Intro and background of Isaiah 6


Isaiah six is a calling for Isaiah to preach and foresee. This chapter focuses on God’s Holiness. Although there are some confusing verses in this chapter, a close examination of this chapter will show that God is Sovereign, Holy and Good. Chapter six is Isaiah’s calling into ministry. In order to get a good understanding of this chapter, extensive study about the context of this chapter in light of history and in light of the entire Bible must be noted.

The Background of the Prophet Isaiah

Isaiah was born in 765 BC of Amoz. He was twenty-five years old when called into ministry, the same year King Uzziah[1] died (approximately 740BC). [2] Isaiah was married and had three sons.[3] Isaiah was an advisor to the kings of the southern kingdom, Judah. Micah was the “prophet” or advisor for the kings of the Northern kingdom of Israel during this time. Isaiah served as a prophet from 740-680. Isaiah gave advice and warnings to King Jotham (in the years of 740-732), King Ahaz (during his reign from 732-716), King Hezekiah (between the years of 716-687), and it is also possible that Isaiah was around for part of King Manasseh’s era. The time and manner of his death is not specified in the Bible. Although tradition has it that Isaiah suffered a martyr’s death. During King Mannasseh’s rule, pagan religions were quite popular.[4] The story goes that Isaiah was sawed in half with a wooden saw.[5] A liberal interpretation of Heb. 11:37 might support this theory, but based on such little evidence it is best not to draw on that conclusion.


There are many theories about the work of Isaiah in the Bible. It is possible

that the book had several authors, but in any case, it is understood that Isaiah, the man, was very intellectual. He wrote most of his prophecies in prose and poetry. He uses complicated symbolism and imagery. Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in modern and ancient Scripture. Isaiah is directly quoted in twenty of the New Testament books.[6] Even Jesus quoted Isaiah![7]

The Background of the Nation

Isaiah lived and worked in difficult times for Israel, as a whole. Before Isaiah had become a prophet, in 745 BC, Assyria began dominating the ancient Near East under the reign of Tiglath-pileser III. The eighth-century was a prosperous time for Israel and Judah. According to 2 Chronicles 26, King Uzziah “did right in the sight of God.” He was faithful to God and therefore God prospered him. The people felt safe under Uzziah, but it was Isaiah’s job to warn them of future danger. Around 734 BC (or as early as 738 BC), Tiglath was winning the Syro-Ephraimite war. Tiglath had even invaded parts of Israel.

Isaiah began prophesying in the prosperity era (around 740 BC) that things were going to get worse. The people of Israel were proud and would not listen. Isaiah warned King Ahaz against participating in an anti-Assyrian coalition. Ahaz did not listen, this coalition turned on Ahaz. King Ahaz turned to no other than Tiglath and Assyria for help. King Ahaz became a puppet to Assyria. Ahaz trusted in man and Ahaz failed.

By 722 BC, Samaria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen to Assyria. King Hezekiah listened to Isaiah. Furthermore, Hezekiah listened to the Lord. Hezekiah, unlike his father, trusted in God. In 701 BC, King Hezekiah’s faith brought deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib and the Assyrian army. Despite being completely surrounded and lacking a strong army, the Lord destroyed the armies against Jerusalem with an angel of death. Isaiah’s work and Hezekiah’s faith saved Jerusalem in the eight century rule of Assyria. Much later, under Babylonian rule, even Jerusalem would be conquered, but that is another story for another time beyond Isaiah’s years, although his warnings and visions are also beyond his own years.

Context of Isaiah 6

Before diving straight into the literary context of Isaiah 6, it is important to look at the chapter’s context within the entire book of Isaiah. Isaiah is one of the largest books in the Bible, short only to Psalms and Jeremiah. Isaiah is grouped among the other books known as the “prophets.” Chapter 6 is the first narrative chapter depicting the actual events of the prophet himself[8] and it is in poetic form. Chapters 1-5 are prophetic literature that stress sin and judgment, but do not neglect restoration. It is fairly certain that chapters 1-5 originate around 733 BC[9] during the the Syro-Ephraimite crisis. Chapter 6 occurs by 740 BC[10], the year King Uzziah dies. Although, the rest of “Isaiah One” (Chapters 7-12), might have been written later, as late as 580 BC.[11] Kaiser and Clements sum it up best by saying, “chapters 1-5 announce the themes, chapter 6 calls Isaiah to proclaim these themes, and chapters 7-12 show the prophet experiencing them.”[12]

Here are some general observations from chapter 6: The use of repetition in verse three is noted in the word “Holy” as it is used three times consecutively by the Seraphim describing God. Also the Seraphim continue the general theme of God’s holiness by worshiping and attending to God. Isaiah repeatedly describes God as holy throughout the book of Isaiah. One of Isaiah’s most repeated phrases in chapters one through five describing God is “The Holy One of Israel” or the “Lord of Hosts.”[13] In chapter six, “The Holy One Of Israel” is conceived as the “Holy One whose glory fills the whole earth.

There is a general contrast between Isaiah having a vision of God and the people who are searching but do not see God at all. Another major comparison is the people of Israel and the stump of the oak tree. They are cut and burned but a portion remains. God proves that He has a plan through all of the events that are taking place. There a list pertaining to the Seraphim, this will be discussed later. The overall tone and theme of this chapter is mixed. On one side, it is unfortunate and negative because God is going to purge Israel but on the other side things are positive and good because God promises to restore Israel through a remnant.

The chapter has a few shifts. In Isaiah’s vision, the story begins in Heaven without Isaiah for the first five verses. Then Isaiah enters the vision. His purification is detailed in two verses. And then his call is detailed in the last six verses. As far as emotional terms, Isaiah realizes the holiness of God and his own sinful condition. Isaiah says, “woe is me” in verse five. “Woe” means, scorn, grief, torture, curse. Isaiah is tortured and realizes that God is Holy and He is not. And his desire to serve God in verse eight, “send me!” Isaiah is serious and zealous here. Also the text comes across as harsh and saddening when God explains what Isaiah is to do and what He [God] is going to do to His people. But it also is amazing, because while God is going to punish them, he also longs to restore them!

[1] Isaiah 6:1 NASB

[2] Class notes from OBST 592

[3] Isaiah 8:3 NASB

[4] Longman, Tremper. An Introduction to the Old Testament. 311.

[5] Kirby, Peter. Ascension of Isaiah. Chp. 5

[6] McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 3, “Isaiah,” p. 185.

[7] Mark 4:12 NASB

[8] Longman. Pg. 317.


[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid