Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Trinity in Isaiah's Vision

I have been reading the Bible regularly for almost 40 years, and the surprises keep coming.  While reading a book this past Monday, an author pointed out a fact of scripture I had read before but never connected on my own: the Trinity is found in Isaiah’s vision.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim.  Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said:
    “Holy, holy, holy is the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts;
    the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  And I said: “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; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts!”  (Isa 6:1-5)
Adonai is sitting on the throne in grand splendor and majesty above whom seraphim are ascribing holiness and glory and identifying as YHWH.  He is the Lord God—ruler of heaven and earth and redeemer of Israel.  Isaiah recognized that he could not behold God and live (Ex 33:20), so he fears for his very existence, but the Lord upholds and cleanses him.  After being consecrated, Isaiah receives a message to deliver to the people of Israel:
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.  (Isa 6:9-10)
The question to ask at this point is: Who or what did Isaiah see?  From his point of view, he saw YHWH in resplendent glory.  God the Father, first member of the Trinity, can rightly be said to be the source of the Trinity, in that he is the one who begets the Son and sends the Holy Spirit, but not so that the Son and Holy Spirit have a beginning, since they are all three co-equal and co-eternal.  Of this one we can rightfully say he is the “one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6) and “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 1:3).

In the gospel bearing his name, The apostle John recounts additional information of Isaiah’s vision as he comments on the unbelief that Jesus met during his ministry:
Though [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Therefore they could not believe.  For again Isaiah said,
“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.  (John 12:37-41)
We see that the one Isaiah saw seated on the throne in the temple was none other than Jesus, the Son of God and second member of the Trinity, in a theophany (i.e., pre-incarnate form).  His is the form seen seated on the throne.

What of the message itself?  Who delivered it?  Again, according to Isaiah the message to deliver came from YWHW, however the apostle Paul directs us more specifically:
And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:
‘Go to this people, and say,
You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
        and their eyes they have closed;
        lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’
Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”  (Acts 28:25-28)
Notice that the message was authored and actively communicated by the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, and whose glory can also be said to be seen by the prophet as Ambrose states in his treatise On the Holy Spirit: “It is, then, the Spirit Who sent Isaiah.  If the Spirit sent him, it is certainly the Spirit Whom, after Uzziah’s death, Isaiah saw” (III.21.160).

We can see from Isaiah's vision both the distinctiveness and interconnectedness of the three persons of the divine Trinity.  When interacting with one, the interaction is with all.  To say that Isaiah saw and heard one member of the Trinity does not contradict another writer of scripture testifying that a different member was involved, for all three were present in the call of Isaiah and the delivery of the judgement message.  When one acts, all act.  Thus the three persons of the Godhead worked (and work) in unity as Gregory of Nyssa summarized:
And that “in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead,” the mighty Paul attests: yes, moreover, through the prophet Isaiah it is attested, as to the manifestation of the Divine appearance entrusted to him, when he saw Him that sat “on the throne high and lifted up;” the older tradition, it is true, says that it was the Father Who appeared to him, but the evangelist John refers the prophecy to our Lord, saying, touching those of the Jews who did not believe the words uttered by the prophet concerning the Lord, “These things said Isaiah, when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.”  But the mighty Paul attributes the same passage to the Holy Spirit in his speech made to the Jews at Rome, when he says, “Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet concerning you, saying, Hearing you shall hear and shall not understand,” showing, in my opinion, by Holy Scripture itself, that every specially divine vision, every theophany, every word uttered in the Person of God, is to be understood to refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Against Eunomius, II.14

While researching this post, I quickly noticed how many over the centuries had made the same connections.  No new thought materialized, but the exhilaration of the truth coming to light in my head made my day.  The lesson to be learned: continue reading your Bible, and let the Holy Spirit bring these to light, not by virtue of placing yourself in the Bible but allowing God to speak for himself through his Word.

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