THE PROPHET ISAIAH
Isaiah’s name comes first among the names of the prophets who wrote books of the Bible. That is fitting, because he stands as the greatest of the writing prophets. Chronologically, other prophets came before him; but none is greater. Isaiah lived in the kingdom of Judah in Jerusalem. We know very little about his personal life except that he was the son of Amoz and that he was married and had two sons. Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of four kings: Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Is. 1:1). Chapter 6 of Isaiah tells us about his call from the Lord to serve as a prophet. He was called “in the year that King Uzziah died” (6:1). This was about the year 740 B.C. Read Chapter 6 to learn about Isaiah’s call from God. As the words of Chapter 6 suggest, Isaiah’s words usually fell on deaf ears and hard hearts. He preached strong words of law which warned of God’s judgment coming on the sins of the people. He also announced healing words of comfort from a gracious God who longs to forgive and restore his people. Isaiah’s name itself speaks of God’s love. His name means “the Lord is salvation” or “salvation of the Lord.”
ISAIAH’S TIME IN WORLD HISTORY
It is helpful to remember some history when reading the Book of Isaiah. For judgment on his stubborn people, God often called on foreign powers. The mighty power of Isaiah’s time wasAssyria. Isaiah had already been preaching for 18 years when he heard about God’s judgment on the Northern Kingdom by allowing Assyria to destroy their kingdom. The Assyrian king later tried to take Jerusalem; but God did not allow it, just as Isaiah had told King Hezekiah in Jerusalem.
THE SPECIAL PROPHECY OF ISAIAH
God did not only allow Isaiah to preach of the things that would take place in his own lifetime. God also allowed Isaiah to proclaim things that would happen far into the future. By prophetic vision, he “saw” the end of the Assyrian rule at the hands of the Babylonians in 612 B.C. He also “saw” the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews and their return to Judah. By God’s prophetic gift, Isaiah was looking 200 years into the future to write of these events. But Isaiah was allowed to see farther into the future and far more important things than these. He was allowed to look into the future all the way up to the days of the Roman Empire when a virgin would give birth to a son who would be called Immanuel (7:15). In his famous 53rd Chapter, Isaiah is allowed to “see” the suffering and resurrection of this Prince Of Peace who would come to heal us by his wounds. Because of his clear visions of the Savior and his work, Isaiah is sometimes called “the evangelist of the Old Testament.” By a miracle of the Spirit, through Isaiah the Old Testament people received a clear picture of the salvation that was to be prepared for them by God’s Son. Be sure to read Chapter 53. Remember that it was written more than 700 years before Christ’s work. Do you think the people of Isaiah’s time would ever be able to say, “We had no way of knowing about a Savior”?
Many Bible critics say that one man could not have written all 66 chapters of Isaiah. Some say that at least three men must have done the writing: They say chapters 1-39 were written by one man, 40-54 by another, and 55-66 by still another. They try to prove their ideas by pointing out that the style of writing is so different in the various parts of the 66 chapters. They also claim that one man could not speak clearly of things that would happen 200 years after his death, such as Isaiah does concerning the Babylonian exile. But with God the Holy Spirit guiding the author, all things are possible. It is a tremendous miracle of the Spirit that allowed Isaiah to look not only 200 years into the future but also into the life and kingdom of Christ. As for different styles of writing in the book, people commonly use different styles of writing for different occasions; also, a style of writing may change very much as an author grows older. The testimony of the New Testament concerning one author for the 66 books of Isaiah is very clear. The New Testament quotes many chapters from all parts of Isaiah; and when it does, Isaiah is given credit for writing the whole book under the Holy Spirit. For examples, see such passages as Mat. 13:14 (quotes Is. 6:9-10; Jn. 1:23 (quotes Is. 40:3); Luke 4:17 ff (quotes Is. 61:1-2). Note that these passages give quotations from the supposed three “different books” of Isaiah. Yet there is no hint of three or more different Isaiahs writing. Clearly, the book has just one author.
AN OUTLINE FOR ISAIAH
- Prophecies Concerning Things of Isaiah’s Time (1-35) In these chapters Isaiah prophesies concerning Judah, Jerusalem, and enemy nations. Interspersed in these chapters are many beautiful Messianic prophecies. (cf. 7:14; 9:6-7, 11).
- An Historical Interlude (36-39) These four chapters give an historical account of the Assyrian King Sennacherib threatening Jerusalem at King Hezekiah’s time. They also tell of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery after he prayed for God’s mercy.
- Prophecies Relating To The Exile (40-66) These are primarily chapters of comfort for Judah and for the whole Church because of God’s deliverance. God would deliver the Jews from Babylon and all of His people from sin through his “Servant.” Especially important chapters in this section are 40, 53, and 61.
KEY PASSAGES FROM ISAIAH:
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (7:14).
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6-7).
“We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6).
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