Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Isaiah 6: Isaiah's Cleansing and the Burning Coal

A friend asked me recently why Isaiah in the sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah has his sin taken away after being touched by a burning coal, yet the Bible says in Leviticus 17:11 that the blood of a sacrifice was needed for forgiveness of sins. It is important to remember that the sacrificial system only provided a partial solution for the problem of Israel’s sin. The sacrifices provided cleansing and forgiveness for sins done “unintentionally” (Lev 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:15, 18). The Hebrew term for “unintentionally” is shegugah, and it probably means sins done out of ignorance or human weakness. Whatever it means, it’s clear that the sacrifices did not provide a perfect solution to Israel’s sin problem. The sacrifices offered for the nation on the Day of Atonement were for Israel’s “rebellion” and provided cleansing for all of the other sins not covered by the individual sacrifices (Lev 16:16) so that Israel could live in God’s presence for another year. An Israelite was truly forgiven when offering the sacrifice with a repentant spirit, but the forgiveness needed for a personal relationship with God went even deeper than the sacrifices. As an observant Jew worshipping God at the temple when he has his vision, Isaiah would likely have offered any sacrifice necessary for him to have the purification required to enter into the presence of God, but he needed something more.

In order to be God’s prophet, Isaiah needs a deeper cleansing than what is offered through the sacrificial system. He is aware of deep-seated personal corruption, reflected in the fact that he is “man of unclean lips.” The cleansing provided by the seraphim touching his lips with the burning coal represents a fuller and complete cleansing than is what is provided by the cleansing/forgiveness associated with the individual sacrifices. God’s grace and forgiveness are not exclusively tied to the sacrifices—i.e. forgiveness could be extended without the specific act of sacrifice. When David confesses his sin of adultery and murder, Nathan the prophet announces that God has forgiven him (2 Sam 12:13-15). God’s free choice to forgive was the only way David could be forgiven because there was no sacrifice that David could have offered for the defiant sins of adultery and murder (cf. Psalm 51:16-17). Similarly, Isaiah needs a more thorough personal cleansing than what could be offered through the sacrificial system. God provided this cleansing for the prophet and would have done the same for the nation as a whole if they had repented and turned from their sinful ways.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the explanation of a difficult passage - excellent!