Isaiah 6:9–10 has been a difficult text to understand and has puzzled many readers. Why was God commanding the prophet to discourage these people from repenting? A careful reading of the text reveals otherwise. Part one has covered the discussion in their historical and God's foreknowledge and literary and rhetorical irony meanings during Isaiah's time.
Part two will examine the theological context, God's judgment, God’s character and the prophetic message from the text in the New Testament. We will also draw some reflections from these truths from the Isaiah text and make them applicable in our lives.
Theological (God’s Judgment)
The author, Robinson, suggested that the motif of deafness and blindness is in Isaiah 6:9–10, a metaphor for a spiritual condition that was brought about by the people who brought judgment from God and ultimately rectified by God . I supported the idea that it was God’s judgment on the people who did not want to repent. God is sovereign, as he invited his people to reason with him and was willing to cleanse their sins like wool only if they were obedient (Isaiah 1:18-19). The people have forsaken God and become deaf and blind to the commandments of the Lord, particularly the 2nd commandment, Exodus 20:5–6, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."
There is a Cantonese saying: “Even if I tell you, it’s of no use; and to bring you there, it’s too far.” These words speak of the speaker's frustration with knowing the hearer's unbelief and disinterest in the message. God’s speaking through Isaiah 6:9–10 implied that no matter what message was delivered to the people, they were not believing and disinterested. One solution is to bring judgment upon the people to purify them and rebuild them again. In Isaiah 6:1–8, he saw and heard the glory of the Lord among the seraphs. He was then commissioned to speak to people whose hearts are insensitive, whose ears are dull, and whose eyes are blind. Isaiah was told to continue to dull their ears and close their eyes so that they are deaf and blind to God’s command. The prophet was puzzled at the command and cried out, asking God for how long this must go on (Isa 6:11). All events came from God’s hand, and they will happen with divine purpose. God’s purpose is not destruction but restoration to make Israel holy to him. A New Jerusalem, the City of Righteousness (Isa 1:26) .
What is the character of God that we can learn from the above discussion? How and why did God ask the prophet to speak in this way to the people? There are three characters of God we can understand: his holiness, his omniscience, and his grace and compassion.
Firstly, God is holy and demands that his people be holy before him. Holiness is in fact cantered on a person, God himself. Within Isaiah 6, the holiness of the Lord filled the temple, and Isaiah reacted with shame and repentance. He saw and heard the glory of the Lord within the temple. The command of Isaiah 6:9–10 to go and tell his people revealed his holiness to call his people unto him so that he could forgive their sins. Go and tell command by God is also a call to repentance, a call to return to him. To offer his people a plan to prosper and not to harm them, offering them hope and a future (cf. Jeremiah 29:11). All of us are like the prophet and the people of Judah, with unclean lips, blind eyes, dull ears, and hardened hearts. God still calls us. His people must repent and respond like Isaiah: “Here am I; send me” to be used by him for divine purposes.
Secondly, God is omniscient; he knows all things, especially the hearts of his people. Just like God knows the heart of Pharaoh, he also has the foreknowledge of the people in Judah. He pronounced judgment that his people would go into exile for a lack of understanding of his command (Isa 5:13).
Thirdly, God is gracious and compassionate to his people. The nation will be judged by cities lying ruined and houses without inhabitants (Isa 6:11). There will be devastation and destruction, but this will not bring total annihilation to Judah. God’s promised a remnant of his people will be preserved. God’s command and warning will reach a handful of faithful men and women among the unfaithful majority. If Abraham can find ten faithful men in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God is prepared to forgive their sin and not to destroy them (Gen 18:32). This was echoed in Isaiah 1:9, where the whole book of Isaiah frequently mentions the doctrine of remnant.
The answer is obvious: God certainly wants to call his people to repent. Whether it is rhetorical irony or a righteous judgment of cleansing and restoration in which we read Isa 6:9–10, God is gracious and compassionate, yet his holiness demands his people to be holy and walk uprightly before him.
Isaiah was a prophet who ministered in Judah in the last third of the eighth century BC (approximately 735-700 BC). The book records his sayings from that period but also includes a lot of material that relates to later times. It is the Old Testament book most often quoted in the New Testament. It is therefore containing prophetic messages for the New Testament readers. When a particular OT passage is cited multiple times in the NT, we should study why the NT people and writers viewed this text as important.
The entire four Gospels quoted Isa 6:9–10 or cited a portion of it. In the closing chapter of Acts 28:26–27, Paul cited these verses. When we compare and contrast the four gospels and acts, quoting Isaiah 6:9–10, it suggests two truths. Firstly, the teaching of Jesus in the parable to those who have ears to hear and have applied his teaching will be enlightened, and those not interested in the message will gain little. Secondly, through the centuries, people existed to accept or reject God’s truth, thus fulfilling Isaiah's words again . Let us look at what Jesus said in Matthew 13:11–14, as he says, “The prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled.”
In answering the question from his disciples about why He teaches parables, Jesus says:
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them”. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand”.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever-seeing but never-perceiving.
- Matthew 13:11-14 (NIV)
Jesus connects Isaiah 6 with the unbelief of Israel during His earthly ministry. A national rejection of Jesus as the son of God and their Messiah was occurring.
The purpose of the Isaiah commissioning and the gospel teaching testified that God is calling his people to himself and wants them to repent and return to him. In Acts 28, Paul presents the gospel to the Jewish people, but only a few believe, thus fulfilling Isaiah's words of unbelief. Only a person with a humble heart, ears, and eyes open, continuing to seek and listen to God’s word, will have the privilege to understand the mysteries of God’s kingdom. So how can a God who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth (cf. I Tim 2:3, 4; 2 Peter 3:9) deliberately want his people to perish?
In your own life, how are you opening your ears to listen to God’s truth and opening your eyes to see those wonderful deeds that God has been doing in your life? How are you attentive to the voice of God as it has been spoken through the lives of Christian leaders and through your church? Are your hearts softening and are you willing to give your whole life in the service of Christ and His mission?
Reflect today on the life-giving words and the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. Mediate on the text of Isaiah 6:9–10, and choose to heed the warning of Isaiah and Jesus and find yourself “dancing” for God’s glory and “mourning” over the sins of your life.
Isaiah 6 was the vision of the exaltation of the Lord as king and warrior and the commissioning of Isaiah as his prophet to command his people with a solemn warning of judgment that will come before there is any hope of restoration. Isa 6:9–10 was God’s commission to Isaiah to warn his people to repent, knowing that his people would not heed his warning and were heading for judgment. The intent of the article is that the reader will know God better by understanding God’s judgment against his unrepented people to draw them back to him. We also discussed God’s character in terms of his holiness, omniscience, grace, and compassion. We closed the discussion with a deep reflection of our lives to dance for His glory after we mourned over our sins.
1. What does this article teach us about God? How does it apply to you?
2. Take time to reflect on the implications of Isaiah 6:9–10 for your own life today.
3. Consider what you have learned from this article that might lead you to praise God, repent of sin, and trust in his gracious promises.
4. Read Matthew 13:11–14. Do you understand the parable of Jesus?
5. Read Acts 28, the closing chapter of the book of Acts. The story of God reaching out to sinners does not stop here. Are you willing to say, “Here I am. Send me!”
Geoffrey D Robinson. The Motif of Deafness and Blindness in Isaiah 6:9-10: A Contextual, Literary, and Theological analysis, Bulletin for Biblical Research 8 (1988) 167-186
Anderson, Bernhard W. Understanding the Old Testament. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice –Hall, 1975, pg. 298
Remnant – Isaiah 10:20, 21,22: 11:11,16: 15:9: 16:14; 28:5; 37:4, 32; 46:3, Promise of a Remnant, read from http://www.preceptausin.org/Isaiah_6_commentary.htm
Beyer, Bryan. Encountering the Book of Isaiah: A Historical and theological Survey. Encountering biblical studies. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2007, pg. 68