For the week of January 22, 2011 / 17 Shevat 5771
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 18:1 - 20:23
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1 - 7:6; 9:5
(English Isaiah 6:1 - 7:6; 9:6)
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. 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!" (Isaiah 6:1-5; ESV)
I have heard it said that Isaiah's vision of God, even though it is found in the sixth chapter of his book, must have occurred before he began his prophetic ministry. I can understand why. It is in this experience that Isaiah receives his marching orders and therefore serves the purpose of an introduction. Another clue that suggests this took place before he ever spoke to the people on God's behalf is his reaction. First, it devastated him: "Woe is me! For I am lost", which is not something we would expect from a faithful servant of God. Second, he confessed to have "unclean lips" just like the rest of his people. What kind of prophet of God has unclean lips? I would propose: a genuine one.
While it is possible that Isaiah's vision is set out of sequence, is it necessary that his dramatic experience had to come first before he took up his prophetic vocation? That assumption says more about our presuppositions of how God works than truly grappling with what is going on here.
I am aware of the many biblical accounts of people to whom God appeared and/or spoke to before they began their divine task. But there are also people that God appeared and/or spoke to well into their ministry. So why can't it be that Isaiah is an example of the latter? Well, as I already mentioned, the nature of the vision and the level of interaction is so foundational both in terms of Isaiah's personal spiritual state and the scope of the mission to which he was called, it is difficult to think of this coming to him midstream.
But why not? Why do we assume that Isaiah must have had all this in place prior to the beginning his work? Many people hearing or reading this are engaged in some sort of work for God. Do we believe that we are completely spiritual and that the scope of our ministry is perfectly defined? Oh, but we are not Isaiah, we might say. We cannot compare our callings to his. Why not? How different are we from him really? Isaiah, as were all the significant biblical characters, was a human being just like us, serving the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as we are called to do. Does it sound that far fetched that this great prophet of God might discover that he is not as spiritual as he thought he was and that he may not have yet fully grasped the scope of his calling?
Isaiah wasn't alone in his need to grow in his faith and work. All through Abraham's life God expanded his understanding of what was being promised to him and how it was to work out. It took Jacob years to become a true believer. Moses had a lot to learn before he was ready to assume his leadership role and even then the challenges that he faced forced him to draw closer and closer to God. David's whole life was one of getting to know God better. Some of his personal weaknesses did not rise to the surface until after God used him in very significant ways.
God uses imperfect vessels. He doesn't perfect us prior to his using us. When God calls us unto a task, he doesn't usually give us all the details. So then let us not presume that whatever understanding we currently have of God, our relationship to him, or the nature of the work to which he calls us, is complete.
God may not appear to or speak to us in the same manner as he did Isaiah, but let's be careful not to let our presuppositions about God and how he deals with us prevent him from working in our lives.
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