Isaiah 6:5 … “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 King, the Lord of hosts!” (ESV)
Isaiah was worshiping in the temple one day when, for the first time, his vision was lifted beyond the familiar surroundings into the presence of God. The temple in Jerusalem represented the rule of God coming down to us. But on this day, for Isaiah, the earthly symbol merged into the heavenly reality. As the earthly king lay dying, the true Sovereign was reigning, holding court, and Isaiah saw it.
As sincere as his worship has always been, Isaiah has not been “a man in love.” His profession of faith has been orthodox but empty, with little heart-awareness of the grandeur of God. Unlike the seraphim, Isaiah’s lips are unclean. In fact, he’s no better than anyone else: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” The most telling indicator that God’s grace is renewing us is not when we say all the right things about his grace but when we stop putting ourselves above others, and even above God: “I’m not that bad. In fact, I’m better than most. Heck, God’s just lucky to have me for one whole hour every week.” God’s awakening grace turns us completely around with new thoughts like, My opinion of myself doesn’t matter. What matters is where I stand with God. Here I am, breathing his glorious air, eating his glorious food, oblivious to the continual display of his glory all around me—what right do I have to be here?
As this awareness forms in Isaiah’s mind, he blurts out the obvious conclusion: “Woe is me!” Those are the first words spoken by Isaiah himself in his book, and they pronounce a prophetic woe upon himself. He doesn’t saunter into God’s presence. For the first time he really worships God. For the first time his mouth speaks with “the highest sort of simplicity, of naiveté, … the intuition of a soul which has seen itself in the light of the divine holiness.” For the first time, he sees that he’s typical of his generation, whose faith was unthinking and glib. Their mouths were not filled with seraphic worship but with flippant repetitions and self-justifying excuses. But now Isaiah sees himself, because he sees God. And something new is entering his heart—humility.