THEME: Worship in the Old Testament, 17th in the series
Volume 8, No. 3 (March 2013)
18. Isaiah 6:1-8
Revelation and Response
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.
“The earthly throne was empty, but not the heavenly one!” (Joseph Lee)
A. W. Tozer observed:
Every glimpse of heaven shows [God’s creatures] worshiping: Ezekiel 1:1-5, the creatures out of the fire were worshiping God; Isaiah 6:1-6, we see the Lord high and lifted up and hear the creatures saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts“; Revelation 4:8-11, God opens heaven and we see them there worshiping God the Father; and in the fifth chapter, verses 6-14, we see them worshiping God the Son. (A. W. Tozer, “O Worship the King”)
This passage in Isaiah beautifully illustrates the Revelation-Response paradigm of Scripture, the basic pattern of how God relates to people, which is likewise the pattern of all true worship (see Worship Notes 1.5):
REVELATION: . . . 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:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
RESPONSE: And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for 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, the LORD of hosts!
REVELATION: Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?
RESPONSE: Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.“
In the words of Ralph Martin:
The distinctive genius of corporate worship is the two-beat rhythm of
revelation and response. God speaks; we answer. God acts; we accept and give.
God gives; we receive.
(Ralph Martin, The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral and Practical Reflections, 6)
Bruce Leafblad effectively expounds how Isaiah 6 illustrates the initiative of God as the prerequisite for worship:
First, worship is initiated by God. It is not the grand idea of man; it did not begin with man. It is a response to God. God was always there first. The response to God is always prompted by the previous activity or presence of God. There is no man that has ever found God, as though God were lost. God was always there waiting, calling. In the thought of Francis Thompson in “The Hound of Heaven,” God is seeking, searching, pursuing mankind. It is God’s initiative to which we respond. It is God who draws us to Himself. It belongs to the essence of worship that it is a response to God. We respond first to the person of God, the fact of God, the reality of God, to who God is.
Secondly, worship is a response to the acts of God. Much of the worship in the Old Testament is in response to specific saving acts of God on behalf of Israel. We respond not only to who God is, but to what He has done. We respond to the acts of God and the works of God.
Thirdly, we respond to the demands and the requirements of God, the imperatives which God lays on us.(Bruce Leafblad, Music, Worship and the Ministry of the Church, 42-43)
To which Matt Redman tellingly adds:
Before we get consumed with how people are responding, it´s good to be mindful of what they´re responding to. As worship leaders and songwriters, we need to pay more attention to the reasons for God´s worth in our writing and leading. What aspects of His wonders and splendour are we presenting for people to get their hearts into? How are we reminding hearts, minds and souls of the merciful acts that have been done for them, and the amazing grace that has been won for them? Now, of course, this isn´t just our responsibility—everyone involved in the service plays a part. But we must take our part of the role seriously. Instead of ever trying to work people up (however subtly) to some sort of response, let´s take a different approach. Let us bring songs so full of our glorious Jesus that they ignite a fresh fire and a heart-filled response from those who sing them. (online article)
Some writers have claimed that Isaiah 6 represents THE pattern for worship (Praise/ Confession/ Assurance of Pardon/ Challenge/ Service). That is probably going too far, but it certainly provides a logical and usable outline.