He said, "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.'Isaiah 6:9(NASB)
In the year that king Uzziah died, Isaiah had a great vision of the glory, majesty and holiness of the Lord. It not only caused him to recognise his own sinfulness and admit to his own foul speech and impure actions, but caused him to identify with his own people - a sinful nation with blackened hearts and unclean lips.
The contrast was so stark that Isaiah immediately repented of his wickedness: "Woe is me," he wept, "I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips." He had seen the holy God of Israel; the King of heaven - the Lord of hosts, and was shocked by his own impurity, and the sinfulness of his people.
A holy seraph of God cleansed his lips with a burning coal from the heavenly alter, when Isaiah repented of his corrupt and iniquitous ways, and in response to God's call on his life, he cried out - "LORD, here am I. Send me." When his own sins were confessed and forgiven by God, Isaiah was ready and willing to be sent on a life-time mission, to minister to his own, sinful nation, who were blinded to their own faults.
Chapter one offers a shockingly graphic description of Israel's evil-doing, which could have deterred Isaiah from consecrating himself to God's service: "Alas, sinful nation. You are a people weighed down with iniquity," is the Lord's vigorous verdict on His people, "You are the offspring of evildoers - sons who act corruptly! You have abandoned the LORD. You have despised the Holy One of Israel. You have turned away from Him completely."
They are described as being sick from the sole of their foot even to the crown of their head, with nothing to commend them. They are described as being covered with wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores. They are identified as children, who rebelled against God.
Most men who consecrate their lives to serving the Lord and evangelising the lost expect to see some positive response from their ministries. But Isaiah is not left under any such illusion as to the reception he will receive, for the Lord told him to "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.'"
The rebellious hearts of those to whom Isaiah would dedicate his life and ministry would not recognise their evil ways nor repent of their sin. Rather, they would become increasingly hardened against God. Their ears, their eyes and their hearts would not be moved by Isaiah's message.
Isaiah was to declare the word of the Lord to a nation who were judically blind and spiritually bankrupt. Many decades of rebellion and disobedience has caused Israel to become a people who listened without hearing and looked without understanding.
This verse describes the result of his ministry rather than the content of his message. It tells of the inevitable outcome of his years of preaching to a rebellious people with their unclean lips and hardened hearts - who will ultimately reject their Messiah. A heart may become so hardened that their condition is set and unable to be reversed.
Isaiah was called to alert his people - and us, to our sin and our need of salvation. He warns against hardening our heart to the message of salvation. But for those with ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart that is ready to understand, he gives us some of the most beautiful descriptions of the coming Messiah and the eternal hope we have in Him.
Heavenly Father, it must have been wonderful for Isaiah to see the Lord, high and lifted up, but what a solemn message he was given - that people would hear his words but reject his message. Lord it is human nature to expect people to respond positively to the glorious gospel of grace, and yet I see that many will hear the words of the gospel but not listen, nor understand because of the hardness of their hearts. Help me not to become discouraged when I try to share the gospel and am rebuffed or scorned. Help me to be faithful in the work You have given me to do and I pray that some would hear and respond with repentance and joy - for the honour of Your holy name. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.