Isaiah 6

Hymnology: Isaiah 6

And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his
~ Isaiah 6:3

Hymn Story

When asked about why he wrote this song, Todd Agnew replied, “I’ve always felt that we worship more profoundly when we use God’s own words.” Perhaps that’s why on his early albums he made a point to include songs taken directly from Scripture.

Agnew’s setting of this text matches the scene very well, from the powerful climax as the prophet’s sins are removed, to the repetition of the angels’ song:

In fact, I loved the song so much that I asked his permission to arrange it for our church choir & orchestra at Stevens Street Baptist Church for a CD/DVD we released in 2010 (leave a comment if you’d like information on how to purchase one!):


I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted
And the train of his robe filled the temple
Above him were angels with six mighty wings;
With two they’d cover their faces, with two they’d cover their feet,
And with two they’d fly and sing:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty
The whole earth is full of his glory
He’s glorious!

And I said, “Woe to me, I am ruined!
For I am unclean, and so are all my kind.
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

And an angel flew to me, and he had fire in his hands
And he put it to my lips, and God took away my sin.
He took away my sin!

Hymn Study

Judah was in trouble. Their king, who had once been a godly man and had led the nation to a time of great prosperity (2 Chronicles 26:5), had died. After becoming strong and wealthy, Uzziah “grew proud, to his destruction” (2 Chronicles 26:16). Seeking to gain even more power and authority, the king entered the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem to burn incense on the altar, something which was not his right. For this discretion, God afflicted him with leprosy. He lost his kingdom, and eventually his life.

Though Uzziah’s son Jotham “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” when he became king, “the people still followed corrupt practices” (2 Chronicles 27:2). Because he was faithful, Jotham became mighty (2 Chronicles 27:6), but his reign was short. His son, Ahaz, followed the kings of Israel into idolatry, rather than following in the footsteps of his father. Under his rule, the people suffered horrible military defeats and slavery at the hands of their neighbors… even Israel!

Thankfully, God was preparing for the deliverance of his people even before their downfall. In the year that King Uzziah died (Isaiah 6:1)—six years prior to the reign of Ahaz—the Lord gave a Isaiah a vision of the temple. Not the temple in Jerusalem, where Uzziah had sought to exalt himself, but the temple in Heaven, where it is not possible for any man to enter with pride.

The prophet is humbled by the sight of the glory of the Lord, and his first words are a prophetic judgment against himself: “Woe is me! For I am lost.” At the sight of the true King, men can do nothing but acknowledge His holiness and their own guilt.

Yet the most amazing thing happened! Rather than being pronounced guilty, a messenger of the righteous Judge pronounced Isaiah to be free from guilt. God had taken away his sin!

But why? Because of something righteous within Isaiah? No! Isaiah’s sins were removed because God had chosen him to be his messenger, and by grace alone had cleansed his unclean lips, equipping him to carry out his mission. Then, as today, the proper response to God’s free gift is willing obedience, and Isaiah humbly answers the call to become God’s servant.

It certainly was not an easy calling. God told Isaiah to preach to people who would not listen or understand. “How long?” Isaiah asked. God answered him: Until the cities are a wasteland and the people have all been taken away.

Not exactly comforting, is it?

But Isaiah was obedient to God’s call, and faithfully pronounced judgment repeatedly against Judah, against King Ahaz, against the people of God, and against their enemies. And though Isaiah would watch his nation fall—as he himself had prophesied—he would also live to see an era of national repentance, and the return of a godly ruler to the throne in King Hezekiah.

After so many prophecies of destruction and woe, Isaiah was able to speak comfort to God’s people (Isaiah 40). He spoke of a new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65) which would one day come, a time when God would exercise final judgment against all wrong, and he would bring eternal comfort and joy to his people (Isaiah 66).

Almost a thousand years later, another man would receive a vision of the Lord’s throne room. Like Isaiah, this man lived during a time when God’s people were facing persecution and exile. Like Isaiah, he prophesied judgment against the sins of God’s people, and against their enemies. Like Isaiah, he also spoke words of comfort, culminating in a vision of the new heavens and new earth, and the triumphant return in judgment of the one who is called Faithful and True.

Unlike Isaiah, John knew the identity of the Messiah, of whom the Old Testament prophet had foretold. He knew the price that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 had paid for the atonement the prophet received in Isaiah 6.

And in Revelation 4:8 we see that the throne is still surrounded by the seraphim, who never stop singing the song that will never get old: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!” But John’s vision pans out farther than Isaiah’s, showing us that this hymn of exaltation is joined by all the angels and all of the redeemed from the dawn of time. What a day of rejoicing that will be!

What a blessing it is to get just a small taste of what this great heavenly worship service will be like, thanks to wonderful hymns such as Todd Agnew’s “Isaiah 6.”

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  1. Pingback: Holy, Holy, Holy Systematic Hymnology

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