Woe is me
What does a spiritual experience look like? Warm feelings? Groovy vibes? Not if you ask Isaiah.
In Isaiah chapter 6 the prophet has the ultimate spiritual experience. He meets the LORD:
“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train [i.e. the train of His robe] filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1)
Isaiah sees the LORD Jesus Christ 700 years before He was made flesh. We know that this is Jesus because no-one has ever seen the Father. Appearances of God are always appearances of God the Son (John 1:18; Colossians 1:15). And John actually tells us it was Jesus’ glory that Isaiah saw (John 12:40-41).
Well how does Isaiah respond to meeting Christ? In terror!
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 6:5)
The appearance of the LORD is not some expected, explicable event on a continuum with all the other events of Isaiah’s life. Just like Job found when he met the LORD, a divine encounter ruins everything. Isaiah is “undone”. He is exposed. And he cries “Woe is me.”
That’s very interesting because in the previous chapter, Isaiah had been dishing out “woes” on other people. “Woe” is a word that combines judgement with just a dash of sympathy. To say “Woe to you” is to say “I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.” And Isaiah has been declaring “woes” to all around him.
In Isaiah 5 he dishes out 6 “woes”. There are “woes” to the greedy, the drunkards, the deceitful, the perverse, the arrogant, the corrupt – a six-fold denunciation. But, biblically speaking, six is an incomplete number. It would be like a sailor bragging that he’d sailed the six seas. He’s missing one. Where’s the seventh?
Well in the temple we read about the seventh woe. Isaiah had been saying woe to you, to you, to you, to you, to you and to you. But when he meets the LORD Christ he is humbled: “Woe is me!”
That’s where a true divine encounter leaves you. Unable to point the finger at anyone else but profoundly aware of your own spiritual poverty before the Lord.
And notice that Isaiah highlights the corruption of his “lips” here. That’s interesting because Isaiah is extremely good with his lips. He’s a prophet and fantastic with words. If people are still studying your writings in two and a half millennia you’ll know that you’re good with words too. But Isaiah’s lips are his best feature. Yet even his best feature is entirely unclean before the LORD Jesus. That’s how unsettling a true divine encounter is.
What hope is there for Isaiah?
Well hope comes in the form of judgement.
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. (Isaiah 6:6-7)
Imagine yourself in Isaiah’s sandals. You have just confessed to woeful corruption before the LORD Almighty. And in response one of His flaming angelic servants flies at you with a burning coal taken from the altar – the place of judgement. Surely this is it for Isaiah. And yet the judgement becomes the cleansing. The coal from the altar doesn’t harm but heals.
What a picture of Christ’s cross. His altar ought to be our judgement. Yet Jesus endures the burnings for us. And now through His death it becomes our cleansing. We are driven down in confession but raised up in forgiveness.
Have you been too busy declaring “woes” to other people? Do you know what it is to be “undone” in the presence of King Jesus?
If so, what have you confessed to the LORD Jesus? What woeful corruption is laid bare in his presence? Here’s the truth of the matter: if you have named it before Him, know that, through His cross, forgiveness flies to you, touches that guilty part and Christ’s verdict is this:
thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin is purged.
This is a true spiritual experience. It casts us lower than we’d ever imagined and lifts us higher than we’d ever dreamed.