“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. 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!’
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 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 Kings, the Lord of hosts!’
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?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’”
– Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiah 6 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. (I have the tattoo to prove it!) In a time of political uncertainty, the prophet Isaiah received this vision of the sovereign Lord, seated on His throne, in control of everything beneath Him. Terrifying angelic beings eternally affirm His holiness; thick smoke fills the room, and an earthquake throws Isaiah to his knees in the presence of this great God. Such a vision of the Lord’s holiness brings Isaiah an instant and overwhelming awareness of his own wretchedness, which he confesses with despairing honesty. Then, by a movement of grace that foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice for all, Isaiah receives atonement and is emboldened to respond to the Lord’s call.
I never expected that we’d have to clarify that this passage is not talking about the United States military.
Yesterday – August 26, 2021 – President Joe Biden addressed the terrible events currently unfolding in Afghanistan, which include the deaths of several U.S. soldiers. (You can read a transcript of his remarks here.) My intent is not to weigh in on governmental decisions made far beyond my knowledge or responsibility, nor is it to offer further commentary on the heaviness of the situation in Afghanistan. In those areas, I can only trust that the sovereign Lord is still seated on His throne over every worldly power, and I can lift the poor and needy up to the One who promises not to forsake those who cry out to Him (Isaiah 6:1; 41:17).
My reason for writing today is a statement Biden made near the end of his remarks. After thanking different military leaders, he said,
“Those who have served through the ages have drawn inspiration from the book of Isaiah, when the Lord says: ‘Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?’ The American military has been answering for a long time. ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me.’ Each one of these women and men of our armed forces are the heirs of that tradition of sacrifice, of volunteering to go into harm’s way to risk everything, not for glory, not for profit, but to defend what we love and the people we love.”
As I wrote on June 2, 2020 after a similar presidential misuse of Scripture, I know that the Almighty does not need my feeble words in order to defend the truth of His Word. However, I feel the same compulsion to restate what should be obvious: the word of God revealed in Scripture is holy and set apart. It is not a political prop used to stir up support from a particular base. Biden’s remarks yesterday continued the American pastime of marrying Christianity to country, twisting Scripture into submission to the idol of national power.
Ironically, Isaiah did have something to say about idolatry and the pride it is born from. He had quite a bit to say concerning arrogance and how it fuels the powerful’s oppression of the weak.
In chapter 40, Isaiah reminds the people of God’s incomparable power by asking rhetorically,
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
or what man shows him counsel?
Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge
and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold,
and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.
Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.”
In short: if we think human creations are comparable to our Creator, we have been thoroughly blinded by pride. If we unexaminedly assume that the interests of our worldly nation are automatically aligned with God’s will, our arrogance has obscured our vision. If we think the United States is best represented by Isaiah chapter 6 rather than chapter 10, we’ve failed to understand and perceive.
Ironically again, this is the promise that the prophet gets from God in Isaiah 6: that his audience will be blind and deaf to the Lord’s message concerning their pride. Isaiah 6:8 is not a commission to military victory or the defense of a nation, but to a proclamation of God’s Word without any measurable evidence of fruitfulness. With the vision of the Lord’s awe-inspiring holiness in mind, though, Isaiah sees his commitment through to the end.
After my post June 2, 2020, I received enthusiastic responses from critics of President Trump and less-than-enthusiastic pushback from the “other side.” I know that – ironically – some who would otherwise be enthused by my critique of President Biden today will resent my differentiation between Christian obedience and national military service. But this is my encouragement to those who have seen the glory of the Lord through Jesus Christ and received atonement through his sacrifice: read Isaiah 6 (in all its context). Remember the holiness of the One who called you to be set apart for Him. Let His Word clarify your vision and dictate your allegiances. And, when you hear His call, respond confidently: “Here I am – send me!”