Preparation is important. Answering God’s call when we are uncertain of our faith and when we have no knowledge of the world we live in might bring unnecessary harm to the work of the gospel.
Just to be clear, when God called Isaiah to “go for Him” (ref: Isaiah 6:8), the message God had for Isaiah was to tell the people that they will not be healed (ref: Isaiah 6:9-10). It was a message of judgement not blessing. It was a message of terror, not well-being. It was a message of destruction, not prosperity. It was not the gospel.
Sure, you might argue that the sign of the coming Messiah was mentioned in Isaiah chapter 7, but that’s not the point, is it? We have got to understand the context behind why the message was given to Isaiah at that particular instance. To understand this, we must relook the first five chapters of Isaiah.
Background of Isaiah’s Visions
Isaiah started off his book by stating that Israel does not know God (ref: Isaiah 1:3). Israel has persisted in rebellion and had been severely injured as a result. Yet, God in His unwavering love cared for her and pleaded with her to repent (ref: Isaiah 1:5-6, Isaiah 1:18-20, Matthew 23:37). Though outwardly the people are worshipping God, they were legalistic in their approach, ritualizing their worship so that they appear outwardly righteous but are inwardly full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Ref: Isaiah 1:11-17, Matthew 23:27-28). So God reasoned for them with a way out. He will provide them with a way out and will thoroughly purge away their sins and have all their impurities removed. Though their sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow. He will restore them as in their days of old; glorifying them to be called “the City of Righteousness” and “the Faithful City” (ref: Isaiah 1:18-19, 25-27).
At this, God continued to show Isaiah the future event that is to come: the gathering of the nations at the mountain of the Lord where people will learn the ways of the Lord so that they will walk in His paths (ref: Isaiah 2:3). There will be a Unified Kingdom in the last days whose goal is to provide the welfare for the entire world and to submit to the authority of God (ref: Isaiah 2:4). At this, Isaiah invites the house of Jacob, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (ref: Isaiah 2:5).
But not everything was peaches and cream. Judgement must be done to humble the proud. All that humanity built will be destroyed and all idols will disappear (ref: Isaiah 2:8, 2:12-18) when the dread of the Lord and the splendour of His Majesty shakes the earth (ref: Isaiah 2:10, 2:21). He will do these through the creation of loopholes in governmental systems, allowing immature boys to rule over them; children to govern them (ref: Isaiah 3:4). Immaturity and bad management will cause oppression amongst the people and consequently, the failure to respect elders (ref: Isaiah 3:5). Policymakers will go from house to house to pick people who will lead them, not knowing that the nation has already been thrown into chaos and no one is capable of leadership (ref: Isaiah 3:6-7).
However, the people were not repentant. They continue their pride parades and their marches for “freedom” (ref: Isaiah 3:9). They do not know the Lord. So the Lord let them enjoy the fruit of their labour — youths oppress the people and women rule over them (ref: Isaiah 3:12).
Now God takes His seat and judges the people saying that “it is you who have ruined my vineyard”. The people have plundered the poor, crushing the people, and grinding the faces of the poor (ref: Isaiah 3:14-15). The women were prideful in their actions, using their newfound stature and wealth to flirt with men around them (ref: Isaiah 3:16-17), so the Lord will take all of these away (ref: Isaiah 3:18-24), wipe out the men in battle (ref: Isaiah 3:25), and reinstate within them the desire to be loved (ref: Genesis 3:16). On that day, these women will look for love and it will not be found, they’ll desire a home but it will not be given (ref: Isaiah 4:1).
The days of darkness will not be long, though. The branch of the Lord will grow and be beautiful and glorious. The fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors. All who remain faithful will be called Holy. God will wash away all our sins and cleanse our wounds by the Spirit of Judgement and the Spirit of Fire. He will personally lead His people by a cloud of smoke and a flaming fire. It will be a shelter for the people from the heat of the day and a refuge and hiding place from storm and rain (ref: Isaiah 4:2-6).
The vision could have stopped here. But God continued to express His love and exasperation for His Creation. He’s planted a vineyard – a vineyard whom He loves (ref: Isaiah 5:1-2, Matthew 21:33). But the tenants caused it to yield only bad fruits (ref: Isaiah 5:2-4). So, in His anger, God vowed to destroy the vineyard of the One He loves (ref: Isaiah 5:5-7). He will bring about judgement to those who cared only for themselves rather than the work of God’s hands (ref: Isaiah 5:8-12), humbling them and exalting Himself through His justice when He shows Himself by His righteousness (Isaiah 5:15-16). Judgement in the form of man-made and natural disasters will happen on the surface of the earth till the entire planet is covered with smoke and the light of the sun cannot pass through (ref: Isaiah 5:30).
It was on this note that God revealed His heavenly position to Isaiah. It was only after all of these visions that Isaiah saw God seated, high and exalted, on His throne (ref: Isaiah 6:1). It was on this note when Isaiah penned down the famous vision we can all memorise. It was on this note when God called out, “who can I send?” It was on this note when Isaiah replied, “here I am. Send me.”
How are Isaiah’s Visions applicable to us in modernity?
Understanding Isaiah’s vision will give us a clearer understanding of the world we live in today. We know this because contextual prophecies in the Bible will never be a one-time off thing. When God shows us a certain societal trend in the form of a vision or a prophecy, it’ll have an immediate fulfilment as well as a future (or repeated) occurrence. After all, nothing is new under the sun (ref: Ecclesiastes 1:9). That said, I’m proposing that all of the prophecies concerning societal trends that were the result of sins are applicable to modern times.
For example, when God makes boys the people’s officials and mere children their governments (ref: Isaiah 3:4), we might relate it to how meritocracy allows people who excel in their studies to take up high ranking positions in the civil services. The young will rise up against the old (ref: Isaiah 3:5), resulting in a form of oppression that was never expected in the two or three generations that preceded them. When considering how people rise up against one another to oppress each other, have we considered how chaotic the world is? Like Hong Kong in its current state? Consider also how “women rule over people” (ref: Isaiah 3:12). Doesn’t this sound like feminism? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposing equality. I’m just opposing the ruling over part. It’s feminism on drugs that led to women being “haughty” (ref: Isaiah 3:16). How about LGBT pride parades? How about arts and entertainment productions that glorify detestable behaviours in the sight of God? “They parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it” (ref: Isaiah 3:9). How about capitalism at the expense of oppressing the poor? “Woe to them who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left. They live alone in the land” (ref: Isaiah 5:8). They will be brought low and humbled (ref: Isaiah 5:15).
What does that mean to us?
Knowing these gives us the awareness of God’s calling. It gives us the awareness of the gravity of God’s calling. It reminds us that we are “a person of unclean lips living among people of unclean lips” (ref: Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah was reminded that he was in a way or another, related to all the people that he saw in the visions earlier. And this realisation caused him to repent for the fear of the Lord. He realised that he’s not worthy to be where he was and he could have died standing before the face of the Lord.
Isaiah had the contextual knowledge for the call that was placed ahead of him. He’s seen it, not just through the vision, but through his daily living. He’s evaluated the society as he knew it and must have prayed for it on a daily basis. It is through this knowledge and the assurance that his sins (past, present, and future) were atoned for that he so willingly replied, “Here I am. Send me!”
Likewise, having the contextual knowledge of God’s call gives us a perspective of the severity of the work that is laid before us. It prepares us psychologically for what is ahead of us, allowing us to plan our moves according to the nature of the message and the knowledge we have gained about our audiences. On top of this, we are to ensure that we are sure of our faith. We need to rest on the assurance that our sins, however large, were atoned for. If we are uncertain of what God had done for us, how can we lead people into the faith? If we are uncertain of our future, how can we speak of life eternal?
In all that we do, we must know that we are representing a living and loving God who is always longing for the return of humanity back to His Arms. From the very beginning until our current day and age, He has never given up on us. But because of sins, the mystery of existence will be hidden from the people we are tasked to speak to. They will hear and never understand, see and never perceive. Are we ready to preach the Word knowing we will face all sorts of obstacles? Are we ready to preach the Word with such cultural sensitivity that we speak not to the person but to his spirit?
I think, before we say, “Here I am. Send me,” we will need to ask ourselves if we have seen all that Isaiah saw. Are we assured of our eternal salvation in Christ? Don’t dive into deep waters without knowing what is in store for us.
Are we ready?