Isaiah Overview: Trust God and Not Man

9th Century Prophets 8th Century Prophets 7th Century Prophets Exilic Prophets Post-exilic Prophets
Obadiah
Joel
Amos
Hosea
Jonah
Isaiah
Micah
Nahum
Zephaniah
Habakkuk
Jeremiah/Lamentations
Ezekiel
Daniel
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi

Introduction

1. Name

The book is named after its author, Isaiah, whose name means “Jehovah is salvation.”

2. Theme

Trust in God alone.

3. Purpose

To encourage the prophet’s contemporaries to be loyal to the Lord and to exhort future readers in exile to repent of sin and trust the Lord to bring the faithful remnant of Israel and other nations to unprecedented blessings after the exile.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1068.[/footnote]

4. Key verses

The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass…Behold your God! (Isa. 40:6, 9)

5. Key truths

• God called Isaiah to warn his people of the judgment of exile and to assure them of future restoration to tremendous blessing after the exile.
• Isaiah’s reliability was demonstrated by the fulfilment of many of his earlier prophecies by the time of the writing of the book.
• Isaiah’s astounding predictions about the end of the Babylonian exile and the restoration were sure to take place, but only the repentant in Israel and the nations would enjoy these future blessings.[footnote]Ibid., 1068.[/footnote]

 

I. Author

A. Traditional View

Isaiah was the son of Amoz (Isa. 1:1; Isa. 2:1). The frequency of reference to Isaiah’s father has led to suggestions that perhaps Amoz was a prominent man in the royal court. This may help to explain Isaiah’s access to successive Kings. His wife was a prophetess (Isa. 8:2) and they had two sons with significant names, Shear-Jashub (“a remnant shall return” [Isa. 7:3]) and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (“swift is the booty and speedy is the prey” [Isa. 8:3]).

The names of these two sons signify the twofold message of the prophet. On the one hand, there is a resounding warning; on the other, a reassuring promise. If the people will not turn away from idolatry and sin, God will punish them by raising up a foreign power to conquer them and carry them away captive. Like a wild animal pouncing on its weaker prey, so will Assyria carry Israel away. Nevertheless God will remain faithful to his ancient promises. A remnant will return to their own land.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 520.[/footnote]

Although Isaiah’s prophesies were mainly to Judah’s royal court, he also addressed Israel and foreign nations.

He has been called “the Prince of the Old Testament Prophets” (Copass), “the Saint Paul of the Old Testament” (Robinson) and “the greatest prophet” (Eusebius). Isaiah son of Amoz was a theologian, reformer, statesman, historian, poet, orator, prince, and patriot. He was “prophet of the gospel before the Gospel” (Robinson), the fifth evangelist. Naegelsbach refers to him as “the great central-prophet.” His ministry was central in time. He walked across the stage of history roughly half way between Moses and Christ. Isaiah was central in the events of history. He lived during the days of the mighty Assyrian Empire. He anticipated the downfall of that empire and the rise of its two successors, viz., the Chaldean and the Persian empires. This prophet was central in theological emphasis. He drove home the great principles of salvation through faith, substitutionary atonement, the kingdom and resurrection.[footnote]J E Smith, The Major Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

B. Critical Views

The critics argue for two or three Isaiah’s as follows.

8th Century Prophet
First (Proto) Isaiah
Mid-6th Century Prophet
Second (Deutero) Isaiah
Late 6th Century Prophet
Third (Trito) Isaiah
Most of Isa. 1-39 Isa. 40-55 Isa. 56-66
Addressing issues of his day Addressing issues of the exilic community Addressing Issues of post-exilic community

[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Prophets (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]

The critics have three main arguments to support their thesis of two or three Isaiah’s.

1. The timespan

The book seems to address two different audiences in two different places and eras. The first part (Isa. 1-39) is set in Jerusalem between 740-700 BC when Assyria was a powerful threat. The second part (Isa. 40-66) addresses the Babylonian exile and restoration over a hundred years later (586-500 BC). The critics rule out the possibility of predictive prophecy and, therefore, conclude that more than one person wrote the book

Critics find the explicit predictive reference to King Cyrus (Isa. 44:28 and Isa. 45:1) particularly hard to accept. As Isaiah’s ministry ended long before Cyrus was king of Persia, they conclude that someone else must have written this part.

2. Theological differences

Critics also point to alleged theological differences between the two halves.

Isaiah 1-39 Isaiah 40-66
God’s majesty God’s universal dominion
Nation led by Davidic king (Isa. 11:1) Leadership by priests, Levites, princes (Isa. 61:6; Isa. 66:21)
Messianic king (Isa. 9:6-7; Isa. 11:1ff) Servant of the Lord
Faithful remnant prominent Little emphasis on faithful remnant
Historical details form background No historical setting
Isaiah mentioned frequently Isaiah not mentioned.
Mainly judgment Mainly salvation
3. Language and style.

Critics describe the second half of the book as more “lyric, flowing, impassioned, hymnic” than the first. They also make lists of words which appear in one half but not in others as evidence for different authors.

C. Evangelical View

Evangelical scholars believe that there was only “one Isaiah,” and support their conclusion with the following arguments.

1. The superscriptions

The heading of the book and at least thirteen other places within the book claim Isaiah as the speaker/writer.

The most obvious reason for regarding Isaiah as the author of the book that bears his name is the superscription to the book (Isa. 1:1). All fifteen books of the latter prophets in the Hebrew Bible begin with a similar heading; in each case the heading is most naturally understood as providing the name of the prophet whose utterances are found in the book. In addition to the superscription to the book as a whole, the individual passages attributed to Isaiah reiterate the point (Isa. 2:1; Isa. 7:3; Isa. 20:2; Isa. 37:2,5-6; Isa. 38:1,4; Isa. 39:5)…If lesser prophets were faithfully remembered in the superscriptions to the books that they wrote, how could this greatest prophet of Israel (the author of Isaiah 40-66) have been forgotten and fallen into anonymity?[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 272.[/footnote]

2. Common themes and vocabulary

It can be argued that there is not a single chapter in Isaiah 1-39 that is not reflected in Isaiah 40-66 and that hundreds of Isaianic words and phrases occur in both halves. Conservative scholars have pointed out at least forty or fifty sentences or phrases which appear in both parts of Isaiah, and indicate its common authorship. In many different subject areas in the book, both halves have common designations: for God, for Israel, for introductory formulas for oracles, for pairing Zion and Jerusalem, for the ingathering of the exiles, for messages of consolation and encouragement, for expressions of joy and gladness, for hopes of a universal millennium, for words of admonition and chastisement, etc. Since so large a number of specific parallels between any other two books of Scripture by different authors cannot be found, it is more reasonable to maintain the unity of Isaiah. The literary style of the second half of Isaiah is so similar to the first that even critics admit that “Deutero-Isaiah” must have been a disciple of Isaiah who tried to imitate his master.

Differences in style can be explained by different subject matter, different audiences and different times.

While some differences between sections do exist, the stylistic similarities throughout the book are greater than the alleged differences. These include similarities in thoughts, images, rhetorical ornaments, characteristic expressions, and local colouring. It is true that the first section is more terse and rational while the second is more flowing and emotional, but much of this is due to the different subject matter – the difference between condemnation and consolation.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

3. New Testament citations

Isaiah is cited by name about twenty times in the New Testament. Both halves of the book are cited and attributed to Isaiah. John cites Isaiah 6:10 and Isa. 53:1 in consecutive verses, identifying both as Isaianic (John 12:38-41). New Testament citations of Isaiah by name are drawn from twelve different chapters, seven from Isaiah 1-39 and five from Isaiah 40-66. Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth read from Isaiah 61 and attributed it to Isaiah (Luke 4:16ff).

It is, of course, not just the New Testament that regards the book as the product of a single author; no references to the book before the eighteenth century ever clearly raise the issue of additional authors. The earliest extra-biblical evidence regarding attitudes to the authorship of Isaiah is found in Ecclesiasticus, a book from the mid-second century BC. There the author says that at the time of Hezekiah, Isaiah “comforted them that mourn in Zion” by revealing things before they took place (Ecclus. 48:24-25), thereby assigning the second half of Isaiah to the time of the eighth century. The great manuscript of Isaiah from the second century B.C. recovered at Qumran shows no awareness of a break in the book at chapter 40, but rather begins with 40:1 as the first line at the bottom of a column; this suggests that ancient scribes accepted the unity of the two sections of the book and had no notion that Isaiah 40—66 was a secondary appendix.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 272.[/footnote]

Further traditional evidence for Isaianic authorship is that the Septuagint, translated about 250 BC, shows no distinction between the two halves of the book. Ben Sirach, writing at about 280 BC knew of only one Isaiah. Josephus attributes the Cyrus prophecy of Isa. 44:28 and Isa. 45:1 – the most controversial prophecy in the book – to Isaiah the son of Amoz.

4. Predictive prophecy

If God knows the future then why cannot he reveal it to His prophets (Am. 3:7; Rev. 1:1-2,19)? If God knew that Assyria was going to fall and that Babylon would rise, to be replaced in turn by Persia, there is no reason why these facts could not have been revealed to Isaiah.

 

II. Date

Having accepted single authorship by Isaiah, the dating of the book becomes relatively simple. The introduction to the book tells us that he ministered in Judah and in Jerusalem to Judean kings (Isa. 1:1; Isa. 7:1), during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Isa. 1:1).
The earliest date mentioned is the death of Uzziah in 742 BC (Isa. 6:1). The latest date mentioned is the death of Sennacherib and succession of Esarhaddon to the throne of Assyria in 681 BC (Isa. 37:37-38). The book could not have been completed until after that event. Isaiah, therefore ministered for almost 60 years and then brought his book to completion near the end of his life during the reign of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah
 

III. Historical Analysis

1. Chronology of international events

Date Event Scripture reference
742-734 Early Assyrian judgment through Tiglath-Pileser III
734-732 Syrian-Israelite coalition Isa. 7-8
722 Destruction of Samaria 2 Ki. 17:24
705-701 Invasion of Judah and siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib Isa. 36:1-37:38
586-539 Babylonian exile and restoration Isa. 39:6-7
a. Early Assyrian judgment (742-734 BC).

Isaiah preached against the leaders of both North and South (Isa. 1:10-15; Isa. 5:11,18,19) who had led God’s people into moral ruin. Isaiah warned that God was preparing to judge His people in both the north and south through the Assyrian armies.

b. The Syrian-Israelite Coalition (734-732 BC).

When Syria and Israel formed a coalition against Assyria (Isa. 7-8), The kings of Israel (Pekah) and of Syria (Rezin) demanded that King Ahaz of Judah join their coalition against Assyria. Isaiah promised Ahaz that if he trusted God, he would be protected without the aid of any other nation. However, instead of trusting God, he turned to the Assyrians for help against Israel and Syria. God, therefore, brought the Assyrians to judge Syria, Israel and Judah.

The prophet Isaiah called the kings and the people to turn away from all compromising and entangling political alliances and rely entirely and exclusively upon the living God. This was particularly true during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah who both faced threats from Assyria and temptations to align themselves with other nations to save themselves.

c. Destruction of Samaria (722 BC).

In 722 BC Israel was devastated by the Assyrians and the people scattered throughout Assyria (2 Ki. 17:24). Judah became one of Assyria’s vassal states (2 Chron. 28:16-25).

d. Invasion of Judah and Jerusalem’s siege (707-701 BC)

Despite the warning of what happened to the Northern Kingdom, Judah continued to sin. In response, God moved King Sennacherib of Assyria (705-681 BC) to attack and besiege Judah. Isaiah warned King Hezekiah against looking to other nations for deliverance and called on him to trust in God alone. This he did (Isa. 37:14-35), and God saved Jerusalem from the Assyrians (Isa. 36:1-37:37).

e. Babylonian Judgment and Restoration (586-539 BC)

Despite God’s deliverance from Assyria, Hezekiah tried to form coalition with Babylon, showing off his treasures to impress the visiting dignitaries (Isa. 39:1-2). Isaiah denounced this and declared that Judah’s royal treasures would one day be taken to Babylon (Isa. 39:6-7) along with the people of Judah. Despite this just judgment, Isaiah spends the last 26 chapters giving hope of restoration to those so exiled (Isa. 40-66).

2. Chronology of Judah’s Kings

a. Uzziah (783-742 BC)

Uzziah ruled for 40 long years and oversaw an economic boom. Major building projects were completed. The rich were getting richer. The poor, however, were being oppressed. The Temple was overflowing with worshippers, but the worship was a sham. Pagan customs were influencing their religious rituals (Isa. 2:1-3:26).

b. Jotham (750-742 BC)
c. Ahaz (743-715 BC).

Ahaz turned away from God and put his trust in Assyria. The result was a siege by Israel (King Pekah) and Syria (King Rezin) to force Ahaz to join them against Assyria (2 Ki. 16:5-9; 2 Chron. 28:5-21). He responded by sending gold and silver to the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III to make him come to his aid. He replicated a heathen altar in Jerusalem and even closed the temple doors.

d. Hezekiah (715-687 BC)

In contrast to his father Ahaz, Hezekiah was anti-Assyrian and pro-God. He opened and reformed the temple, re-instituted the Mosaic rituals (2 Chron. 29:20-36) and cleansed the land of idolatry.

Because of his anti-Assyrian policy, Assyria under Sennacherib, came to take control of Judah and Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:13-19:37; 2 Chronicles 32:9-21; and Isaiah 36-37). Through Isaiah’s ministry Hezekiah trusted in God and God destroyed 185,000 Assyrians in one night.

e. Manasseh (687-642 BC)

Manasseh followed the wicked ways of his grandfather rather than the godly ways of his father. He restored idolatry and shed much innocent blood, partly in child sacrifices to Moloch.

 

IV. Literary Analysis

1. Comparative Outlines

Young Jensen Pratt Murray

Title
(Isa. 1:1)

Crisis and Messiah
(Isa. 1:2-12:6)

Theocracy and Nations
(Isa. 13:1-39:8)

Salvation and Future Blessing
(Isa. 40:1-66:24)

The Judgment of God
(Isa. 1-39)

The Comfort of God
(Isa. 40-66)

Title
(Isa. 1:1)

Overview of Isaiah’s Message
(Isa. 1:2-6:13)

Isaiah’s Response to Present Assyrian Crisis
(Isa. 7:1-39:8)

Isaiah’s Response to Future Babylonian Crisis
(Isa. 40:1-66:24)

Trust in God or exile
(Isa. 1-39)

Trust in God for exodus
(Isa. 40-66)

Jensen’s structure highlights the emphasis on judgment in Isaiah 1-39 and the emphasis on comfort in Isaiah 40-66. As he makes clear, this is not clear cut but a matter of balance and emphasis. Even in the midst of the “judgment section” God offers hope of salvation and restoration upon repentance and faith. Also, though comfort is the predominant note of the second section, there are repeated warnings to the wicked and unrepentant.

Structurally, there is a general alternating pattern of prophecies of judgment and prophecies of redemption. What John McKenzie calls “a pleasing alternation of promise and rebuke” within chapters 40-48 also accurately describes the book as a whole. On the largest scale, this pattern corresponds to chapters 1-39 and 40-66. But the configuration can be detected even in smaller sections….This simple pattern of warning and promise is also developed at length in Isaiah. Even though some scholars read Isaiah as a collection of fragments, this kind of structure occurs throughout the book and justifies reading it as a unity. The ubiquitous judgments described in chapters 1-39 are relieved by promises of blessing. In chapters 40-55 these positive affirmations increase in number in proportion to the judgments until there is mainly jubilation at the close of the book (chs. 56-66). Judgment is only briefly but appropriately applied to whatever had opposed the optimal dialogue of humanity and God, of heaven and earth. The structure of the entire book of Isaiah is a “progression” of this intertwining of judgments and blessings. The negative is never allowed to dominate.[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 315.[/footnote]

Isaiah is one of several Old Testament books that have a similar structure in broad outline. The first part of the book is largely taken up with issues of the immediate present and impending judgment on Israel (Isa.1-12). This portion is then followed by an extended series of oracles focusing on judgment against foreign nations (Isa. 13-35). The remainder of the book is given to describing future blessing for the people of God (Isa. 40-66). Chapters 36-39 provide a narrative transition from the time of the Assyrian crisis to the concerns of exilic and later times. A similar structure is found in Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Joel, and the Septuagint of Jeremiah.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 281.[/footnote]

2. Literary Bifid

Some scholars have divided Isaiah into two parallel volumes. This is partly based upon the presence of a three line gap between chapters 33 and 34 in the Qumran scroll of Isaiah.

Volume 1 (Isa. 1-33) Volume 2 (Isa. 34-66)
1. Ruin and restoration of Judah (Isa. 1-5) 1. Paradise lost and regained (Isa. 34-35)
2. Narrative (Isa. 6-8) 2. Narrative (Isa. 36-39)
3. Agents of blessing and judgment (Isa. 9-12) 3. Agents of deliverance and judgment (Isa. 40-45)
4. Oracles against foreign nations (Isa. 13-23) 4. Oracles against Babylon (Isa. 46-48)
5. Judgment and deliverance of God’s people (Isa. 24-27) 5. Redemption through the Lord’s servant (Isa. 49-55)
6. Ethical sermons (Isa. 28-31) 6. Ethical sermons (Isa. 56-59)
7. Restoration of Judah and Davidic kingdom (Isa. 32-33) 7. Paradise regained (Isa. 55-66)

[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 281.[/footnote]

3. Literary Quality

Isaiah has long been renowned for its literary quality. Believer and unbelievers, evangelicals and critics have all united to praise the language and style of the book.

The book contains masterful uses of all forms of wordplay and imagery: alliteration, assonance, anaphora, repetition, paronomasia, metaphor, simile, personification, allegory, and even puns. And despite its dissection into three large sections by diachronic critics, there is great artistry in the harmonizing of its structure, a conscious effort to unify all sixty-six chapters. Further, Isaiah makes good use of literary allusion and borrowing in references to Genesis, Exodus, and Micah, and in the duplication of several chapters from 2 Kings. Isaiah’s lofty themes of social justice (Isa. 1:16-17); YHWH’s everlasting power over worldly empires, armies, and gods (Isa. 8:1-4; Isa. 40:15-24; Isa. 44:6-20); and judgment and redemption on a cosmic scale (e.g., Isa. 24,54) also contribute to the book’s exalted status.[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 311.[/footnote]

4. Genre

Isaiah has defied the attempt of literary scholars to straitjacket the book in a genre category. The difficulty of finding a suitable literary description for Isaiah (and the other prophets) has led some to propose that biblical prophecy is a genre itself and that it most closely resembles the sermon form.

Perhaps the literary genre that most closely approximates the features of the book of Isaiah is the sermon. Speaking on God’s authority, the sermonizer addresses an audience and, for example, warns of dire consequences for sin or consoles with promises of forgiveness and restoration, or both. (Like a good preacher, Isaiah provides hope of redemption, not only judgment.) The “vocative,” confrontational tone of sermons is characteristic of prophecy in general and of Isaiah in particular. Even though it may be written down, it is essentially a spoken art form. All of these attributes can be found in Isaiah if viewed as a series or collection of sermons. However, a sermon is not generally written in poetic form as most of Isaiah is. Moreover, a sermon traditionally explicates a text, but this is not a regular function of prophecy. Nor, usually, does a sermon suddenly shift from a mundane level to a visionary one as do some biblical prophecies. The sermon, then, does not work as a generic counterpart to prophecy either. As a literary genre, biblical prophecy, Isaiah being the supreme example, is sui generis. It is neither drama, narrative, vision, or sermon, though it may contain elements of each. The only generic convention we can be sure Isaiah follows is that of poetry.[footnote]Ibid., 314.[/footnote]

 

V. Thematic Analysis

1. God, the Holy One of Israel

Isaiah describes God as the “holy One of Israel” more than 25 times. The holiness of God is the predominant theme in Isaiah’s call (Isa. 6) and it made such an impression upon him that it flavoured the rest of his ministry (Isa. 1:4; Isa. 5:19,24; Isa. 10:17,20; Isa. 12:6; Isa. 17:7; Isa. 29:19,23; Isa. 30:11-12,15; Isa. 31:1; Isa. 37:23; Isa. 40:25, etc). Outside of Isaiah this phrase occurs only six times in the remainder of the Old Testament.

The holiness of God was Israel’s standard (Lev. 11:44-45; Lev. 19:2; Lev. 20:7) and Isaiah realized that the nation had fallen far short with potentially fatal consequences.

2. God, the Savior and Redeemer

Isaiah’s own name preached the saving character of God and this too became a major theme of his ministry (Isa. 41:14; Isa. 43:3,14; Isa. 47:4; Isa. 48:17; Isa. 49:7; Isa. 54:5). If His people would trust Him then he would deliver them from the Syro-Ephraimite coalition (Isa. 8:1-14), from Assyria (Isa. 17:10; Isa. 11:10-12:3), and from Babylon (Isa. 45:17; Isa. 48:14,20; Isa. 49:25-26).

Just as Yahweh had redeemed Israel from Egypt (Ex. 13:15; Deut. 7:8; Deut. 9:26; Deut. 13:5; Deut. 15:15; Deut. 24:18; 2 Sam. 7:23; 1 Chron. 17:21; Mic. 6:4), so also he would redeem them from bondage in Babylon and restore them to the inheritance he had provided in Canaan (e.g., Isa. 1:27; Isa. 29:22; Isa. 35:9; Isa. 41:14; Isa. 43:1,14; Isa. 44:6,22-24; Isa. 47:4; Isa. 48:17,20; Isa. 49:7,26; Isa. 51:10). They had been “sold for nothing” and would be redeemed “without money” (52:3).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 277.[/footnote]

3. Covenant

The recurring phrase “my people” alerts us to the covenant underlying God’s relationship with Judah. The term implies God’s gracious election of and providence towards Israel. It explains the motive behind the divine commissioning of Isaiah. Prophets were raised up by God when a covenant breach occurred, in order to call the people away from disobedience to the Mosaic covenant and to urge exclusive loyalty to God.

Like Moses, the prophets offered what was given on Sinai and reapplied it to current social, religious, and economic questions. They were therefore not innovators. They dealt with a faith, once delivered, which needed to be possessed by the communities of their day. Since the Israelite prophet was primarily a covenant mediator, his appearance and intervention meant that covenant breach in some shape had occurred. Thus the prophetic ministry was most normally associated, up to the exile at least, with impending judgment. But their message was actually a saving message. For unless the sin of Israel was so deeply ingrained that it could not be eradicated, the threat of judgment was an implicit invitation to repentance. Israel’s prophets spoke with the authority of the sender. For warrant for their message, they appealed to participation in the deliberations of the heavenly council (see Isa. 6; Jer. 23:18), where the message had been heard and from whence commissioning proceeded, as opposed to the more formally appointed kingship. Israelite prophecy was a Spirit-filled office that continued the charismatic type of ministry of the Judges period.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 107.[/footnote]

The book of Isaiah records Isaiah’s application of covenant blessings and judgments to the nation.

On the one hand Isaiah’s ministry consisted largely of bringing charges, condemnations and judgments as he declared covenant curses on Israel and Judah for their flagrant violations of their covenant obligations (Isa. 1:2-31; Isa. 13:1-23:18; Isa. 56:9-57:13; Isa. 65:1-16). The prophet spoke of many different curses that would come, the most serious of which would be destruction and exile. In fact, both Israel and Judah had fallen so far from the ideals of the covenant that God commanded Isaiah to prophesy in order to harden the people’s hearts so that the judgment of exile might not be averted (Isa. 6:1-13). On the other hand Isaiah balanced his message of judgment with words of hope. He spoke of many different kinds of blessings, but for the most part his positive words focused on the principal blessing of restoration after exile (Isa. 40-66). As a result, Isaiah called the godly to persevere in seeking the Lord, in cultivating hope for God’s kingdom, in experiencing God’s peace within themselves during times of trouble and in responding to God’s new acts of redemption in faith (Isa. 2:5; Isa. 8:13-17; Isa. 26:20-21; Isa. 33:14-16; Isa. 40:28-31; Isa. 48:20-21; Isa. 55:1-12; Isa. 60:1-3; Isa. 61:10-11; Isa. 63:7-64:12; Isa. 66:5-6). Isaiah promised that a remnant would survive the exile, return to the land and enjoy the unprecedented blessings of God.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1069.[/footnote]

4. Jerusalem

The covenant also explains the book’s emphasis on God’s interest in and devotion to Jerusalem. This was the place He had covenanted to place His name. In the first chapter we find a decadent Jerusalem whose sacrifices and prayers are unacceptable to God. The first half concludes with the threat of exile on King Hezekiah and his city, Jerusalem (Isa. 39). The second half begins with the promise of a restored Jerusalem (Isa. 40:1-2). Jerusalem increasingly dominates each major section of the book, and in the last chapter we find a New Jerusalem which attracts the whole world in a worship pilgrimage (Isa. 66).

This New Jerusalem, in fact, functions as a symbol of the new age and is presented in the conclusion as an obvious offset to the city with which the book began.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 108.[/footnote]

5. Exile and Exodus

The book of Exodus finds God’s people in Egyptian exile. The remainder of the Pentateuch is the story of God’s deliverance of Israel by means of the Exodus and his bringing of them into the Promised Land. The Pentateuch ended with the renewal of the Mosaic covenant and its emphasis on exile for sin and exodus from exile upon repentance. As we have seen, this theme dominated the historical books also. Isaiah also takes up this theme throughout his book. Exile for sin is emphasised in the first part but exodus by God’s grace is the note of the second.

The promised return from exile in the latter part of Isaiah is also viewed in the perspective of the great antecedent Exodus in Israel’s history. The prophet envisions a second Exodus with all its wonders: protection from the elements, springs of water in the desert, and miraculously provided sustenance (Isa. 49:10). The thematic burden of this analogy to the first Exodus is that there is a divine plan and that YHWH’s word does not fail (Isa. 55:10-11). Israel is invited to “be still,” “look to YHWH,” and have “faith”—concepts Isaiah borrows from Exodus—to do nothing but take up a stance of obedience and to watch and see what the Lord will do (Isa. 7:4; Isa. 30:15-18; see Ex. 14:13-14). He delivered his people before and will do so again. Yet Isaiah affirms that this is not a repeat of an old demonstration of God’s power when he “makes a way through the sea” and “brings forth the chariot and horses,” but “something new” (Isa. 43:16-21). This stress on newness culminates in the later promise of a new heaven and new earth (Isa. 65 and Isa. 66).[footnote]L Ryken and T Longman III (Editors), The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1993), 318-319.[/footnote]

 

VI. New Testament Analysis

Isaiah sets forth the doctrine of Christ in such full detail that he has rightly been described as “the evangelical prophet” and his book as the “fifth Gospel.” Deeper Christological insights are to be found in his work than anywhere else in the Old Testament.
For the Christian the Book of Isaiah is extremely important. Forty-seven chapters of this book were directly quoted or alluded to by Christ or the Apostles. With more than four hundred allusions, Isaiah stands with the Psalms as the most cited books in the New Testament. The more important Messianic prophecies in this book will be noted as we go along. However, we should note three broad categories of Christ-centred prophecies in Isaiah.

1. Judgment

The judgments on disobedient Israel and on the rebellious nations climaxed ultimately in Christ (Isa. 53:4-6,12; 2 Co 1:15; Heb 9:26).

2. Restoration

Isaiah prophesied a glorious post-exilic restoration, illustrated with the figure of “the new heavens and the new earth” (Isa. 65:17; Isa. 66:22). Jesus introduced this new creation at his first coming. He continues it in church history (2 Co 4:6; 2 Co 5:17; Gal 6:15; Jas 1:18). He will complete the fulfilment upon his second coming (Rev 21:1-3).

3. Servant of the Lord

While many verses in Isaiah point to Christ, none do so more clearly than the “servant” verses.

Isaiah predicted that the “servant” to come would bring justice the nations (Isa. 42:1-4), re-establish Israel’s covenant with the Lord (Isa. 42:5-7), become a light to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:1-7), take away the sins of the elect and be raised from the dead (Isa. 52:13-53:12). The New Testament repeatedly identifies this Servant-Saviour as Jesus Christ. (Mt 8:17; Mt 16:21; Mt 27:26,29,31,38,57-60; Jn. 10-11,29; Jn. 3:17; Jn. 12:38; Jn. 19:1,7,18,38-41; Ac 2:23; Ac 3:13; Ac 32-33; Ac 8:32-33; Ac 10:43; Ro 4:25; Ro 8:34; Ro 10:15-16; Ro 15:21; Eph 3:4-5; Php 2:9; Heb 5:8; Heb 9:28; Rev 14:5).[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1069.[/footnote]

 

VII. The Message of Isaiah

Original Message: Israel will go into exile for sinful unbelief, but God will deliver her by a new exodus and restore “Promised Land” blessings.
Present Message: The Church will suffer “exile” for its sinful unbelief, but God will deliver her by a new exodus and restore “Promised Land” blessings.