In Isa. 6:1, does "high and lifted up" modify "throne" or "the Lord"?

I noticed that some English translations differ, and I would like if someone is able offer some help with the Hebrew here.


1 Answer 1


The phrase “high and lifted up” modifies the phrase “the Lord sitting on a throne” without discriminating between either the Lord or the throne. Instead, both the Lord and the throne (upon which the Lord is seated) are “high and lifted up.” There are several Jewish sources that support this view.

First, the Masoretic Text provides the logical schemata of the verse through the hierarchical divisions of cantillation. The following chart provides the schematic arrangement of the logical division of the verse based on the hierarchical structure of the dominant disjunctive accents.

enter image description here

The red star is next to the phrase “high and lifted up” (רָ֣ם וְנִשָּׂ֑א), which modifies the preceding two phrases וָאֶרְאֶ֧ה אֶת־אֲדֹנָ֛י (“and I saw the Lord...”) יֹשֵׁ֥ב עַל־כִּסֵּ֖א (“...sitting upon a throne”). Of these two phrases, the latter phrase modifies the former phrase. That is, both of these phrases are modified by the single phrase רָ֣ם וְנִשָּׂ֑א (“high and lifted up”), which is indicated by the red star. The idea here is that the Lord is seated on His throne in heaven “high and lifted up.”

Secondly, the medieval Jewish scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (“Rashi”), had understood this imagery in the same way. Rashi had understood Isaiah to mean that the Lord was in heaven and that his feet were resting on the Sanctuary on earth, since the Temple was his footstool of his feet (1 Chr 28:2). In other words, consistent with the Masoretic Text, “high and lifted up” modifies the phrase “the Lord sitting on a throne,” since the Lord is in heaven in this imagery.

Third, the Nineteenth Century Jewish scholar, Rabbi Meïr Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (“Malbim”), had understood this passage similar to Rashi. However, instead of taking 1 Chr 28:2 as the reference point, Malbim referenced the imagery from Isaiah 66:1, where the Lord is seen in heaven and the earth is the footstool of his feet. In this regard, again, “high and lifted up” is modifying the phrase “the Lord sitting on a throne.”

Finally, the Targum Jonathan (to the Prophets) is an early witness (First Century?) to the Jewish understanding of the Hebrew Bible, since the Targum is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible. (The rabbis often added flourish to the Aramaic translation in order to highlight the nuances which they saw in the Hebrew text.) The following citation appears for this verse. Please click on the image to view the source online.

enter image description here

Our proposed translation -

In the year in which King Uzziah was struck by it [leprosy], the prophet declared, “I saw the majesty of the Lord sitting upon the throne of exaltation [or, upon the Most High throne] and being carried in the heavens on high, and on account of the garment of His majesty was the temple [on earth] filled.”

The Aramaic words in the red box provide the two variants readings in the Targum. Irrespective of either reading, the Lord is on high, and his hanging garments fill the Temple sanctuary, which is the footstool of His feet on the earth.

In summary, the apparent Jewish view of this verse over the centuries was that the phrase “high and lifted up” is modifying the phrase “the Lord sitting on a throne” (because the imagery is that the Lord was on His throne in heaven and his feet were on the earth).

  • 2
    OK, but in every normal way of thinking about syntax I'm aware of (and in terms of the distinction suggested by the OP), the answer, if it is to be guided by Masoretic punctuation, is that 'high and lifted up' modifies 'Lord', not 'throne' (similar to other usages later in the book). To say that it modifies the entire phrase is a statement about something other than syntax.
    – Susan
    Aug 24, 2016 at 16:08
  • Susan, I agree that grammatically 'high and lifted up' can modify 'Lord' (e.g., Isa. 52:13). I was wondering what is/are your reason(s) for your comment via "the comments" hyperlink you posted that says, "I think you're probably right that it's the chair"?
    – E. Cardona
    Aug 24, 2016 at 18:29
  • @Susan - the Temple sanctuary on earth was the analog of the Temple sanctuary in heaven (compare Exod 25:40 and Heb 8:4-5). The Biblical imagery was that the Lord occupied both simultaneously; that is, in heaven the Lord is seated 'high and lifted up', and on earth, the Temple sanctuary was His footstool. This footstool remained until the glory of the Lord (described by both the Targum and Rashi as the [hem of the] Lord's robe) had departed the Temple as described in Ezek 9:3; 10:4; 10:18-19; and 11:23. Predictive prophecy indicates that the footstool will one day be reestablished on earth.
    – Joseph
    Aug 24, 2016 at 18:42
  • @E.Cardona (you need to add @ like Joseph did if you want to ping) I don't have a great reason. In the Greek it's genitive with "throne", but I've already expressed my reservations about using Greek Isaiah in this way.... the Hebrew, without MT cantillation, I think it would most naturally be read with "throne" as well, since word order is the only thing one can go on. It's just the MT disjunctive accent that argues against it. Will eagerly await Williamson's opinion on this one.
    – Susan
    Aug 24, 2016 at 19:02
  • @Joseph That's fine; it's just not syntax.
    – Susan
    Aug 24, 2016 at 19:09

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