While we would love to know Isaiah’s background, we have very little to go on. Some have thought he was related to the royal family. Others have made other speculations. We are going to speculate that he was a scribe for the king Uzziah. An interesting vignette in 2 Chronicles gives us an idea about Isaiah’s background, “Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, first and last, did Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, write.” (2 Chron. 26:22) We don’t have Isaiah’s record of Uzziah’s 52-year reign. But that is not usually the role of a prophet—to chronicle the acts of a king—that is the job of a scribe. This suggests that Isaiah was a royal scribe, employed by the king to record the history of the Jews, and Uzziah’s reign specifically. This would mean he was familiar with the royal family, the power players in Jerusalem, and the history of both the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. We surmise that as Uzziah’s reign came to a close, the Lord called him to a new occupation, that of prophet of God.
The year that Uzziah died seems to be the beginning of Isaiah’s new calling (you can’t trust the chapters of the OT prophets to be chronological). We can think of this epiphany as Isaiah’s first vision. Like other prophets, he felt inadequate; he received forgiveness of his sins; and he was taught of the Savior. Like Moses, he was a type for the Savior. Like Joseph Smith, he saw God. It was a temple experience for him. His temple had live coals for burning sacrifice, altars, incense that filled the holy place, and the presence of the Lord.
Isaiah 6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died
“Uzziah, also called Azariah (2 Kings 15:1), was the son of Amaziah. He was the ninth king of Judah and ascended the throne in Jerusalem at the age of sixteen years. He reigned between the years 810 and 759 B.C. It is said of him that he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord in the early part of his government, as long as he followed the counsel of Zechariah, the prophet. (2 Chron. 26) But later in life, pride inspired him to attempt to usurp the prerogatives of the priesthood. He went into the temple and insisted on burning incense on the altar. When he defied the High Priest Azariah and his assistants, he was stricken with leprosy, and remained a sufferer of that loathsome affliction until his death. Jotham, his son, succeeded him on the throne. Isaiah was called to the prophetic office during the last year of the life of Uzziah in his exclusion from family, friends and society.” (Reynolds and Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 338)
Isaiah 6:1 I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne
Here we see that Isaiah was given the privilege of seeing the throne of God. This is a helpful scripture if one is faced with the common Christian doctrine that man cannot see the face of God. This is based on erroneous interpretations of the passage in John, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (Jn 1:18). The Joseph Smith translation makes a condition on this all exclusive statement, adding, “except he hath borne record of the Son.” Later in John’s record we get another, less exclusive statement, “Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father” (Jn 6:46).
In the Old Testament, there is ample evidence that the righteous saw God. Seventy of the elders of Israel were privileged to see God, “And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness” (Ex 24:10). Moses spoke with the Lord, “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex 33:11). In this instance, it is apparent that Isaiah also was given the same privilege, “for mine eyes have seen the King” (v. 5). Modern scripture helps us understand that this is only possible if one has become sufficiently purified and has exhibited sufficient faith. See DC 88:68, DC 93:1, and DC 97:16.
Isaiah 6:1 his train filled the temple
This “train” was the train of his royal robe which was so long that it filled the temple.
Isaiah 6:2 What are seraphim?
Seraphim are angels. As Isaiah explains, they have six wings and their privilege is to attend the throne of God and sing praises to His name. The following quotes help us understand the beings around the throne of God. Elder McConkie explains the term seraphim and Joseph Smith explains the other varied beasts which attend the throne of God.
Bruce R. McConkie
Seraphs are angels who reside in the presence of God, giving continual glory, honor, and adoration to him. “Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.” (Ps. 148:2.) It is clear that seraphs include the unembodied spirits of pre-existence, for our Lord “looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made.” (D. & C. 38:1.) Whether the name seraphs also applies to perfected and resurrected angels is not clear. While petitioning on behalf of the saints, the Prophet prayed that “we may mingle our voices with those bright, shining seraphs around thy throne, with acclamations of praise, singing Hosanna to God and the Lamb!” (D. & C. 109:79.)
In Hebrew the plural of seraph is seraphim or, as incorrectly recorded in the King James Version of the Bible, seraphims. Isaiah saw seraphim in vision and heard them cry one to another, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Inspired Version, Isa. 6:1-8.) The fact that these holy beings were shown to him as having wings was simply to symbolize their ‘power, to move, to act, etc.’ as was the case also in visions others had received. (D. & C. 77:4.) (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 702-3)
John saw curious looking beasts in heaven; he saw every creature that was in heaven,-all the beasts, fowls and fish in heaven,-actually there, giving glory to God. How do you prove it? (See Rev. 5:13.) “And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”
I suppose John saw beings there of a thousand forms, that had been saved from ten thousand times ten thousand earths like this,— strange beasts of which we have no conception: all might be seen in heaven. The grand secret was to show John what there was in heaven. John learned that God glorified Himself by saving all that His hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes or men; and He will glorify Himself with them. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 291)
Isaiah 6:5 Wo is unto me…I am a man of unclean lips
Feelings of sinfulness and inadequacy are natural emotions when faced with the perfection of God’s throne. Isaiah also may have felt insecure about his role as a prophet to the nations. That the Lord has power to cleanse his sins and “make weak things become strong” (Ether 2:27) is evident in the ensuing verses.
Robert S. Wood
I’ve been struck by the fact that when Isaiah received his charge from the Lord, he bemoaned that he was “a man of unclean lips” and dwelt “in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5). This sin too had to be purged from Isaiah if he was to bear the word of the Lord. Is it any wonder that psalmists and prophets alike have beseeched the Lord to “set a watch” before their lips and guard the “door” of their lips (Ps. 141:3), to help them sin not with their tongue (see Ps. 39:1)?
When we speak and act, we should ask whether our words and expressions are calculated to invite the powers of heaven into our lives and to invite all to come unto Christ. We must treat sacred things with reverence. We need to eliminate from our conversations the immodest and the lewd, the violent and the threatening, the demeaning and the false. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Pet. 1:15). The expression conversation refers here not only to speech but also to our entire comportment. As Nephi, he is inviting us to so live that we may speak with the “tongue of angels.” (“The Tongue of Angels,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 84)
Isaiah 6:7 thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged
The hot coal taken from the altar and placed on Isaiah’s lips is symbolic of the atoning sacrifice of the Only-Begotten. There is no other way that iniquity can be taken away or sin purged. As explained in Enos,
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
And I said: Lord, how is it done?
And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole. (Enos 1:5-8)
Isaiah doesn’t ask, “how is it done?” But the next subject of discussion is “Whom shall I send (to take away the sins of the world)?”
Isaiah 6:8 Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?
Isaiah is often used in his own prophecies as a type for Christ. This is an excellent example. Obviously, the phrase, ‘whom shall I send,’ has reference to the discussion had in the beginning when the Savior was chosen to be the Redeemer of the world. The Pearl of Great Price teaches this doctrine:
And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first.
And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him. (Abraham 3:27-8)
AND I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying--Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.
But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me--Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.
Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;
And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice. (Moses 4:1-4)
When considering Isaiah as the one who said, Here am I; send me, we must understand that Isaiah was volunteering for the mission of preaching to the house of Israel. His mission was a type for Christ. His people were like those of Christ’s day—they had ears but were spiritually deaf, and they had eyes but were spiritually blind.
“In many ways, Isaiah and Jesus faced comparable and extremely difficult teaching situations. Isaiah was the last great prophet to address assembled Israel. During his ministry, the Ten Tribes were taken captive; they later fled to the north and became lost. His words went with these Israelites, and later with Lehi and his people. Of course, Isaiah’s messages also remained with the Jews in Jerusalem. Furthermore, since so many of Isaiah’s prophecies deal with the last days, his words are of particular value to those of covenant Israel who now read his book. Given this wide time period and recognizing the wide range of spiritual attitudes that the readers of his work would have, Isaiah was challenged to find the means to teach such a diversified audience.
“Jesus faced a similar challenge during his earthly ministry. He needed to impart special knowledge to his ‘elect’ apostles and disciples, while at the same time teaching the multitudes. Among the crowds were people of varying degrees of spirituality, some seeking the truth, others trying to entrap Jesus, and many simply satisfying their curiosity. Also, Jesus knew that his words would inspire countless generations of readers in varying cultures, languages, and spiritual conditions. Therefore, he spoke in parables so that the listener or reader would understand according to his individual level of spiritual sensitivity.” (Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, by Victor L. Ludlow, pp. 133-4)
Isaiah 6:9-10 Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not
This scripture applies to the people of Isaiah’s day. It applies to many of our day. It specifically applies to the people of Jesus’ day,
But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him:
Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again,
He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.
These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him. (Jn 12:37,39-41)
And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. (Jn 9:39-41)
The Savior chastises the Pharisees because they considered themselves wise, perceptive, and spiritually enlightened. They were actually the hard-hearted, spiritually blind, and spiritually deaf that Isaiah had prophesied about. The Savior explained that had they recognized their inadequacies (by admitting that they were spiritually blind), they would have had no sin. But they had no such humility. Their pride and self-righteousness was unabated, therefore their “sin remaineth.”
“The words the prophet Isaiah was commissioned to deliver were in part to bring the people to a full accountability for their choices, so that they would be left without excuse…The people claimed to hear and see, but they did not understand the spirit of the message.
“The command to ‘make the heart of this people fat,…their ears heavy, and shut their eyes’ is used to describe the process of making the people accountable.” (1981 Old Testament Institute Manual, p. 144)
Isaiah 6:10 shut their eyes—lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears
This verse can be confusing because it sounds like the Lord’s intentions are to make the people spiritually blind and spiritually deaf. It sounds like the Lord doesn’t really want the people to “be converted and be healed.” Yet, we know that the Lord wants everyone to repent. Therefore, we must understand that Isaiah’s eloquent language takes some poetic license. The language used describes not the intent of Isaiah’s teachings but their effect upon the people.
What is the effect of prophetic teachings upon the righteous? They are enlightened, seeing spiritual truths never before seen, understanding concepts never before appreciated. What is the natural effect of prophetic teachings upon the wicked? They are outraged; they rebel against the word of the Lord, thereby extinguishing any flicker of light that existed in the deepest recesses of their spirits. Isaiah’s teachings would have just such an extinguishing effect upon the people, effectively shutting their eyes, closing their ears, and hardening their hearts.
Isaiah 6:11-12 Then said I: Lord, how long?
Isaiah wonders how long the children of Israel will be wicked. The answer given explains that they will be scattered all over the earth. It won’t be until the gathering of Israel in the last days that the children of Israel will turn again to the Lord their God. The house of Israel is likened to a tree in wintertime, though stripped of its leaves and barren, and even chopped down, still the holy seed remains in the trunk and will bring forth beautiful leaves when Israel returns.
Isaiah 6:13 a tenth… shall return
“Isaiah associated the oak and the terebinth (teal-tree) not only with apostasy but also with restoration. Both kinds of trees are robust and cannot be destroyed merely by chopping them down, for the remaining stumps will regenerate the tree by sending forth new shoots… (Isa. 6:12-13).
“Accordingly, Isaiah taught that a part of Israel would return like the oak and the terebinth, which though they are eaten or consumed (hayetah lebaer) right to their substance or stumps (matzebeth), yet they possess a seed in them that can regenerate.” (Terry Ball, Thy People Shall Be My People and Thy God My God…29)
Here is a better translation, from a Jewish Mormon, Avraham Gileadi:
And while yet a tenth of the people
remain in it, or return,
they shall be burned.
But like the terebinth or the oak
when it is felled, whose stump remains alive,
so shall the holy offspring be what is left standing.
The implication in this later translation is that the tenth that survive or remain in the land after the Assyrian capture of Damascus will still be burned or destroyed. With the Lord, the stump or roots are kept alive to be brought back in the last days. The Lord said:
we will pluck off those main branches which are beginning to wither away, and we will cast them into the fire that they may be burned… have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good?... And, behold the roots… are yet alive… Yea, I will graft in unto the branches of their mother tree, that I may preserve the roots also unto mine own self, that when they shall be sufficiently strong perhaps they may bring forth good fruit unto me, and I may yet have glory in the fruit of my vineyard. (Jacob 5:7, 48-54)