It is never an easy thing to be a prophet of the Living God. Men who see only the outside may imagine ecstasy, power and glory, they do not understand that to receive the wisdom God sends is to have one’s heart transfixed by overwhelming realities, and that the perceived crown of light is more often, in reality, a crown of thorns. Heartbreak and holiness are what he beholds, but he holds on because, beyond the horror that must be, is the promise of redemption, not just redemption from something, but redemption into something, ultimately the consummation of history, the fulfilment of all things.
From the beginning it had an overpowering experience. There in the temple, faithfully at worship, he had suddenly seen that vision of the magnitude of God’s grandeur and holiness – the whole huge edifice of the temple could not even hold His train! “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips,” he had said – the cry of man who is crushed by the realisation of awful holiness.
But that had only been the beginning, and as the years wore on and he was given the very words of God to speak out to a (mostly) unheeding nation, he himself was slowly transformed by what he saw and heard and understood. It was as if that coal which the angel of his vision had placed on his lips had lit a slow-burning flame within him, slowly melting and consuming the man he had been, and melting his heart to the fluidity of holy love. And the burden was heavy. And the hunger for righteousness engulfed him.
He could see how far his people had fallen away from their covenant, and he knew that the time of reckoning was coming when they would be sent forth into exile. How could they stay in the Land of Promise if they turned their backs on the Promiser? It was heartbreaking to see their sin, it was heartbreaking to see the devastation and desecration that would follow on from it.
But the story did not stop there. They would return, or at least a faithful remnant would, when their exile was completed, the Lord would redeem his servant Jacob. Babylon in her turn would have to answer to God for the way she had treated the apple of His eye. And there was more. Beyond this, somewhere in the mists of the future, loomed a shadowy figure whose features he could not clearly see, but the anguish of this one, the Servant of the Lord, wrung his heart, “for He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities”. And yet this one, the Sufferer, would also be a light to the gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. The more he pondered this, the more he sought understanding from God, the more he saw the heart of God and was undone by what he understood. For the Holy One, the God of infinite greatness and majesty, was also the God of Love. His children strayed and wandered, but He would bring them back, back, back ... at infinite cost to Himself. Who could serve such a God and not be broken by His compassion?