“Here I am! Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
When it comes to the Old Testament prophets, one could argue that Isaiah is without peer.
(This is the second part of a series where Thomas Smith takes a closer look at six prophets from the Old Testament, God’s messengers. Find the first part here: Hosea.)
Isaiah has been called by many “the Fifth Gospel” because his prophecies predict so many aspects of the life of Jesus, from his birth to his enthronement in heaven. He is quoted over ninety times in the New Testament and represents three-quarters of all the prophetic readings we hear during the Advent and Christmas seasons. His writings are vast (sixty-six chapters), powerful and poetic.
Learn more about the prophets in Thomas Smith’s study, The Prophets: Messengers of God’s Mercy.
Isaiah was faced with a daunting challenge: His voice was to be raised during the period of the Divided Kingdom, in the late eighth century (700s BC). His audience was the southern kingdom of Judah who seemed blind to the dangers of covenant unfaithfulness.
Most men would shrink at the task of preaching for decades to a people so deaf to his message, but not our prophet.
What was the secret of his consistent courage?
- He focused on the Lord. Isaiah is given a vision of God on the throne (Isaiah 6:1-4). God was perfect in holiness, high and lifted up, in control of his universe. That vision of God’s power and presence was the source of Isaiah’s strength. It certainly sustained him when he saw the state of his own people’s sinfulness. He knew his task to preach was a God-sized one, but his powerful God would help him to fulfill it. In fact, one translation of the name Isaiah is “The Lord is my helper.”
- He recognized and acknowledged his own sinfulness and inadequacies (the truth about himself). Faced with the holiness of the Lord, he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). This helped to keep him humble before the task at hand. And the Lord responded by cleansing and preparing his prophet.
- He responded with availability and generosity to God’s call, “Here I am! Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). Availability is no small virtue. Think of how many acts of love, mercy, or service we never perform, all because we are “too busy” or “unavailable.” Or consider how many times we have hesitated to share the good news because we “leave that to the professionals” or we feel inadequate. Pope Francis said, “Our falling short of perfection should be no excuse; on the contrary, mission is a constant stimulus not to remain mired in mediocrity but to continue growing” (Evangelii Gaudium, 121). Another put it this way, “God does not ask for our ability or our inability, but our availability.”
The life of Isaiah can become a great spiritual check-up for us. In light of his life, ask yourself these questions:
- What great task is before you?
- How can focusing on God’s presence and power sustain you?
- Are you honest about your own sinfulness before the Lord and believe he desires to cleanse you and make you whole?
- Finally, do you have a generous and willing spirit to respond to the needs before the Church?
Isaiah’s story begins with courage in the face of great challenges, and he was faithful to the very end. Jewish tradition tells us that Isaiah was martyred by being sawn in two by the wicked King Manasseh (an event that may be referenced in Hebrews 11:37).
Through his intercession and God’s grace, may we face the particular challenges of our life with courage and consistency.
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Thomas Smith is the co-author of Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life, Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and The Prophets: Messengers of God’s Mercy. He is an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website www.gen215.org.
This article was first posted on The Great Adventure Blog, Ascension Blog’s former home, October 2, 2014. To learn more about The Great Adventure Bible study click below.
Featured image, Prophet Isaiah (c. 1508-1512), by Michelangelo sourced from Wikimedia Commons