be there dragons in isaiah 6?

Isaiah 6 is a magnificent account of Isaiah’s encounter with the true king. The scene features supernatural creatures, the שרפים (śĕrāphîm). Most translations going back as far as the Greek simply transliterate the Hebrew and so call the creatures “seraphim” (the Greek has σεραφιν). But I think there may be a viable alternative.

  • Seraph is the Hebrew word for serpent/snake. The word also means “burning” and it is supposed that the association comes about because the bite of a serpent produces a burning sensation.
  • These serpents have legs (they cover the legs with one set of wings) and hands (used to pick up the burning coal).
  • They have wings!
  • The Greek word drakōn means “dragon, serpent,” so a dragon is meant to be serpent like! The Greek word is used in Rev 12–13 and often translated as “dragon” in English versions.
  • These creatures are supernatural, so not something you’d expect to see every day.
  • They’re impressively sized and loud enough to cause the temple, built from heavy stone, to tremble.

So perhaps “dragon,” as popularly conceived, actually does fit quite well. Here, then, is a quick translation of the first verses of Isaiah 6:

In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted. The bottom of his robe filled the temple. Dragons with six wings were stationed above him – each had six wings: with two it covered its face, with two it covered its feet, and with two it flew.

They called to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is General Yahweh! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

The stone frames of the doorways shook at the sound of their calls, and the temple filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe to me for I am destroyed, for I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, General Yahweh.”

Then one of the dragons flew to me and in its hand was a burning coal which it had taken from the altar with tongs. It touched my mouth and said, “Now this has touched your lips your guilt has been removed and your sin dealt with.”

Perhaps the only downside is that “dragon” is used in Revelation in reference to Satan. Yet perhaps like angels there can be good and evil dragons!

9 thoughts on “be there dragons in isaiah 6?

  1. Hi James.

    I choose “General” because it’s striking (although I was tempted to go “Admiral” because it sounds more Star Trek, I exercised some restraint). I think it’s good to choose words that make people sit up and take notice so they are forced to think about the text a little more and a little differently! And who, in normal life, uses “hosts” as a military word?

  2. I was out running and it came to me: what about “Commander in Chief” (perhaps if I was from the US I’d have thought of it sooner)? A bit more verbose, but the sense of plurality (צבאות rather than צבא) and sort-of supreme commanderish!

  3. Question: are you still maintaining this blog? I met you back at the FBS conference in Melbourne late in 2016, and believe it or not, just processed the notes I took in your session on Job 42. Really liked it too! Just slow in getting to these little jobs. My blog is a bit fitful too, but if you’re active, I’ll put yours in my blogroll. Andrew Brown, MST.

  4. Hi Andrew, I am maintaining it, and I hope to get back to writing an occasional blog soon! I’m also planning to tidy up the paper on Job 42 and publish it as the third part in my trilogy of Job papers (so Job 1–2 is in Tyndale Bulletin, Elihu is in JESOT). I’m keen to check out your blog too!

  5. Re the Elihu paper – great topic: talk about six of the least understood chapters of the Bible. I’ve snagged that to read later. Just taught Job last week, so wish I’d discovered it a fortnight earlier. But I agree: we should not be dismissing Elihu as a fourth friend. He had warned of the dangers of “words without knowledge [beli da’ath]” inn 35:16; 36:12 right before Yahweh implies that Job is throwing them at Him. And the thing Elihu says of Job, that he preserves his own rightness rather than God’s, if he has to choose (32:2), is exactly what Yahweh challenges in 40:8. So I’m not sure Elihu’s 100% right, but he is at least on the way, a transitional figure/text perhaps, whose logic in ch. 37 is much like Yahweh’s in chs. 38–39.

  6. My take on Elihu is actually an outworking of my reading of the prologue (which was the first paper on Job) and hence it is important that we’re left not knowing if Elihu is right or wrong but aware that he could be!

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