“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
In Isaiah 6 the prophet Isaiah records his feelings as he reflect on his unworthiness after having seen the full glory of the Lord. Often, as righteous as men can be, or as holy as men can be, when we come before the Lord, and when we stand side by side the Lord and check ourselves – that is when we will truly understand how sinful and unworthy we are. In the eyes of men we could be perfect, but when compared with true perfection, we are really, so far away. In this study we will meditate on our standard of holiness in comparison to God’s perfect holiness.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! – with this cry of his you’d think that Isaiah had bumped into some sea monster or some great evil, or that his life has collapsed and his future is ruined or something. It would be, in less lyrical terms, something we modern people would say when bad and unexpected things happen to us – just that we perhaps replace those words with a string of curses. But no, Isaiah cried that when he saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne [Isa 6:1]! There are no kings or queens in in my country, but if you see a king, seated on a throne, would you say “woe to me!” or “I am ruined!” ? Not unless you are the enemy, not unless you are a criminal – but surely Isaiah was neither! He was simply a sinner, and standing in the presence of the pure and perfect Lord, radiating with fullness and holiness, his sins, however minor and insignificant compared to the rest of the world, becomes too large for him to bear. The pure fact that he was a sinner came like a slap in the face.
I have no doubt that Isaiah was a godly man of righteousness and holiness. This was likely a man who was holier than his peers and holiest amongst the men of his time. Yet even the best of men will pale in comparison to the perfection of God. Even the best of men will be overwhelmed by God’s glory and greatness.
For I am a man of unclean lips – I believe all he is trying to say, is simple – for I am a sinner. It is interesting that he chose to say that he was a man of unclean lips – and not that he was a man of unclean heart or anything else. Perhaps that was the one thing that was most on his mind – speaking. That was his job, anyway, as a prophet. He prophesied, he spoke. What was he supposed to speak? God words. Words from God. He was a prophet, and everything he says should represent God’s will. That was what his lips were meant for. To speak God’s words, and perhaps to praise God. That’s all. But can there ever be a man who has never offended God with his words? Is there ever a man who has never displeased God with his mouth? Will there ever be a man who never sins with his lips? I dare not speak in absolute terms, but you will agree with me, surely, that it is unlikely.
and I live among a people of unclean lips – likewise, I believe all Isaiah was trying to say was that he lived among a sinful people. A sinful man among a sinful people – shame and more shame made him feel doubly unworthy to be standing before the Lord. If we dare call Isaiah a man who sins with his lips – it’s really being very strict of us, perhaps – then there is no need to hesitate regarding the people Isaiah lived with. They were terrible, opposing and rejecting God, openly mocking Isaiah and what he stood for, persecuting generations and generations of prophets, ignoring the prophesies and the words of the Lord. They blasphemed, they taught the truth, but a twisted one and not the truth of God. They insulted, they swore, they gossiped and spoke not holy words but filthy words. Isaiah had always expressed his grief and his pain with his people – but truly, it isn’t only his era that such a scene was happening. It was always happening, before the time of Isaiah and in the time of Moses, for example; it was still happening after the time of Isaiah and in the time of Christ and the apostles, for example. Indeed, it is still happening today – where Christians all over the world live with a sinful people because this world is a sinful world – and yet at the very same time, like Isaiah, if we truly come into the presence of the Lord and reflect on our own lives, we haven’t been that holy or clean either.
and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty – Isaiah was privileged, for how many people in the Bible have truly seen the Lord? Not everybody has that privilege, and I thank God, because not everybody could take it. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” [Exo 33:20]. There was no description of God’s face by Isaiah, so he probably didn’t see it – but such is the extent of God’s holiness. Extreme holiness.
We cannot see God, but we do not need to see God to know that what Isaiah claimed for himself was true for us as well. We are of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips. We are sinners, living among a sinful people. When Isaiah cried this out, a seraphim flew to touch his lips with a live coal – his lips for he had cried out about his unclean lips – and declared that his guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for. We have redemption, we have forgiveness, we have salvation in the Lord.