“And I cried, ‘Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live amongst a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)
It would not be surprising for someone who read this account of Isaiah’s confrontation with God to think that his response was a tad too extreme. I could imagine someone putting their arm around Isaiah and comforting him with words like: “Isaiah, you’re being too hard on yourself! Lighten up; you can’t be that bad. After all, you’re probably the best man in the country. Who else knows God like you?”
But Isaiah would have been unmoved by such cheap consolation. Instead, his response was, ‘Woe to me! I am ruined!” Isaiah’s use of the word, ‘woe’, is significant. He uses "woe" twenty times in his prophecy to refer to God’s judgment on others. He uses it six times in chapter 5 to refer to God’s curse on the nation. But here is the amazing thing: the most talented, educated and godly man in the country pronounces the curse on himself. He admits that he is under the wrath of God as well. "I’m damned,” he says, “I am ruined, I’m going to pieces." The word ‘ruined’ suggests that he is shattered or falling apart as a result of seeing the holiness of God. The idea is that God’s appearance to him left him spiritually traumatized. That’s the effect of the vision of God’s holiness; it leaves us spiritually shattered and acutely aware of our sinful nature.
Now it’s interesting that Isaiah becomes aware of his corruption in an extraordinary way. His first thought is, “I know I am ruined because my lips are unclean!” This was just a common way of saying he had a filthy mouth. Does this strike you as somewhat odd? After all, he is a gifted prophet of God. But even so, that gift which made him so useful to God is the means of his own undoing. In effect, what he is saying to us is: “Even as a prophet I have a sinful mouth.”
No doubt some of us might be tempted to cheer Isaiah up by pointing out that he wasn’t as bad as he imagined. “Isaiah”, we would say, “You mustn’t think like this. It’s harmful to your self-esteem. You can only function when you feel good about yourself.” However, Isaiah would reply, “You just don’t get it, do you? I am not comparing myself to other people; I have just seen the Lord!
We need to hear Isaiah speaking to us today. Before God can heal our hearts, we must have a vision of His holiness so we can see our great need – to confess our sin and receive forgiveness.