“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.” (Isaiah 6:2).
Who, or what, are the seraphim? Grammatically we know that there are more than one seraphim because the word is in the plural form. Beyond that we know that they are angelic beings mentioned only twice in the Bible, both occurring in the same chapter of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:2, 6). Even though the word seraphim is plural in number, it is impossible to say how many Isaiah actually saw.
The word seraphim can be translated as fiery serpent or burning ones. Today’s text describes each seraphim as having six wings: two shielded the face, two covered the feet, and the remaining pair enabled the seraphim to fly.
One commentary explains that, “the most that can be said from the available evidence is that they were exalted spiritual entities who were occupied constantly in the praise and worship of God. Most probably the seraphim were an order of celestial beings comparable in nature to the cherubim (Ezekiel 1; 10; Revelation 4) and engaged in a somewhat similar form of service around the divine throne.”
It is interesting to note that the seraphim actively and continuously stood respectfully before the Lord. As we will see later in the text, they do so in worship and praise by acknowledging the holiness of Yahweh.
As another commentator explains, “When we consider the topic of angels, we face an interesting paradox. Clearly, angels have played an important role in the history of God’s people. Scripture, in fact, uses the Greek word for “angel” (angelos) more often than it uses the Greek word for “sin” (hamartia). At the same time, the Word of God tells us very little specifically about the angels. Evidently, the Lord wants us to know that His angels are key players in the outworking of His purposes, but He has also determined not to tell us all that we might want to know about the angels. We must therefore be content with what He has revealed, trusting that it gives us everything we need to know about the angels on this side of glory.”
“One of the most extensive descriptions of angels in the Bible is found in Isaiah 6:1–7, which gives us information about the seraphim. These seraphim worship the Lord continually in heaven, shielding their faces with two of their six wings. Even the angels cannot bear to look directly on the glory of God, which frequently manifests itself as blinding rays of light (Matt. 17:1–3; Acts 9:1–9; Rev. 1:16). Angels are supernatural beings, but they remain creatures who are in a distinct class from their Creator. They cannot enjoy a direct view of God’s majesty. Isaiah 6:1–7 tells us that the seraphim focus their praise on the Lord in His holiness, naming Him as holy in threefold repetition. That is instructive for us. If the angels exalt the Lord God Almighty as holy, surely we cannot afford to do anything less.”
Four wings pertain to worship and two refer to service. Perhaps an illustration that prior to service, and more important than service as important as serving the Lord is, worship is more important. Worship must precede service.
John Calvin writes that, “Having declared that God appeared to him (Isaiah) full of majesty and of glory, he adds that God was attended by angels whom the Prophet calls seraphim on account of their fervor. Though the etymology of this word is well known, yet various reasons are adduced. Some think that they are called seraphim because they burn with the love of God. Others, because they are swift like fire. Others, because they are bright. However they may be, this description holds out to us, as in sunbeams, the brightness of God’s infinite majesty that we may learn by it to behold and adore His wonderful and overwhelming glory.”
Soli deo Gloria!