Isaiah 1-39 – The Assyrian Crisis: Trust God or Exile

Introduction

1. Summary

• Isaiah responded to the Assyrian crisis with threats of judgment if Israel did not trust God

• Isaiah offered the hope of eventual restoration if Israel returned to trust God.

• Isaiah proved his reliability as a prophet when the Assyrian crisis came to pass as he predicted.

2. Structure

-Assyrian crisis of Ahaz’s Reign (Is.1:1-12:6) [734BC]

-Oracles Against Many Nations (Is.13:1-27:13)

-Assyrian crisis of Hezekiah’s Reign (Is.28:1-39:8) [701BC][footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Prophets (Orlando: RTS). Adapted.[/footnote]
 

I. Assyrian Crisis of Ahaz’s Reign (1:1-12:6)

A. General Analysis

  • Summary of Isaiah’s ministry: judgment and restoration (Is.1:1-6:13)
  • The Assyrian judgment and Isaiah’s sons (Is.7:1-8:18)
  • The Assyrian judgment and Israel (Is.8:19-10:4)
  • The Assyrian judgment and Judah (Is.10:5-12:6)[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1070. Adapted.[/footnote]

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Summary of Isaiah’s ministry: judgment and restoration

-From judgment to restoration (Is.1:1-2:5)
Judgment (Is.1:2-31), Restoration (Is.2:1-5)
-From judgment to restoration (Is.2:6-4:6)
Judgment (Is.2:6-4:1), Restoration (Is.4:2-6)
-From judgment to restoration (Is.5:1-6:13)
Judgment (Is.5:1-6:12), Restoration (Is.6:13)
Each of the three cycles in the first six chapters moves from disaster to hope. This anticipates the tone of the rest of the book: from Assyrian and Babylonian destructions to future purification and restoration. Chapter 1-6 is the summary of Isaiah’s teaching and chapters 7-66 expand and elaborate the summary.
There are different structures and cycles proposed by various commentators but the general message of “from judgment to hope” remains.
For example James E Davis proposes the following:

  1. A Prologue: A Nation Indicted (Is.1)
  2. A Sermon: A People Humbled (Is.2–4)
  3. A Song: A Vineyard Destroyed (Is.5)
  4. A Vision: A Prophet Called (Is.6)

The prologue, sermon and song (chapters 1-5) emphasise condemnation and judgment. But the call of the Prophet in chapter 6 gives hope that God has not yet given up all hope of a purified and restored people.
After announcing the theme of his ministry in chapters 1-5, Isaiah introduced the authority for his ministry – the call of God. He was permitted to enter the heavenly court and saw the Judge sitting on His throne (Is.6:1-3). He was then cleansed for service (Is.6:5-7) and commissioned to announce the verdict and sentence of the heavenly court upon Israel (Is.6:8-12).
Having laid out Israel’s guilt and responsibility he anticipated the objection: “Who gave you the right to say these things?” His answer is: “God called and commissioned me.” However, like chapters 1-5, chapter 6 itself moves from disaster to hope. There will be a restored remnant (Is.6:13)
 

2. The Assyrian judgment and Isaiah’s sons (Is.7:1-8:18)

a. Historical background
The events in this section are set around the years 735-732 BC. Assyria was expanding under Tiglath-Pileser III. Rezin, King of Syria, and Pekah, King of Israel, wanted Ahaz, King of Judah, to join them in an alliance against Assyria. When Ahaz refused, Rezin and Pekah marched against him (7:1-2). Isaiah promised Ahaz that God would protect the Davidic monarchy if the Davidic king would trust God.
b. The sign (Is.7:10-17)
Isaiah offered Ahaz a sign to confirm the king’s faith but Ahaz refused to ask for this because he had decided to trust Assyria rather than God (2 Ki.16:7-8). Isaiah condemned Ahaz for his refusal to ask for a sign, and said God would provide a sure sign. A virgin would conceive and bear a son named Immanuel, which means “God is with us” (7:14). Before the child was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, the threat from kings of Syria and Israel would be over. This fulfilment of prophecy in the short-term was to encourage faith in prophecy in the long-term. It was to offer immediate evidence that distant predictions will come to pass.
The name “Immanuel” was symbolic of God’s willingness to go with Judah in its battles with Syria, Israel and Assyria. However, Ahaz rejected the offer of a divine coalition and instead aligned himself with Assyria. The birth of “Immanuel” would be a sermon against the sinful folly of rejecting God’s offered presence and help.

The traditional Christian understanding is that Isaiah himself had in mind the supernatural birth of the Messiah and directly pointed to this event in the distant future as a sign against Ahaz’s disbelief. The principal difficulties of this view are that this sign was directed to Ahaz, who died hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, and that the birth of the Immanuel child was to take place before the destruction of Syria and Israel (Is.7:16), which happened shortly after the prophecy was given.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1086.[/footnote]

An alternative view is that Isaiah was referring to his second wife whom he was engaged to at that time (Is.8:3). The child prophesied here is then Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Is.7:15-16; 8:3-4).

From this perspective, the woman and child of Isaiah’s day were types or foreshadowings of Jesus’ virgin birth. As the child of Isaiah’s time was a sign of the redemption of God’s people as well as of judgment against unbelief, so Jesus was the ultimate sign that God would rescue his faithful people and bring judgment against unbelief among the Jews who rejected God’s offer of salvation in him.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1086.[/footnote]

c. Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz
Isaiah had two sons whose names were Maher-shalal-hash-baz (speedy is the prey [Is.8:3]) and Shear-jashub (a remnant shall return [Is.7:3]).

These peculiar names illustrated the two great points in Isaiah’s message to the nation. First, if the nation refused to turn from their idolatry and sin, God would punish them out of their land to remain captives in another country for many years. The picture is that of a ferocious wolf pouncing upon a lamb and taking it away to his den. The second name symbolically prophesied that after God had punished the nation by this captivity He would allow them to return to their own land, but that only a remnant would avail themselves of this opportunity.[footnote]I L Jensen, Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), 328.[/footnote]

The remnant is that group of people who survive some catastrophe brought about by God, ordinarily in judgment for sin. This group becomes the nucleus for the continuation of humankind or the people of God. This surviving remnant inherits the promises of God afresh; the future existence of a larger group will grow from this purified, holy remnant that has undergone and survived divine judgment. The remnant motif distinguishes between (1) the true and false people of God and (2) the present and future…The names of Isaiah’s sons reflect this two-sided dimension of the remnant theme: Mahershalal-hash-baz (“quick to the plunder, haste to the spoil” Is.8:1-3) bespeaks the certainty of coming judgment; Shear-Jashub (“a remnant will return” Is.7:3) speaks of future hope. Isaiah’s sons were portents to Israel about the intent of God (Is.8:16-18).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 277-278.[/footnote]

d. Historical consequences
The King of Assyria viewed Ahaz’s desire for an alliance as a sign of weakness. He promptly overran Syria, Israel and Judah, (2 Ki.16:7-9). Ahaz’s unbelief lead to disastrous consequences which Isaiah had prophesied (Is.7:18-25; 8:5-22).
 

3. The Assyrian judgment and Israel (Is.8:19-10:4)

Having warned that the Assyrians would destroy Israel, Isaiah spoke to the northern kingdom about how to respond to this judgment. They were to inquire of God rather than of pagan mediums and spiritists (Is.8:19-22). Also, despite their rejection of the throne of David, God’s future provision for their deliverance would be the great son of David to come (Is.9:1-7). They needed to turn from their proud self-sufficiency and recognise their great need of the great son of David (Is.9:8-10:4)
 

4. The Assyrian judgment and Judah (10:5-12:6)

Having warned Israel of their defeat and exile at the hands of the Assyrians, Isaiah then addressed Assyria for exceeding its role as God’s instrument of judgment (Is.10:5-19). Judah’s deliverance from Assyria in 701 BC was a prophecy of an even more glorious deliverance and restoration which the great son of David would accomplish (Is.11:1-16). This would result in Judah and Israel uniting in praising God for His deliverance and restoration (Is.12:1-6).

C. New Testament Analysis

1. New Testament references

Isaiah Subject New Testament
Is.1:9 Remnant for Israel Rom.9:27-29
Is.1:18,25 Cleansing from sin 1Jn.1:8; Rev.7:14
Is.4:2-6 The Royal Branch Jn.15:1-8
Is.6:1-3 Glorious pre-incarnate Christ Jn.12:41
Is.6:9-10 Message rejected by hardened hearers Matt.13:13-15; Acts 28:24-27
Is.7:13-14 Virgin birth Lk.1:34
Is.7:14 Immanuel Mat.1:23
Is.9:7 Son and King of David’s line Lk.1:33
Is.9:1-2 Mission to Gentiles Mat.4:13-16
Is.10:22-23 Remnant for Israel Rom.9:27-29
Is.11:2 Anointed by the Holy Spirit Mat.3:16
Is.11:10 Gentile salvation Rom.15:12; 10:20

 

2. The Book of Immanuel (ch. 7-12)

-The Promise of Immanuel (Is.7)

-Attack on Immanuel’s Land (Is.8)

-Appearance of Immanuel (Is.9:1-7)

-Deliverance for Immanuel’s People (Is.9:8-11)

-Praise for Immanuel (Is.12)
The Book of Immanuel contains what Delitzsch calls “the great trilogy of Messianic prophecies”. In chapter 7 Messiah is about to be born; in chapter 9 he is born; and in chapter 11 he is reigning over his kingdom.
 

3. Historical Contingences

The Royal prophecies referring to days of Assyrian Crisis (Is.10:24-34) and to the days of post-Babylon restoration (Is.10:20-23) give a model and hope for David’s line. However this initial hope was contingent on the character of the King (Is.11:1-3a) and the establishment of righteousness (Is.11:3b-5). Then there would be peace (Is.11:6-9), worldwide restoration from exile (Is.11:10-16) and restoration joy (Is.12:1-6). Due to the post-exilic failures of the covenant community, the fulfillment was put off until the contingencies were perfectly fulfilled in Christ who brings the nations to himself through the Gospel (Isa.11:10; Rom.11:15).
 

II. Oracles Against Many Nations (13:1-27:13)

A. General Analysis

  • Specific judgments against specific nations (Is.13:1-23:18)
  • General judgments and promises (Is.24:1-27:13)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Specific judgments against specific nations (Is.13:1-23:18)

Following the song of thanksgiving for Israel’s glorious future, Isaiah pronounced doom upon all the enemies of God’s people. Isaiah saw that the bright day of restoration could only come after God had brought all their enemies low. The ten nations mentioned here were all involved in the period of Assyrian judgment and all failed in their attempts to form coalitions against Assyria: Babylon (Is.13:1-14:27), Philistia (Is.14:28-32), Moab (Is.15:1-16:14), Damascus (Is.17:1-14), Cush (Is.18:1-7), Egypt (Is.19:1-25), Egypt and Cush (Is.20:1-6), Babylon (Is.21:1-10), Edom (Is.21:11-12), Arabia (Is.21:13-17), Jerusalem (Is.22:1-25), Tyre (Is.23:1-18).

The recurring theme of Isaiah 13-23 is that faith in Yahweh’s purposes, and not foreign policies, will protect Jerusalem. Yahweh will crush Assyria, and he alone is the guarantor of Zion’s security (Is.14:27-32).[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 112.[/footnote]

 

2. General international judgments and promises (Is.24:1-27:13)

-The future judgment of the world (Is.24)

-Praise for Yahweh’s Triumph (Is.25)
-Trust in Yahweh’s Protection (Is.26)

-The future blessing of Israel (Is.27)
Isaiah’s “Little Apocalypse” describes the future day of the Lord as a day of judgment on all the enemies of God and His people. It promises a gathering of God’s people from all nations into a renewed world. This proves the folly of trusting anything or anyone other than God. The nations are doomed to judgment and only those who trust in God will enter the Kingdom of God.
 

3. Judgment and Hope

This section is not all negative. Here and there are positive words for the foreign nations (eg. Moab [Is.16:5]; Damascus [Is.17:6-7]; Cush [Is.18:7]; Egypt [Is.19:16-25]). Also, a negative word for Israel’s enemies is naturally and logically a positive word for Israel.

C. New Testament Analysis

Isaiah Subject New Testament
Is.25:6 The marriage supper of the Lamb Mat.8:11; 22:4
Is.25:7 Veil taken away 2Cor.3:15-16
Is.25:8 Victory over death 1Cor.15:54-55
Is.25:8 Tears wiped away Rev.21:4
Is.26:19 Resurrection Eph.5:14

 

III. Assyrian Crisis in Hezekiah’s Reign (28:1-39:8)

A. General Analysis

-Oracles to Hezekiah (Is.28.1-35:10)
-Hezekiah’s National Challenge (Is.36:1-37:38)
-Hezekiah’s Personal Challenge (Is.38:1-39:8)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Oracles Relating to Hezekiah (Is.28.1-35:10)

Judah and her kings had the benefit of learning from the mistakes of the kings of Israel. Hezekiah had the additional benefit of learning from the mistakes of his predecessor Ahaz, as he faced renewed Assyrian threats during his reign. The great temptation at this time was to form an alliance with Egypt against Assyria. But Isaiah’s message was that if God’s people trust in anyone but Him they will not be delivered. Chapter 31 celebrated an Assyrian reversal and provided the occasion for the expression of Messianic hope of deliverance (Is.32).
Isaiah’s Message: Learn from Ahaz’s mistake and trust in God

By this point we can see a pattern in the arrangement of the prophecies in the book. The first major section (chaps. 1-12) concluded with a description of the eschatological age (chap. 12), and the second similarly closed with a lengthy delineation of the future age (chaps. 24–27). Likewise chapters 34-35 are the capstone of chapters 28-33. In chapter 34 Isaiah describes the judgment of the world (vv. 1–4), the destruction of Edom (vv. 5–15), and the affirmative Word of the Lord (vv. 16–17), whereas chapter 35 presents the transformation of the wilderness and the return of the redeemed to Zion, giving a description of the preparations as well as the effects of their return.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

 

2. Hezekiah’s National Challenge (Is.36:1 -37:38)

-The first encounter with the Assyrians (Is.36:1-37:8)
-The second encounter with the Assyrians (Is.37:9-38)
These chapters recount Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 601 BC. Twice the Assyrians are repelled because Hezekiah trusted in God. Chapters 36–37 form a fitting climax to all the prophet had been saying about the Assyrian ordeal. These chapters document the fulfillment of the several predictions made in chapters 1–35 that God would miraculously deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrian attack if they would trust Him.
Hezekiah demonstrated the attitude and actions for which Isaiah had pressed in chapters 7–35. Thus chapters 36–37 serve as the counterbalance to chapters 7–8 in which proud and headstrong King Ahaz in a similar crisis chose to place his trust in man.
 

3. Hezekiah’s Personal Challenge (Is.38:1-39:8)

-Hezekiah healed (Is.38:1-22)

-Hezekiah failed (Is.39:1-8)

a. Hezekiah’s healing (Is.38:1-22)
Again Hezekiah’s trust in God is contrasted with the earlier narrative of Ahaz’s unbelief.

Both texts open with historical notes (Is.7:1; 36:1). The location is the same for both events—by the water conduit near the highway of the Fuller’s Field (Isa.7:3; 36:2). Prophetic signs are involved in both events (Is.7:11, 14; 38:7, 22); Ahaz rejects the signs, but Hezekiah accepts them. The clause “the zeal of Yahweh Sabaoth will accomplish this” is used at climactic points in both narratives (Is.9:6/9:7 and 37:32). The reference to the steps of Ahaz in Is.38:8 links Isaiah 36—38 with the Ahaz narrative. Hezekiah’s exemplary faith and piety contrast with Ahaz’s groundless fear and faithlessness in a similar crisis. Hezekiah’s reign may well provide historical fulfilment of Isaiah’s words in the first part of the book. He is thus seen, in contrast to Ahaz, as the first fulfillment of the expected ideal monarch (Is.9:1-6), although Hezekiah does not express all that the author has in mind in regard to the role of the Messiah in the salvation of Israel and in the new creation.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 114.[/footnote]

b. Hezekiah’s failure (Is.39:1-8)
The major theme of chapters 7–38 was trusting the Lord, not nations nor idols nor anything else. How appropriate, then, that the first half of the Book of Isaiah closes with a warning against misplaced trust. Hezekiah proudly showed the King of Babylon “his” treasures, and God declares that one day the Babylonians would return and carry them all away. There is probably an implicit alliance being formed between Hezekiah and Babylon in this chapter. Chapter 39 should dispel any idea that Hezekiah was the glorious king promised by Isaiah here and there in the first thirty-eight chapters of the book.
Having succeeded by trusting God in the international arena Hezekiah fails to trust God on a personal level. Despite the encouragement of his miraculous healing, he sought friendship with Babylon and the subsequent exile of Judah was prophesied (Is.39:1-8).
Isaiah’s Message: If you trust me I will deliver you (36-38), but if you trust in Babylon then you will go to Babylon (Is.39:6)
 

4. Link with chapters 40-66

These chapters do not follow a chronological but a thematic order. The events of chapters 38-39 happened before the events of chapters 36-37. However, Isaiah reversed the order for thematic orderliness. Chapters 36-37 deal with Assyria and so neatly conclude the first part of the book which deals chiefly with Assyria. Chapters 38-39 concern Babylon, so preparing us for the second part of the book (40-66) which deals largely with this empire.

Isaiah is also organized around two geographical poles. Prophecies about the imminent threat of Assyria dominate the first half of the book (1-39), while those that celebrate the liberation from Babylonian captivity two centuries later permeate the second (40-66). A few chapters in 1-39 anticipate, and thus create a sense of cohesion with, 40-66 (i.e., the oracle against Babylon in chapter 13; the millennial chapter 35). There is a careful balance to the overall structure that pivots nicely on chapters 36-39, its central historical prose section…Underscoring the pivotal or “hinge” function of these chapters and their apparently deliberate (and thus artistic) placement is their oddness in relation to the rest of Isaiah. No such historical prose chronicle exists anywhere else in the book, nor is there such a case of direct literary borrowing. Except for 38:9-20, the whole narrative is taken almost verbatim from 2 Kings 18-20. Thus we are moved to ask why this section appears where it does, and what it is trying to say. Its unique properties seem to draw attention to its function in context, which, I have been suggesting, is to serve primarily as a bridge or link uniting the two main parts of Isaiah. The fact that the two events recorded in chapters 36-39 occurred, as well as can be determined, in reverse chronological order, i.e., the Assyrian invasion threat transpired after Hezekiah’s illness and the treasury incident, also highlights the connecting role these chapters play in uniting the two “halves” of Isaiah. Their reversal stresses the fact that the respective chapters pertain to the corresponding segments.[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 316-317.[/footnote]

The reader should note that this section serves not only as an historical appendix to chs. 1-35, but also as a bridge to connect these earlier chapters with the latter half of the book. In the first portion of the prophecy the background has been the Assyrian period; in the latter half it is the time of the Babylonian exile. These chapters serve as a remarkable connecting link between the two. The Assyrian period closes, as it were, with the account of Sennacherib’s invasion. Then we are told of the Babylonian envoys, and of Isaiah’s prophecy of the captivity (Is.39:3-8). Thus we are prepared for the atmosphere which we find when we begin to read ch. 40.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1953), 215.[/footnote]

C. New Testament Analysis

Isaiah Subject New Testament
Is.32:17 Peace Rom.14:17; James 3:18
Is.35:5-6 Miraculous cures Matt.11:5; Jn.9:6-7; Acts3:8

 

IV. The Message

Original Message: If Israel trusts in foreign nations, God will bring the judgment of defeat and exile from His presence
Present Message: If the Church trusts in man, God will bring the judgment of defeat and exile from Christ’s presence.