Isaiah 6 marks the beginning of the first-person Isaianic memoir, often marked by the prophet’s most notable words, “Here am I. Send me!” This chapter, full of intense imagery, only becomes more beautiful after understanding the full context and subtext. Isaiah 6:8-10 employs a common literary device called a palistrophe.

Palistrophe (n): Syn. Chiasm, Chiasmus. The figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point.

The following commentary is from Tyndale Old & New Testament Commentaries.

Isaiah’s call and commission (6:1-13)


Historically, this chapter is at a crucial turning point in the life of the nation of Judah. Under the long reign of Uzziah (c.792/791–739 BC), the nation had prospered, but by the time of Ahaz (c.735–715 BC) the country had become an Assyrian vassal. Morally and politically the nation had experienced a deplorable decline. God sends Isaiah at this difficult time as a prophetic voice to the nation.

In chapter 6 Isaiah receives his call and commission that serves as the foundation for the rest of the Isaianic memoir (see Figure 6.1).

Call narratives Tyndale Commentaries Send me
Figure 6.1 Call narratives. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary: Isaiah. Wegner, 2021.

The call narrative of Isaiah 6 also contains elements of a judgment oracle. God again informs Isaiah of grim punishments that are on the horizon for the nation of Israel: the northern kingdom would be exiled to Assyria during Isaiah’s lifetime, and the southern kingdom would be severely subdued by the Assyrians in 701 BC. Most call narratives appear early in the book; however, the placement of Isaiah’s call in chapter 6 is more a function of its message and the palistrophe – the prophet Isaiah’s call is right at the heart of the palistrophe and he will be part of God’s plan to ultimately bring Israel back to God.


And 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!” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:”

Isaiah 6:8-9a

8–10. Finally, the LORD speaks, enquiring for a messenger: Who will go for us? The plural pronoun for God appears three other times in the Old Testament (Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; see Figure 6.2). In this context God appears to be speaking to the angels, whom he regularly sends to do his bidding (see Ps. 103:20). Notice that God (I) does the sending, but Isaiah is being sent for all of them (i.e. angels).

Isaiah can volunteer for this important but difficult job. He is better qualified for this role than the angels because he lives among the Israelites and can continually inform and remind them of God’s messages. Isaiah’s eager willingness to be a spokesperson for God is seen in his quick response, Here am I. Send me! (lit. ‘behold me’).

Plural pronouns for God
Figure 6.2 Plural pronouns for God. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary: Isaiah. Wegner, 2021.

Send Isaiah for what?

God’s command to Isaiah to tell this people lacks the warmth of ‘tell my people’ and hints that their hearts were already partially hardened. Isaiah’s message will actually further harden their hearts: Be ever hearing [lit. ‘continue to hear’], but never understanding [lit. ‘but you will not understand’, temporary prohibition]; / be ever seeing [lit. ‘continue to see’], but never perceiving [lit. ‘but you will not perceive’, temporary prohibition]. The meaning here is not that they will never understand, but only that they will not understand at the time they hear Isaiah’s message. God’s message to Isaiah highlights the contrasts between Isaiah’s message and its outcome in the palistrophic pattern of verses 9–10:

Be ever hearing,
     but never understanding;
be ever seeing,
     but never perceiving.
A Make the heart of this people calloused;
     B make their ears dull
          C and close their eyes.
          C' they might see with their eyes,
     B' hear with their ears,
A' understand with their hearts,
and turn, and be healed.

Even though God desires their repentance, he does not force his will upon anyone. In this case, Israel’s sin will lead them away from, not towards, him. Just as God used Pharaoh, who had hardened his heart against God, to show his power and have his name ‘proclaimed in all the earth’ (Exod. 9:16), so too Israel’s hard-heartedness will serve a purpose for a time until some finally turn back to him.

Keep Reading

The above commentary comes from the newly released Tyndale Old Testament Commentary: Isaiah (Wegner 2021). You can find this volume among other newly-released commentary volumes of the Tyndale Old & New Testament Commentaries. Get your copy today!

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