Isaiah had gotten off to a pretty good start in ministry. He had a good reputation and was making quite a name for himself. He was one of Israel’s premier preachers. But one day Isaiah had an encounter he was not ready for. He found himself face to face with the God he claimed to represent:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory!” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isa 6:1–5)
Stop for a moment and try to take in this scene, if you can. Two angels, which Isaiah literally calls burning ones (“seraphim”), hover over God’s throne, calling back and forth to each other, “Holy, holy, holy.” These angels, by the way, are not the chubby, toddler-like winged three-year-olds you might see on a Valentine’s card, sauntering about heaven in diapers with toy bows and arrows. Nor do they carry themselves like the genteel, bumbling old men depicted in movies like It’s a Wonderful Life. They are magnificently powerful, terrifying creatures. Every time someone encounters one in Scripture, the angel’s first words are, “Wait, don’t die!” because whoever sees the angel assumes that is what is about to happen.
These radiant beings hover in reverent fear before the throne of God. Of their six wings, they use four to cover their faces and feet and two to fly. Their bodies pulsate with divine energy, and their hearts burn with white-hot worship as they proclaim the holiness of God: “Holy, holy, holy.”
Repeating “holy” three times is not merely poetic. In Hebrew, repetition expresses superlative. If something is really big, you say it is “big, big,” or if a lake is very deep, you say it is “deep, deep.” “Holy, holy, holy” is the only superlative in the Bible with a threefold repetition.1 God exists as infinite, undiluted holiness.
Even the pillars of the temple tremble in his presence.
The angels Isaiah sees stand continually before God’s throne proclaiming God’s holiness to each other. This means that as you read these words the angels are still hovering, calling out God’s holiness. When you put this book down, they will remain, with millions of others. When you go to bed tonight, they will continue, and when you wake up, they will still be going. They do this perpetually for eternity.
Overwhelmed by God’s glory, Isaiah cries out in despair: “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!” (Isa 6:5 ESV).
Greear, J. D., and David Jeremiah. 2018. Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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