Isaiah’s Potty Mouth (Isaiah 6:4-7)
I was never very good at acting, but I did speech and drama in high school. At our competitions, I would do a couple of different forms of public speaking, but I didn’t do much acting — I just wasn’t good at it.
But, each year I tried out for the school musical, and I always managed to get a role, a small one, perhaps, but always a character with a name. One year we did The Music Man, and my character used some profanity. I wasn’t about to use those words. I wanted to use those words; I knew that would have helped me to fit in. But, I also knew that Mom and Dad would attend at least one performance, and I knew that I’d be a grease spot on the floor if I used those words.
What has been your experience in relation to cursing? I imagine that quite a few of you have used profanity. . . . On the job? In the military? I know that many of you hear a great deal of profanity. I imagine that I’m in a very unique situation. Those of you who are working likely hear a fair amount of profanity on the job. It happens to me sometimes, too, but it’s fairly rare. So, when I hear a curse word, it likely sounds worse to me because I don’t hear it on a daily basis.
You cannot watch television, even children’s programming, without hearing profanity. Wilson was watching a program, developed for his age bracket, a week or so ago; one of the characters used an acronym that stopped me in my tracks. Tammy and I looked at each other and had Wil change the channel.
From what we read in this morning’s text, we might have changed the channel were Isaiah speaking. In the presence of God, Isaiah confesses the sin of unclean lips. God atones for that sin and sends Isaiah as a prophet to Judah.
Isaiah’s prophetic call begins with a vision of God’s holiness. In light of the divine holiness, Isaiah realizes the full weight of his sin, and he confesses to having “unclean lips.” As we, too, look upon the holiness of God, we realize that we, too, have unclean lips. Isaiah’s encounter with the Holy God teaches us: “The Holy Creator commands holy conversation.” Let us notice how that truth functions in our text.
Scripture (Isaiah 6:4-7)
This passage is about the majesty and glory of God. Isaiah sees that glory, and he shudders because he is so far from holy. There are a couple important subtexts in this passage:
- We clearly see that God is commissioning Isaiah as a prophet. In his prophetic office, Isaiah was going to be communicating to people the will of God.
- This passage is about communication. The seraphim speak about God’s holiness, Isaiah has unclean lips, and God sends Isaiah on a mission to speak God’s truth.
The thresholds shook at the voice of him who called. As the seraphim called out to each other, the foundations of the temple were shaking. The truth they were proclaiming was so magnificent that the temple trembled.
The house was filled with smoke. God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29); therefore, the smoke would indicate judgment. It’s little wonder that Isaiah was so terrified!
Isaiah considers himself lost, for he and his fellow countrymen have “unclean lips.”
Unclean lips are certainly a problem. Unclean lips, however, come from an unclean heart. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). Any improper speech originates in the heart.
Our lips are so difficult to control. “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (Js 3:6). Peter quotes from the Psalms: “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit” (1 Pet 3:10).
One of the seraphim gets a coal from the altar. He goes to the altar to get a burning coal with tongs; why would this seraph get the coal with tongs? You might say, “Duh, Justin, it was hot.” That just doesn’t work for two reasons:
- What makes you think that a heavenly being would be able to suffer pain?
- The word “seraph” means “burning one;” Isaiah is seeing these beings who are fiery.
Why the tongs? The coal is holy; It has been set apart by God for a very specific purpose. The coal comes from the altar, a place of sacrifice. Isaiah’s sin requires sacrifice.
The seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth and announces that his sin is forgiven. Isaiah receives a very specific atonement for his sin. Isn’t that the way God atones for our sins? Each specific sin is washed away in Jesus’ name.
I’m sure the question has occurred to you by now: What sin did Isaiah commit with his lips? When possible, I believe we should look at the context to see what, if anything, we can glean from the text. The context indicates a great deal of concern about communication. Of course, this is Isaiah’s call to be a prophet, and that role was solely about communicating God’s message to man. In Isaiah 6, you will find 17 words dealing directly with communication. You have these nouns (the first time they are used in the passage): voice (v 4), lips (v 5), mouth (v 7), and ears (v 10). You have these verbs (first time they are used in the passage): called (v 3), said [past tense] (v 5), heard [past tense] (v 8), say [present tense] (v 9), and hearing [present progressive] (v 9).
I made the point last week that this text is all about the holiness of God. I believe that is very much the case. However, “The Holy Creator commands holy conversation.”
What was Isaiah’s sinful conversation? Look at the context: The seraphim use their lips to praise God, and God needs someone to use his lips to take his message to Judah and Jerusalem.
From the context, it seems highly likely to me that Isaiah was committing two sins with his mouth: He was not praising, and He was not preaching. Isaiah confesses his sin. Yes, his confession is a way Isaiah utilized his lips, but what sins did he confess? Some scholars see in this passage a comparison to Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road.
- Isaiah was living in sin (something he himself acknowledged), but God called him, for the Lord had a role for Isaiah.
- Paul’s conversion does mirror Isaiah’s experience.
- That, I believe would parallel our own lives: we were living in sin, we came to God (called through the gospel — 2 Thess 2:14), and God has a role for us (Eph 2:10).
Let us think how you can avoid Isaiah’s sins.
You Praise the Potentate.
In this passage, Isaiah was not praising God, but the seraphim were.
God is worthy of our praise. “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!” (Ps 48:1). “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11).
How can you give praise to the Potentate? You offer private praise and public praise.
Jesus himself offered private praise: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mk 1:35).
We’re to offer private praise to God. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt 6:9). As Jesus begins the Model Prayer, he begins with praise to God. Prayer is a very private act: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father” (Matt 6:6).
In my opinion, there are at least two reasons we need to praise God in private:
- We learn to praise God in private, and that makes our public praise far richer.
- Our relationship with God is a private affair; we need that private communion with God.
How do we offer private praise to God?
Spend time in prayer.
Jesus spent private time in prayer, and he taught us to do likewise. Make a habit of praying to God once a day where you do absolutely nothing but praise God. Think of God’s fabulous qualities, and praise him.
I started to give you some texts that mention reasons to praise God. But, you need to spend time in the Bible to see all the reasons God deserves our praise. Get a concordance (Google is the best concordance I’ve ever had), and make a list of reasons to praise God. Then, praise the Lord!
Make your life praise to God.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).
Presenting your bodies to God’s service is a very private way to honor God. I cannot offer your body as a sacrifice to God. Only you can offer yourself to God and honor him with your life.
You need to offer public praise to God, too.
As you think about public praise, you notice that what we call the five acts of worship most fully take place with one another (Lord’s Supper and preaching [Acts 20:7], singing [Eph 5:19], contribution [1 Cor 16:1-2; as you look at the context, the church was together], prayer [1 Cor 14:13-19]).
You need to be in worship. We can talk a great deal about forsaking the assembly and all the biblical reasons you need to offer worship to God. Yet, I cannot fathom why some people do not want to come and give praise to God. If you want to be in heaven where there will be endless praise, why do you not want to worship him as often as you can in this world?
You Proclaim the Potentate.
Unfortunately, we often think about prophecy as a prediction of the future. You can find where prophets did so; Isaiah predicted Jesus’ crucifixion (Is 53). Yet, the prophet was really just one who spoke for God. Micaiah: “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak” (1 Ki 22:14). The second verse of Isaiah declares Isaiah to be God’s spokesman: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken” (Is 1:2).
As God calls Isaiah, the Lord needs a servant to speak for him.
Are you willing to be a spokesman for God? We have been called to that very task. “The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8). We’ve already mentioned that prophets were primarily to speak the word of God. Notice that the prophet must prophesy for the Lord GOD has spoken. Is it not the case that our God has spoken in his holy word (2 Tim 3:16)? Is it not also the case that word is “profitable for teaching” (2 Tim 3:16)? “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).
Become active in Proclaiming the Potentate. How might you become active in Proclaiming the Potentate?
You can use the talents the Lord God has given you.
You can proclaim him in classrooms here; you can help with VBS; you can tell a coworker that you are praying for him; you can have a Bible study in your neighborhood. What talents do you have? How can you use those talents in the service of God?
You can Proclaim the Potentate with a Christian example.
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Commit to setting an example before others this week. Pray every morning for God’s help in the shining of your light . . . Before you go to bed, think through your day and see how you could have been a better example.
Do you need to light your lamp this morning?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.