“‘Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.’ The holy seed is its stump.” – Isaiah 6:13
Near the camp dining hall there is a stump; the remnants of a tree cut down over 10 years ago. It now has three or more healthy, leaf-filled shoots six to eight inches in diameter stretching towards the heavens (or at least it did before Fall came). This stump serves as a constant reminder to the above passage in Isaiah.
At the beginning of Isaiah six, the prophet has a vision in which he sees the Lord being attended to by seraphs (angels). Feeling unworthy, Isaiah cries out, “Woe to me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
The Lord then cleanses Isaiah of his guilt and sin by sending a seraph to touch a live coal to Isaiah’s lips. The Lord then asks, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” God wants someone to deliver a message to the people. Isaiah responds to God by saying, “Here am I; send me!”
We’ve heard these words before. They come often as a text chosen for mission Sundays. They’ve been used to inspire those called to ministry (which, by the way, is all of us.) We sing songs with those lines in the hope that we will be charged up for ministry in the world. They are strangely effective, but we rarely get the rest of the story.
After Isaiah offers himself to God’s service, the Lord details Isaiah’s mission and it isn’t a pretty one. Isaiah’s ministry of calling for repentance will fall on deaf ears. His countrymen will “be ever hearing, but never understanding.” Isaiah is to wear them out with a message that simply will not be heeded, in other words, God tells Isaiah that the people will hear him, but they won’t do what God is asking of them. And so, judgment will come.
Timidly, Isaiah then asks God, “How long, O Lord?” How long must he preach to those who simply will not hear? How long must he do a job that won’t have any effect on those he preaches to? The Lord tells him he must preach until the land is laid waste like a mighty forest cut down with only stumps and sawdust remaining.
But just like the tree next to the Dining Hall, the people to whom he will preach will find that God’s holiness has room for mercy; the same mercy God showed to Isaiah as he stood weak-kneed before the throne of God when the seraph touched his lips with the coal.
The holy seed is the stump and out of the stump will come new growth. God will trim, prune, and even hack away at the people he calls His own and it won’t be pleasant to endure. It will, however, leave a stump out of which refined and renewed lives can thrive.
In the case of Isaiah, God goes through this process with the Israelites by sending them into exile and then by bringing them back again. It is pruning on a grand scale.
May God do the same to you and I on an individual scale. May he hack away at that in our lives that doesn’t please him and may we come out of the pruning with fresh and new growth.