6:2 Seraphs 1 stood over him; each one had six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, 2 and they used the remaining two to fly. 6:3 They called out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy 3 is the Lord who commands armies! 4 His majestic splendor fills the entire earth!” 6:4 The sound of their voices shook the door frames, 5 and the temple was filled with smoke.
6:5 I said, “Too bad for me! I am destroyed, 6 for my lips are contaminated by sin, 7 and I live among people whose lips are contaminated by sin. 8 My eyes have seen the king, the Lord who commands armies.” 9 6:6 But then one of the seraphs flew toward me. In his hand was a hot coal he had taken from the altar with tongs.
1 tn Hebrew שָׂרָף (saraf, “seraph”) literally means “burning one,” perhaps suggesting that these creatures had a fiery appearance (cf. TEV, CEV “flaming creatures”; NCV “heavenly creatures of fire”). Elsewhere in the OT the word “seraph” refers to poisonous snakes (Num 21:6; Deut 8:15; Isa 14:29; 30:6). Perhaps they were called “burning ones” because of their appearance or the effect of their venomous bites, which would cause a victim to burn up with fever. It is possible that the seraphs seen by Isaiah were at least partially serpentine in appearance. Though it might seem strange for a snake-like creature to have wings, two of the texts where “seraphs” are snakes describe them as “flying” (Isa 14:29; 30:6), perhaps referring to their darting movements. See the note at 14:29.
2 sn Some understand “feet” here as a euphemistic reference to the genitals.
3 tn Some have seen a reference to the Trinity in the seraphs’ threefold declaration, “holy, holy, holy.” This proposal has no linguistic or contextual basis and should be dismissed as allegorical. Hebrew sometimes uses repetition for emphasis. (See IBHS 233-34 §12.5a; and GKC 431-32 §133.k.) By repeating the word “holy,” the seraphs emphasize the degree of the Lord’s holiness. For another example of threefold repetition for emphasis, see Ezek 21:27 (Heb. v. 32). (Perhaps Jer 22:29 provides another example.)
sn Or “The Lord who commands armies has absolute sovereign authority!” The basic sense of the word “holy” is “set apart from that which is commonplace, special, unique.” In this context the Lord’s holiness is first and foremost his transcendent sovereignty as the ruler of the world. He is “set apart” from the world over which he rules. Note the emphasis on the elevated position of his throne in v. 1 and his designation as “the king” in v. 5. At the same time his holiness encompasses his moral authority, which derives from his royal position. As king he has the right to dictate to his subjects how they are to live; indeed his very own character sets the standard for proper behavior. He is “set apart” from his subjects in a moral sense as well. He sets the standard; they fall short of it. Note that in v. 5 Isaiah laments that he is morally unworthy to be in the king’s presence.
5 tn On the phrase אַמּוֹת הַסִּפִּים (’ammot hassippim, “pivots of the frames”) see HALOT 763 s.v. סַף.
6 tn Isaiah uses the suffixed (perfect) form of the verb for rhetorical purposes. In this way his destruction is described as occurring or as already completed. Rather than understanding the verb as derived from דָּמַה (damah, “be destroyed”), some take it from a proposed homonymic root דמה, which would mean “be silent.” In this case, one might translate, “I must be silent.”
7 tn Heb “a man unclean of lips am I.” Isaiah is not qualified to praise the king. His lips (the instruments of praise) are “unclean” because he has been contaminated by sin.
8 tn Heb “and among a nation unclean of lips I live.”