Updated: Feb 4
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
This is the Old Testament selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the First Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. This day in the lectionary schedule is also known as Trinity Sunday. It will next be read aloud in church by a reader on Sunday, May 27, 2018. It is important as Isaiah was a “major prophet” of Judah, who had a vision of God in this story. In the vision, Isaiah was purified by fire and volunteered to serve the LORD as His holy messenger. This is the same purification and commitment that all Saints are called to fulfill, when they serve God in the name of Jesus Christ.
This reading is a holy vision that Isaiah experienced. In the first verse of this reading, Isaiah wrote that the vision is timed as being “the year that King Uzziah died.” This means it is important to understand the history of King Uzziah.
Uzziah’s death came roughly eleven years after he was stricken with leprosy by God. As leprosy was a visible sign of sin to the Israelites of Judah, Uzziah was forced into a house-arrest exile. Still a king, he became an absent co-ruler, with his son Jotham promoted to king to run the affairs of the government. Uzziah’s leprosy was punishment from God, due to his entering the Temple of Solomon to burn incense, which was forbidden to all but the Temple priests. An earthquake occurred, splitting open the Temple walls, where the sunlight came in and struck Uzziah on the face, immediately giving him leprosy.
History always likes to apply new standards to old actions. I doubt Uzziah entered the Holy of Holies wearing a crown (as shown) to swing an incense burner (in hand). I believe he tried to light incense on the Golden Altar (depicted with smoke).
The history of Uzziah says that he was one of Judah’s (including unified Israel) greatest kings, as far as bringing prosperity to his nation. The punishment that befell a king says that no human is above the Laws of God. Thus, Uzziah is symbolic of all Israel, in that sense, where the gifts of holiness were plentiful, but one cannot degrade into self-piety, forgetting that God is always the one and only true king, or one will find just how mortal all human beings are.
King Uzziah, when seen in a dream, has to be seen as an extension of the readers (individually a reflection of you and me). Isaiah, himself, had to feel the sin of Uzziah as if they were his own. Thus, we are all mortals who rule over the Kingdom of Self. It is within that temple of self that we can begin to think the possessions having come to us have been by our own doings; so we think we have the right to offer incense that will be burned in our honor, not God’s.
This makes the symbolism of leprosy be less about physical deformities, and more about how it projects the sinful state of one’s soul. The truth of our sins are fully known (even if denied), which causes us to hide our inner beings from public view. Therefore, the dual rulership of Uzziah and Jotham can then be seen as symbolic of the id and the ego, using Jungian terms. “In the year that Uzziah died” is then a statement of the death of the ego, where the soul (the id) finds judgment.
It becomes important to see the personal relationship with God that is demanded in this vision. Rather than seeing it through the eyes of the prophet Isaiah, see it as God presenting a vision to you, through the prophet Isaiah. The purpose is to see the promise of this vision, where sins are forgiven; but to see that, one must understand the mortality and judgment of a king of Judah, one who sat on a throne (shared or alone) for over fifty years, is reflective of one’s own. For Uzziah, forty-plus years of good acts were followed by eleven years of seclusion. He had to see God as the true king. God is who we all must serve; and that is the call of ministry required for the first Sunday after Pentecost.
We read how Isaiah (the reader) “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.” God is the true King. His throne is one’s heart. God’s temple is one’s body. God’s holy robe flows over every square inch, each nook and cranny, all cells and vessels of one’s body. This makes God’s robe be symbolic of the Holy Spirit.
If the likes of King Uzziah are not high enough or important enough to claim superiority to God, no mortal can aspire to immortality. Only through God, as His obedient servants, can eternal life be possible. The self-king must die so that God can take control of His realm.
This is where the symbolism of Seraphs (or Seraphim) comes into the vision. They are the attendants of God. While the Hebrew states “seraphim” in the plural, the word following infers the singular, not as “in attendance,” but as “it stood” or simply “standing” (Hebrew: “‘ō·mə·ḏîm”). This “standing,” implying “upright,” is not so much “above” God (who is so “high and lofty” only the “hem of his robe” is clearly seen), but the “Seraphim” is “standing upright,” reaching or aspiring to go “upward” (Hebrew: “mim·ma·‘al”). As such, the “Seraphs” are symbolic of the immortal souls that attend to God’s needs.
The Seraphim are seen as angels in Judaic and Christian theology. These angels are one of several mentioned in holy texts, and some are seen as higher and lower in ranking. The Hebrew word “mal’ákh” is commonly used to identify an “angel,” but the word itself means “messenger,” and can be used in identifying both human and divine entities. While there are some who say a “Malakim” is a separate distinction of angel, with a “Seraphim” being another and an “Elohim” one more (among ten total?), these differences are man-made presumptions and not rock-solid certainties.
On a symbolic level, souls are angelic, with their standing upright and reaching upward being those who are in service to the LORD. Alternately, some angels would sink and strive to shun God (those who serve Satan). This means the day of judgment is when souls are assigned an immortal realm (heaven or hell), or when they are determined to return to the physical plane. Yahweh, the One God, does this judging.
In this vision shown Isaiah, I see the plural of Seraphs as a statement that many souls have been assigned to serve the needs of Yahweh. In that regard, each individual soul will have been baptized by the Holy Spirit, making it purified of all human sins. Purification of a soul makes one of many Seraphs that serve the LORD exclusively. However, the point of Isaiah’s vision is on the rebirth of a soul in its same host body, rather than the soul becoming heavenly.
This means a purified soul is still within a human body. This results in a Saint or Apostle of Christ being born from the ashes of the old. This aligns this reading to the Gospel lesson from John, where Jesus told Nicodemus about such a rebirth. Jesus Christ, as the entity that sits at the right hand of God, is then the highest of all angels who serve the One God. Therefore, a Saint is a messenger of the LORD that comes in the name of Jesus Christ.
This leads to the importance of the number six, which is shown in the number of wings that a Seraph has. The terminology of “wings” can be seen as the instruments of flight, from which elevation is allowed. Seraphs wings are said to be used thus: “With two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.” This makes their ability to fly be relative only to one-third of their wings.
There can be a parallel made between the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, where each gift is given by God, relative to the individual’s abilities to receive more than one gift. There are said to be seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, intellect, counsel, fortitude, science, piety, and fear of the Lord. As such, the one gift of the Holy Spirit that all human Seraphs is the sainthood of the body, with the other six gifts being additional wings by which one can serve God’s needs. These can then be subdivided into face (wisdom, intellect, piety) and feet (counsel, science, fortitude) uses, where the heart is filled only with fear of the LORD (not wanting to fail Him).
This is not the clear focus of the number of six wings in the vision of Isaiah, but wings should be taken as meaning more than feathery appendages.
The symmetry of Da Vinci’s Man incorporated into the symmetry of Divine Man.
I invite you to read the insights found on the website linked here, which states several symbolic aspects that are relative to the number six. There are other opinions on the symbolism of this number, but as a perfect number (a mathematical designation) it can be seen as two (duality – left-right; up-down; inside-outside, good-evil, etc.) times three (Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). From that perspective, one duality of wings cover the face (the ego of self), while another duality of wings cover the feet (the filth of sin). The covering of human flaws by the gifts of the Holy Spirit then allows the third duality of wings to raise one above both the hindrances to righteousness that emanate from a soul’s the attachment to a physical body and the influences of the earth. Therefore, the perfection of six wings is symbolic of what allows a soul to attend to the needs of God, as His messenger, standing upright among humanity.
In that respect of righteous placement, the Seraphs then sing in unison the song of Sanctus.
Interestingly, in the Interlinear translations of Isaiah 6:3, from the Bible Hub website, shows the triple repeating of “qā·ḏō·wōš” (well-known as “holy, holy, holy”) as “Holy – of Holies holy.” That places the holiness of God above all mortals who are seen as sanctified, as well as any who are divine immortals, as all are of subservient status. This means the song sung by the Seraphs addresses this supreme deity as the one to who all praise should go. The LORD is the King, the ruler of an army (“host”) of messengers, both mortal (Saints) and immortal (heavenly Angels).
When we see how Isaiah did not quite hear the Christian version of the Sanctus being sung, as only the “earth is full of his glory,” that becomes a statement about the Seraphs (Seraphim). They are of the world, so they are singing in unison about God’s glory shining through their whole beings. This is the view painted of heaven, where a sea of souls sing the same praise to God (Revelations 4:8).
It is then because of this awareness of being worldly, yet witnessing the heavenly, that Isaiah said, “Woe is me!” His woe was due to knowing how anyone of the earth that sees the LORD must die (from Exodus 33:18-20). By knowing the history of King Uzziah, we see the posts of the doors (“pivots of the thresholds”) were shaking as a repeating of the earthquake that split open the Temple. The smoke the filled the house is then the incense burned by the mortal Uzziah, which brought God’s punishment upon him. The “woe” Isaiah felt was due to a sin committed in God’s holy Temple.
Isaiah cried out, “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” The word “unclean” is representative of the state of leprosy, which was a mark of sin. Just as King Uzziah died as sole King of Judah when he was stricken with leprosy, retreating to his house until his body would die eleven years later, Isaiah was fearful of the death of his ego. Having seen the Lord of hosts, his ego would likewise be too marred to be seen in public. His ego would have to be kept in secret until the death of his body later.
The redemption comes when we next read: “Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. “One of the seraphs” should be seen as the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the messenger Angel of God, which is sent to a Saint. The word translated as “tongs” (Hebrew: “bə·mel·qa·ḥa·yim”) is better grasped as an incense “snuffer,” which was an altar tool would be used to extinguish lit candles. One should assume “the altar” is one of two in the Temple of Solomon, most likely from the Golden Altar, or the altar of incense.
Altar of Incense Coals from the altar of sacrifice were placed on the altar of incense using tongs, a shovel, or a golden censer.21.
According to the Wikipedia article on “Altar (Bible),” the Rabbis said this about the burning of incense in the Temple:
“This was the part of the temple service that was most beloved by God (Zohar I 130:A). The burning of the incense was symbolic of the prayer of the people rising up to God (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4). The offering of incense had to take place after the sacrifice, because only after the atonement could communion with God take place. After the offering of incense, the Kohenim (priests) pronounced the Priestly Blessing upon the people.”
Incense was burned in the Temple every morning and evening. Morning is symbolic of birth. Evening is symbolic of death.
In the vision of Isaiah, the Seraph then removed a “live coal” or red-hot, burning coal from the altar of burnt offering, which would have then been placed in the altar of incense (the Golden Altar) to burn the holy incense. The burning coal, having come from both altars, is then representative of the death of oneself (sacrifice), followed by an atonement of sins. The ember is the result of oneself having been sacrificed to God in order to produce a holy fragrance in the smoking incense. This then makes the “live coal” be one prepared as an “inner sin offering,” done during the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
By understanding the purification of sins that came with the “live coal,” where the aspect of heat is indicative of life, as opposed to a cold coal, without an inner burn that is dead (thus not necessary to pick up with an altar tool) we next read Isaiah report: “The seraph touched my mouth with [the live coal] and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” By Isaiah saying, “sin is blotted out,” that is confirmation of a ceremonious rite of atonement. Still, touching the “lips” must be seen as symbolically stating one’s voice has been made pure.
This becomes a statement of one being a prophet, as a Saint, who can only speak the truth of God. This is itself a prophecy of Jesus Christ, as the Christ Mind could only speak from the Spirit of truth. Still, as the woe felt by Isaiah was stated as, “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” the world is a place where sins are projected by the philosophies of mankind. It is necessary to have Saints in the world who can counter the lies told. Jesus said of this, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” (Matthew 15:11)
The vision ends with Isaiah writing, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”’ This is God’s call to all His Saints to prophesy to the breath of truth, so that others can be led to God. Saints follow the same sequence of progressions, from sinner, to fear of guilt, to absolution of sins, to servant of God, which makes one holy. Importantly, the call is not to be atoned of sins, but to go out into ministry for the LORD. When Isaiah heard himself say, “Here am I; send me!” this is the voice of the Messiah, the Son of God, of which Isaiah was one.
As a reading for the First Sunday after Pentecost, where Pentecost ended the Easter season, this is the beginning of two periods in the Liturgical Calendar known as Ordinary Time.
As this graph clearly shows, Ordinary Time fills the majority of a year’s time. While it may be that this period is named for the word “ordinal,” such that each week is numbered as a series of lessons that follow an event (after the Epiphany or after Pentecost), this Ordinary Time that follows Pentecost should be seen as being most applicable to the Ecclesiastical definition for “ordinary,” where ordination into ministry is the loudest message coming from the readings each Sunday. In this case, the call from God, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” are questions that ask, “Who is prepared to serve Me?” When one answers God’s call by saying, “Here am I; send me!” then one begins to serve the LORD through ministry.
The two separate Ordinary Time periods can be seen as parallel to the Gospel commissions. The first came when Jesus sent his disciples out in the Great Commission, when he was still living. The greatest commission, thus the True Commission, began when disciples morphed into Apostles, when they were reborn as Jesus Christ. The disciples were allowed to do miracles and be messengers that proclaimed, “The kingdom of God has come near.” They did that while Jesus of Nazareth was present in the flesh, as their rabbi and guide. The Apostles were given the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which minimally included the Mind of Christ and the Spirit of truth, where Jesus lives within their being, guiding them spiritually.
The point of those assignments given by God, through His Son, is you must serve the LORD. Before you can serve Him, you must prove your commitment – your marriage to God, receiving His love. Then you have to go places you might be unwelcome and perform some tasks you never knew were possible. However, that is the meaning of faith – you cannot walk on water if you never try. You have to take a leap of faith.