Have you ever sarcastically said, “Woe is me”? I think back and I definitely have said it on more than one occasion. Actually, I am pretty sure I have used that as an expression to sarcastically indicate someone else’s “sad” situation more than any other time. But it just so happens that it was used as an expression towards me the other day.
A lady came in to my store the other day with her child. The child was irate because she wanted to get out of the stroller and touch everything but the mother would not allow the child to do this. Therefore the child showed the mother what her lungs were made of. As the mother walked by me briskly, she looked up and with a small bit of laugher said, “’Woe is me.’ Her life is so difficult.” I laughed along with her and immediately thought of Chapter Two, “Holy, Holy, Holy” from the book The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul. After she left I realized that the phrase “woe is me” no longer meant to me what it did to that mom. For me, it is a part of Scripture in this terrifyingly beautiful moment between God and mere man. Before this book, I had never read much about it.
This encounter I am speaking of with God and Isaiah happened in Isaiah 6, and I think “Wow! How many times have I gone over the Old Testament growing up and never talked about this?” I mean we talked about Moses, but never this “dramatic” moment as the author describes it in the book of Isaiah:
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 Lord 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 Lord of hosts!” (Isa. 6:1-5)
I can’t fathom what being in that temple could have been like. To see what Isaiah had seen, to hear the worship taking place. In that moment, I wonder, could he feel the wind hit his face from the wings of the seraphim as they sang, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory”? When the room shuttered, did it feel like an earthquake singularly focused on the temple? Sproul comments:
A recent survey of people who used to be church members revealed that the main reason they stopped going to church was that they found it boring. It is difficult for many people to find worship a thrilling and moving experience. We note here, when God appeared in the temple, the doors and the thresholds removed. The inert matter of door post, the inanimate threshold, the wood and the metal that could neither hear nor speak have the good sense to be moved by the presence of God. The literal meaning of the text is that they are shaking. They began to Quake where they stood.
When everything around you moves and even inanimate objects find a way to acknowledge His presence, that is something more than you and I can put into words. These inanimate objects managed to find a way to acknowledge His presence and I find it hard just to roll out of bed every morning and say, “Thank you, Abba Father.” Just reading this Scripture in Isaiah 6, I felt the smallness of who I am and some of the absolute grandeur of who He is. The power in His holiness is more than a matter of being pure, it is who He is. He is above all things; His thoughts are higher than anyone or anything. There has been a total shift in thought for me when it comes to God’s holiness. It went from me thinking this word “holy” was only a way to describe a state of purity to truly seeing that He is set apart. But it is so much more than this, it is so much more than my limited vocabulary can describe.
The Scripture goes on to tell us that Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me!” He literally cried out that he was coming undone, that he was ruined. With all that I have been through I can still count all that as nothing compared to my whole self coming unraveled within seconds. Have you ever felt as though you were coming undone? Maybe you had a rough day at work, the kids were being crazy, or you just didn’t feel like there was enough of you to go around, or you got bad news. After one of those things happened, did you felt like everything around you was ruined for the day? But none of this can compare to coming “undone” and being “ruined” after you have seen yourself for who you and seen God for who he truly is. This is a deeper “woe is me”–far deeper than the way we usually use that phrase like the mother did to describe her child in the store.
I am thankful to have come to a better understanding of God’s holiness through this chapter in the Bible. I am so grateful for the way R. C. Sproul broke this down to help my understanding of this Scripture passage. I will never use the phrase “woe is me” in the same way again. It is associated with a moment so profound that I can’t think of any reason to use it in the lesser ways we usually do. This moment was about so much more than a man who became a prophet…end of story. For me this was a man who experienced his life come undone in the presence of God. He saw that he was nothing after having been something to others in his life. He was so unworthy and so tiny in the presence of the King. But God! He came, restored him, healed him, and used him for His glory. This is still the awesome God I serve.
All for His Glory