Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." -Isaiah 6:5
Isaiah responded in this way after seeing a vision of a thrice holy God, he starts by crying out a 'woe'. This is an expression of a cry of grief or despair, this was not a cry of excitement and joy. Albert Barnes describes Isaiah's woe in this manner, " Wo is me! - That is, I am filled with overwhelming convictions of my own unworthiness, with alarm that I have seen Yahweh."
A true understanding of the holiness of the Almighty One will cause the sinner to proclaim 'woe is me'. To see how holy God is causes one to see how sinful we truly are.
Matthew Henry goes into more detail in his commentary, 'In this figurative vision, the temple is thrown open to view, even to the most holy place. The prophet, standing outside the temple, sees the Divine Presence seated on the mercy-seat, raised over the ark of the covenant, between the cherubim and seraphim, and the Divine glory filled the whole temple. See God upon his throne. This vision is explained, Joh_12:41, that Isaiah now saw Christ's glory, and spake of Him, which is a full proof that our Saviour is God. In Christ Jesus, God is seated on a throne of grace; and through him the way into the holiest is laid open. See God's temple, his church on earth, filled with his glory. His train, the skirts of his robes, filled the temple, the whole world, for it is all God's temple. And yet he dwells in every contrite heart. See the blessed attendants by whom his government is served. Above the throne stood the holy angels, called seraphim, which means “burners;” they burn in love to God, and zeal for his glory against sin. The seraphim showing their faces veiled, declares that they are ready to yield obedience to all God's commands, though they do not understand the secret reasons of his counsels, government, or promises. All vain-glory, ambition, ignorance, and pride, would be done away by one view of Christ in his glory. This awful vision of the Divine Majesty overwhelmed the prophet with a sense of his own vileness. We are undone if there is not a Mediator between us and this holy God. A glimpse of heavenly glory is enough to convince us that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Nor is there a man that would dare to speak to the Lord, if he saw the justice, holiness, and majesty of God, without discerning his glorious mercy and grace in Jesus Christ.'
If meditating on the holiness of God does not cause you to cry out 'woe is me', you do not understand or know the God of the Bible.
How did Isaiah see God? Matthew Henry tells us, 'See God upon his throne, and that throne high and lifted up, not only above other thrones, as it transcends them, but over other thrones, as it rules and commands them. Isaiah saw not Jehovah - the essence of God (no man has seen that, or can see it), but Adonai - his dominion.'
It is interesting to note the Seraphim and the placement of their wings; two covering their faces, two covering their feet, and two being of use for flying purposes. Again, Matthew Henry elaborates, 'Special notice is taken of their wings (and of no other part of their appearance), because of the use they made of them, which is designed for instruction to us. They had each of them six wings, not stretched upwards (as those whom Ezekiel saw, Eze_1:11), but, 1. Four were made use of for a covering, as the wings of a fowl, sitting, are; with the two upper wings, next to the head, they covered their faces, and with the two lowest wings they covered their feet, or lower parts. This bespeaks their great humility and reverence in their attendance upon God, for he is greatly feared in the assembly of those saints, Psa_89:7. They not only cover their feet, those members of the body which are less honourable (1Co_12:23), but even their faces. Though angel's faces, doubtless, are much fairer than those of the children of men (Act_6:15), yet in the presence of God, they cover them, because they cannot bear the dazzling lustre of the divine glory, and because, being conscious of an infinite distance from the divine perfection, they are ashamed to show their faces before the holy God, who charges even his angels with folly if they should offer to vie with him, Job_4:18. If angels be thus reverent in their attendance on God, with what godly fear should we approach his throne! Else we do not the will of God as the angels do it. Yet Moses, when he went into the mount with God, took the veil from off his face. See 2Co_3:18. 2. Two were made use of for flight; when they are sent on God's errands they fly swiftly (Dan_9:21), more swiftly with their own wings than if they flew on the wings of the wind. This teaches us to do the work of God with cheerfulness and expedition. Do angels come upon the wing from heaven to earth, to minister for our good, and shall not we soar upon the wing from earth to heaven, to share with them in their glory? '
'And one called out to another and said, Holy Holy Holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory' - 'How this song was sung. With zeal and fervency - they cried aloud; and with unanimity - they cried to another, or one with another; they sang alternately, but in concert, and without the least jarring voice to interrupt the harmony.
2. What the song was; it is the same with that which is sung by the four living creatures, Rev_4:8. Note, Praising God always was, and will be to eternity, the work of heaven, and the constant employment of blessed spirits above, Psa_84:4. Note further, The church above is the same in its praises; there is no change of times or notes there. Two things the seraphim here give God the praise of: -
(1.) His infinite perfections in himself. Here is one of his most glorious titles praised: he is the Lord of hosts, of their hosts, of all hosts; and one of his most glorious attributes, his holiness, without which his being the Lord of hosts (or, as it is in the parallel place, Rev_4:8, the Lord God Almighty) could not be so much as it is the matter of our joy and praise; for power, without purity to guide it, would be a terror to mankind. None of all the divine attributes is so celebrated in scripture as this is. God's power was spoken twice (Psa_62:11), but his holiness thrice, Holy, holy, holy. This bespeaks, [1.] The zeal and fervency of the angels in praising God; they even want words to express themselves, and therefore repeat the same again. [2.] The particular pleasure they take in contemplating the holiness of God; this is a subject they love to dwell upon, to harp upon, and are loth to leave. [3.] The superlative excellency of God's holiness, above that of the purest creatures. He is holy, thrice holy, infinitely holy, originally, perfectly, and eternally so. [4.] It may refer to the three person in the Godhead, Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit (for it follows, Isa_6:8, Who will go for us?) or perhaps to that which was, and is, and is to come; for that title of God's honour is added to this song, Rev_4:8. Some make the angels here to applaud the equity of that sentence which God was now about to pronounce upon the Jewish nation. Herein he was, and is, and will be, holy; his ways are equal.
(2.) The manifestation of these to the children of men: The earth is full of his glory, the glory of his power and purity; for he is holy in all his works, Psa_145:17. The Jews thought the glory of God should be confined to their land; but it is here intimated that in the gospel times (which are pointed to in this chapter) the glory of God should fill all the earth, the glory of his holiness, which is indeed the glory of all his other attributes; this then filled the temple (Isa_6:1), but, in the latter days, the earth shall be full of it.' - Matthew Henry
Isaiah sees the glorified Christ in His glory, exalted on His throne, filling the temple, and cries 'Woe is me', he follows that up with 'for I am ruined'. This response is defined as 'to be dumb or silent, to be brought to silence'.
John Gill says "for I am reduced to silence", I am forced to be silent; he could not join with the "seraphim", being conscious to himself of his vileness, and of his unworthiness to take the holy name of God into his polluted lips, as follows: 'because I am a man of unlcean lips'.
How many of us can say, 'I do not have unclean lips'? Gossiping, slander, hateful speech, fits of anger, backbiting...these all proceed from 'unclean lips'. Once more, we turn to commentary from Matthew Henry, 'I am a sinner; particularly, I have offended in word; and who is there that hath not? Jam_3:2. We all have reason to bewail it before the Lord, (1.) That we are of unclean lips ourselves; our lips are not consecrated to God; he had not had the first-fruits of our lips (Heb_13:15), and therefore they are counted common and unclean, uncircumcised lips, Exo_6:30. Nay, they have been polluted with sin. We have spoken the language of an unclean heart, that evil communication which corrupts good manners, and whereby many have been defiled. We are unworthy and unmeet to take God's name into our lips. With what a pure lip did the angels praise God! “But,” says the prophet, “I cannot praise him so, for I am a man of unclean lips.” The best men in the world have reason to be ashamed of themselves, and the best of their services, when they come into comparison with the holy angels. The angels had celebrated the purity and holiness of God; and therefore the prophet, when he reflects upon sin, calls it uncleanness; for the sinfulness of sin is its contrariety to the holy nature of God, and upon that account especially it should appear both hateful and frightful to us. The impurity of our lips ought to be the grief of our souls, for by our words we shall be justified or condemned.'
We should all be as Isaiah was, crying out in woe, being struck silent before a thrice holy God when we come before His throne, acknowledging our sins then sitting in utter silence of our shame. The beauty of this vision ends so gloriously and magnificently - 'Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven." Is. 6:7-8
No sooner had Isaiah, in his brokenness, confessed his unclean lips and his sins were atoned for; the words of confession had barely left his mouth and were immediately followed by the burning coal touching his lips; this is a picture of grace. This signifies the tender mercies of God; He reveals His holiness to those who belong to Him by taking them deeper into who He is, this in turn causes us to see our deepest sins as the holiness of God brings the vileness of man to the surface. We cry out just as Isaiah did, 'I am ruined, I am undone, I am loathsome, vile, broken over my horrific sins against this God who is grandeur, majestic, exalted high above the heavens and the earth; and God responds with such grace, love, mercy and kindness..why? Because He gets glory!! We praise Him when He lifts the weight of sin from us and causes our heavy hearts to once again be lifted up with the pulley of His amazing grace. The blessedness of forgiveness is worthy of praise and adoration of the God who forgives sin and restores His people....
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!
Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created.
He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away
Praise the LORD from the earth, Sea monsters and all deeps; Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word; Mountains and all hills; Fruit trees and all cedars; Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and winged fowl; Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; Both young men and virgins; Old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven.
And He has lifted up a horn for His people, Praise for all His godly ones; Even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the LORD!