I Am a Man of Unclean Lips

6: 5

    DIG: What made Isaiah despair for his life and confess his sin (see Exodus 20:19 and 33:20)? What does ruined really mean? What did he believe was going to happen to him? Why?

    REFLECT: How is your experience of God like Isaiah’s? Awestruck? Guilt-ridden? Cleansed? Changed? Has it changed your opinion of yourself or those around you? Why or why not?

    At this point, Isaiah becomes brutally aware of himself, feeling uneasy to the point of terror at being in the very presence of the Creator. After pronouncing judgment upon others (5:8-25), now he must pronounce judgment upon himself. Prophetic announcement was not enough; personal confrontation was necessary. Eventually, every member of the nation needed to acknowledge their condition before the LORD of heaven's angelic armies (CJV).

    When Isaiah saw a vision of YHVH seated on a throne, high and exalted, he exclaimed: Woe to me! I am ruined. The English word ruined is translated from the Hebrew word dama, meaning silence brought about by loss (Jeremiah 47:5), or death (Psalm 49:12). To be silenced or put out of existence in this context would mean to be excluded from the heavenly choir singing: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of heaven's angelic armies (CJB). He therefore lamented: I am ruined, because he suddenly realized that he was a man of unclean lips and he lived among people of unclean lips. Why had he come to that conclusion? His eyes had seen the King, ADONAI-Tzva'ot in a vision (6:5), and in God's holy presence, Isaiah came face to face with his own true spiritual condition. Later he would write: All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:6). He fully expected to be put out of existence and gives three reasons why:

    First, he realized his own impure state: For I am a man of unclean lips. While the lips of the seraphim were saying holy, holy, holy, Isaiah’s lips were sinful and unclean. We can only see our sinfulness when we see God’s holiness. As long as we compare ourselves to others, either believers or unbelievers, we can come out looking pretty good. There is always someone worse than we are, always someone we think we are better than. But when we see the One who is holy, holy, holy, then we see our own sinful condition. The book of Job is a good example of this. In places like Job 1:8 and Job 2:3, when compared with other men and women, he always comes out looking good. YHVH said that there was no one on earth like him; he was blameless and upright. But after being in the presence of ADONAI, Job fully recognized his sinful state (Job 42:5-6).

    Secondly, Isaiah states: I live among people of unclean lips. Isaiah had previously condemned Y'hudah's sins in the first five chapters. He was faithful to his position as a prophet and delivered the message that God intended to send to the southern kingdom of Judah. But nonetheless, the prophet was very hard on her. But then he recognized that he was in the same boat as they were. In other words, he had the same sin nature that they had. I am sure it was an extremely humbling experience.

    Such an encounter cannot help but produce despair. For the finite, the mortal, the incomplete and the fallible to encounter the Infinite, the Eternal, the Complete and the Infallible, is to realize the futility and hopelessness of one’s existence. This is why existential thinking leads to a desperate dependence on self and the exclusion of YHVH. It presumes there is no meaning in the universe and, as a result, they are thus meaningless. It is no surprise that they question why they should go on living. Apart from the way the truth and the life (John 14:6), there is only death, separation and darkness.

    Thirdly, he feared death. It could not have been a coincidence that in the year of King Uzziah’s death, Isaiah saw the King. The prophet realized that the fate of Judah, as well as his own fate, did not rest in the hands of a human king, however competent and faithful he may be. More accurately, it is in the hands of the Creator. The lesser king had to be removed so that the greater King could be seen. Afterward the prophet could say: My eyes have seen the King, the LORD of heaven’s angelic armies (CJB). From that moment on, Isaiah was reluctant to call anyone King but ADONAI.

    Once there was a man who took his children up to a cabin without his wife. The cabin is a rustic place with no running water, no electricity, but plenty of space for the kids to run and play. On the day that they were to go back home, he got them dressed in the morning, packed up the van, and loaded them in. He took a look at them as he was getting them in the van, and thought they look pretty good – a little grubby, but clean enough. They all slept as he drove until they pulled into a McDonalds to get lunch – then he looked back at them, and they were disgusting! What looked clean at the cabin, now in the light of civilization, looked disgusting! Isaiah had the same experience – he looked pretty good – good enough to walk into the Temple, but in the gleaming light of the presence of a perfect, holy God, he was dirty enough to die! “I’m going to die!” he says. Isaiah was a prophet of the Most High God, and out of his mouth came the very words of the LORD when he spoke: I am a man of unclean lips, and I come from a people of unclean lips.


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