A Word from Your CBC Team: Dr. Piotrowski’s focus in his CBC blogs are on relating theology to life. His first post was Action Without Faith Is Impossible: Systematic Theology, Part 1.
10 Attributes of the Holy One of Israel
Did you know that in seven little verses in Isaiah we see no less than ten attributes of God? That’s right; in Isaiah 6:1–7 the prophet has a vision of the Lord, and his description reveals—in rather quick succession—ten attributes of the Holy One of Israel. Take a look:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 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. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am ruined; 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!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
I’ve underlined the parts of the text where we can see these ten attributes.*
The Lord Is Alive
Notice that this vision of the Lord is compared to the death of Uzziah. I believe there are several reasons for this, but one reason is at least to emphasize that the Lord is alive. When Uzziah was alive, when Moses was alive, when Socrates was a live, when Columbus was alive, when Lincoln was alive, the Lord was also alive. These are all dead and the Lord is still alive!
In one hundred and twenty years from now (or less) every person now alive will be dead and the Lord will still be alive. Our God is the living God!
The Lord Is Sovereign
Isaiah sees this living Lord sitting upon a throne, and thus He is sovereign. The throne is a place of authority and control, where the Creator has everything under His direction. There has never been a vision of the Lord where He is fixing His car or pulling weeds. He is never surprised; He is in charge of everything. He is sovereign.
The Lord Is Exalted
This throne of sovereignty is then “high and lifted up.” Thus the Lord is exalted. He is not one among many; He alone is God, high and lifted above all. I love Psalm 113:4–6 that says, “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?”
You and I look up at the stars at night and think, “Wow! What an immense and marvelous universe; there are so many stars and so far away. Beautiful!” We strain our necks to look up and gaze. But Psalm 113 says He looks down on the heavens! So highly lifted up and exalted is the Lord. (Look at Isaiah 40:21–25, too.)
The Lord Is Magnificent
He is also quite magnificent. Do you notice how it says the train of His robe fills the temple? We don’t think often about “trains” do we? The days are over when we would even see kings with trains following behind them on their clothes. But we do still see them in one place: weddings. What is the point of the train on the bride’s gown? It’s not practicality, I’ll tell you that! It makes a statement: that she is the focal point, the sight of beauty, a prize, and alone magnificent.
Well, what would you think if you saw the Lord sitting high and exalted and the train of His robe flowed over the arms of the throne and draped over the stars and the planets, filling the universe above which His temple dwells? You would think, “Magnificent!”
The Lord Is Feared
And He is feared. Sometimes angels are portrayed as chubby little babies with tiny wings. Maybe—once upon a time—you’ve received a Valentine’s Day card with such plump and portly tots dreamily gazing off into nothing (thank you Michelangelo for that misrepresentation). Or sometimes they are pictured as slim young women in fine gowns, large wings out the back. Christmas is coming; I’m sure you’ll get a dozen such cards.
But these “seraphim” (literally “the burning ones”) are terrifying creatures! Just look at what happens in verse 4 when they speak: their voices are like mach 10 jets breaking the sound barrier and shaking the very foundations (not just the walls) of this temple! And yet even they have to cover their faces and cover their feet and will not even stand on the same ground as the Holy One of Israel. He is feared.
The Lord Is Holy
We come now to God’s most-emphasized attribute: He is holy. Notice that He is specifically called “Holy, Holy, Holy.” No other attribute is repeated like this. God is nowhere called “Righteous, Righteous, Righteous” or even “Loving, Loving, Loving.” But holiness is the central defining attribute that encapsulates all His goodness, truth, and beauty in a panorama of unique and inexpressible perfections.
Yet it is not as though such uniqueness makes Him the first among equals or even at the top of a pyramid of transcendent greatness. He is qualitatively distinct, utterly cut off from all else and impeccable in every way. He alone is holy, holy, holy.
The Lord Is Powerful
And oh is He powerful. What does it mean that He is the Lord of “hosts”? A “host” in the Bible is, quite simply, an army. And yet the Holy One is the Lord of several “hosts.” That is, He has at His beck and call multitudes upon multitudes of these terrifying “seraphim” (see point 5 above)! He is powerful.
The Lord Is Glorious
And He is glorious. He has glory and He shows off His glory. In fact, “the whole earth is full of his glory.”
I don’t think that just means the creation is beautiful and awe-inspiring (though looking at the Milky Way does suggest at least that much). But it means that all things that happen in creation and throughout history are a demonstration of and intended to reflect God’s glory—that internal panorama of His unique and immaculate perfections now gone public (see point 6 above)! “For from him and through him and to him are all things; to him be the glory forever—amen” (Romans 11:36)!
The Lord Is Judge
Now all this should make us tremble because God is also a judge. And Isaiah knows it when he says, in effect, “Woe is me! I am destroyed because I am a sinner and I have to do with One so unimaginably holy, sovereign, exalted, magnificent, powerful and glorious!” Who can stand before the Lord? He will judge us all for our sins.
10. The Lord Is Gracious
But He is also gracious! Do not miss that this God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and forgiving of our sins. Yet He doesn’t simply ignore our sins.
Notice in verses 6 and 7 something strange happens: one of the seraphim flies toward Isaiah and touches his lips with a burning coal from the altar. Ouch! What’s the point of that? And why would that atone for Isaiah’s sin and take away his guilt? Well, the altar is the place where sacrifices are made, the place where sins are transferred to another and that one bears the guilt and judgment on behalf of God’s people. In taking a coal and touching Isaiah with it, the Lord is saying to him “What has taken place on this altar—the sacrifice for sins—is now applied to you. Wrath is extinguished. I am satisfied. You are forgiven. You are mine!” Amen! The living and holy God over all is also gracious.
Don’t miss this: This is a mysterious, but nonetheless very real, prefiguring of Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. There—at the cross of Christ—judgment and mercy meet, sins are atoned for, and God tells us we are His forgiven people. The sacrifice of Christ is applied to us, and we can call this holy, sovereign, exalted, magnificent, powerful and glorious Lord our God. And we are His people.
Maybe there is more to see in Isaiah 6:1–7. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. If you see more in this vision than these ten attributes, please do tell me!
*Special thanks to Dr. John Piper, whose 1984 sermon “Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord of Hosts” (available at www.DesiringGod.org) has indelibly shaped my thinking of Isaiah 6:1–3.