Monday, 19 November 2007

Isaiah 6 (ii)

Some of these ramblings may be of interest to anyone reading Isaiah. Most of them may not, but this is my blog, and I'm very excited each time Gordon and I study a chapter together!

Remember the kingship of YHWH – don’t jump too soon to His holiness.

And yet, is the whole earth… filled with his glory (3) because of his holiness? We know that under the right circumstances God’s holiness is communicable – Leviticus has a lot about conagious holiness in it. And is the temple shaken because the seraphs are shouting loudly, or because they are shouting about holiness? [GD; whereas I think that this probing tends towards making divine attributes mecahnistic. It’s easy to be distracted by questions about the relationship between matter and the being of God (as in the resurrected Christ’s eating of fish in a creation still subject to decay) but probably it doesn’t add much…]

Holiness – people need protecting from God’s holiness (a moral, rather than ontological category) and that’s what much of the detail of the law was about – to permit God to dwell among his people without breaking out against them for their sins. So the altar is operating in the temple (which is surely the real temple in Jerusalem, not all in Isaiah’s head) as verse 6 tells us. Perhaps all that smoke (4b) is coming from the altar, serving a dual purpose of being a pleasing aroma to YHWH so that he will not immediately destroy the impurity around him and also protecting Isaiah from clearly seeing the figure on the throne (1).

The temple’ curtain is now torn in two (Mark 15:38), such that God can get out and come and sit next to us, while we can get in to him – in Christ alone. We have access to the most holy place through Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-25), we are washed and purified, and all this is happening now. Hebrews 12:18-25 reminds us that God is still just as formidable, and his word is still as powerful. But now there is access, not smoke, access to the real temple (Heb. 9:11-12) on the real Mount Zion.

The purification of Isaiah’s lips is a wonderful, personal picture, but it’s still within the system of repeated animal sacrifices. This raises the question of what those sacrifices do for him after this event [not to mention the question of whether or not the coal gave to Isaiah, a faithful member of the (remnant?) covenant community, assurance (much more likely in my opinion) rather than initial salvation, though we have to be careful about our NT spectacles in all this…]. Remember Leviticus I have given you an atonement, so we know that atonement is not self-generated by the worshipper and the intrinsic quality of his offering.

And there is the dimension of fellowship around food that the sacrifices display and embody – the LORD consumes part, the priests get their portion and the worshipper and his family eat as well.

We say that the thinking Jew knows that the animal per se does not make atonement – that is a gift from God. So existentially where does their knowledge of justification come from?

GD: in the once-for-all moment of realisation

JW: possibly in the ongoing covenant observance

And yet, the sacrificial system had built-in flaws – its endless repetition and the use of animal for human. Hebrews 7 is very scathing about its efficacy! And before we leave Isaiah 6 altogether, it’s time to draw stumps…