In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:“
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
This passage is one of the most striking passages to me in the whole Bible. It reminds me of my smallness and my frailty. It speaks of my total inability to make myself right before pure holiness.
A VISION OF TOTAL PERFECTION
Notice the progression in the text as Isaiah has a throne-room vision of God. What he sees utterly terrifies him – God is high and lifted up, the train of his robe fills the temple. He is beyond comprehension. We get no description of God other than him sitting on a throne high and lifted up and the train of his robe filling the temple, and his total, perfect holiness. In the vision, he sees and hears angelic creatures crying out, “Holy, holy, holy.” In ancient Hebrew literature, a word used three times consecutively carries greater force and gives that word the highest meaning it can possibly carry. So what these angelic beings are saying is that God is supremely holy. None can match the supremacy of his holiness. Basically, God’s holiness means his “otherness” in that it is uniquely distinct from all creation. He is set apart. He is “not us.” John Piper says of God’s holiness, “His holiness is what he is as God which no one else is or ever will be. Call it his majesty, his divinity, his greatness, his value as the pearl of great price.”
THE ONLY RESPONSE
Isaiah sees a glimpse of God’s absolute holiness and he finds himself utterly devastated. He is ruined by a glimpse of the only perfect, holy, glorious, eternal God. He cries out, “Woe is me!” which is a funeral dirge over the dead. He recognizes that he is utterly, totally devastated. He makes this plain by crying out “I am ruined!” The Hebrew word Isaiah uses for ruined here is dâmâh. It’s a verb that could mean “to be silent” or “to be cut off/destroyed.” However he is using the word, it’s clear to the reader that Isaiah feels a profound sense of dread in the presence of a holy God. He is utterly ruined because he realizes that God is totally holy, perfect, and pure, and that he is by comparison unclean, impure, and sinful. Andrew Bartelt rightly says, “a sinner before the holy God can only cry out in despair.” That’s exactly what Isaiah does.
A scene from The Chronicles of Narnia is helpful in understanding God’s holiness. Speaking of whether or not Aslan (the lion who represents Jesus) is safe, Mr. Beaver says,
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.
But he’s good.
He’s the King, I tell you.”
God is not safe. He is not akin to a nice old man in a white robe sitting on a throne, listening to harp-playing, nude, child-angels. When the Seraphim called out to one another, the foundations of the thresholds shook. The whole place shook. What Isaiah saw ruined him. It changed him.
RUINED FOR YOUR JOY
John Piper says God’s glory is “the public display of the infinite beauty and worth of God…the radiance of his holiness – the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections.” Isaiah saw the radiance of God’s holiness and it shook him to the core. He recognized in that moment that he was a ruined sinner. Because God is not safe and because he is so utterly holy, Isaiah knew that he was undone. The text goes on to explain how God made atonement for Isaiah. Rather than Isaiah trying to clean himself off and make himself presentable to the king of the universe, God himself made a way for Isaiah to be purified. God had made a way for Isaiah to be in his presence that did’t involve Isaiah dying.
This passage teaches us something profound – a right vision of God’s supreme glory will ruin you. When you encounter the holiest being in the universe, the only response is to cry out with Isaiah, “I am ruined, for I am a sinner!” Yet we can rejoice along with Isaiah that in the moment we see his glory, and our sin, we are able to rightly grasp the magnitude of his grace for us in Christ Jesus! Just as Isaiah was purified through God’s appointed means, Jesus is the means by which we are declared righteous before a holy God. Jesus alone. Jesus is the appointed means by which a holy God and a sinful man may meet. He is our only hope, and it is for this reason that God’s ruining glory is also our eternal joy – because in it we find the sweetest of grace in Jesus. By being ruined we are made whole. By having a vision of the grandeur of God so large that we can never hope to attain right-standing with him, we are ready to receive the grace of God through faith in Jesus alone. God’s glory ruins our meager attempts to work our way into right standing; it compels us to rest, to trust in his grace. God’s glory ruins our petty attempts to find satisfaction in lesser pursuits, because one cannot exhaust his delights and his goodness. God’s glory ruins and devastates our pride and postures us to walk in humility. God’s glory ruins our insecurity, because we stand confident in the cleansing work that he has done on our behalf. God’s glory utterly ruins us, and the result is a harvest of eternal joy.
Think about that – God devastates us for OUR JOY! His glory, the manifestation of his holiness, utterly ruins us, leading us to cling to our only hope – Jesus. And when we cling to him, when we trust in him and treasure him, we find greater joy than we could have ever imagined.
Thomas Watson, a puritan author, once wrote, “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”
I would push that and say, “Till God be glorious, sin will not be bitter.” But once we see a right vision of a holy God, we see with stunning clarity the depth and magnitude of our sin. Only then will we find the magnitude of his grace for us in Christ Jesus so very sweet.
A right vision of God’s glory will cause our hearts to sing with the apostle Paul,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us…” -Ephesians 1:3-7
Let us pray each morning with renewed passion for God to open our eyes to his stunning glory and for a heart to receive him and exult in him. My prayer for the Church is that we see God’s glory in such a way that it devastates our sin and yields the fruit of repentance and joy!
Daniel Mcdonald graduated from Liberty University with a B.S. in Communication (2011) and a Master’s of Divinity in Evangelism and Church Planting (2014). He is serving as the Director of Communication for GEM, while his wife, Kristen, serves as the 4th-grade teacher. Above all, they desire to make disciples by making Jesus known in Puerto and around the world. To read more posts on Daniel’s personal blog, click here.