DIG: Sacrificial animals were burned on the bronze altar in the courtyard of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, as a substitute for the death of the sinner. What is the significance of Isaiah’s lips being touched with a fiery coal from this altar? Why was Isaiah’s mouth touched? What does circumcision of the heart mean (Romans 2:29)?
REFLECT: What is the difference between head knowledge affirming that your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for, and emotionally experiencing it? Which is more consistent? In which of these two areas does Satan attack your belief about your salvation? Head knowledge or feelings? Where does faith come in? Has your heart been circumcised?
After realizing his sinful condition, Isaiah was cleansed by ADONAI, through the ministry of one of the seraphs, who flew to him with a live coal in his hand. He had taken the burning coal with the tongs from the bronze altar. The fiery coal from the hand of the fiery one touched Isaiah’s lips. This was the bronze altar seen in the courtyard of both the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and then the Temple in Jerusalem (see my commentary on Exodus Fa – Build an Altar of Acacia Wood Overlaid with Bronze). With it he touched Isaiah’s mouth and said: See, this has touched your lips, now your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for (6:6-7).
Fire is a symbol of the LORD’s judgment throughout the Bible. We see this from the burning sulfur raining down on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24), to death and Sh'ol being thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). Realizing his impurity, Isaiah was cleansed by God with the help of one of the seraphs. Seraphs mean, to burn, so even God’s ministers were flames of fire. This, then, speaks of the depth of the LORD's grace in relation to this fire. Isaiah does not plead for mercy, nor does he make great promises if YHVH would only deliver him. All of the evidence makes it appear that the prophet considered his case hopeless. Yet out of the smoke came a seraph with a purifying hot burning coal from the altar. ADONAI does not reveal Himself to destroy us, but rather to redeem us (so it was with Jacob in Genesis 32, and with the Israelites in Exodus 19 through 24).
This symbolic action atoned for Isaiah’s sin. There is, of course, nothing in the burning coal itself that can deal with a sinful heart. In the same way, the bread and the wine of communion do not take away sin. The altar is a place of sacrifice because blood is the means of sacrifice. In fact, according to the Torah, nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22 CJB). The seraph touched Isaiah’s lips because that is where he was most conscious of his sin. Remember he said: For I am a man of unclean lips. As a result, his guilt was taken away, and his sin was covered. The fire on the altar was heavenly and holy, and as such burned away, so to speak, the impurities of sin. But this was as far as it went. Until the Messiah died, the sin of the righteous of the TaNaKh could not be removed, only covered.
Of course, this is what the entire nation needed. Judah needed to respond as Isaiah did, acknowledging their need of cleansing from sin. But unlike the prophet, most members of the nation refused to admit they had a spiritual need. Through the priests, they burned sacrifices at the Temple, but their lives needed the purifying action of God’s cleansing through fire.18
What causes this sin and wickedness in the human heart? It is that arrogant self-sufficiency that refuses to acknowledge Yeshua as Lord and Savior. First, we inherited our sin nature from Adam. Rabbi Sha'ul tells us that just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all mankind, because all have sinned (Romans 5:12). But secondly, we also inherit an arrogant self-sufficiency that refuses to bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:20-11). This is the ultimate uncleanness of which Isaiah had been accusing his people, and then, much to his chagrin, he had found that it had taken up residence within him also! What Isaiah learned then, and we need to learn today, is that apart from the fires of self-surrender and divine surgery (Acts 2:1-4), having a circumcised heart is impossible.
As Moshe had said: Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer (Deuteronomy 10:6). Jews were circumcised (see my commentary on Genesis En – Every Male Among You Must Be Circumcised). In fact, one could not be a Jew and be uncircumcised. So even when a Gentile converted to Judaism they were circumcised. It was part of the Covenant God made with Abraham. This was done in a ritual usually performed at a ceremony called brit milah when a baby boy is eight days old. The ritual established a covenant between YHVH and the individual. It was part of their identity as God’s own people.
This passage, however, instructs God’s people not merely to circumcise the flesh, but to circumcise their hearts. This means a couple of things. First, it means being a child of God, being part of God’s covenant, is more than the way we appear outwardly. It means that it isn’t good enough to just change the flesh; we must change our attitudes, our hearts, from the inside out. If we are to love those who are the least, the last, the little and the lost, we must change our hearts towards them. We can’t be stiff-necked, as it says in Deuteronomy. We can’t be cold, distant, or hardheaded toward those who need our love and care. We must change our hearts. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Messiah Yeshua, and have no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3).
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017