Posted in theology

Why did Isaiah say ‘I am a man of unclean lips’ and not ‘a man of unclean heart’?

By Elizabeth Prata

Isaiah was lifted up in a vision to see the throne room of God. He saw the I AM seated and being praised by Seraphim who shouted,

Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of armies.
The whole earth is full of His glory.

(Isaiah 6:3)

Isaiah’s response was:

“Woe to me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of armies.”
(Isaiah 6:5).

The word ‘Woe’ here means in the Hebrew, to cease, to destroy, to be cut off. THAT is how powerful glimpsing God’s glory is. We know from the reactions of those who have seen the LORD’s glory that they marvel that they are still living. But why did Isaiah not say, “I am a man of unclean heart?” especially since from the heart flows all sin. Or why didn’t he say “I am a man of unclean soul (or spirit)?’ Why lips?

Matthew Henry wrote of the scene,

“[I]t may be taken more generally; I am a sinner; particularly, I have offended in word; and who is there that hath not? Jam. 3:2. We all have reason to bewail it before the Lord,

(1a.) That we are of unclean lips ourselves; our lips are not consecrated to God; he had not had the first-fruits of our lips (Heb. 13:15), and therefore they are counted common and unclean, uncircumcised lips, Ex. 6:30. Nay, they have been polluted with sin. We have spoken the language of an unclean heart, that evil communication which corrupts good manners, and whereby many have been defiled.”

(1b). “We are unworthy and unmeet to take God’s name into our lips. With what a pure lip did the angels praise God! “But,” says the prophet, “I cannot praise him so, for I am a man of unclean lips.” … The impurity of our lips ought to be the grief of our souls, for by our words we shall be justified or condemned.

(2.) That we dwell among those who are so too. We have reason to lament not only that we ourselves are polluted, but that the nature and race of mankind are so; the disease is hereditary and epidemic, which is so far from lessening our guilt that it should rather increase our grief, …” Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1089). Hendrickson.

Let’s look at that Hebrews verse Matthew Henry mentioned-

Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Him then, let’s continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips praising His name.

Our lips are what form the words of praise or the words of sin. See also Isaiah 57:19; Hosea 14:2. We might be redeemed and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, but we still sin. We are justified, but not yet glorified. Our lips still sin, as we see from James 3:8-10 says,

But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.

There is a little known prophecy in Zephaniah. One glorious day it will come to pass:

Zephaniah 3:9, For then I will restore to the peoples pure lips, So that all of them may call on the name of the Lord, To serve Him shoulder to shoulder.

Our mouths will be glorified, pure and without sin. Our praises, which the Lord is due, will come from clean lips, praises gloriously melding together from all those redeemed who are also singing exaltations to the Lord. We will be standing shoulder to shoulder in our white robes of sinlessness, praising Him eternally…purely and cleanly.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.