Marco van Putten
Author(ship) and his time
Isaiah was probable born around 770 BCE in Jerusalem and when he reached the age of 30, God called him to be prophet (Is 6:1). His Hebrew name Jesja’jahoe means: ‘Salvation is from God’. The prophet Amos was prophet before him (1:1) and lived in the same time as the prophets Hosea (Hs 1:1) and Micah (Mi 1:1).
Isaiah lived in a time when Israel was divided up into two kingdoms. Around 200 years before his time, ten tribes of Israel had separated themselves from their brothers in the south of their Land and established their own kingdom ‘Israel’. They chose Samaria as their capital. The two tribes in the south called their Davidic kingdom therefore ‘Judah’ and kept Jerusalem as their capital.
Isaiah lived in exiting times. In the beginning of his ministry of being prophet Judah experienced economical bloom and growth in military strength under king Uzziah (2 Chr 26:11-14). But the world powers were also on the move. Assyria expanded its territory and influence more and more. Also in the direction of its main peer Egypt. Whilst Egypt did the same in the direction of Assyria. In between were the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The Israelites sought ways for being spared for war and remaining independent. They formed alliances with neighboring countries or sometimes with Egypt and sometimes with Assyria. But they didn’t seek God for help. All these things – wealth, military strength and diplomacy – added to their steady decline in trust on God.
When Isaiah died is unclear. According to Jewish tradition king Manasseh had him tortured so much that he died by it. According to that tradition in the year 686 BCE. He was buried with the Judean kings, which suggests that he was of royal descend. He supposedly became very old.
Character of prophecy
Prophecies are hard to understand. Even more so when they have been badly translated, like those of Isaiah. Prophecies are first and foremost meant for the time of the prophet, but can also have meaning for the near of far future. But even when the time of Isaiah is studied, then it is not always clear to what event a prophecy of his is targeted. Some suggest such prophecy to be reckoned as being unfulfilled. But, if a prophecy is supposed to have remained unfulfilled then is becomes even more difficult to interpret it because timelines in such prophecies are sometimes mixed and unclear. Prophecies often seem to point at one event, but after thoroughly studying them it seems that they can point to multiple events. Prophecies often have multiple fulfillments.
Isaiah’s prophecies most definitely are not prophecies exclusively about the Lord Jesus as Christians tend to think. But, that said, their precise meanings are not always easily understood. Especially when prophecies until this day are unfulfilled or only partly fulfilled.
Also for Isaiah’s generation its prophecies were difficult. He condemned its audience heavily. He also prophesied totally new and shocking things of which many seem to contradict their religion. God also explicitly called Isaiah to confuse people (Is 6:9-10). Added to that is the fact that many of his prophecies stayed unfulfilled during his own days. Whilst Moses had made explicitly clear that this was a criteria for a prophet (Dt 18:22). Therefore it’s a miracle that this book was granted a place in the Bible. Seemingly Isaiah was accepted as prophet after all.
Goal and content
Isaiah’s saw Israel is one people (twelve tribes) and not just as Judah. His prophecies are on the first place condemnations of that Israel, because they went against God (2 K 17:7-23; 18:12; Is 1:2; 29:13). According to Isaiah Israel has lost therefore its unique calling in his days. Isaiah’s prophecies make known that God will have them attacked by foreign kingdoms. Isaiah’s aim was conversion (Is 31:6). His prophecies have only a temporary and partial effect, for eventually Israel falls away from God. This results in the persecution of the way makers of the restoration of faith – messianic prophets –, like Isaiah, and in making them suffer and finally in killing them (Is 50:6). Isaiah announces that also because of that God will banish Israel and oppress them therein until they will convert when His Messiah will appear and God’s Kingdom will be established on earth. Heathens that oppress Israel more than God commanded them will He punished (Is 47:6) and the religion of Israel and that of the nations will become one. (Is 66:20-23).
Special attention is given to the righteous remnant of Israel that will have to undergo the collective sufferings of Israel without being guilty of Israel’s crimes (Is 3:10; 57:15). God encourages them by calling them the holy seed of Israel’s restoration (Is 6:13; 61:9; 65:8).
Position in the Bible / structure / overview
Based on its length the book has been categorized with the ‘great’ prophets and the ‘later’ prophets since Isaiah lived hundreds of years later then the ‘early’ prophets, like Moses and Samuel. The book consist of proverbs of wisdom (Is 26:4), songs (Is 5:1), prayers (Is 25:1), narratives (Is 7:1) and end-time prophecies (Is 2:2). Since the chronology of the historical chapters in the prophecies concur with those in the books Kings and Chronicles it is assumed that the rest of the book of Isaiah is also chronological.
Isaiah deals with ten main issues:
1. Israel and its king should fear God (Is 8:13; 32:1)
2. God chastises Israel by the nations but refuses to seek the Lord (Is 10:5-6; 31:1)
3. Who God is and what He does (Is 43:10-12; 44:24)
4. God’s stance towards Israel (Is 31:4-5; 65:2)
5. Israel’s behavior and the consequences of that (Is 27:8; 28:15)
6. The suffering messianic Prophet, like Isaiah (Is 30:20; 53:4-6)
7. Israel banished and their Land destroyed (Is 5:13; 6:11)
8. God lifts Israel’s banishment and brings them back to their Land (Is 43:6; 51:11)
9. The Kingdom of the Messiah and the recreation (Is 24:23; 60:19)
10. The nations; those that believe (Is 2:3) and those that will be wasted (Is 60:12; 63:6).
These are also New Testament issues. Isaiah gives the gospel in a nutshell and is therefore called the evangelist of the Old Covenant.