“And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.””
Isaiah 6:9-10 ESV
Read through the Bible: Isaiah 5-8
Isaiah 6 is is the awe-inspiring, epic scene of Isaiah’s commissioning as a prophet. And I have to admit that until reading it this morning, I had been so caught up in the awesome imagery of verses 1-8 that I missed what God was actually commissioning Isaiah to do.
Isaiah goes to the temple “in the year King Uzziah died.” God engages all five of Isaiah’s senses in this vision. He sees the Lord (v. 1). He hears the seraphim calling out “Holy, holy holy” (v. 3). He feels the temple shake, and he smells the smoke that fills it (v. 4). Then he tastes the live coal that touched his lips (v. 7). It was a multimedia extravaganza that makes the Cirque du Solei seem like a backyard puppet show by comparison.
So of course Isaiah’s response to the Lord’s question “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (v. 8) is, “Here I am! Send me.” How could it be anything else?
And I think if I had been Isaiah, I might have thought, Wow! God has pulled out all the stops to call me. He must have something AMAZING for me to do! I’ll bet I’m gonna fill stadiums like Billy Graham. I’ll bet God wants me to be the catalyst for the next great awakening! Thousands of people–no, TENS of thousands!– are going to repent and turn to God when they hear me preach!
Instead, God commissions Isaiah to a career of ineffectiveness. Over the next forty years, spanning the reigns of four different kings (see Isaiah 1:1), Isaiah will preach to a people that will be ever hearing but never understanding. Ever looking and not perceiving.
As Tara-Leigh said in the podcast, this sounds a lot like when God told Moses that God would harden Pharaoh’s heart so Pharaoh would not respond to Moses’ message (Exodus 4:21). Only Isaiah’s job is even worse. God tells Isaiah that it won’t be God that will “Make the minds of the people dull” (v. 10). Isaiah will do it himself.
In other words, Isaiah, I am not calling you because you’re a good preacher. I’m calling you to preach in a way that will dull their minds, deafen their ears, and blind their eyes.
And when Isaiah asks how long he is supposed to preach poorly, God’s response is NOT encouraging:
Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants, houses are without people, the land is ruined and desolate, and the Lord drives the people far away, leaving great emptiness in the land. Though a tenth will remain in the land, it will be burned again. Isaiah 6:11b-13a
This is not an assignment I would relish. I’m not saying I wouldn’t be great at it. There are probably lots of people in my congregation that would say, “Hey, God, if you’re looking for a preacher that can make the minds of people dull, here is ours. Send him.”
As I write this, I am in the middle of the second week of a kids camp I preach every summer. And if I am being honest, what keeps me coming back is how many people tell me how good I am at it. I thrive on the positive comments. I long for people to tell me that I’m the best camp pastor they’ve ever heard. If I ever read a group leader evaluation that said, “James made the minds of our kids dull. He deafened their ears and blinded their eyes” I would have quit a long time ago.
Isaiah gives me the reminder I so need. God does not call any of us to success and effectiveness. He calls us to obedience and faithfulness. It is significant that the three prophets with the longest ministries (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) also had the most frustrating ministries.
But it is also significant that the more frustrating the call was, the more clear it was. Isaiah had his vision in the temple. Jeremiah had the assurance that God had called him from the time he was in his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5). Ezekiel had the vision of God’s glory on the bank of the Chebar Canal (Ezekiel 1).
To all my brothers and sisters in ministry, hear this: God doesn’t call us because we are awesome. We follow the calling because God is awesome.