To be known by Him means to receive His knowing of us... The knowledge of God is not the accumulation of information, rather it is the receiving of His Spirit, Who produces in us the fruit of “Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, integrity, trust, goodness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22), and equips us with the gifts of “Wisdom, knowledge, trust, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, and language”(I Corinthians 12:8-10).
The prophet has just introduced Tzemakh (The Branch) and spoken of a future where Hashem would presence Himself as He once had following Israel’s escape from Egypt (Cloud & Fire), finally covering her with a chuppah (wedding canopy) of His glory, shielding her and dwelling with her perpetually. These certain events are spoken of as if they had already happened because from God’s point of view, they have. The prophet speaks certain hope to a people who have made certain their own suffering through their sin against, and rejection of God.
Now the prophet recites a song about his beloved God and His vineyard (Israel). It is no coincidence that the figurative use of the Branch in the previous chapter matches perfectly the analogy of the vineyard in the present text. In fact, the Branch will come forth from this same vineyard, being both born of it and the root that supports it.
The prophet’s song employs the couplets and rhythms of Hebrew poetry, emphasizing the profound anguish of God over His people and their choice to break relationship with Him. The song quickly turns from the third person to the first person. It opens as a narrative expressed by the prophet but soon progresses to become a direct challenge spoken by God Himself. It reads like the broken cry of a jilted lover, and reflects the deep heart ache experienced by one who has given everything of himself and has been repaid with scorn.
The use of the vineyard as an allegory or living parable (mashal) concerning the people of Israel is a strong theme of Isaiah. The vineyard is seen throughout Scripture as a symbol of provision, abundance, sweetness and celebration. Upon leaving the ark the first thing Noach (comfort) does is to plant a vineyard. The Torah gives numerous instructions regarding the conduct of those who own vineyards (Ex. 22:5, 23:11; Lev. 19:10, 25:3 etc.). The Torah also observes the practices of those who own vineyards (Deut. 6:11, 20:6, 22:9, 23:24, 24:21 etc.). Throughout the books of the Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) the vineyard is observed and commented on in regard to its general nature and its correlation with the people of Israel. Finally Yeshua our King Messiah, alluding to Isaiah, employs the vineyard allegory in order to warn the Jews of the first century CE (AD) that they are living in days like those of Isaiah and the prophets, and that unless they repent they too will suffer the consequences of their wicked and hypocritical actions (Matt. 20, 21; Mark. 12; Luke. 13, 20).
There is both great joy and deep despair in the story of the vineyard of HaShem. However, “Those who go out weeping with seed to sow will return with rejoicing and an abundant harvest will be theirs.” (Psalm 126:6).
The Text Isaiah 5
Isa 5:1 Entreating I will sing to my sole beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My sole beloved has a kerem vineyard b’keren in the horn (strength, flask), ben-shemen son of oil:
Who is the prophet entreating? It seems that he is singing his song in the hearing of the people of Israel, entreating them as he sings first to his one true love, Hashem, and then conveying the words of HaShem’s response. This is a beautiful picture of what it means to pray. Prayer is the conversation that God began with humanity at the inception of creation. A conversation that we are invited to join. All prayer is a response to a relationship and conversation that God initiated from before we were born. The same is true of the prophet Isaiah’s song. The spirit of son-ship cries out to the Father from deep within the believer:
“You have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” –Romans 8:15
Who does the song concern? It concern’s the vineyard, planted by the One Whom the prophet is entreating, Hashem.
The second sentence could be read, “My one true love has a vineyard growing in the strong son of oil”.
The traditional English translation, “My well beloved has a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:” finds its dynamic equivalent inspiration in the Targum:
"the prophet said, I will sing now to Israel, who is like unto a vineyard, the seed of Abraham, my beloved, a song of my beloved, concerning his vineyard. My people, my beloved Israel, I gave to them an inheritance in a high mountain, in a fat land.''
In light of this others have suggested that the land of Israel is shaped like a horn and that, as a son born of God’s design, Israel is rich with oil (shemen), a land of fruitfulness. However, the plain meaning simply conveys strength and the progeny of oil. Thus this section of the text is open to interpretation. The vineyard is Israel (v.7), therefore, one must conclude that the horn and son of oil are either the foundation of the vineyard or the location of the vineyard, or, both.
Surely the strength (keren, horn) of Israel is her redeemer, the Tzemakh Branch, the son (ben) who pours out oil (shemen), a symbol of the Holy Spirit (Ruach Ha-Kodesh). He Who was sacrificed before Israel’s creation and who was destined to enter time and space as the Branch (Messiah King), is also the vine, the very root and foundation of the nation.
Therefore, the second clause of the second verse is intentionally ambiguous for the purpose of revealing both a description of the land of Israel and an allusion to the Branch of the previous chapter, who is the Messiah King Yeshua.
Isa 5:2 Vayazkeihu And He dug (fenced) it, gathered and removed the stones, and planted it with the choicest vines, and built a tower in the middle of it, and also made a winepress there: and He looked for it to bring forth anaviym grapes, and it brought forth b’ushiym (stinking, worthless things) wild grapes.
The ancient paraphrase Targum Yonatan has inspired the early rabbis to interpret an allegorical meaning in the poetic mashal (parable) of the Beloved’s vineyard. Given that the plain meaning itself intendeds to convey an allegorical picture of the establishment of Israel in the land, it seems reasonable to extrapolate in the manner of the rabbis.
The text itself explains that, “The vineyard of HaShem Tze’vaot of heavens armies, is Beit the House of Yisrael” (v.7).
“I sanctified them, and I made them glorious, I propped them up as a precious vine; and I built My sanctuary in the midst of them; and I gave also my altar to make an atonement for their sins; and I thought that they should do good works before Me, but they did evil works.” –Targum Yonatan (Isaiah 2)
The Psalmist writes:
“You have brought a vine out of Mitzrayim (Egypt, Double distress): You have cast out the heathen, and planted it.” –Psalm 80:8
The allegorical meaning seems to be best explained as follows:
- The Sole Beloved is HaShem [v.1]
- The Vineyard is Israel (ethnic, religious) [v.1]
- The Horn is Messiah [v.1]
- The Oil is the Holy Spirit of God [v.1]
- The Fence (trench, dug out) is the Torah (Instruction of God). The Fence is also the literal walls surrounding Israel’s cities [v.2]
- The Stones are the Heathen nations that had once possessed the land (Ha-aretz) [v.2]
- The Tower is the Temple [v.2]
- The Winepress is the Altar [v.2]
- The Good Grapes are Righteous ones [v.2]
- The Wild Grapes (Rotten) are Wicked ones [v.2]
Each element that makes up the vineyard has a practical application. The Sole Beloved is the vinedresser, the One Who takes care of the vineyard. The vines are said to be the choicest of plants. In order for a vineyard to have good fruit it must be planted with choice vines. The removal of stones from the vineyard means that the vineyard can be easily tended and that the collection of grapes is not impaired by obstacles. The fence helps to protect the vineyard from intruders and wild animals. The tower acts as a means of keeping an eye on the vineyard in case of intruders. The winepress allows the wine maker to produce quality wine from fresh grapes rather than lose quality by having to transport the grapes elsewhere in order to have them pressed.
Isa 5:3 And now, inhabitants of Yerushalayim (Downpour of peace, Jerusalem), and men of Yehudah (Praise, Judah), judge, I plead with you, between Me and My vineyard.
The prophet is not the one who planted the vineyard, nor does the vineyard belong to him. Therefore, it is Hashem Who now speaks directly to Israel, asking her to judge for herself. The prophet Nathan employs a similar tactic when he uses the mashal (parable) of the poor man’s lamb to rebuke king David (2 Sam. 12).
The people of Jerusalem bare the name that says they have been offered the certain peace of God. The inhabitants of Judah owe their praise to the One Who brought them into the good land. Therefore, even their names testify against them.
Isa 5:4 What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? Why therefore, when I looked for it to bring forth anaviym grapes, did it bring forth b’ushiym (stinking, worthless things) wild grapes?
God ends the debate of nature verses nurture, thousands of years before the so called enlightenment. If the nurture of the perfect parent, HaShem, is shunned by His children so that they produce rotten fruit, then the conclusion is this: human nature is flawed, fallen, decaying, and neither nurture nor nature will save us. Our only hope is to turn to God and accept the nature of His perfect Son our Messiah King Yeshua.
The distinction made between the hoped for choice grapes and the wild grapes is a harsh one. The choice grapes are the righteous, God fearing children of Israel. Whereas the wild grapes are symbolic of the heathen nations in the same way that wild olives are symbolic of the Gentile nations (Romans 11). Therefore, the Lord is saying that Israel has produced Godless heathens for progeny. The Torah commands that those who fail to keep the core observances of worship be removed from Israel as if they were heathens (Ex. 31:14). Thus the observation made by the vineyard owner exposes the faithless actions of those Who have been born of His vineyard.
Isa 5:5 And now I’ll give you knowledge of what I’ll do to My vineyard: I will take away the mesukah hedge there, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the gader wall there, and it shall be trodden down:
The mesukah (hedge, natural protection) symbolizes the Torah and the natural protections afforded Israel from God’s creation: rainfall, crops, terrain etc. The gader (wall, stone, built, manmade) is the protection God has provided through the right actions of former generations, and the practical skills to build walls and strengthen Israel’s economy. God is about to take away the provision of His creation, meaning that He will withhold the rains for the crops and allow invaders to eat what’s left of the produce of the land. He is also about to use invaders to tear down what Israel’s forebears have built so that both her spiritual and physical protection are removed.
Isa 5:6 And I will lay it waste: it shall not be zamar pruned, nor dug over; but there briers and thorns will come up: I will also command the clouds that they should rain no rain upon it.
The Hebrew zamar meaning pruned, also means, to make music by striking strings. HaShem will remove His fingers from the strings of Israel, her song will not be heard. There is tragic irony in this allusion to song given that this is a song of the Sole Beloved’s vineyard.
This verse makes a correlation between the removal of the wall (physical care and protection) and the pruning, digging and wedding of the vineyard. It also makes a correlation between the hedge (natural, creation, protection) and the command to the clouds not to provide rain. This type of emphasis through couplets is a mainstay of Hebrew poetry, allegory and mashlim (parables).
Isa 5:7 For the vineyard of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tze’vaot (Who goes to war) of heavens armies, is Beit the House of Yisrael (Overcomes in God), and the men of Yehudah (Praise, Judah) are His plantation of delight: and he looked for mishpat judgment (right judgement, discernment), but behold mispach bloodshed; for tzedakah righteousness, but behold tze’akah an out-cry.
The Hebrew word play in these verses places great emphasise on the ironic wickedness of those who make up the vineyard. Hashem looks for mishpat but finds mispach, He looks for tzedakah but finds tze’akah. These Hebrew words with similar sounds are none the less conveying opposing motivations. Each word is altered only slightly, either by adding a consonant or replacing one. This teaches us that it is often in the subtleties that we need to discern our path. After all, the distance between judgement (mishpat) and bloodshed (mispach) is determined by the replacement of a single character.
Isa 5:8 Alas, because of those that join house to house, that add field to field, until there is no place (for others), that they may be the only ones with a place in the midst of Ha-aretz the land!
From verses 8-23 Isaiah denounces six types of evil doers. His words read like observations as much as divine illuminations. He has witnessed the wickedness of his own people first hand.
The Hebrew Hoy, “Alas” usually translated as “Woe”, is an impassioned proclamation of warning and incredulity. It almost always begins a denunciation of some form of evil. Yeshua Himself employed this phrase on many occasions, in some cases referring both explicitly and implicitly to the prophet Isaiah (Matt. 11:21, 23:13-20; Luke. 6:24-26, etc.).
The Hebrew “Ha-aretz” should be rendered “The land”. It is a specific reference to the land of Israel, the Promised Land. It does not refer to the entire earth in this context, as some English translations suggest.
This rebuke is in response to the rich ignoring the Torah instruction to ensure that the tribal lands remain in the hands of the tribes and in the possession of the families that they had been assigned to throughout the generations (Jos. 14:9). It seems that rather than returning rented land during the jubilee year (Lev 27:24), the rich had been taking the land of other Israelites as a permanent possession, thus leaving many in poverty, unable to provide for their families. A classic example of this type of sin can be seen in the actions of the wicked king Ahab of Israel (1 Kings 21). Throughout Scripture Hashem is seen to punish His people most severely for the crimes committed against the poor, the widow and the orphan.
Isaiah is not alone in his description of the conditions experienced by the poor: contemporary prophets like Amos, Hosea and Micah reflect the same terrible conditions in their historical writings.
Isa 5:9 In my ears, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tze’vaot (Who goes to war) of heaven’s armies says, “Oaths notwithstanding, many houses shall become desolate, even in great and toviym pleasant (places), nothing will dwell.
“In my ears” refers to the ears of the prophet. HaShem is speaking these words to Isaiah in order that he might convey them to the people.
“Oaths not withstanding” means HaShem will keep His eternal promises (of land, priesthood and redemption etc.) to ethnic Israel in spite of the temporary need for His disciplining of them.
The events described here have taken place many times throughout the course of Israel’s history. One such event is recorded in 2 Chronicles 28:5-8. During the days of Ahaz 120,000 men were killed in one day by Pekah of Samaria, and 200,000 people were carried off into captivity.
Isa 5:10 For, ten acres (4 Hectares) of vineyard will yield one bat (22 litres), and the seed of an homer (220 litres) shall yield an ephah (22 litres).
In simplified terms the harvest will produce only a tenth of the seed sown. This means that not only will there be little food, there will also be no provision made for saving seed to plant for the following year. This is a description of famine, starvation, desolation.
Isa 5:11 Alas, because of those who rise up early in the morning, pursuing liquor; that continue until night, wine inflames them! Isa 5:12 And it has come to pass that harp, and the guitar, the tambourine, and flute, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), neither consider the work of His hands.
They fail to consider that the very vineyard they are feasting in and the produce they are enjoying is the work of HaShem’s hands. The holy convocations of HaShem are being celebrated as drunken parties rather than as opportunities to commune with God as a nation.
Isa 5:13 Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no da’at knowledge: and their honourable men are starving, and their multitude dried up with thirst.
Captivity results from a lack of knowledge. Not the knowledge of humanity but the knowing of God. To be known by Him means to receive His knowing of us. The Hebrew da’at means: knowledge, perception, skill, discernment, understanding, wisdom. The knowledge of God is not the accumulation of information, rather it is the receiving of His Spirit, Who produces in us the fruit of “Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, integrity, trust, goodness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22), and equips us with the gifts of “Wisdom, knowledge, trust, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, and language”(I Corinthians 12:8-10).
Isa 5:14 Therefore sheol (holding place of the dead, divided into Gan-Eden [Paradise] and Gehinnom [Torment]) has enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and descending into it will be their splendour, and their abundance, and their uproar, and he who rejoices. Isa 5:15 Adam humanity will be brought down, and the mighty man will be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty will be brought low:
“Sheol” should be transliterated in this context. It is at best misleading and at worst deception to translate the place of the dead as “Hell”. Sheol is divided into two and is the temporal holding place of the departed spirits of humanity. All those departed enter either Paradise or Gehinnom based on their standing before God. At the end of days the dead will rise and the righteous will enter the Olam Haba (World to come) and eternal life but the unrighteous will be thrown into the lake of fire (eternal torment) along with Satan and his spiritual allies (Rev. 20:10, 14-15).
Neither the Greek “Hades” nor the English “Hell” properly convey the ancient Jewish understanding of the holding place of the dead known to Hebrews as Sheol. Hell should also not be used synonymously with eternal punishment or the lake of fire, as these are descriptions of the eternal torment that awaits the wicked following the judgement, whereas Gehinnom, which is within sheol, is a temporary place of punishment.
The personification of Sheol and her widening mouth is meant to denote a great increase in deaths. The uproar of the wicked, the vain revelry of Israel will be consumed by Sheol. Those rejoicing in their wickedness will be silenced by her. Humanity, used here to indicate the pride of human knowledge, will be brought down into Sheol, all who are wise in their own eyes and take pride in their wickedness.
The juxtaposition of the highs and lows will meet its crescendo in the following chapter where the One Who is High above all and Who created the depths of all things is revealed seated on His throne.
Isa 5:16 But HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tze’vaot (Who goes to war) of heaven’s armies, shall be exalted in judgment (justice, right judgement), and Ha-Elohim (The Judge) The God Ha-Kadosh The Holy One, will prepare tzedakah righteousness.
God is named here for mercy, war and judgement. He is The God (Ha-Elohim), The Holy One (Ha-Kadosh). He alone is worthy to judge. And yet, His warring and judgement are born of love and mercy. He has prepared righteousness (The Branch), He has intended salvation from the beginning. All this judgement is the discipline that precedes redemption.
Isa 5:17 Then the lambs will feed in the pastures, and the waste places of the fat ones will be consumed by strangers.
Wild sheep will feed on what remains of the crops and the lands and left over produce and riches of the wealthy will be consumed by foreigners. This is a tragic picture of Israel’s temporary loss of her inheritance.
Isa 5:18 Alas, because of those that drag avon perversity with strands of falsehood, and sin like a rope drawn cart: Isa 5:19 Who say, “Let Him make speed, and hasten His work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Yisrael (Israel) draw near and come, that we may know it!
The “Woes” increase and the charges grow greater. Each subsequent act of evil is worse than the last. While the ignorant sin without a care for God, the truly wicked either abuse Him or renounce Him altogether. The words of these people are a direct challenge to God. They either don’t believe He exists or they consider Him powerless to resist them. Self-worship is perhaps the ultimate form of Idolatry. These wicked ones even employ the prophet’s own description of God as “Holy One of Israel”. In doing this they insult both God and the Patriarchs of Israel from whom they are descended.
Isa 5:20 Alas, because of those that call rah evil tov good, and tov good rah evil; appointing choshek darkness for Or light, and Or light for choshek darkness; designating mar bitterness for matok sweet, and matok sweet for mar bitter!
Those spoken of here are seeking to tear away at the very fabric of morality. God had seen in His creation from the beginning, that it was good. And following the creation of humanity He saw that it was “Very good”. This people, by changing the meaning of good and evil have pronounced judgement against their own sinful nature, for God had called humanity good but humanity had chosen information (Fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) over relationship.
Again they knock down the very fence that protected them (Torah) by saying that choshek darkness (a symbol for the evil one) is Or light. The Hebrew word Or (Light) is used of the light that predated the creation of the lights of the heavens. This is a direct insult to the pre-existent redeemer, the Light of the world, the King Messiah Yeshua.
Ironically in calling bitter sweet and sweet bitter, they describe their own descent into bitterness and suffering. They had once tasted the sweet provision of God and now in calling God’s provision bitter they have pursued their own inability to provide for themselves, seeing their own bitter character as something sweet.
All these perversions of truth are equally applicable to the post-modern hang over we are experiencing in today’s western culture. What we are reading here in Isaiah, a book written over two and a half thousand years ago, is a description of Relative truth, a so called new concept, concieved during the modern historical period of the enlightenment.
Isa 5:21 Alas, because of those that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Isa 5:22 Alas, because of those that are great at drinking wine, and men of strength who mix strong drink: Isa 5:23 Who justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!
Idolatry, self-worship and delusions of grandeur bear the fruit of arrogance, delusion, decadence, and injustice. Our modern media is full of stories that applaud the wicked and decry the righteous. Like the prophet Isaiah, we live in a society that detests those who walk rightly with God.
Isa 5:24 Therefore as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as decay, and their blossom will rise as dust: because they have cast away the Torat HaShem Instruction of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tze’vaot (Who goes to war) of heaven’s armies, and despised emrat the word of the Holy One of Yisrael (Israel).
Because of all that the prophet has observed God has firmly established the complete burning off of the land both physically and figuratively. Fire is a symbol of judgement and power. It is judgement and torment to the wicked but it is power and light to the righteous.
The reason given for this fire of judgement is that the people of Israel have cast off the loving instruction of God’s written word (Torah Emet) and have despised the spoken word (Emrat) of God. Israel had the Torah but had rejected its teaching, they had the prophets speaking the word (Emrat) but despised and mistreated them. Therefore, the only form of guidance left to them was discipline.
It is true to say that it is the rejection of both the written and living word of God that continues to alienate people today from right relationship with Him. The written word (Bible) and the living Word (Yeshua, D’var, Memra, Emra) are gifted to humanity through the Jewish people, and yet humanity continues to resist relationship with her loving Creator and Father. Therefore, it would be unwise for anyone to point a finger at Israel: we are all guilty.
Isa 5:25 Therefore the anger of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) is kindled against His people, and He has stretched forth His hand against them, and has struck them: and the mountains tremble, and their carcases are torn in the midst of the streets. In spite of all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.
Notice the past tense, “He has stretched forth His hand against them”. Although the prophet is speaking of future events, from God’s perspective outside of time and space they have already taken place. The phrase “His hand is stretched out still” affirms the continued outworking of these things throughout Israel’s history of disobedience. This is not a case of God withholding mercy, rather it is a case of His dispensing justice. A Father who disciplines the children of others without first disciplining his own children is a fool. God is no fool, He has chosen Israel to be a light to the nations, and the light that comes forth from her will not abide darkness. Therefore, she is disciplined for the sake of redemption.
Isa 5:26 And He will lift up a banner to the nations from far off, and will whistle to them from the end of the earth: and, behold, now, with haste they will swiftly come: Isa 5:27 None will become weary or stumble among them; none will slumber or sleep; neither will their loin clothes be loosed, or the straps of their sandals be broken:
The banner or signal that HaShem lifts up will inform the nations of Israel’s weak position and invite them to invade her. He will strengthen their armies and ensure that they don’t grow weary or lack provision. All these privileges were once provided for Israel His chosen, now, in order to discipline Israel He has given their food to the dogs (Heathen nations).
Isa 5:28 Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses' hoofs will bring distress, making judgement, and their wheels will be like a whirlwind: Isa 5:29 Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: Yes, they will roar, and lay hold of the prey, and will carry it away safe, and nothing will be able to deliver it.
The sharp arrows and flexible bows speak of strength of arms and the thundering horses and whirling wheels speak of fear and awe.
The Lion is the symbol of Judah (Gen. 49:9) and her Messiah King. Therefore, the allusion to the nations being like lions is an affront to Judah’s identity and an ironic metaphor for the taking away of her strength.
Isa 5:30 And growling on the ground in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one looks to the land, behold choshek darkness and tzar distress, and Or the light chashak grows dark in the clouds.
Just as they have called darkness light and light darkness, so Hashem will turn the natural light that they rely on to darkness and keep from them the spiritual light that they have rejected, leaving them in physical distress and spiritual darkness.
Introduction to Isaiah 6:
Isaiah 6 begins with the end of Uzziah’s reign (approx. 740 BCE/BC) and the ordination of his son Jotham who had already been co-regent for some time due to Uzziah’s sinning against the Lord by desecrating the Temple rite (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).
While it may seem odd to place the vision and calling of Isaiah here rather than at the beginning of the book, there is a certain sense of continuity about it. The opening chapter of Isaiah gives an overview of the message of the entire book, and chapters 2-5 offer prophecies that pertain specifically to Uzziah’s reign, notwithstanding the cyclical nature of Hebrew prophecy. Thus, at the death of the reasonably godly but somewhat flawed king Uzziah, at a time when Israel was teetering on the edge of complete moral corruption, the prophet’s calling is affirmed in the vision of HaShem. This is why the prophet is told that the people will be “Ever hearing but not understanding, ever seeing but not perceiving” (v.10). Sadly, Isaiah’s calling, like that of the Messiah he foretells (Chpt. 53), will be the calling of a suffering servant who is deeply grieved by the sin of his people.
Five years prior to the death of Uzziah, Tigalatpileser III (745-727 BCE/BC) the warring king of Asyria came to power, and with him a vision to build an empire that encompassed the known world (Between the Euphrates and the Nile). Thus the kingdoms of Samaria and Judah were about to meet their doom. And yet, rather than repent, they continued to pursue moral decay.
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.” –Isaiah 22:13
The Text of Isaiah 6
Isa 6:1 In the year that king Uziyah (My strength is YHVH) died I saw Adonai my Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the hem of His robe filled Ha-heiycal the temple, palace.
The Scriptures teach that a human being cannot see God in His full glory (the face of God) and live (Ex. 33:20; John 1:18). This does not however prevent God from revealing Himself in other ways. The rabbis agree that while God is echad, yet He has many emanations. We know that the Patriarch’s met God face to face in human form. Abraham called one of the three messengers that met him at Mamre, “Adonai, My Lord” (Gen. 18:1-3) and the text shows us by using the first and third person interchangeably that this was in fact God Himself revealed as a messenger. Likewise Jacob wrestled with a “Man” Who was also God (Gen. 32:24-30). Jacob understood this mysterious man to be God, exclaiming, “I have seen God face to face and am preserved”. Thus we understand that God is echad but reveals Himself in many ways. Speaking of the Messiah Yeshua the letter to the Philippians reads:
“He made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of man.” (Phil. 2:7)
Again, speaking of the Messiah Yeshua the letter to the Colossians reads:
“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9)
It is noteworthy that Isaiah saw Adonai (My lord) and not HaShem (YHVH). The hem of the robe is an allusion to the High Priest’s garment. With both these things in mind and given that Hashem is invisible, the Lord Whom Isaiah is referring to is a representation of Hashem in human form, wearing a robe (priestly, royal). The symbolic use of the robe unites the Kingship and Priesthood of Israel in the Ministry of the Great High Priest and King Messiah. John’s Gospel affirms the identity of the Lord of Isaiah’s vision when, speaking of Yeshua he writes:
“Therefore they could not believe, because as Isaiah also said, ‘He has blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Isaiah, when he saw his glory, and spoke of him.” – John 12:39-41
Ha-heiycal can mean both Temple and Palace. It can be understood to refer to both the earthly Temple in Jerusalem and the heavenly Temple. There is little point arguing over which is meant because the glory of God is over all the earth.
The throne is that of the King of Mercy (YHVH denotes mercy). It is in fact the mercy seat and He Who sits on it defines mercy.
Isa 6:2 Seraphim (Burning Angelic beings) stood above it: each one had six wings; with two covering the face, and two covering the feet, and two being used to fly.
Our rabbis generally agree that these are the same beings as those who appear in Ezekiel's vision of the living creatures (Ezekiel 1:5); their name Seraphim, means burning, and Ezekiel's living creatures are said to be "like burning coals of fire"(Ezekiel 1:13).
God’s messengers are like flames of fire (Ps. 104:4). Specifically Seraphim. The plural form Seraphim probably also alludes to the four angelic beings who proclaim the holiness of God in the Revelation (Rev. 4:8). The Seraphim cannot be the two guardians of the Ark of the Covenant because those guardians are Cherubim (Ex. 25:22).
The wings covering the face show reverence for the manifest glory of God and the wings covering the feet are a sign of humility.
The fact that these particular messengers are messengers of fire (Seraphim) correlates to the fire of judgement, refining and empowering that HaShem is bringing upon Israel.
“Who makes His malakhim messengers ruachot spirits and His shartayn servants eish loheit fiery flames.” –Psalm 104:4
Isa 6:3 And one cried to another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tze’vaot (Who goes to war) of heaven’s armies: kol ha-aretz the whole land/earth is full of His glory.
When something is repeated it is firmly established within time and space, and when something is said three times it is an eternal and immutable truth. Thus the Seraphim cry “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh!” They are speaking of the perfection, purity and absolute otherness of God. Yes, He is also Father, Son and Spirit, and He is echad (A complex unity).
“And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy’, HaShem Lord Elohim God Shaddai Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” –Revelation 4:8
This revelation of God’s holiness correlates to the prophet’s repeated use of the title “Holy One of Israel”. Isaiah uses this title twelve times between chapters 1-39, and seventeen times between chapters 40-66. This is yet another reason to affirm the united view of the book of Isaiah. There is far too much continuity of language for the book to have been written by multiple authors.
Outside of Isaiah the title “Holy One of Israel” occurs infrequently (Psalms 71:22, 78:41, 89:19; Jeremiah 50:29, 51:5).
Isa 6:4 And the threshold shook at the voice of him that cried, and Ha-Beit the house was filled with smoke/cloud/vapour.
Ha-Beit is another name for the Temple in Jerusalem. For the prophet Isaiah and for the people of Israel the manifestation of smoke, cloud and fire recalls the presence of God’s angel with the people following their escape from Egypt. It is a reminder that God Himself is Israel’s hope and freedom. At a time when the Temple service is being dishonoured through syncretism and idolatry, God is showing the prophet a manifestation of hope for the future. Isaiah is witnessing the manifest Messiah, God with us, seated on the throne of mercy and offering Israel hope and a future. Isaiah is gazing, not into a dream or an open vision but through a temporal rupture that allows him to look through the skin of time and space and into the Olam Haba (World to come), the eternal now.
Isa 6:5 Then I said, “Alas for me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tze’vaot (Who goes to war) of heaven’s armies.
Why “Unclean lips”, why not “Unclean lev (heart, inner person)”?
“A good man, out of the good treasure of his lev (heart, inner person) brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his lev (heart, inner person) brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the lev (heart, inner person) his mouth speaks.” –Luke 6:45
Like every righteous person before him and every righteous person after him, Isaiah, when standing in the presence of the revelation of God, becomes profoundly aware of his own sinful state and the greater sin of his people. It is a great indictment against the wicked in Israel that their prophet Isaiah, who is walking in right relationship with Hashem, none the less confesses that he is a man of unclean lips. Isaiah shows contrite humility in owning his sinful nature. No one can come to God without humility.
Isa 6:6 Then one of the Seraphim (Burning Angelic Messenger) flew to me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off Ha-misbeach the altar:
The altar is the altar of blood sacrifice. The Hebrew root zabach means to shed blood, slaughter. Whenever the word mizbeach is used without a qualifying term such as “incense”, it refers to the altar of blood sacrifice. This is important because remission of sin comes only through the shedding of blood (Lev 17:11; Hebrews 9:22).
One need not ask how a burning being can hold a hot coal in its hand.
Isa 6:7 And touched it upon my mouth, and said, “Hinei, Now, this has touched sephateycha your lips, language, speech; and avoncha your perversity is taken away, and chatat’cha your sinful condition t’kupar purged.
The messenger says “Your sinful actions are taken away and your sinful nature is purged”. The Hebrew avon denotes sinful action that perverts and the Hebrew chata denotes the sinful nature or yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination). This is a theophany of redemption. Isaiah is receiving the gift of eternal salvation through Yeshua Whose blood has been shed on the altar and Whose fire of judgement has purged Isaiah and reconciled him to God in perfect love. This is a revelation of the resurrected and transcendent Messiah, made to a prophet who lived some 600 years prior to the Messiah’s being born into time and space.
Isa 6:8 Vaesh’ma and I heard, listened to, received et kol the voice of Adonai (My Lord), saying, “Who shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Hineini (Here am I, ready, willing, trusting, certain); send me”.
Notice again that it is Adonai (My Lord) and not HaShem (YHVH) Who asks the question, “Who shall I send”. This is in fact that person of God with us, the Messiah, the Branch, Who is speaking to His prophet Yishaiyahu (My Salvation is YHVH). Isaiah answers with the voice of a willing servant (Yeshua), “Here I am ready, willing, trusting, certain, send Me!” Isaiah is acting here as a prefigure for the Messiah, Who willingly answered God’s call to go to the people of Israel for the sake of their salvation.
The person of God is echad (a complex unity). This manifestation of the Lord and the plural language lanu (for us) is a revelation of the complex unity of the Godhead.
Isa 6:9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people, indeed you hear, but you don’t understand; and indeed you see, but you don’t perceive.”
HaShem now speaks in a voice of judgement, temporarily preferring the title “This people” over the former “My people”. Yeshua refers to those who reject God as children of Satan, thus they are no longer children of God (John 8:44). However, in repentance they may become children of God again, and with regard to the ethnic people of Israel, they are loved for the sake of the Patriarchs and continue to play an intrinsic role in the salvation of humanity. God has not forsaken the Jewish people whom He foreknew(Romans 11:2).
These words are spoken by the Lord Adonai to Isaiah. They are also spoken by Hashem to Yeshua. In fact, Isaiah, whose name means “My Salvation is YHVH”, is a type for the Messiah, whose name means “YHVH is Salvation”.
Isa 6:10 “The lev inner person (heart) of this people has become fat, and their ears heavy, and their eyes shut; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their lev (inner person, heart), and turn back, and be healed.”
The lev (inner person) is often misunderstood. The English word heart can mislead the reader because it is regularly used in western culture to speak of the seat of emotion. To the Hebrew the lev is the place where all other elements of the person converge: mind, emotion, physiology, soul, senses etc. By calling the lev fat the prophet is saying that like the arrogant rich who are violating the poor, the fat lev is headed toward destruction. “Heavy ears” is a Hebrew idiom that denotes dullness, an inability to receive godly council. The “shut eyes” are a wilful refusal to acknowledge the destructive consequences of sin. If the people were to see their actions and the resulting suffering they have caused, hear the cries of the poor and allow the Spirit of God to convict their inner person, they would turn back to Hashem and be saved. However, like many during the time of Messiah, they were so intent on pursuing destruction that they refused to turn back.
The phrase “Lest they see…etc.” is a mournful note in a tragic song. HaShem knows they will not see. It is not a case of HaShem forcing His people to become blind but rather giving them the freedom to choose their own destruction. Without freewill love cannot exist. How HaShem and His prophet long for the people of Israel to turn back to Him. However, HaShem has already seen the decision of His people. Thus He speaks this mournful outcome into time and space via His prophet Isaiah.
Isa 6:11 Then I said, “Adonai (My Lord), how long?” And He answered, “Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without persons, and the land becomes utterly desolate, Isa 6:12 And Hashem will have removed Ha-adam the humanity far away, and there is great desolation in the midst of Ha-aretz the land.
The prophet is overwhelmed with grief for the plight of his people. In his role as an intermediary he calls on God, “My Lord, how long?”
HaShem answers by describing a time yet future when the cities and houses of Judah and Jerusalem will be devoid of inhabitants (Probably a description of the Roman destruction of Judah and Jerusalem in 70 CE/AD). A time when the land too will be laid waste and all human interaction with it will cease.
Isa 6:13 But perpetually in it will be a tenth, and will return, and start burning (or, will eat of the land, consume): they will be as a terebinth tree, and as an oak, whose felling is in them, a stump, memorial, pillar: the holy seed will be a pillar, memorial, stump.
“Holy seed” or “Seed that is holy” is a reference to the remnant of Israel. The tenth is an allusion to the tithe that has gone unoffered in Israel’s wickedness. The number ten is also a symbol of fullness. Thus the tenth, which is a remnant, will again become a full nation.
This verse is characteristic of Isaiah’s message. In the midst of the dire observations and future consequences of Israel’s sin, hope shines through. God reminds the prophet that there will always be a remnant (Tenth) and that even when the returning people fall like trees and are consumed by fire, the remnant will remain as a stump and a memorial before Hashem. The remnant of religio-ethnic Israel will be according to the election of God’s grace (Romans 11:5). The holy seed of Israel will one day produce the Holy One of God, The Branch and Redeemer.
© Yaakov Brown 2017