Who was Isaiah?
Isaiah is perhaps the most celebrated of Israel's prophets. The writings which bear his name are among the profoundest in all literature. One great theme - salvation by faith - stamps them all. Isaiah is the Paul of the Old Testament.
In Hebrew ישׁעיהוּ , yesha‛yāhū , and ישׁעיה , yesha‛yāh ; Greek Ἠσαΐ́ας , Ēsaı́as ; Latin Esaias and Isaias . His name was symbolic of his message. Like "Joshua," it means "Yahweh saves," or "Yahweh is salvation," or "salvation of Yahweh."
2. Personal History
Isaiah was the son of Amoz (not Amos). He seems to have belonged to a family of some rank, as may be inferred from his easy access to the king (Isaiah 7:3 ), and his close intimacy with the priest (Isaiah 8:2 ). Tradition says he was the cousin of King Uzziah. He lived in Jerusalem and became court preacher. He was married and had two sons: Shear-jashub, his name signifying "a remnant shall return" (Isaiah 7:3 ), and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, "hasting to the spoil, hurrying to the prey," symbolic of Assyria's mad lust of conquest (Isaiah 8:3 ). Jewish tradition, based upon a false interpretation of Isaiah 7:14 , declares he was twice married.
In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah, apparently while worshipping in the temple, received a call to the prophetic office (Isaiah 6:1-13 ). He responded with noteworthy alacrity, and accepted his commission, though he knew from the outset that his task was to be one of fruitless warning and exhortation (Isaiah 6:9-13 ). Having been reared in Jerusalem, he was well fitted to become the political and religious counselor of the nation, but the experience which prepared him most for his important work was the vision of the majestic and thrice-holy God which he saw in the temple in the death-year of King Uzziah.
There is no good reason for doubting that this was his inaugural vision, though some regard it as a vision which came to him after years of experience in preaching and as intended to deepen his spirituality. While this is the only explicit "vision" Isaiah saw, yet his entire book, from first to last, is, as the title (11) suggests, a "vision." His horizon, both political and spiritual, was practically unbounded. In a very true sense, as Delitzsch says, he was "the universal prophet of Israel."
4. Literary Genius and Style
For versatility of expression and brilliancy of imagery Isaiah had no superior, not even a rival. His style marks the climax of Hebrew literary article Both his periods and Genius and descriptions are most finished and sublime. He is a perfect artist in words. Beauty and strength are characteristic of his entire book.
Epigrams and metaphors, particularly of flood, storm and sound (Isaiah 1:13 ; Isaiah 5:18 , Isaiah 5:22 ; Isaiah 8:8 ; Isaiah 10:22 ; Isaiah 28:17 , Isaiah 28:20 ; Isaiah 30:28 , Isaiah 30:30 ), interrogation and dialogue (Isaiah 6:8 ; Isaiah 10:8 , Isaiah 10:9 ), antithesis and alliteration (Isaiah 1:18 ; Isaiah 3:24 ; Isaiah 17:10 , Isaiah 17:12 ), hyperbole and parable (Isaiah 2:7 ; Isaiah 5:1-7 ; Isaiah 28:23-29 ), even paranomasia, or play upon words (Isaiah 5:7 ; Isaiah 7:9 ), characterize Isaiah's book as the great masterpiece of Hebrew literature. He is also famous for his richness of vocabulary and synonyms.
For example, Ezekiel uses 1,535 words; Jeremiah, 1,653; the Psalmists 2,170; while Isaiah uses 2,186. Isaiah was also an orator: Jerome likened him to Demosthenes; and a poet: he frequently elaborates his messages in rhythmic or poetic style (Isaiah 12:1-6 ; Isaiah 25:1-5 ; Isaiah 26:1-12 ; Isaiah 38:10-20 ; Isaiah 42:1-4 ; Isaiah 49:1-9 ; Isaiah 50:4-9 ; 52:13-53:12; 60-62; 66:5-24); and in several instances slips into elegiac rhythm, e.g. in Isaiah 37:22-29 there is a fine taunting poem on Sennacherib, and in 14:4-23 another on the king of Babylon. As Driver observes, "Isaiah's poetical genius is superb."
5. Traditions Concerning His Martyrdom
Nothing definite or historical is known concerning the prophet's end. Toward the close of the 2nd century ad, however, there was a tradition to the effect that he suffered martyrdom in the heathen reaction which occurred under King Manasseh, because of certain speeches concerning God and the Holy City which his contemporaries alleged were contrary to the law. Indeed the Jewish Mishna explicitly states that Manasseh slew him.
Justin Martyr also (150 ad), in his controversial dialogue with the Jew Trypho, reproaches the Jews with this accusation, "whom ye sawed asunder with a wooden saw"; this tradition is further confirmed by a Jewish Apocalypse of the 2nd century ad, entitled, The Ascension of Isaiah, and by Epiphanius in his so-called Lives of the Prophets .
It is barely possible that there is an allusion to his martyrdom in Hebrews 11:37 , which reads, "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder," but this is by no means certain. In any case Isaiah probably survived the great catastrophe of the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 bc, and possibly also the death of Hezekiah in 699 bc; for in 2 Chronicles 32:32 it is stated that Isaiah wrote a biography of King Hezekiah. If so, his prophetic activity extended over a period of more than 40 years. Dr. G. A. Smith extends it to "more than 50" ( Jerusalem , II, 180; compare Whitehouse, "Isaiah," New Century Bible , I, 72).
According to the title of his book (11), Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. He dates his inaugural vision (Isaiah 6:1 ) in Uzziah's death-year, which was approximately 740 bc. This marks, therefore, the beginning of his prophetic ministry. And we know that he was still active as late as the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 bc.
Hence, the minimum period of his activity as a prophet was from 740 to 701 bc. As a young man Isaiah witnessed the rapid development of Judah into a strong commercial and military state; for under Uzziah Judah attained a degree of prosperity and strength never before enjoyed since the days of Solomon. Walls, towers, fortifications, a large standing army, a port for commerce on the Red Sea, increased inland trade, tribute from the Ammonites, success in war with the Philistines and the Arabians - all these became Judah's during Uzziah's long and prosperous reign of 52 years.
But along with power and wealth came also avarice, oppression, religious formality and corruption. The temple revenues indeed were greatly increased, but religion and life were too frequently dissociated; the nation's progress was altogether material. During the reign of Jotham (740-736 bc), who for several years was probably associated with his father as co-regent, a new power began to appear over the eastern horizon. The Assyrians, with whom Ahab had come in contact at the battle of Karkar in 854 bc, and to whom Jehu had paid tribute in 842 bc, began to manifest anew their characteristic lust of conquest.
Tiglathpileser III, who is called "Pul" in 2 Kings 15:19 and reigned over Assyria from 745 to 727 bc, turned his attention westward, and in 738 bc reduced Arpad, Calno, Carchemish, Hamath and Damascus, causing them to pay tribute. His presence in the West led Pekah, king of North Israel, and Rezin, king of Damascus, to form an alliance in order to resist further encroachment on the part of Assyria. When Ahaz refused to join their confederacy they resolved to dethrone him and set in his stead the son of Tabeel upon the throne of David ( 2 Kings 16:5 ; Isaiah 7:6 ). The struggle which ensued is commonly known as the Syro-Ephraimitic war (734 bc) - one of the great events in Isaiah's period. Ahaz in panic sent to Tiglath-pileser for help (2 Kings 16:7 ), who of course responded with alacrity.
The result was that the great Assyrian warrior sacked Gaza and carried all of Galilee and Gilead into captivity (734) and finally took Damascus (732 bc). Ahaz was forced to pay dearly for his protection and Judah was brought very low (2 Kings 15:29 ; 2 Kings 16:7-9 ; 2 Chronicles 28:19 ; Isaiah 7:1 ). The religious as well as the political effect of Ahaz' policy was decidedly baneful. To please Tiglath-pileser, Ahaz went to Damascus to join in the celebration of his victories, and while there saw a Syrian altar, a pattern of which he sent to Jerusalem and had a copy set up in the temple in place of the brazen altar of Solomon. Thus Ahaz, with all the influence of a king, introduced idolatry into Jerusalem, even causing his sons to pass through the fire (2 Kings 16:10-16 ; 2 Chronicles 28:3 ).
Hezekiah succeeded Ahaz, beginning to rule at the age of 25 and reigning 29 years (727-699 bc). Isaiah was at least 15 years his senior. The young king inherited from his father a heavy burden. The splendor of Uzziah's and Jotham's reigns was rapidly fading before the ever-menacing and avaricious Assyrians. Hezekiah began his reign with reformation. "He removed the high places, and brake the pillars, and cut down the Asherah" (2 Kings 18:4 , 2 Kings 18:22 ). He even invited the surviving remnant of North Israel to join in celebrating the Passover (2 Chronicles 30:1 ). But Israel's end was drawing near.
Hoshea, the vacillating puppet-king of North Israel (730-722 bc), encouraged by Egypt, refused longer to pay Assyria his annual tribute (2 Kings 17:4 ); whereupon Shalmaneser IV, who had succeeded Tiglath-pileser, promptly appeared before the gates of Samaria in 724 bc, and for 3 weary years besieged the city (2 Kings 17:5 ). Finally, the city was captured by Sargon II, who succeeded Shalmaneser IV in 722 bc, and 27,292 of Israel's choicest people (according to Sargon's own description) were deported to Assyria, and colonists were brought from Babylon and other adjacent districts and placed in the cities of Samaria (2 Kings 17:6 , 2 Kings 17:24 ). Thus the kingdom of North Israel passed into oblivion, and Judah was left ever after quite exposed to the direct ravages, political and religious, of her Assyrio-Babylonian neighbors. In fact Judah herself barely escaped destruction by promising heavy tribute. This was the second great political crisis during Isaiah's ministry.
Other crises were soon to follow. One was the desperate illness of King Hezekiah, who faced assured death in 714 bc. Being childless, he was seriously concerned for the future of the Davidic dynasty. He resorted to prayer, however, and God graciously extended his life 15 years (2 Ki 20; Isa 38). His illness occurred during the period of Babylon's independence under Merodach-baladan, the ever-ambitious, irresistible and uncompromising enemy of Assyria, who for 12 years (721-709 bc) maintained independent supremacy over Babylon. Taking advantage of Hezekiah's wonderful cure, Merodach seized the opportunity of sending an embassy to Jerusalem to congratulate him on his recovery (712 bc), and at the same time probably sought to form an alliance with Judah to resist Assyrian supremacy (2 Kings 20:12 ; Isaiah 39:1-8 ).
Nothing, however, came of the alliance, for the following year Sargon's army reappeared in Philistia in order to discipline Ashdod for conspiracy with the king of Egypt (711 bc). The greatest crisis was yet to come. Its story is as follows: Judah and her neighbors groaned more and more under the heavy exactions of Assyria. Accordingly, when Sargon was assassinated and Sennacherib came to the throne in 705 bc, rebellion broke out on all sides. Merodach-baladan, who had been expelled by Sargon in 709 bc, again took Babylon and held it for at least six months in 703 bc. Hezekiah, who was encouraged by Egypt and all Philistia, except Padi of Ekron, the puppet-king of Sargon, refused longer to pay Assyria tribute (2 Kings 18:7 ).
Meanwhile a strong pro-Egyptian party had sprung up in Jerusalem. In view of all these circumstances, Sennacherib in 701 bc marched westward with a vast army, sweeping everything before him. Tyre was invested though not taken; on the other hand, Joppa, Eltekeh, Ekron, Ashkelon, Ammon, Moab, and Edom all promptly yielded to his demands. Hezekiah was panic stricken and hastened to bring rich tribute, stripping even the temple and the palace of their treasures to do so (2 Kings 18:13-16 ). But Sennacherib was not satisfied. He overran Judah, capturing, as he tells us in his inscription, 46 walled towns and smaller villages without number, carrying 200,150 of Judah's population into captivity to Assyria, and demanding as tribute 800 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold, in all, over ,500,000; he took also, he claims, Hezekiah's daughters and palace women, seized his male and female singers, and carried away enormous spoil.
But the end was not yet. Sennacherib himself, with the bulk of the army, halted in Philistia to reduce Lachish; thence he sent a strong detachment under his commander-in-chief, the Rabshakeh, to besiege Jerusalem (2 Ki 18:17 through 19:8; Isa 36:2 through 37:8). As he describes this blockade in his own inscription: "I shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage." The Rabshakeh, however, failed to capture the city and returned to Sennacherib, who meanwhile had completely conquered Lachish, and was now warring against Libnab.
A second expedition against Jerusalem was planned, but hearing that Tirhakah (at that time the commander-in-chief of Egypt's forces and only afterward "king of Ethiopia") was approaching, Sennacherib was forced to content himself with sending messengers with a letter to Hezekiah, demanding immediate surrender of the city (2 Kings 19:9 ; Isaiah 37:9 ). Hezekiah, however, through Isaiah's influence held out; and in due time, though Sennacherib disposed of Tirhakah's army without difficulty, his immense host in some mysterious way - by plague or otherwise - was suddenly smitten, and the great Assyrian conqueror was forced to return to Nineveh; possibly because Merodach-baladan had again appeared in Babylonia.
Sennacherib never again returned to Palestine, so far as we know, during the subsequent 20 years of his reign, though he did make an independent expedition into North Arabia (691-689 bc). This invasion of Judah by Sennacherib in 701 bc was the great political event in Isaiah's ministry. Had it not been for the prophet's statesmanship, Jerusalem might have capitulated. As it was, only a small, insignificantly small, remnant of Judah's population escaped. Isaiah had at this time been preaching 40 years. How much longer he labored is not known.
7. Analysis and Contents
There are six general divisions of the book: (1) Isaiah 1 through 12, prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem, closing with promises of restoration and a psalm of thanksgiving; (2) Isaiah 13 through 23, oracles of judgment and salvation, for the most part concerning those foreign nations whose fortunes affected Judah and Jerusalem; (3) Isaiah 24 through 27, Yahweh's world-judgment in the redemption of Israel; (4) Isaiah 28 through 35, a cycle of prophetic warnings against alliance with Egypt, closing with a prophecy concerning Edom and a promise of Israel's ransom; (5) Isaiah 36 through 39, history, prophecy and song intermingled; serving both as an appendix to Isaiah 1 through 35, and as an introduction to Isaiah 40 through 66; (6) Isaiah 40 through 66, prophecies of comfort and salvation, and also of the future glory awaiting Israel.
By examining in detail these several divisions we can trace better the prophet's thought. Thus, Isaiah 1 through 12 unfold Judah's social sins ( Isaiah 1 through 6), and her political entanglements ( Isaiah 7 through 12); Isaiah 1 is an introduction, in which the prophet strikes the chief notes of his entire book: namely, thoughtlessness ( Isaiah 1:2-9 ), formalism in worship (Isaiah 1:10-17 ), pardon (Isaiah 1:18-23 ) and judgment (Isaiah 1:24-31 ). Isa 2 through 4 contain three distinct pictures of Zion: (a ) her exaltation (Isaiah 2:2-4 ), (b ) her present idolatry (2:5 through 4:1), and (c ) her eventual purification (Isaiah 4:2-6 ). Isa 5 contains an arraignment of Judah and Jerusalem, composed of three parts: (a ) a parable of Yahweh's vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7 ); (b ) a series of six woes pronounced against insatiable greed (Isaiah 5:8-10 ), dissipation (Isaiah 5:11-17 ), daring defiance against Yahweh (Isaiah 5:18 , Isaiah 5:19 ), confusion of moral distinctions (Isaiah 5:20 ), political self-conceit (Isaiah 5:21 ), and misdirected heroism (Isaiah 5:22 , Isaiah 5:23 ); and (c ) an announcement of imminent judgment.
The Assyrian is on the way and there will be no escape (Isaiah 5:24-30 ). Isaiah 6:1-13 recounts the prophet's inaugural vision and commission. It is really an apologetic, standing as it does after the prophet's denunciations of his contemporaries. When they tacitly object to his message of threatening and disaster, he is able to reply that, having pronounced "woe" upon himself in the year that King Uzziah died, he had the authority to pronounce woe upon them ( Isaiah 6:5 ). Plainly Isaiah tells them that Judah's sins are well-nigh hopeless. They are becoming spiritually insensible. They have eyes but they cannot see. Only judgment can, avail: "the righteous judgment of a forgotten God" awaits them. A "holy seed," however, still existed in Israel's stock (Isaiah 6:13 ).
Coming to Isaiah 7 through 12, Isaiah appears in the role of a practical statesman. He warns Ahaz against political entanglements with Assyria. The section 7:1 through 9:7 is a prophecy of Immanuel, history and prediction being intermingled.
They describe the Syro-Ephraimitic uprising in 736 bc, when Pekah of North Israel and Rezin of Damascus, in attempting to defend themselves against the Assyrians, demanded that Ahaz of Jerusalem should become their ally. But Ahaz preferred the friendship of Assyria, and refused to enter into alliance with them. And in order to defend himself, he applied to Assyria for assistance, sending ambassadors with many precious treasures, both royal and sacred, to bribe Tiglath-pileser. It was at this juncture that Isaiah, at Yahweh's bidding, expostulates with Ahaz concerning the fatal step he is about to take, and as a practical statesman warns Ahaz, "the king of No-Faith," that the only path of safety lies in loyalty to Yahweh and keeping clear of foreign alliances; that "God is with us" for salvation; and that no "conspiracy" can possibly be successful unless God too is against us.
When, however, the prophet's message of promise and salvation finds no welcome, he commits it to his disciples, bound up and sealed for future use; assuring his hearers that unto them a child is born and unto them a son is given, in whose day the empire of David will be established upon a basis of justice and righteousness. The Messianic scion is the ground of the prophet's hope; which hope, though unprecedented, he thus early in his ministry commits, written and sealed, to his inner circle of "disciples." See, further, IMMANUEL .
The section Isaiah 9:8 through 10:4 contains an announcement to North Israel of accumulated wrath and impending ruin, with a refrain ( Isaiah 9:12 , Isaiah 9:17 , Isaiah 9:21 ; Isaiah 10:4 ). Here, in an artistic poem composed of four strophes, the prophet describes the great calamities which Yahweh has sent down upon North Israel but which have gone unheeded: foreign invasion (Isaiah 9:8-12 ), defeat in battle (Isaiah 9:13-17 ), anarchy (Isaiah 9:18-21 ), and impending captivity (Isaiah 10:1-4 ). Yet Yahweh's judgments have gone unheeded: "For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." Divine discipline has failed; only judgment remains.
In Isaiah 10:5-34 , Assyria is declared to be an instrument of Yahweh, the rod of Yahweh's anger. Isaiah 11 through 12 predict Israel's return from exile, including a vision of the Messiah's reign of ideal peace. For Isaiah's vision of the nation's future reached far beyond mere exile. To him the downfall of Assyria was the signal for the commencement of a new era in Israel's history. Assyria has no future, her downfall is fatal; Judah has a future, her calamities are only disciplinary.
An Ideal Prince will be raised up in whose advent all Nature will rejoice, even dumb animals ( Isaiah 11:1-10 ). A second great exodus will take place, for the Lord will set His hand again "the second time" to recover the remnant of His people "from the four corners of the earth" (Isaiah 11:11 , Isaiah 11:12 ). In that day, "Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim" (Isaiah 11:13 ). On the contrary, the reunited nation, redeemed and occupying their rightful territory (Isaiah 11:14-16 ), shall sing a hymn of thanksgiving, proclaiming the salvation of Yahweh to all the earth (Isaiah 12:1-6 ).
Isaiah 13 through 23 contain oracles of judgment and salvation, for the most part concerning those foreign nations whose fortunes affected Judah and Jerusalem. They are grouped together by the editor, as similar foreign oracles are in Jeremiah 46 through 51 and Ezekiel 25 through 32. Isaiah's horizon was world-wide. First among the foreign prophecies stands the oracle concerning Babylon ( Isaiah 13:1 through 14:23), in which he predicts the utter destruction of the city ( Isaiah 13:2-22 ), and sings a dirge or taunt-song over her fallen king (Isaiah 14:4-23 ).
The king alluded to is almost beyond doubt an Assyrian (not a Babylonian) monarch of the 8th century; the brief prophecy immediately following in Isaiah 14:24-27 concerning Assyria tacitly confirms this interpretation. Another brief oracle concerning Babylon ( Isaiah 21:1-10 ) describes the city's fall as imminent. Both oracles stand or fall together as genuine prophecies of Isaiah. Both seem to have been written in Jerusalem (Isaiah 13:2 ; Isaiah 21:9 , Isaiah 21:10 ). It cannot be said that either is absolutely unrelated in thought and language to Isaiah's age (Isaiah 14:13 ; Isaiah 21:2 ); each foretells the doom to fall on Babylon (Isaiah 13:19 ; Isaiah 21:9 ) at the hands of the Medes (Isaiah 13:17 ; Isaiah 21:2 ); and each describes the Israelites as already in exile - but not necessarily all Israel.
The section Isaiah 14:24-27 tells of the certain destruction of the Assyrian.
The passage Isaiah 14:28-32 is an oracle concerning Philistia.
Isaiah 15 through 16 are ancient oracles against Moab, whose dirgelike meter resembles that of Isaiah 13 through 14. It is composed of two separate prophecies belonging to two different periods in Isaiah's ministry ( Isaiah 16:13 , Isaiah 16:14 ). The three points of particular interest in the oracle are: (1) The prophet's tender sympathy for Moab in her affliction (Isaiah 15:5 ; Isaiah 16:11 ). Isaiah mingles his own tears with those of the Moabites. As Delitzsch says, "There is no prophecy in the Book of Isaiah in which the heart of the prophet is so painfully moved by what his spirit beholds and his mouth must prophecy." (2) Moab's pathetic appeal for shelter from her foes; particularly the ground on which she urges it, namely, the Messianic hope that the Davidic dynasty shall always stand and be able to repulse its foes (Isaiah 16:5 ). The prophecy is an echo of Isaiah 9:5-7 . (3) The promise that a remnant of Moab, though small, shall be saved (Isaiah 16:14 ). Wearied of prayer to Chemosh in his high places, the prophet predicts that Moab will seek the living God (Isaiah 16:12 ).
The passage Isaiah 17:1-11 is an oracle concerning Damascus and North Israel, in which Isaiah predicts the fate of the two allies - S yria and Ephraim - in the Syro-Ephraimitic war of 734 bc, with a promise that only a scanty remnant will survive (Isaiah 17:6 ). In Isaiah 17:12-14 , the prophet boldly announces the complete annihilation of Judah's unnamed foes - the Assyrians.
Isaiah 18:1-7 describes Ethiopia as in great excitement, sending ambassadors hither and thither - possibly all the way to Jerusalem - ostensibly seeking aid in making preparations for war. Assyria had already taken Damascus (732 bc) and Samaria (722 bc), and consequently Egypt and Ethiopia were in fear of invasion. Isaiah bids the ambassadors to return home and quietly watch Yahweh thwart Assyria's self-confident attempt to subjugate Judah; and he adds that when the Ethiopians have seen God's hand in the coming deliverance of Judah and Jerusalem (701 bc), they will bring a present to Yahweh to His abode in Mount Zion.
Isaiah 19 , which is an oracle concerning Egypt, contains both a threat (19:1-17) and a promise (Isaiah 19:18-25 ), and is one of Isaiah's most remarkable foreign messages. Egypt is smitten and thereby led to abandon her idols for the worship of Yahweh (Isaiah 19:19-22 ). Still more remarkable, it is prophesied that in that day Egypt and Assyria will join with Judah in a triple alliance of common worship to Yahweh and of blessing to others (Isaiah 19:23-25 ). Isaiah's missionary outlook here is wonderful!
Isaiah 20:1-6 describes Sargon's march against Egypt and Ethiopia, containing a brief symbolic prediction of Assyria's victory over Egypt and Ethiopia. By donning a captive's garb for three years, Isaiah attempts to teach the citizens of Jerusalem that the siege of Ashdod was but a means to an end in Sargon's plan of campaign, and that it was sheer folly for the Egyptian party in Jerusalem, who were ever urging reliance upon Egypt, to look in that direction for help. Isaiah 21:11 , Isaiah 21:12 is a brief oracle concerning Seir or Edom, "the only gentle utterance in the Old Testament upon Israel's hereditary foe." Edom is in great anxiety. The prophet's answer is disappointing, though its tone is sympathetic. Isaiah 21:13 is a brief oracle concerning Arabia. It contains a sympathetic appeal to the Temanites to give bread and water to the caravans of Dedan, who have been driven by war from their usual route of travel.
Isaiah 22 is concerning the foreign temper within theocracy. It is composed of two parts: (1) an oracle "of the valley of vision," i.e. Jerusalem ( Isaiah 22:1-14 ); and (2) a philippic against Shebna, the comptroller of the palace. Isaiah pauses, as it were, in his series of warnings to foreign nations to rebuke the foreign temper of the frivolous inhabitants of Jerusalem, and in particular Shebna, a high official in the government. The reckless and God-ignoring citizens of the capital are pictured as indulging themselves in hilarious eating and drinking, when the enemy is at that very moment standing before the gates of the city. Shebna, on the other hand, seems to have been an ostentatious foreigner, perhaps a Syrian by birth, quite possibly one of the Egyptian party, whose policy was antagonistic to that of Isaiah and the king. Isaiah's prediction of Shebna's fall was evidently fulfilled (Isaiah 36:3 ; Isaiah 37:2 ).
Isaiah 23 is concerning Tyre. In this oracle Isaiah predicts that Tyre shall be laid waste ( Isaiah 23:1 ), her commercial glory humbled (Isaiah 23:9 ), her colonies become independent of her (Isaiah 23:10 ), and she herself forgotten for "seventy years" (Isaiah 23:15 ); but "after the end of seventy years," her trade will revive, her business prosperity will return, and she will dedicate her gains in merchandise as holy to Yahweh (Isaiah 23:18 ).
The third great section of the Book of Isaiah embraces Isaiah 24 through 27, which tell of Yahweh's world-judgment, issuing in the redemption of Israel. These prophecies stand closely related to Isaiah 13 through 23. They express the same tender emotion as that already observed in Isaiah 15:5 ; Isaiah 16:11 , and sum up as in one grand finale the prophet's oracles to Israel's neighbors. For religious importance they stand second to none in the Book of Isaiah, teaching the necessity of Divine discipline and the glorious redemption awaiting the faithful in Israel.
They are a spiritual commentary on the great Assyrian crisis of the 8th century; they are messages of salvation intended, not for declamation, but for meditation, and were probably addressed more particularly to the prophet's inner circle of "disciples" (Isaiah 8:16 ). These chapters partake of the nature of apocalypse. Strictly speaking, however, they are prophecy, not apocalypse. No one ascends into heaven or talks with an angel, as in Dan 7 and Revelation 4:1-11 . They are apocalypse only in the sense that certain things are predicted as sure to come to pass. Isaiah was fond of this kind of prophecy. He frequently lifts his reader out of the sphere of mere history to paint pictures of the far-off, distant future (Isaiah 2:2-4 ; Isaiah 4:2-6 ; Isaiah 11:6-16 ; Isaiah 30:27-33 ).
In Isaiah 24 the prophet announces a general judgment of the earth (i.e. the land of Judah), and of "the city" (collective, for Judah's towns), after which will dawn a better day ( Isaiah 24:1-15 ). The prophet fancies he hears songs of deliverance, but alas! they are premature; more judgment must follow. In Isaiah 25:1-12 the prophet transports himself to the period after the Assyrian catastrophe and, identifying himself with the redeemed, puts into their mouths songs of praise and thanksgiving for their deliverance. Isaiah 25:6-8 describe Yahweh's bountiful banquet on Mount Zion to all nations, who, in keeping with Isaiah 2:2-4 , come up to Jerusalem, to celebrate "a feast of fat things," rich and marrowy. While the people are present at the banquet, Yahweh graciously removes their spiritual blindness so that they behold Him as the true dispenser of life and grace.
He also abolishes violent death, that is to say, war (compare Isaiah 2:4 ) and its sad accompaniment, "tears," so that "the earth" (i.e. the land of Judah) is no longer the battlefield of the nations, but the blessed abode of the redeemed, living in peace and happiness. The prophet's aim is not political but religious.
In Isaiah 26:1-19 Judah sings a song over Jerusalem, the impregnable city of God. The prophet, taking again his stand with the redeemed remnant of the nation, vividly portrays their thankful trust in Yahweh, who has been unto them a veritable "Rock of Ages" ( Isaiah 26:4 margin). With hope he joyfully exclaims, Let Yahweh's dead ones live! Let Israel's dead bodies arise! Yahweh will bring life from the dead! ( Isaiah 26:19 ). This is the first clear statement of the resurrection in the Old Testament. But it is national and restricted to Israel (compare Isaiah 26:14 ), and is merely Isaiah's method of expressing a hope of the return of Israel's faithful ones from captivity (compare Hosea 6:2 ; Ezekiel 37:1-14 ; Daniel 12:2 ).
In Isaiah 26:20 through 27:13 the prophet shows that Israel's chastisements are salutary. He begins by exhorting his own people, his disciples, to continue a little longer in the solitude of prayer, till God's wrath has shattered the world-powers (26:20 through 27:1). He next predicts that the true vineyard of Yahweh will henceforth be safely guarded against the briars and thorns of foreign invasion ( Isaiah 27:2-6 ).
And then, after showing that Yahweh's chastisements of Israel were light compared with His judgments upon other nations (Isaiah 27:7-11 ), he promises that if Israel will only repent, Yahweh will spare no pains to gather "one by one" the remnant of His people from Assyria and Egypt (compare Isaiah 11:11 ); and together they shall once more worship Yahweh in the holy mountain at Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:12 , Isaiah 27:13 ).
The prophet's fundamental standpoint in Isaiah 24 through 27 is the same as that of Isaiah 2:2-4 and Isa 13 through 23. Yet the prophet not infrequently throws himself forward into the remote future, oscillating backward and forward between his own times and those of Israel's restoration. It is especially noteworthy how he sustains himself in a long and continued transportation of himself to the period of Israel's redemption. He even studies to identify himself with the new Israel which will emerge out of the present chaos of political events. His visions of Israel's redemption carry him in ecstasy far away into the remote future, to a time when the nation's sufferings are all over; so that when he writes down what he saw in vision he describes it as a discipline that is past.
For example, in Isaiah 25:1-8 the prophet, transported to the end of time, celebrates in song what he saw, and describes how the fall of the world-empire is followed by the conversion of the heathen. In Isaiah 26:8 , Isaiah 26:9 he looks back into the past from the standpoint of the redeemed in the last days, and tells how Israel longingly waited for the manifestation of God's righteousness which has now taken place, while in Isaiah 27:7-9 he places himself in the midst of the nation's sufferings, in full view of their glorious future, and portrays how Yahweh's dealings with Israel have not been the punishment of wrath, but the discipline of love. This kind of apocalypse, or prophecy, indeed, was to be expected from the very beginning of the group of prophecies, which are introduced with the word "Behold!" Such a manner of introduction is peculiar to Isaiah, and of itself leads us to expect a message which is unique.
The practical religious value of these prophecies to Isaiah's own age would be very great. In a period of war and repeated foreign invasion, when but few men were left in the land (Isaiah 24:6 , Isaiah 24:13 ; Isaiah 26:18 ), and Judah's cities were laid waste and desolate (Isaiah 24:10 , Isaiah 24:12 ; Isaiah 25:2 ; Isaiah 26:5 ; Isaiah 27:10 ), and music and gladness were wanting (Isaiah 24:8 ), when the nation still clung to their idols (Isaiah 27:9 ) and the Assyrians' work of destruction was still incomplete, other calamities being sure to follow (Isaiah 24:16 ), it would certainly be comforting to know that forgiveness was still possible (Isaiah 27:9 ), that Yahweh was still the keeper of His vineyard (Isaiah 27:3 , Isaiah 27:4 ), that His judgments were to last but for a little moment (Isaiah 26:20 ), and that though His people should be scattered, He would soon carefully gather them "one by one" (Isaiah 27:12 , Isaiah 27:13 ), and that in company with other nations they would feast together on Mt. Zion as Yahweh's guests (Isaiah 25:6 , Isaiah 25:7 , Isaiah 25:10 ), and that Jerusalem should henceforth become the center of life and religion to all nations (Isaiah 24:23 ; Isaiah 25:6 ; Isaiah 27:13 ).
Such faith in Yahweh, such exhortations and such songs and confessions of the redeemed, seen in vision, would be a source of rich spiritual comfort to the few suffering saints in Judah and Jerusalem, and a guiding star to the faithful disciples of the prophet's most inner circle.
Isaiah 28 through 35 contain a cycle of prophetic warnings against alliance with Egypt, closing with a prophecy concerning Edom and a promise of Israel's ransom. As in 5:8-23, the prophet indulges in a series of six woes:
(1) Woe to drunken, scoffing politicians (Isaiah 28 ). This is one of the great chapters of Isaiah's book. In the opening section (Isaiah 28:1-6 ) the prophet points in warning to the proud drunkards of Ephraim whose crown (Samaria) is rapidly fading. He next turns to the scoffing politicians of Jerusalem, rebuking especially the bibulous priests who stumble in judgment, and the staggering prophets who err in vision (28:7-22); closing with a most instructive parable from agriculture, teaching that God's judgments are not arbitrary; that as the husbandman does not plow and harrow his fields the whole year round, so God will not punish His people forever; and as the husbandman does not thresh all kinds of grain with equal severity, no more will God discipline His people beyond their deserts (Isaiah 28:23-29 ).
(2) Woe to formalists in religion (Isaiah 29:1-14 ). Isaiah's second woe is pronounced upon Ariel, the altar-hearth of God, i.e. Jerusalem, the sacrificial center of Israel's worship. David had first inaugurated the true worship of Yahweh in Zion. But now Zion's worship has become wholly conventional, formal, and therefore insincere; it is learned by rote (Isaiah 29:13 ; compare Isaiah 1:10-15 ; Micah 6:6-8 ). Therefore, says Isaiah, Yahweh is forced to do an extraordinary work among them, in order to bring them back to a true knowledge of Himself (Isaiah 29:14 ).
(3) Woe to those who hide their plans from God (Isaiah 29:15-24 ). What their plans are, which they are devising in secret, the prophet does not yet disclose; but he doubtless alludes to their intrigues with the Egyptians and their purpose to break faith with the Assyrians, to whom they were bound by treaty to pay annual tribute. Isaiah bravely remonstrates with them for supposing that any policy will succeed which excludes the counsel and wisdom of the Holy One. They are but clay; He is the potter. At this point, though somewhat abruptly, Isaiah turns his face toward the Messianic future. In a very little while, he says, Lebanon, which is now overrun by Assyria's army, shall become a fruitful field, and the blind and deaf and spiritually weak shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
(4) Woe to the pro-Egyptian party (Isaiah 30 ). Isaiah's fourth woe is directed against the rebellious politicians who stubbornly, and now openly, advocate making a league with Egypt. They have at length succeeded apparently in winning over the king to their side, and an embassy is already on its way to Egypt, bearing across the desert of the exodus rich treasures with which to purchase the friendship of their former oppressors. Isaiah now condemns what he can no longer prevent. Egypt is a Rahab "sitstill," i.e. a mythological sea-monster, menacing in mien but laggard in action. When the crisis comes, she will sit still, causing Israel only shame and confusion.
(5) Woe to those who trust in horses and chariots (Isaiah 31 through 32). Isaiah's fifth woe is a still more vehement denunciation of those who trust in Egypt's horses and chariots, and disregard the Holy One of Israel. Those who do so forget that the Egyptians are but men and their horses flesh, and that mere flesh cannot avail in a conflict with spirit. Eventually Yahweh means to deliver Jerusalem, if the children of Israel will but turn from their idolatries to Him; and in that day, Assyria will be vanquished. A new era will dawn upon Judah. Society will be regenerated. The renovation will begin at the top. Conscience also will be sharpened, and moral distinctions will no longer be confused ( Isaiah 32:1-8 ). As Delitzsch puts it, "The aristocracy of birth and wealth will be replaced by an aristocracy of character." The careless and indifferent women, too, in that day will no longer menace the social welfare of the state (Isaiah 32:9-14 ); with the outpouring of Yahweh's spirit an ideal commonwealth will emerge, in which social righteousness, peace, plenty and security will abound (Isaiah 32:15-20 ).
(6) Woe to the Assyrian destroyer (Isaiah 33 ). Isaiah's last woe is directed against the treacherous spoiler himself, who has already laid waste the cities of Judah, and is now beginning to lay siege to Jerusalem (701 bc). The prophet prays, and while he prays, behold! the mighty hosts of the Assyrians are routed and the long-besieged but now triumphant inhabitants of Jerusalem rush out like locusts upon the spoil which the vanishing adversary has been forced to leave behind. The destroyer's plan to reduce Jerusalem has come to naught. The whole earth beholds the spectacle of Assyria's defeat and is filled with awe and amazement at the mighty work of Yahweh. Only the righteous may henceforth dwell in Jerusalem. their eyes shall behold the Messiah-king in his beauty, reigning no longer like Hezekiah over a limited and restricted territory, but over a land unbounded, whose inhabitants enjoy Yahweh's peace and protection, and are free from all sin, and therefore from all sickness (Isaiah 33:17-24 ). With this beautiful picture of the Messianic future, the prophet's woes find an appropriate conclusion. Isaiah never pronounced a woe without adding a corresponding promise.
In Isaiah 34 through 35, the prophet utters a fierce cry for justice against "all the nations," but against Edom in particular. His tone is that of judgment. Edom is guilty of high crimes against Zion ( Isaiah 34:8 f), therefore she is doomed to destruction. On the other hand, the scattered ones of Israel shall return from exile and "obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" ( Isaiah 35:1-10 ).
Isaiah 36 through 39 contain history, prophecy and song intermingled. These chapters serve both as an appendix to Isaiah 1 through 35 and as an introduction to Isaiah 40 through 66. In them three important historical events are narrated, in which Isaiah was a prominent factor: (1) The double attempt of Sennacherib to obtain possession of Jerusalem ( Isaiah 36 through 37); (2) Hezekiah's sickness and recovery ( Isaiah 38 ); (3) The embassy of Merodach-baladan (Isaiah 39:1-8 ). With certain important omissions and insertions these chapters are duplicated almost verbatim in 2 Ki 18:13 through 20:19. They are introduced with the chronological note, "Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah."
Various attempts have been made to solve the mystery of this date; for, if the author is alluding to the siege of 701 bc, difficulty arises, because that event occurred not in Hezekiah's "14th" but 26th year, according to the Biblical chronology of his life; or, if with some we date Hezekiah's accession to the throne of Judah as 720 bc, then the siege of 701 bc occurred, as is evident, in Hezekiah's 19th year. It is barely possible of course that "the 14th year of king Hezekiah" was the 14th of the "15 years" which were added to his life, but more probably it alludes to the 14th of his reign. On the whole it is better to take the phrase as a general chronological caption for the entire section, with special reference to Isa 38, which tells of Hezekiah's sickness, which actually fell in his 14th year (714 bc), and which, coupled with Sargon's expected presence at Ashdod, was the great personal crisis of the king's life.
IBSE, "Isaac" (in the public domain) with minor edits.