Isaiah had a personal encounter with the living God in the form of a vision of the Father on His throne. The prophet was overcome with great emotion, as any of us would be. But his were mixed emotions.
Part of it had to be a great joy – the innocent part of our soul yearns to be in the presence of a loving God, so to finally have this must be a moment of great exuberance. But there was also a sudden awareness that his soul was not innocent – like us, he was often rebellious, willfully disobedient and self-seeking. His overwhelming reaction was one of woe.
Though Isaiah was presumably a good man who usually tried to do the right thing, directly confronting such pure goodness and holiness brought out the glaring contrast with his own character. Instantly convicted in his heart of sin, Isaiah’s joy and delight was quickly overcome by an extreme sadness and distress.
5 So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because 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.” Isaiah 6:5 NKJV
The good news for Isaiah, and for us, is that in His grace and love, the Lord would not leave Isaiah in that troubled state. God immediately sent one of the living creatures, a heavenly seraph, to completely remove Isaiah’s sin and to eliminate any barrier that existed with God. The Lord does this for all of us who believe through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s generous offering of a substitute for us on the holy altar of the cross.
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” Isaiah 6:6-7 NKJV
The apostle Peter had a similar woe in his soul when he first recognized who Jesus was. Peter and his fellow fisherman had been working all night on the Sea of Galilee and had failed to catch anything. Jesus told them to go out one more time to try again. Though reluctant, Peter obeyed, and they proceeded to catch so many fish that the net was on the verge of breaking. At this moment, Peter’s eyes were opened, and he recognized that Jesus was God, the Christ. He was also immediately overcome by the contrast between his own imperfect character and the holiness of the Lord.
8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Luke 5:8 NKJV
Jesus told him not to worry. He would deal with the sin of Peter and of all believers once and for all on the cross. And from now on, Peter would be fishing for the souls of men rather than toiling on the Sea of Galilee.
What did Isaiah mean when he was convicted by his “unclean lips”?
We get additional understanding from a teaching that Jesus gave His disciples after some verbal jousting with the scribes and Pharisees. These religious leaders were confronting Jesus for the lack of ceremony Jesus’ disciples followed before eating, and therefore, they claimed they were all unclean.
Jesus replied later to his followers that it is not the food that goes into a person that makes them unclean, or how they choose to go about washing beforehand, but it is what comes out of their “unclean lips”.
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Matthew 15:18-20 NKJV
No matter how hard we try to contain it, any thoughts, feelings, yearnings, and cravings within us that are not compatible with God will eventually make their way out through our lips. Our words reflect the content of our heart.
Isaiah is not talking about the use of swear words or filthy talk, although these can be a part of it, but on what sin exists in our core. Are our words reflecting God’s love through the power of the Holy Spirit, or are we sitting on our own “throne”, coveting things we see, devising schemes, and judging the people in our lives?
We all do it at times – that is the point. God wants to heal each of us of our sin and help us to do a better job following Him the next time. Each day, He cleanses us as we confess our sins and shortcomings and He fills us with His presence in the power of the Holy Spirit.
May we all enjoy clean lips in the power of God today!
Our lips – what comes out of them? How does this reflect what is truly in our hearts?
Lord, scrub our hearts of impure thoughts and forgive us for all of our sinful actions. We confess these to You and claim your forgiveness and healing through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. May You be blessed and glorified today because of your great love and grace for us – we thank You and praise You! In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.