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Leper in the Throne Room

Copyright © 2002, 2015

Jim Kerwin

Image of the text of Isaiah 6There is so much more to Isaiah 6
than meets the eye of the casual reader!1

There comes a time in the life of every earnest-hearted Christian who wants to go on with God, to move far beyond the ordinary, semi-conscious plane of spiritual existence which contents so many—yes, there comes a time when the heart of God responds to the loving cry, to the desperate, aching longing of such a heart. That heart receives what it longs for—a revelation of the holy God Himself to the soul. But often it receives some­thing else in the bargain—a devastating revelation of the heart to itself.

Few passages of Scripture portray this double experience so well as the oft-preached sixth chapter of Isaiah. The sad truth is that much of the passage’s core message stays locked to many for lack of the key which would open the chapter to our spirits, hearts, and minds. The fullest impact of Isaiah’s throne-room experience only hits home when we understand it in the light of that dreaded, defiling, disfiguring, and death-dealing disease known as leprosy. Let’s read over the Isaiah passage and then see how this key of leprosy unlocks its signifcance to us:

  1. In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.
  2. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
  3. And one called out to another and said,
    “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
    The whole earth is full of His glory.”
  4. And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.
  5. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!
    Because I am a man of unclean lips,
    And I live among a people of unclean lips;
    For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
  6. Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs.
  7. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
  8. Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
  9. He said, “Go, and tell this people:
    ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
    Keep on looking, but do not understand.’
  10. “Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
    Their ears dull,
    And their eyes dim,
    Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    Hear with their ears,
    Understand with their hearts,
    And return and be healed.”
  11. Isaiah 6:1-10 nasb2

The Leprous King

Verse 1: “In the year King Uzziah died…”

In our rush to get to the glory of the throne-room scene of Isaiah 6, most readers seem to slip right over this phrase about when Isaiah’s vision from God occurred. What makes this important? Why does the Holy Spirit include this detail? Well, the importance is not so much the year itself (about 739 b.c. by our calendar reckoning), but the who and the how mentioned are what we need to understand. That is, who was King Uzziah and how did he die?

King Uzziah’s story is told in 2 Chronicles 26. (A shorter version also appears in 2 Kings 14:21-22 and and continues in 15:1-7, although in those passages the reader encounters another form of Uzziah’s name, that is, Azariah. This king is also listed in Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph in Matthew 1:8-9 [where the King James translation renders it Ozias].) Uzziah was a mere teenager when he was crowned king (2 Chronicles 26:1), and he had a fifty-two-year reign on the throne of the Kingdom of Judah.

The early part of his kingly career can be summed up in the words “he did right in the sight of the Lord… he continued to seek God… and as long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him” (2 Chronicles 26:4-5). And prosper he did, as commander-in-chief over a large and successful army (verses 6-15), complete with the latest in “high-tech” weaponry (verse 15), as well as presiding over a very healthy agrarian economy (verse 10). In fact, the inspired writer sums up almost five decades of Divine blessing by saying that Uzziah was “marvelously helped…” (verse 15).

Yes, Uzziah prospered and was marvelously helped… “till.” The great snares of temptation that trap successful political and spiritual leaders are usually baited with “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). It would appear to be the latter which ensnared Uzziah. He seems to have believed himself so blessed of God that he presumed he was “special,” and thus personally above God’s laws and commandments.

The Terrifying Precedent

Before we look further into Uzziah’s clash with God, let me ask: Do you remember what happened to Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and the two hundred fifty leaders, when in their rebellion they took it upon themselves to offer up incense before the Lord (Numbers 16:1-30)? Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with their households, were sucked down alive to Sheol (verses 31-34); the fate of their followers was almost as terrible, for “there came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense” (verse 35). Concluding the matter, the Lord Himself clearly declared that “no stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, shall come near to offer incense before the Lord; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as the Lord said to him by the hand of Moses” (verse 40).

The enormity of the sin of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was etched indelibly into the communal memory of God’s people. Four hundred years after this rebellion and God’s terrifying judgment, the Holy Spirit inspired someone to include this incident as a part of what became a well-known psalm:

16When they became envious of Moses in the camp,
And of Aaron, the holy one of the Lord,
17The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan,
And engulfed the company of Abiram.
18And a fire blazed up in their company;
The flame consumed the wicked.
— Psalm 106:16-18 —

Uzziah’s Fate

Yet despite knowing this story and God’s unalterable declaration about the matter, as well as His severe judgment, Uzziah barged into the sacred temple precincts, into that antechamber of the Holy of Holies known as the Holy Place, to perform this ceremony divinely prohibited to all but the priests,I will note in passing here that Isaiah the prophet, who lived and prophesied during Uzziah’s reign (Isaiah 1:1), was King Uzziah’s biographer (2 Chronicles 26:22), so the following passage was probably written by him.

16But when he [Uzziah] became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17Then Azariah the priest entered after him and with him eighty priests of the Lord, valiant men. 18They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful and will have no honor from the Lord God.”

2 Chronicles 26:16-18

High priest Azariah3 the high priest, along with a contingent of eighty priests, boldly opposed the king, which infuriated the monarch (verses 17-19). God struck the king with leprosy on the spot (verse 19).

The implication of the chapter’s remaining verses is that Uzziah died of leprosy a few short years later. The disease not only isolated him from temple worship and general society, but it also effectively reduced him to a mere figurehead as king. Having suffered from and died of leprosy, the alienation caused by leprosy even affected how and where the people buried his body (verses 21-23).

With this background in mind, let me paraphrase the first verse of Isaiah 6 to draw out the full meaning:

“In the same year the leprous King Uzziah
died of the leprosy with which God stuck him
in the earthly temple,
I saw the Lord in His heavenly temple.”

A Solemn, Priestly Duty

As we have mentioned, it is important to note that Isaiah, son of Amoz, and the prophetic author of the Book of Isaiah, was the chronicler of Uzziah’s life in 2 Chronicles 26. (See verse 22.) Given how much more elaborate Isaiah’s version of the story is than the parallel passage we read in 2 Kings 14:2115:7, it’s possible that Isaiah was one of the eighty priests who stood with Azariah, the high priest, to oppose King Uzziah in his arrogance.4 And with his fellow priests on that fateful day, Isaiah may well have participated in a priestly duty little-known to us. Performing that duty there in the temple would have left Isaiah with a sobering, indelible memory. What was that duty?

The Leprosy Experts

That special duty is best seen in the context of Israel’s relationship with God. By walking in repeated, long-term disobedience to God’s commandments, Israel had forfeited God’s promise of “none of these diseases” (Exodus 15:26 kjv), and they suffered from the same communicable diseases which plagued their neighbors. Yet only one such communicable disease was so significant that it merited special attention in God’s Written Revelation. That disease was leprosy, and it is the sole focus of Leviticus 13 and 14, two entire chapters in the Pentateuch.5

What made leprosy such an object of attention? Simply put, leprosy was a visible, palpable, physical illustration of that invisible, spiritual disease known as the sin nature. If the Lord permits, we will deal at length with leprosy some day in a separate article. But because our purpose now is to exposit Isaiah chapter 6, and to uncover and understand the key which will help us do that, a brief overview of some critical points about lepers and leprosy in Leviticus 13 must suffice:

  • Leprosy, like the sin nature, can manifest itself in numerous ways, but the same cause lies at the root.
  • Declaring someone to be a leper was not the job of a physician, but rather of one of God’s priests (an indication that leprosy is God’s depiction of a spiritual condition). This is seen throughout Leviticus 13 — it is the priest who pronounces a person leprous. And it was the priest who could pronounce a person clean and disease-free, as we see in Leviticus 14. It should come as no surprise that a priest, one who offered the sacrifices meant to atone for sins, should be given the responsibility of diagnosing the disease which is the type of our sinfulness.
  • Once a man (or woman) was declared to be a leper, that person had to:
    • Rip his clothing and uncover his head, indicating a state of grief and mourning (Leviticus 13:45);
    • Be permanently separated from all who had not contracted the disease. (Though Leviticus 13:46 says that the leper “shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp,” in normal practice this meant that lepers lived with other lepers, as we see in such passages as 2 Kings 7:3-10 and Luke 17:12-19.) Lepers could no longer live with their families, no longer live in the camp of God’s people prior to the conquest of Canaan, and after the conquest no longer live in town, in community with others. Perhaps worst of all, to a God-loving, God-fearing Hebrew, he could no longer enter the temple precincts to worship God in His presence.
    • Cover his upper lip (Leviticus 13:45); and,
    • Cry out a double warning to any passersby — “Unclean! Unclean!” — lest some innocent, undefiled person come in contact and become ceremonially unclean, or, worse, contract the dread, wasting disease.

All of this is detailed in the Book of Leviticus, a book especially devoted to the duties, obligations, and responsibilities of the priests and Levites, the descendants of Levi. Along with the exacting ceremonial responsibilities of sacrifices and offerings, every priest was trained to investigate and diagnose leprosy. This was still true of priestly training and responsibilities almost 1,500 years after God gave these instructions to Moses and Aaron, for Jesus exhorted cleansed lepers to “go, show yourself to the priest” who could attest to the lepers’ healing, pronounce them clean, and allow them back into society, the embrace of their families, and into the temple courts for which the lepers’ hearts longed.

It was this priestly duty, to wit, declaring King Uzziah leprous and excluded from human society and God’s holy temple, which Isaiah may have performed with the high priest and seventy-nine brother priests on the day when Uzziah tried to offer incense in the temple.

The Leprous Priest

Understanding why and how Uzziah died (verse 1), as well as the fact that Isaiah the prophet recorded Uzziah’s life and death, and was possibly in the temple when Uzziah was smitten by God with leprosy — all of this makes the opening verse of the chapter seem more pregnant and ominous. Why do we care that Isaiah’s vision happened in the year that an arrogant, leprosy-smitten king died of his hideously deforming disease? We’re about to discover the hidden significance.

In the very temple in which Uzziah was turned into a walking dead man by God smiting him with leprosy, in the very year when Uzziah’s life was consumed by that disease, with the memory of national mourning and lamentation still fresh in his heart, Isaiah finds himself ministering one day. Suddenly, the veil is lifted—not the physical veil hiding the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies (for only the high priest could enter there, and only once per year), but the veil separating the temporal and earthly from the eternal and heavenly is parted. God and His presence are no longer just matters of theology and ceremony and Scripture passages to Isaiah; he cries, “I saw the Lord!”

Isaiah experienced what so many believers claim they would like to see and hear. He saw God’s glory. He stared up at God’s presence. He gazed on those mysterious, multi-winged beings called the seraphim as they hovered and ministered over the Throne of God. He listened and heard as they shouted their ongoing, unfolding, trisagion6 revelation of the Most High:

“Holy! Holy! Holy is the Lord of hosts!
The whole earth is full of His glory!”

The heavenly throne room and the earthly temple in which Isaiah stood quaked at the revelation of God’s utter holiness and otherness.

Similarly, it is the revelation of God’s righteous law which the Holy Spirit uses to convict us of our sins, of our acts of rebellion against our Creator. But it is the revelation of God’s person, of His essential holiness and purity, which the Spirit uses to reveal our unholiness, our sinfulness, our defilement (and the defilement of our race) caused by our leprous nature — our sin nature.

Now, perhaps, Isaiah’s reaction is made clearer as our key unlocks to us Isaiah’s experience and words. This priest, who was present to see the leprous judgment against Uzziah, who perhaps helped to declare the fatal decree against the king — “You are leprous, and banished from the presence of God and man” — suddenly and traumatically understands in the light of God’s holiness that he, too, is every bit as leprous spiritually as the king had been physically. Isaiah, standing in a temple far greater than the one King Uzziah invaded, must make the same declaration against himself — “I am leprous!”

“But, wait,” you might say.  “Isaiah said nothing of the sort.”  Consider his words in Isaiah 6:5 in the light of the understanding we have brought from Leviticus.

  1. “Woe is me!” These are the words of someone in mourning, a time when clothes were ripped, the head uncovered, and the hair disheveled. We have already seen in Leviticus 13:45 that this is precisely what the newly judged leper was to do.
  2. “I am a man of unclean lips!” Now that we understand that a leper was to cover his upper lip (Leviticus 13:45) as a sign of his diseased and defiled condition, we hear what Isaiah’s original listeners and readers knew: Isaiah was declaring himself as spiritually leprous in the sight of a holy God. As a priest, trained to uncover, evaluate, and diagnose leprosy, Isaiah is left with no choice, as his sinful nature is revealed to him, but to expose and judge himself to be a spiritual leper. I once heard this passage summed up from a pulpit this way: “Well, see, even Isaiah used foul language now and then; that’s what he means by ‘unclean lips.’” No! It wasn’t a cursing, swearing “man of God” (can there be such a thing?!) to whom God made this glorious revelation of His holiness. It was to a priest no doubt as faithful as Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, about whom God testifies that he was “righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Outwardly, ceremonially, sincerely, Isaiah was as righteous as a man of his time and place could be; but despite his best efforts, he had an inwardly corrupt, sinful, leprous nature.
  3. “I live among a people of unclean lips!” Lepers had to live apart from God’s people, His temple, and His blessing. A leper could only live with other lepers. Isaiah’s cry amounts to this: “‘Holy man’ and priest though I am, I am spiritually leprous. I am a part of those who call themselves ‘God’s people,’ but we are all leprous when compared with the utter holiness — sinlessness, selflessness, and unspeakable purity — of this thrice-holy God!”
  4. Unclean! Unclean! This entire, heart-rending cry of Isaiah, every word he utters in this verse, serves as the leper’s double warning to all those around him.7 Like the physically leprous, who must cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn the undefiled away, so Isaiah finds himself shouting out a similar warning, standing as he does as the lone leper before the Holy One of Israel, in the presence of those holy beings surrounding God’s throne, enveloped by God’s holy glory.
  5. “My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  Just a very few years previously, Isaiah had stood in this same temple, watching as God smote an arrogant earthly king with leprosy and rejection. Now Isaiah (about to become God’s prophet) realizes that his inner, sinful condition is no different from that which brought God’s judgment on King Uzziah. Now Isaiah stands before the true King of all kings, the holy Lord of Glory. “I am undone, ruined,” indeed!

The Leprosy of Our Hearts
and the Priestly Cure

The reader will recall that we started this article speaking of those who long to have a revelation of God’s holiness to their souls. Do you have a longing to go deeper into God, for Him to be more real to you, for you to worship Him and serve Him as He ought to be worshiped and served? Perhaps you have found what many millions of saints before you have discovered as they walked the same path—the closer they draw, the more desperate their inner condition seems to become. It’s not that drawing close to God makes the heart-plague of sin worse (though to many it seems like that). No, rather, the closer we draw to our thrice-holy God, the more our unholiness, our sinfulness, our leprosy is exposed—not to God (who has known it to be there all along), but to us.

Perhaps, like Isaiah, you have lived a life of exemplary service to and love for God. Maybe you are thought of by brothers and sisters as a man or woman of God. Other believers look up to you. But inwardly the cry inexorably crescendos into something like the prophet’s words of self-revelation: “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” Is your state hopeless, then? It would be if God had not provided a means to purify your heart by faith from the leprosy of indwelling sin!

Cover of Jim Kerwin's message 'Leper in the Throne Room'

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Leviticus 14, the chapter about the cleansing of the leper, presupposes that lepers can be cleansed. (Much of that chapter deals with the ceremonies to be performed once the leper has been pronounced clean, and the sacrifices and sprinklings are wonderful pictures of what God does for us in Jesus Christ.) Even though there is only one recorded healing of a leper in the Old Testament (Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings 5,8 as Jesus points out in Luke 4:27), God expects and provides for lepers’ healing. When Messiah comes on the scene, we see lepers cleansed9 and sent to the priests to be declared ceremonially as pure as their healed bodies had become.10 God’s assumption is that lepers can and will be healed, and that is as true spiritually as it is physically.

When and where the full gospel of Christ is preached, Jesus is proclaimed not just as the Savior from all sins, but also as the Savior from sin, that is, the sin nature, which also goes by the aliases of “the old man,” the “carnal mind,” and an “evil heart of unbelief.” As the Great Physician, Jesus deals with the symptoms of the leprosy of sin; as our Great High Priest, He also deals with the underlying cause of the disease—the sin nature itself. Consider these four passages:

  1. The pith and marrow of the New Covenant is a new heart.

    “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

    It is upon and within these new, soft hearts that God says He will write His laws (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). This is a new heart, not a whitewashed old heart; it is a soft heart which loves God and finds obedience to God’s commandments easy, because those commandments and love for God are integral to its nature.

  2. So much is made of “Romans 7,” as though Paul’s parenthetical detour there overrode the glorious truth he established in Romans 6, as well as the spiritual life, liberation, and victory to which he points in chapter 8.11 Here the Spirit describes the method by which God works this liberation. By a miraculous and personal baptism into Christ’s death (v. 3), we are “dead to sin,” that is, the sin nature (v. 2). We now walk “in newness of life” (v. 4), and the “body12 of sin” is now “destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (v. 6), leaving us “freed from sin” (v. 7). Even as “death has no more dominion over” the resurrected Christ (v. 9), so “sin shall not have dominion over you” (v. 14)!
  3. If we walk in the light God gives us (even the painful, heart-piercing light which exposes our leprous condition), that is the foundation of our revelation of and fellowship with the living God; and in that state, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Note carefully the wording: not “all sins,” but “all sin,” singular; that is, the sin nature, not merely the acts of willfulness and rebellion. It is Christ’s blood, specially applied by the almighty sanctifying power of God’s Holy Spirit, that can make a believer holy.
  4. As a final point to consider, think about the Lord who searches the hearts, who declared through Jeremiah that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord…” (Jeremiah 17:9-10 nkjv). Peter shows what a difference the Christ of the New Covenant makes in this matter. Describing the salvation and Spirit-baptism of Cornelius and his household (a story told in Acts 10-11), the Apostle makes a remarkable declaration. Alluding to the “who can know it?” question of Jeremiah 17:9, and the “I the Lord” answer in 17:10, Peter says that it was “God who knows the hearts” who wrought wonderfully in those of Cornelius’ household. “[God] acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, even as He did to us [on the day of Pentecost], and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8.9 nkjv).

In type, this heart cleansing is precisely what happened to Isaiah at the height of his agony and despair over his inward condition. A seraph was sent from God’s immediate presence with a live, white-hot, burning coal from the heavenly altar (a type of Christ, Who is both our Heavenly Altar and Heavenly Sacrifice). With Isaiah having declared his leprosy in the type of “unclean lips,” this purifying fire from God was applied to his leprous lips to signify the deeper work in Isaiah’s leprous heart.13 But it is the exact same fire which burned at Pentecost in “tongues as of flame” which settled upon each believer; and of that phenomenon, as we have already seen, Peter later explained that it indicated that God had purified “their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8,9). When the fiery baptism of the Holy Spirit envelops a believer, the complete work of Christ, the Savior from all sin, purifies, sanctifies—makes holy in reality and not just in theory—each Christian so baptized. What was said to Isaiah—“your iniquity [note the singular] is taken away, and your sin [again, the singular] is purged”—becomes a day-by-day glorious reality for the Spirit-baptized, sanctified child of God.

Some have pointed out that with purified lips Isaiah is at last called to speak for God. Certainly that is true. But notice that something happens to Isaiah before he is called — for the first time Isaiah can hear God.14 Before his encounter of self-revelation and heart-purging, he had been a righteous man, perhaps even a priest faithfully serving the Lord in His temple and its sacrifices. He knew God’s commandments and ordinances, maybe even knew the Scriptures well enough to concur with the physical diagnosis of Uzziah’s outwardly obvious leprosy.

But before being thrust into the presence of the holy God, did Isaiah have a clue (much less a revelation!) about his own inwardly invisible spiritual leprosy? No! Before his lips and unholy heart were purged, could he hear God? Not that we are aware. Only after this throne-room encounter can he now hear God and be called as a prophetic minister, God’s own mouthpiece.

You may have been one who, like Isaiah the righteous priest, has gone on in a good way, serving God, ministering for Him, but longing, like Paul, “that I may know Him” (Philippians 3:10). Perhaps you are reading this because God is drawing you to something deeper—a revelation of His essential holiness, a corresponding revelation of the utter, leprous defilement of your sinful heart, and the amazing, miraculous, holy purging available in the Holy Spirit, bought and paid for by the glorious, heart-liberating outpouring of the precious blood of Jesus. Jesus, who is so named because “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), is also “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Like Isaiah, you may pass through a soul-agony of despair to reach the point of cleansing. How can it be that when we draw close to God with all our heart, longing to be purified by Him, we experience a deepening despair of our inward corruption? Why, when we yearn to be set free from our sin nature — the carnal mind that is “hostile toward God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7) — does our inward leprosy seem to become so overwhelming? In a way we can’t fully comprehend until after we have been through the purifying fire, the revelation of our utter corruption is a gift from God.

A gift?! In a strange, sobering, and wonderful way, yes. More than fifty years of experience and observation tell me that usually the person most deeply convicted of his sins, who thoroughly confesses, repents, and makes restitution for them, is the person least likely to return to them. Thus, such initial, deep, painful, pointed conviction from God becomes a foundational blessing, a special gift not to be despised.

That “gift” helps to deal with sins. What “gift” does the Holy Spirit bestow on those seeking to walk closer with God, to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High” (Psalm 91:1 nkjv), to abide in Christ, to walk in the Spirit? He Himself puts the hunger in the heart for such a relationship with God, waiting for the response of love and faith. Thus, hearing the question from Psalm 24:3 —

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?

— the Spirit-wooed heart answers tentatively, but longingly, “I want that, Lord, to live, to abide in Your holy presence!” The qualifying heavenly reply in verse 4 hints at the hidden cost involved:

He who has clean hands and a pure heart

To bring us to the place of a pure heart, the Lord wishes to make a lasting impression about the root, the infection of sin in us, so He “gifts” us with a deeper, more solemn conviction — a dual revelation of God’s “awe-full” purity, and of our awful, leprous hearts which are “desperately wicked.” One seeking God for a pure heart does so (in part) because he or she has some sense of the dark stain of sin, the evil principle in the heart. As he begins the process of seeking, He thinks he understands his condition and need, and in a limited measure, he does.

But consider the magnitude of that sinfulness in the eyes of the thrice-holy Sovereign! God, who is all-wise, all-powerful, and all knowing, concluded that only His direct, personal intervention and atoning sacrifice could free us from the spiritually defiling, disfiguring, and deep infection of inbred sin. So do not marvel or give yourself up to despair if the Holy Spirit makes sin “exceedingly sinful” (Romans 7:13 nkjv) by exposing the unimaginable depth of your need. He but sets the stage to show the sweeping completeness of His “so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:3), the magnitude of His power, and the breadth and depth of His love.

Until God works His work of heart-purifying sanctification in our hearts, we are too much like the people God described to Isaiah:

We keep on listening, but do not perceive;
We keep on looking, but do not understand.
Our hearts are rendered insensitive,
Our ears dull,
And our eyes dim,
Otherwise we might see with our eyes,
Hear with our ears
Understand with our hearts,
And return and be healed.
— Isaiah 6:9-10 —

We are the lepers in the throne room. But once God has wrought His will, instilling within you His holiness—Christ’s likeness—you, too, will hear God in ways you never thought possible. You, too, may be brought into the counsels of the Godhead as they relate to you: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?” It is only a former leper, now cleansed and purified by God Himself, who can stand in the presence of a holy God and dare say, “Here am I.” And just as the revelation of our sinful hearts is a gift from God, so a new, pure heart is a gift from Him.

May our heavenly High Priest, who reveals to you your leprosy, who alone can cure you and cleanse you from the leprous, sinful nature, may this Holy One you seek, whose shed blood holds the key to every believer’s liberation from sin, work His work in your heart, revealing His holiness first to you, then in you, and finally through you, all so that the Thrice-Holy One may be glorified. For Jesus’ sake, amen!



  1. Photo credit: Jim Kerwin
  2. Unless otherwise noted from this point forward, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Translation.
  3. Had the writer of Chronicles employed Azariah as the king’s name, as did the writer of Kings, rather than Uzziah, then the high priest’s name would have caused confusion to the readers.
  4. There is no clear statement in the Bible that tells us that Isaiah was a priest. There seems to be one Isaiah-tradition which makes this assumption. And our 2 Chronicles 26 passage reads very much like an eye-witness account. Since only priests had access to the Holy Place, someone describing the action from the inside would most probably have been there. And passages like Isaiah 1:10-15 take on the unique timbre of an “insider” if the Lord spoke these words through a practicing priest.
  5. Pentateuch is the name for the five books of Moses: Genesis – Deuteronomy.
  6. Trisagion—The Greek word hagios (ἅγιος) is an adjective meaning holy. Thus trisagion is, roughly, “three times holy” or “thrice holy.” The “three-ness” of this worship formula employed by heavenly beings intimates the three Persons of the Trinity (who, let it be noted, speak in plural unison as they did in Genesis: “Who will go for Us?”). “Hagios, hagios, hagios” is still the adoring, awe-filled cry of these beings when the Apostle John has his vision of Heaven (Revelation 4:8). For those Christians from a Latin-based church background, the equivalent term would be tersanctus.
  7. Reading carefully we easily find the double warning:

    I am a man of UNCLEAN lips,
    And I live among a people of UNCLEAN lips!

  8. Percy Gutteridge has an insightful look at Naaman's healing and its meaning in his chapter “The Perfecting of Faith” in Faith Is Substance.
  9. Matthew 10:8; Matthew 11:5; Luke 7:22; Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3
  10. Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 17:11-19
  11. The reader will recall that the New Testament books and letters weren't divided into chapters until over a thousand years after Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans.
  12. The translation of soma (σῶμα) as body (“the soma / body of sin”) here in Romans 6:6 is problematic, because it would seem to make Paul in agreement with that early heresy of Gnosticism. Gnosticism taught, among other things, that all matter was evil, and that included the body; hence, they saw our earthly temple as “a body of sin.”The word soma can be translated as body, but it is translated in other ways in the New Testament. For instance, in Revelation 18:13, almost all Bible versions render the word as slaves. An interesting use appears in Colossians 2:17 (another of Paul’s writings):
    1. Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—17things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance (soma / σῶμα) belongs to Christ.
    2. Colossians 2:16-17 nasb

    While a few older translations give body for this Colossians passage, almost all modern translations are split between rendering soma as substance (e.g., NASB, ESV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV) or reality (NIV, TNIV, NLT, NET Bible, RVA {in the latter Spanish translation, the word is rendered realidad}) or “what is real and true” (NCV) or “what is real” (NIRV). Paul’s argument in Colossians 2:16-17 is that the saints in Colossae shouldn’t be concerned about keeping Old Testament-mandated food laws, feast days, or sabbaths, as these are only the foretypes, the shadows (skia, σκιά), only hints of the realities in Christ. Applying this to “body of sin” in Romans 6:6, we might render the passage as “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified, that the reality and substance (soma) of sin might be destroyed, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”

  13. The heart and lips (the mouth, really) have an important connection. In “spiritual physiology” (if I may be allowed to use that ironic phrase) the connection is noted over and over. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45). “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:9). “…the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15 — this fruit must be heart fruit, otherwise it’s just lip service).

    So in the throne-room vision, Isaiah’s lips represent (and are spiritually connected to) his leprous heart. The purging of his lips represents the cleansing of that heart of his which was full of “iniquity” and “sin.”

  14. I deal with the relationship of uncircumcised hearts, uncircumcised lips, and uncircumcised ears elsewhere in Circumcision: God’s Type of Sanctification.
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