s face of approval or receive any special commission from him. (1 Kings 7:48-50; footnote) On the other hand, the prophet Isaiah does not brush aside the priesthood or trespass on the temple. Yet, he sees a vision of Jehovah in his holy temple and is honored with a direct commission from God. While the seraphs do not presume to look upon the enthroned Lord of the temple, Isaiah is allowed, in vision, to look upon “the King, Jehovah of armies, himself!”
10. Why does Isaiah feel dread at seeing the vision?
10 The contrast that Isaiah sees between God’s holiness and his own sinfulness makes him feel most unclean. Filled with fear, he reasons that he will die. (Exodus 33:20) He hears the seraphs praise God with clean lips, but his own lips are unclean and are further sullied by the uncleanness of the lips of the people among whom he dwells and whose speech he hears. Jehovah is holy, and his servants must reflect that quality. (1 Peter 1:15, 16) Although Isaiah has already been chosen as a spokesman for God, he is struck with the realization of his sinful condition and lacks the clean lips befitting a spokesman of the glorious and holy King. What will the heavenly response be?
11. (a) What does one of the seraphs do, and what does this action symbolize? (b) How can reflecting on what the seraph tells Isaiah help us when we feel unworthy as God’s servants?
11 Instead of banishing lowly Isaiah from before Jehovah’s presence, the seraphs act to help him. The record states: “At that, one of the seraphs flew to me, and in his hand there was a glowing coal that he had taken with tongs off the altar. And he proceeded to touch my mouth and to say: ‘Look! This has touched your lips, and your error has departed and your sin itself is atoned for.’” (Isaiah 6:6, 7) In a symbolic sense, fire has purifying power. When applying the glowing coal from the holy fire of the altar to Isaiah’s lips, the seraph assures Isaiah that his sins have been atoned for to the extent necessary to enable him to receive God’s favor and a commission. How reassuring this is to us! We too are sinful and unworthy to approach God. But we have been redeemed by the merit of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice and can receive God’s favor and approach him in prayer.—2 Corinthians 5:18, 21; 1 John 4:10.
12. What altar does Isaiah see, and what is the effect of fire?
12 Reminding us again that this is a vision is the mention of “the altar.” (Compare Revelation 8:3; 9:13.) There were two altars at the temple in Jerusalem. Just before the curtain of the Most Holy was the small altar of incense, and in front of the entrance to the sanctuary was the large altar of sacrifice, where the fire was kept constantly burning. (Leviticus 6:12, 13; 16:12, 13) But these earthly altars were typical, representative of greater things. (Hebrews 8:5; 9:23; 10:5-10) It was fire from heaven that consumed the burnt offering upon the altar when the temple was inaugurated by King Solomon. (2 Chronicles 7:1-3) And now it is fire from the true, heavenly altar that removes the uncleanness of Isaiah’s lips.
13. What question does Jehovah propound, and whom does he include when he says “us”?
13 Let us listen with Isaiah. “I began to hear the voice of Jehovah saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I proceeded to say: ‘Here I am! Send me.’”(Isaiah 6:8) The question propounded by Jehovah is clearly designed to elicit a response from Isaiah, as no other human prophet appears in the vision. It is unmistakably an invitation for Isaiah to be Jehovah’s messenger. But why does Jehovah ask, “Who will go for us?” By switching from the singular personal pronoun “I” to the plural pronoun “us,” Jehovah now includes at least one other person with himself. Who? Was this not his only-begotten Son, who later became the man Jesus Christ? Indeed, it was this same Son to whom God said, “Let us make man in our image.” (Genesis 1:26; Proverbs 8:30, 31) Yes, alongside Jehovah in the heavenly courts is his only-begotten Son.—John 1:14.
14. How does Isaiah respond to Jehovah’s invitation, and what example does he set for us?
14 Isaiah does not hesitate to respond! Regardless of what the message might be, he immediately replies: “Here I am! Send me.” Neither does he ask what he might gain by accepting the assignment. His willing spirit is a fine example for all of God’s servants today, who have the commission to preach the ‘good news of the kingdom in all the inhabited earth.’ (Matthew 24:14) Like Isaiah, they faithfully stick to their assignment and accomplish the “witness to all the nations,” despite widespread unresponsiveness. And they go forward with confidence, as did Isaiah, knowing that their commission has the highest authorization.
15, 16. (a) What is Isaiah to say to “this people,” and what will be their response? (b) Is the reaction of the people due to any fault on Isaiah’s part? Explain.
15 Jehovah now outlines what Isaiah is to say and what the response will be: “Go, and you must say to this people, ‘Hear again and again, O men, but do not understand; and see again and again, but do not get any knowledge.’ Make the heart of this people unreceptive, and make their very ears unresponsive, and paste their very eyes together, that they may not see with their eyes and with their ears they may not hear, and that their own heart may not understand and that they may not actually turn back and get healing for themselves.” (Isaiah 6:9, 10) Does this mean that Isaiah is to be blunt and tactless and repel the Jews, keeping them at odds with Jehovah? Absolutely not! These are Isaiah’s own people for whom he feels an affinity. But Jehovah’s words indicate how the people will respond to his message, no matter how faithfully Isaiah fulfills his task.
16 The fault lies with the people. Isaiah will speak to them “again and again,” but they will not accept the message or gain understanding. The majority will be stubborn and unresponsive, as if totally blind and deaf. By going to them repeatedly, Isaiah will let “this people” show that they do not want to understand. They will prove that they are shutting their minds and hearts to Isaiah’s message—God’s message—to them. How true this is of people today! So many of them refuse to listen to Jehovah’s Witnesses as they preach the good news of the incoming Kingdom of God.
17. When Isaiah asks, “How long?” to what does he refer?
17 Isaiah is concerned: “At this I said: ‘How long, O Jehovah?’ Then he said: ‘Until the cities actually crash in ruins, to be without an inhabitant, and the houses be without earthling man, and the ground itself is ruined into a desolation; and Jehovah actually removes earthling men far away, and the deserted condition does become very extensive in the midst of the land.’” (Isaiah 6:11, 12) By asking, “How long?” Isaiah is not asking how long he will have to continue preaching to an unresponsive people. Rather, he is concerned about the people and asks how long their bad spiritual state will continue and how long Jehovah’s name will be dishonored on earth. (See Psalm 74:9-11.) So, then, how long will the senseless situation go on?
18. Until when will the bad spiritual state of the people continue, and will Isaiah live to see the prophecy’s complete fulfillment?
18 Alas, Jehovah’s answer shows that the bad spiritual state of the people will continue until the full consequences of disobedience to God, as outlined in his covenant, are fulfilled. (Leviticus 26:21-33; Deuteronomy 28:49-68) The nation will come to ruin, the people will be deported, and the land will lie desolate. Isaiah will not live to see the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Babylonian army in 607 B.C.E., although he will prophesy for over 40 years, continuing into the reign of King Uzziah’s great-grandson Hezekiah. Still, Isaiah will keep faithfully at his commission until he dies, more than 100 years before that national disaster occurs.
19. Although the nation will be felled like a tree, what assurance does God give Isaiah?
19 Destruction that will leave Judah “ruined into a desolation” is bound to come, but the situation is not hopeless. (2 Kings 25:1-26) Jehovah assures Isaiah: “There will still be in it a tenth, and it must again become something for burning down, like a big tree and like a massive tree in which, when there is a cutting down of them, there is a stump; a holy seed will be the stump of it.” (Isaiah 6:13) Yes, “a tenth, . . . a holy seed,” will remain, just like the stump of a massive tree that is felled. This assurance, no doubt, comforts Isaiah—a holy remnant will be found within his people. Though the nation experiences a repeated burning, like a big tree cut down for fuel, a vital stump of the symbolic tree of Israel will remain. It will be a seed, or offspring, that is holy to Jehovah. In time, it will sprout again, and the tree will regrow.—Compare Job 14:7-9; Daniel 4:26.
20. How was the last part of Isaiah’s prophecy initially fulfilled?
20 Did the words of the prophecy come true? Yes. Seventy years after the land of Judah had been desolated, a God-fearing remnant returned from exile in Babylon. They rebuilt the temple and the city, and they restored true worship to the land. This restoration of the Jews to their God-given homeland made possible a second fulfillment of this prophecy that Jehovah gave to Isaiah. What was that to be?—Ezra 1:1-4.
21-23. (a) With whom did Isaiah’s prophecy find a first-century fulfillment, and how? (b) Who was the “holy seed” in the first century, and how was it preserved?
21 Isaiah’s prophetic task foreshadowed the work that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would do some 800 years later. (Isaiah 8:18; 61:1, 2; Luke 4:16-21; Hebrews 2:13, 14) Although greater than Isaiah, Jesus was just as willing to be sent by his heavenly Father, saying: “Look! I am come to do your will.”—Hebrews 10:5-9; Psalm 40:6-8.
22 Like Isaiah, Jesus faithfully carried out his assigned work and met with the same reaction. The Jews in Jesus’ day were no more willing to accept the message than were those to whom the prophet Isaiah preached. (Isaiah 1:4) The use of illustrations was a feature of Jesus’ ministry. This prompted his disciples to ask: “Why is it you speak to them by the use of illustrations?” Jesus replied: “To you it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those people it is not granted. This is why I speak to them by the use of illustrations, because, looking, they look in vain, and hearing, they hear in vain, neither do they get the sense of it; and toward them the prophecy of Isaiah is having fulfillment, which says, ‘By hearing, you will hear but by no means get the sense of it; and, looking, you will look but by no means see. For the heart of this people has grown unreceptive, and with their ears they have heard without response, and they have shut their eyes; that they might never see with their eyes and hear with their ears and get the sense of it with their hearts and turn back, and I heal them.’”—Matthew 13:10, 11, 13-15; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9, 10.
23 In quoting from Isaiah, Jesus was showing that the prophecy had a fulfillment in his day. The people as a whole had a heart attitude like that of the Jews in Isaiah’s day. They made themselves blind and deaf to his message and likewise met with destruction. (Matthew 23:35-38; 24:1, 2) This occurred when the Roman forces under General Titus came against Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and demolished the city and its temple. Yet, some had listened to Jesus and had become his disciples. Jesus pronounced these “happy.” (Matthew 13:16-23, 51) He had informed them that when they saw “Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies,” they should “begin fleeing to the mountains.” (Luke 21:20-22) Thus the “holy seed” that had exercised faith and that had been formed into a spiritual nation, “the Israel of God,” was saved.*—Galatians 6:16.
24. What application did Paul make of Isaiah’s prophecy, and what does this indicate?
24 About 60 C.E., the apostle Paul found himself under house arrest in Rome. There he arranged a meeting with “the principal men of the Jews” as well as others and gave them a “thorough witness concerning the kingdom of God.” When many would not accept his message, Paul explained that this was in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. (Acts 28:17-27; Isaiah 6:9, 10) So Jesus’ disciples carried out a commission comparable to that of Isaiah.
25. What have modern-day Witnesses of God discerned, and how do they respond?
25 Similarly, Jehovah’s Witnesses today discern that Jehovah God is in his holy temple. (Malachi 3:1) Like Isaiah, they say: “Here I am! Send me.” Zealously, they sound the warning message about the approaching end of this wicked system of things. But, as Jesus indicated, relatively few people open their eyes and ears to see and hear and be saved. (Matthew 7:13, 14.) Happy, indeed, are those who incline their hearts to listen and “get healing for themselves”!—Isaiah 6:8, 10.
In 66 C.E., responding to a Jewish revolt, Roman forces under Cestius Gallus surrounded Jerusalem and penetrated the city as far as the temple walls. Then they withdrew, allowing Jesus’ disciples to flee to the mountains of Perea before the Romans returned in 70 C.E.
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“Here I am! Send me.”
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‘Until the cities crash in ruins, to be without an inhabitant’