“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.” (Isaiah 6:6)
A.W. Tozer, in his book The Knowledge of the Holy, writes, “The sudden realization of his personal depravity came a stroke from heaven upon the trembling heart of Isaiah at the moment when he had his revolutionary vision of the holiness of God. His pain-filled cry, ‘Woe is me! For I am undone’ because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,’ expresses the feeling of every man who has discovered himself under his disguises and has been confronted with an inward sight of the holy whiteness that is God. Such an experience cannot but be emotionally violent.”
In his 1923 book entitled “The Idea of the Holy,” Rudolf Otto calls the holiness of God the Incomprehensible Something and the Mysterium Tremendum, which means the awesome mystery. It is the permanent religious instinct, the sense within one’s mind, will, and especially one’s emotions for the unnamed Presence that is within all of creation. This Presence stuns the individual with a supernatural, supra-rational manifestation of the transcendent Other. When man is confronted with the holiness of God, he is brought low and overwhelmed. He can only tremble and be still.
Such was the case with the prophet. Such is the case with anyone who has truly encountered the holiness of God. It may occur most frequently when reading and studying Scripture. This recently happened to me when I was reading and studying 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and Proverbs 4:1-19. The words, and their meaning, leaped off the page, so to speak, and I was confronted with holy truth while at the same time my unholy soul. God confronted me, convicted and convinced me of His Word’s sacredness and at the same time my un-sacredness and need for repentance and cleansing.
This repentance and cleansing is what we begin to witness in today’s text from Isaiah 6:6. The LORD did not leave Isaiah in a perpetual state of undoneness. He never does. He graciously provided cleansing, forgiveness and restoration once again for the prophet bringing him back into an intimate fellowship with Him. The LORD never compromises His holiness or presents His holiness to be thought of as less than it is. Rather, He restores the penitent sinner and raises them to an even greater awareness of the LORD’s awesome separateness from sin. Therefore, what God is, the redeemed and sanctified believer seeks to be (Leviticus 11:44; I Peter 1:13-16) which is holy.
God initiates the blessing. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me.” In the aftermath of the current scene, one of the Seraphim or burning ones who Isaiah had seen worshiping Yahweh. This one Seraphim flew, with the one set of wings given for that purpose, to Isaiah. God must have summoned the angel and dispatched him to the prophet.
The Seraphim angel did not come empty handed. On the contrary, he had a burning coal in his hand. The word burning means glowing, live, and hot. The angel had removed the hot coal from the altar. Most likely, the altar in question here is the Golden Altar of Incense (Exodus 30:1-10) which is located within the Holy Place of the Temple before the veil which separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The Golden Altar of Incense represents the worship of Yahweh by the saints.
The golden altar was used for burning incense, which twice every day was offered by the priest after he had tended the wick and oil on the holy lamps. Its horns were also sprinkled with the blood of the sin offering. Poured out on burning coals the incense produced a delightful aroma in the Holy Place. It was the offering of the person whose sins had been forgiven by blood and who then went on to express the fragrance of love and worship, which was most pleasing to God.
The Golden Altar speaks to us of the worship of Jesus Christ and God’s people through him as our high priest and mediator. It was only on the basis of His one sacrifice on the altar of the cross that worship is made possible. The coals, which lit the incense, was carried from the altar of sacrifice to the Altar of Incense. The coal also represents that repentance and restoration can be painful but necessary.
Since we view Isaiah 6 not as the scene of Isaiah’s conversion but rather consecration to be God’s prophet, then it makes sense that the live coal would have come from the Altar of Incense indicating the Isaiah’s worship of Yahweh would be unhindered by his forgiven sin.
Take the opportunity today to thank the LORD for when He cleanses you from the guilt of your sin and purifies your heart and soul. While it may initially be painful, the blessing of repentance and restoration unto holiness is truly sweet.
Soli deo Gloria!