It was the year King Uzziah died. Isaiah was in the temple. The temple in Jerusalem. And while he was there, while he was worshipping, he had a vision. He saw something. And what he saw was God!
God was lifted up, high in the air.
God was sitting on a throne.
God was wearing a robe.
And the bottom of that robe flowed down from the throne, fold by unfolding fold, until it filled the temple.
Above God there stood the seraphim. (Not to be confused with those fat babies with wings!)
No, these angelic beings burned bright as firelight (it’s what their name means), and they were anything but cute and cuddly.
They each had six wings. Six! Count ’em. Six!
With two of the wings they covered their faces.
With two of the wings they covered their feet.
And, yeah, with the last two wings they flew.
And they weren’t silent, these seraphim. In the midst of the flapping and the flying, they called out to one another. And what they called was a chorus of praise to God.
“Holy, holy, holy, is the God of heaven’s armies The Earth is filled with his glory.”
The temple shook at the sound of the seraphim’s call. It shook right down to its foundations. The place filled up with smoke. And what did Isaiah do, there in the midst of the seraphim and the smoke? There with the thundering voices and the crumbling floors? There at the foot of the throne of God?
He cried out: “Woe is me!”
That’s what he did. And who wouldn’t?
“I’m in trouble!” he cried. “For my eyes have seen God himself. The King. The Lord of heaven’s armies. Yet, I am a man with unclean lips. And I am surrounded by people whose lips are unclean!”
Which was pretty much Isaiah’s way of saying that he had done lots of things that were wrong. And that the other people in his land had as well.
And just as he was “woe-ing” and trembling and wondering what the holy God would do with a sinner like him, Isaiah saw something else.
One of the seraphim (six wings, burning like fire, not a fat baby) grabbed a set of tongs and pulled a red-hot coal out of the fire that was burning in the altar. Then he flew straight towards Isaiah, holding that coal out before him.
The passage doesn’t say, but you can only imagine what Isaiah must have thought as that flaming heavenly being drew closer and closer and closer. I suspect “I’m doomed!” comes pretty close.
But that’s not what happened. Not at all.
The seraphim touched the burning coal to Isaiah’s lips (all right, that can’t have been pleasant). But what the seraphim said was:
“Look and see. This coal from the altar has touched your lips. Now your guilt has been taken away, and all your sins paid for.”
Then Isaiah heard a voice.
A voice from the throne.
The voice of God himself.
“Whom shall I send?” the voice asked. “Who will go for us?”
Then Isaiah heard another voice, his own voice, offering a reply.
“I’m here. Send me!”