This is a continuation of my last post on Old Testament Lesson 36 covering Isaiah 1-6. I had hoped to post it before today (Sunday), but unfortunately didn’t quite make it. Hopefully it is still of some help to those wanting to study a bit more about these chapters of Isaiah.

Isaiah Chapter 4

Due to all the tragedy and war that would come upon the people of Judah, as described in Chapter 3, we see in Chapter 4 a situation that appears to result from the loss of many men (husbands or potential husbands).

And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.

This seems to indicate that the women that are left at home after the war, finding they were without a husband, were willing to enter into polygamous marriage arrangements so that they could avoid the shame of being unmarried.  In ancient cultures, being unmarried and childless was looked down on.  Even if the marriage were in name only, this was preferable to them than remaining unmarried.

In verse 2, we read of “the branch of the Lord.” What does this “beautiful and glorious” branch refer to?  Anciently, the Davidic kings seem to have been referred to by this title.  The Davidic king was seen as representing the Tree of Life, or a branch of that tree.  The kings of Israel were types of the Messiah, so scriptures mentioning “the Branch” are often seen as prophecies of the coming Christ (cf. Jer. 23:5).  However, this verse seems to be referring not to a single person, but to a group of people — those who have managed to “escape” the tribulations and remain in the land of Zion. They are a righteous and “holy” branch of the House of Israel (cf. 2 Ne. 3:5; Jacob 2:25).

In verse 4 we see that the Lord will have purified the land of Jerusalem with washing and with burning.

At that time there will be fulfilled an amazing promise that every home and meeting-place on “mount Zion” will be blessed by the same divine defense that the camp of Israel enjoyed during the Exodus — a cloud/smoke by day, and a pillar of fire by night.  These divine manifestations are indicative of the presence of the Lord.  God will personally be with his people to defend them, as He was with the Israelites as the fled from Egypt.  Zion (and specifically the temple) will be a place of refuge from the elements (Isa. 4:6).

Chapter 5

This chapter begins with a metaphor that describes the people of Judah as a prized vine within a vineyard.  This is, of course, reminiscent of the well-known parable of the olive trees in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 5), but not as detailed or covering as extensive a history as Jacob’s.  In Isaiah 5, we see the Lord working hard in his vineyard, but to no avail. The plant is unresponsive to his care and brings forth only wild fruit.  In the end, the Lord sees that he must “lay it waste” (Isa. 5:6).

Isaiah goes on to describe the nature of the destruction that will, in reality, befall Judah.  The language used here is similar to that of chapter 2 and focuses on the demise of the proud and rich.  And things get pretty bad for them:

Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it (Isaiah 5:14).

In especial danger are those who attempt to subvert the right by calling it wrong, and vice versa:

Isaiah 5:20–24 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! 22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink: 23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! 24 Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

I’m sure I don’t even need to mention how much of a problem this is in today’s world!

Verse 25 continues to describe the terrible destruction that will come upon the wicked. The end of the verse, however, makes it clear that despite all this, the Lord’s “hand is stretched out still” to extend mercy to those willing to receive it. That leads us to the next verse, where the form that this outreach of mercy will take is declared:

Isaiah 5:26 And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth:

An ensign is a distinguishable flag or banner that allows others to recognize a ship, fort, army, etc. — to know what side they’re on.  In this scripture, the Lord would raise an ensign that the House of Israel would recognize and gather to. The chapter goes on to describe the incredible way in which Israel would respond and swiftly assemble around this center.  Many interpret these descriptive details to be referring to modern modes of transport, like trains and planes, but using the best expressions he could from what was familiar to him in his day.

Isaiah 5:27–29 None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken: 28 Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind: 29 Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it.

The key point here is that once the “ensign to the nations” is lifted, Israel will gather very quickly to it.

Chapter 6

The following is likely going to be more info than most would have time to read, but I wanted to post here parts of an essay I wrote a few years ago entitled: “The Everlasting Path of the Heavenly Throne: Recurrences of the Throne Type-Scene from Isaiah 6 to the Ascension of Isaiah.” I won’t post the whole thing, as that would be incredibly tedious to read, but I post the first few pages that deal more specifically with this chapter from Isaiah.


The sixth chapter of Isaiah presents the reader with the unabashed claim of the renowned prophet to have seen “the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty,” which led directly to Isaiah’s prophetic call.  Surprisingly, this singular event is not unique in religious literature but is only one example of a type-scene[1] that is representative of an ancient tradition of throne theophanies.  Isaiah is one participant in this rich tradition, both inheriting imagery from the distant past and providing inspiration for centuries to come.  It is important for to note that this type of vision is implicitly linked with the theology of the Monarchy and the First Temple period, in that it employs the imagery of Solomon’s great temple, especially the scenery of the Holy of Holies. The affinity of generations of Jews for this type of visionary account, as well as its popularity among the early Christians, can possibly serve as evidence that the temple theology of the monarchical period, and its vision of an enthroned God in the Sanctuary, managed to survive the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

Seeing God on his Throne in Isaiah 6

In the very first verse of the sixth chapter of Isaiah, following a brief remark regarding the historical setting, we are presented with the prophet’s unmediated vision of the Deity sitting upon an elevated throne.  While Isaiah gives no direct description of the anthropomorphic figure on the throne, we are told that the “hem of his robe filled the temple” (Isa 6:1, NRSV).[2] There are discrepancies in the biblical text as it has come down to us as to whether or not human beings can actually see God.[3] In Exodus 33:11, we are told that God spoke with Moses face-to-face; however, within the very same chapter (33:20), God informs Moses that no man can see his face and live.  Consequently, Moses is only allowed to see Yahweh’s “back parts.” Certainly, Isaiah is distressed over what he is beholding, declaring in verse five, “Woe is me! I am lost…,” apparently fearing for his life because of his unworthiness to see God.  “Yet,” he confirms, “my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Although there is greater emphasis on auditory encounters with God, the Old Testament gives numerous accounts of visual theophanies, before and after the time of Isaiah.[4] Despite later polemics against this possibility, there are a number of accounts that make specific mention of seeing God face to face (Gen 32:30; Exod 33:11; Deut 5:4; 34:10; Judg 6:22).  Taking the recurrence of this idea into account, Collins comments that this “suggests that there was a prophetic tradition that prophets could indeed see God.”[5]

It is interesting to note, however, that although the prophets saw God, they did not often describe his appearance in detail.  Besides the use of a few anthropomorphisms, the prophets usually avoided describing the divine form, preferring to elaborate on his clothing, surroundings, voice, attendants, throne, or other particulars.  It cannot be known why this is the case, but we can speculate that perhaps they could not see God clearly or directly, were forbidden to describe his person, or simply could not find words worthy of the spectacle.  It is possible that the smoke mentioned in Isaiah 6, verse four (reminiscent of the smoke of incense used in temple ritual), served to obscure a direct view of the brilliant glory of God.

Whether this is the case or not, Isaiah is able to describe the Lord’s surroundings in greater detail.  Verse two describes the mysterious seraphim surrounding the Lord, each of whom had six wings.  Beyond the description of their wings, however, we don’t get a very clear picture of their exact nature.  The translation of the Hebrew seraphim seems to signify “burning ones,” but we are not told if these figures are human-like or if they appear to be more like animals.  Karen Randolph Joines, in her article entitled “Winged Serpents in Isaiah’s Inaugural Vision,” explains that the word seraph appears seven times in the OT and designates a kind of serpent (recall the episode with Moses and the Bronze Serpent)—it is only in Isaiah 6 that the word is plural and refers to the creatures attending Yahweh.[6] Although there is sound evidence for the importance of “winged serpents” as attendants of deity in the region, especially in Egypt, the idea is not emphasized in our Old Testament, nor in subsequent Jewish literature.[7] By the early Christian era, the figures of the seraphim and the cherubim were often confused or coalesced, as the latter are also mentioned as being present in the Holy of Holies.[8] In any case, the seraphim contribute a liturgical element to the vision, and are seen praising the Lord with the call of the Trisagion, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” Their praise was so powerful that the whole house shook.

The seraphs are part of the hosts inherent in the name Yahweh Sabaoth, the “Lord of Hosts.” Yahweh is frequently depicted as being surrounded by numerous heavenly beings which make up the Hosts of Heaven or the Heavenly Council.  This assembly is made up of myriads of divine/angelic beings that praise God and/or participate in his council.[9] Of particular note are 1 Kgs 22:19–23, where the prophet sees Yahweh sitting on his throne with “all the host of heaven standing by him on his right and on his left”; Job 1-2 (KJV), where Satan comes among the “sons of God”[10] and presents himself before the Lord; Psalm 82 depicts God taking his place in the divine council and judging the gods; Zech 3 finds Joshua the High Priest before the Lord of Hosts together with the Angel and Satan; and in Daniel 7 we see a judgment scene with the Ancient One enthroned, the One like a Son of Man arriving, and ten thousand times ten thousand in attendance.[11] It appears that the throne theophany and the heavenly hosts were frequently connected.

Although Isaiah does not enter into explicit detail regarding the throne of God, it is one of the central images of the vision.  One of the only details we read about the person of God is that he is seated on a throne.  The divine throne is the focus of many previous and subsequent theophanies. The throne theme, together with the other scenery that Isaiah describes, indicates to us that he is seeing this vision in the Temple.  In Isaiah’s time, the Lord was believed to actually be present in the Temple in Jerusalem, seated upon his throne.  The Temple was built as the House of the Lord, to be a place where he could dwell among his people.  In Isa 8:18 (cf. Ps 9:11), we read that Yahweh dwells in Zion (see also Pss 24:9-10; 46; 50:2; 1 Kgs 8:13; Isa 2:3; Hab 2:20).  But didn’t God dwell in Heaven? How could he dwell both in Heaven and in an earthly temple? This did not seem to be an issue for the Israelites.  In Ps 11:4, we are told that “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven.” According to Mettinger, the theology of the monarchical period saw in “the Temple the meeting place between heaven and earth; the Temple is the spot at which spatial dimensions are transcended.”[12] Isaiah could have a vision of the Lord who rules in Heaven while being physically planted in the temple on Earth.

The vision recorded in Isaiah 6 is an outstanding example of the type of vision that prophets were believed to have when they received their prophet call.  For the Davidic kings, who were seen as representatives of God on the earth, and are even remembered as sitting upon God’s throne (see 1 Chron 29:23; cf. Ps 61:6–7; 2 Sam 7:12–14),[13] the symbol of God as King was very important.  The throne theophany type-scene, which Isaiah 6 represents, was highly celebrated and, as we will see, would continue to inspire religious writers for centuries.

History of the Throne Theophany Type-scene

As we have mentioned, the vision in Isaiah 6 was not the first of its kind.  It is but one example of a type of theophany that had roots in the distant past of that region’s religious imagery.  A suggested date for Isaiah’s vision is 742 B.C.E., when it was recorded in the time of Isaiah himself (as part of his memoir) at an early point in his career.[14]

An earlier instance of this type of theophany can be seen in the vision of the prophet Micaiah ben Imlah (1 Kgs 22), which is dated to the ninth century B.C.   Micaiah’s vision is remarkably similar to Isaiah’s in form.  Micaiah recounts his vision, declaring: “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left” (1 Kgs. 22:19, KJV).  In both visions, God is looking for someone he can send to perform a special mission.  In Micaiah’s vision, a spirit comes before the Lord to volunteer, whereas in Isaiah it is the prophet himself.  The similarity of the two visions indicates that both are based on a standard literary form or pattern for throne-theophanies followed by a prophetic call.

According to Weinfeld, the idea of the worship of an anthropomorphic God seated on a throne is ancient.  In the early background of this type of vision is the theology of the First Temple, in which “the Divinity is personalized and depicted in the most tangible corporeal similitudes. God, who possesses, as it were, a human form, has need of a house or a tabernacle. Within the inner recesses of the tabernacle, removed and veiled from the human eye, sits the Deity ensconced between the two cherubim, and at his feet rests the ark, his footstool.”[15] It is likely that this type of imagery extends back before the construction of the First Temple to the sanctuaries that Israel used before the Monarchy.

[1] George W. Savran, Encountering the Divine: Theophany in Biblical Narrative (New York: T&T Clark International, 2005), 12-13. Savran explains the idea of a type-scene as “a recurrent scene within a story whose repetitions reveal both identity and difference…” and explains that the identification of this form has helped understand the significance of the recurrence of such themes as the wilderness complaint stories in Exodus and Numbers, the wife-sister stories in Genesis, etc. and the importance they play in a narrative.  Theophany narratives display a number of common elements, including setting, the appearance and speech of YHWH, human response to the divine, the expression of doubt or anxiety, and externalization of the experience.  I use the term in this paper as a means of identifying the throne-theophany as a recurring theme, however this paper focuses more on the history of the tradition than on form criticism.

[2] All biblical quotations are cited from the New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV, unless otherwise indicated.

[3] John J. Collins, Isaiah (Collegeville Bible Commentary; Old Testament 13; Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986), 26.  A different perspective on the issue of seeing God’s face is Andrei Orlov, “God’s Face in the Enochic Tradition,” in Paradise Now (ed. A.D. DeConick; Boston: Brill, 2006).

[4] Savran, Encountering the Divine, 49 ff. 1 gives the following as appearances of God in the Old Testament: Gen 12:7; 17:1; 18:1; 26:2,24; 35:1,9; 46:29; 48:3; Exod 3:2; 6:3; 16:10; Lev 9:23; Num 14:10; 16:19; 17:7; 20:6; Judg 6:12; 13:3; 1 Sam 1:22; 3:21; 1 Kgs 9:2; 2 Chron 1:7; 3:1; 7:12.  See also: Exod 19:21; 20:18-21; 24:9-11; Judg 13:22; 1 Kgs 11:9; Job 19:26; 42.5; Ezek 1:26; Amos 9:1.

[5] Collins, Isaiah, 26.

[6] Karen Randolph Joines, “Winged Serpents in Isaiah’s Inaugural Vision,” JBL 87, 3 (1968) 410.

[7] A notable exception is found in 1 Enoch 20:7, where we read: “Gabriel, one of the holy angels, who is in charge of paradise and the serpents and the cherubim.”

[8] Darrell D. Hannah, “Isaiah’s Vision in the Ascension of Isaiah and the Early Church,” JTS 50 (Apr 1999) 82.  Justin Martyr and Irenaeus understood the Lord to be seated upon both cherubim and seraphim.

[9] References to this assembly can be seen throughout the OT: Exod 15:1; Deut 32:8–9; Jer 23:18,22; Job 15:8; 38:7; Isa 14:13; Ps 25:14, and elsewhere.  Min Suc Kee, “The Heavenly Council and its Type-scene,” JSOT 31.3 (2007) gives a full discussion.

[10] NRSV has “heavenly beings” for b’nei ha-elohim.

[11] Kee, “The Heavenly Council and its Type-scene,” 262-263.

[12] Mettinger, Dethronement, 29.

[13] Timo Eskola, Messiah and the Throne, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2, 142 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 62-63.

[14] Collins, Isaiah, 25.

[15] Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), 191.

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