1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66
What is the book of Isaiah?
This book is a collection of all the messages that God gave to the prophet Isaiah.
How is this different from other books of the Bible?
Most of the other books of the Bible are written as one continuous story or exhortation. The book of Isaiah, however, is more like the collected works of the prophet Isaiah.
What is a prophet?
A prophet is someone who receives a word from YHWH and delivers it to His people.
Are we to conclude, then, that there is not a single unifying theme to this book?
That is correct. This being true, we can still discern basic themes in this book which predominate.
What are these themes?
As with all the prophets, we see a basic four fold message throughout.
- This is who God is;
- You are in covenant with Him;
- You have broken that covenant;
- There is a time coming when all will be put right again.
We confine ourselves in this place to the teaching of the great prophets of the eighth century. Coming as these do at the great turning-point of the Old Testament history of redemption, their study is of fundamental importance, and in point of newness anticipates much of the teaching of the later period. The subject easily divides itself into the following parts:
[A] The Nature and Attributes of Jehovah.
[B] The Bond between Jehovah and Israel.
[C] The Rupture of the Bond: The Sin of Israel.
[D] The Judgment and the Restoration: Prophetic Eschatology. source
Is there an outline to this book?
The outline would follow the different prophecies which Isaiah received as can be seen here. The most basic division is between chapters 1-39 and chapters 40-66. Robinson makes six divisions:
- chs 1–12 prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem, closing with promises of restoration and a psalm of thanksgiving;
- chs 13–23 oracles of judgment and salvation, for the most part concerning those foreign nations whose fortunes affected Judah and Jerusalem;
- chs 24–27 JHWHs world-judgment in the redemption of Israel;
- chs 28–35 a cycle of prophetic warnings against alliance with Egypt, closing with a prophecy concerning Edom and a promise of Israel’s ransom;
- chs 36–39, history, prophecy and song intermingled; serving both as an appendix to chs 1–35, and as an introduction to chs 40–66;
- chs 40–66, prophecies of comfort and salvation, and also of the future glory awaiting Israel. source
What is the reason chapters 1-39 are divided from chapters 40-66?
Because in chapters 1-39, the prophet speaks to a people who are not yet in captivity; while in chapters 40-66, the people are assumed to be in captivity.
Is there any statement in the book itself as to when it was written?
Again, the many different prophecies in this book would have been given to Isaiah at all different times in his life. We learn from the very first verse of the book that the prophecies given in this book came to Isaiah “during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” (Isaiah 1:1) The vision which Isaiah has in chapter 6 he states happened “in the year of King Uzziah’s death…” (Isaiah 6:1) This puts these prophecies roughly between the years 740bc to 690.
If the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin went into captivity in the year 587, then how could Isaiah have been alive to preach to them?
This is one of the great questions to be answered. For roughly twenty-five centuries, no one ever questioned the fact that Isaiah wrote the entire book. source In the last century, however, the more liberal scholars began to argue that some other author wrote these last chapters who they call deutero- or second-Isaiah. Evangelicals have typically insisted that Isaiah wrote the entire book, even these last chapters.
But how is this possible unless Isaiah lived to be over two hundred years old?
It is possible that God gave these prophecies to Isaiah long before the situation to which they spoke had arrived. The situation which these chapters address is the exile; but at this time, the exile was over 200 years away.
So the people who would have originally read Isaiah 40-66 would not have been in exile but would have received word from Isaiah that one day they would be in exile and that these prophecies would then speak to them?
Yes, precisely. We see this in other prophets as well. Amos, for instance, gave his prophecies, including the promise of restoration given in chapter 9, to the northern tribes during the reign of Jeroboam II when Israel was prosperous and quite secure.
Does the prophet Isaiah claim to have written the entire book?
The name of Isaiah is mentioned sixteen times in chapters 1-39 but never in chapters 40-66.
Why then do evangelicals insist that the entire book was written by Isaiah, son of Amoz?
The main reason is because these chapters address themselves to the question of who God is. “To whom then will you liken Me That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:25) The proof that God is superior to all other deities is the fact that He alone can predict the future. If these chapters were written as history by someone who lived after the events occurred, then the entire purpose of these chapters is lost.
Then it would follow that these latter chapters were written more for the people who went into exile than the people who read them when Isaiah first delivered them?
Yes, the exiles and those who survived all the judgments which God was going to bring on the Jews (Isaiah 6:11-13), would read that these things did not happen because YHWH was powerless to save them. On the contrary, God had announced these judgments long before they ever happened showing that He was still the sovereign King who rules over all things. Archer writes:
They [chapters 40-66] were to furnish confirmation that the prophet’s message was in fact the message of the one true God, who is absolute Sovereign over the affairs of men; that it was by His decree rather than because of the might of Babylon that the covenant nation would be carried off into captivity. Only through the powerful encouragement of fulfilled prediction would the future generation of exiles summon up the courage to return to Palestine, even after the permission of the new Persian government had been granted. In order to sustain the faith of Israel through all these overwhelming reverses—the complete devastation of cities and farmlands, and the destruction of the temple—it was necessary to furnish an absolutely decisive proof that these events had taken place by the permission and plan of the God of Israel, rather than because He was a puny god overcome by the more powerful deities of the Chaldean empire (a conclusion which all heathendom would inevitably draw after the fall of Jerusalem). Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 373–374.
Where can we read this in Isaiah 40-66?
This truth is found in almost every chapter. Consider the prophecy of Cyrus given in chapter 41.
Who has aroused one from the east Whom He calls in righteousness to His feet? He delivers up nations before him And subdues kings. He makes them like dust with his sword, As the wind-driven chaff with his bow. He pursues them, passing on in safety, By a way he had not been traversing with his feet. Who has performed and accomplished it, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He. (Isaiah 41:2-4)
Here the man Cyrus (Isaiah 41:25, 44:28; 45:1-4, 45:13; 46:11) is the one whom God has stirred up and called forth from the East to do justice. Now the original readers of Isaiah would read this and have no idea who Cyrus was. The Jewish people alive during and after the exile, however, would know very well who Cyrus was and would thus be confirmed in their belief that God was the Great Sovereign of the universe. The exile wasn’t a result of His weakness or of His inability to defend His people; it hadn’t caught Him offguard. At the end of chapter 41, we read this:
I have aroused one from the north, and he has come; From the rising of the sun he will call on My name; And he will come upon rulers as upon mortar, Even as the potter treads clay. Who has declared this from the beginning, that we might know? Or from former times, that we may say, “He is right!”? Surely there was no one who declared, Surely there was no one who proclaimed, Surely there was no one who heard your words. “Formerly I said to Zion, ‘Behold, here they are.’ And to Jerusalem, ‘I will give a messenger of good news.’ But when I look, there is no one, And there is no counselor among them Who, if I ask, can give an answer. Behold, all of them are false; Their works are worthless, Their molten images are wind and emptiness. (Isaiah 41:25-29 )
The teaching here is that no one else knew that Cyrus was going to come. YHWH announced it two centuries before it actually took place; and from this fact, we know that He is the true God. The gods of the nations are false, worthless; nothing but wind and emptiness.
Furthermore, imagine the exiles reading Isaiah 42:
Who among you will give ear to this? Who will give heed and listen hereafter? Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned, And in whose ways they were not willing to walk, And whose law they did not obey? So He poured out on him the heat of His anger And the fierceness of battle; And it set him aflame all around, Yet he did not recognize it; And it burned him, but he paid no attention. (Isaiah 42:23-25)
Notice that hereafter, i.e. after Israel is in exile, at that time, they will read these chapters and understand their meaning. It was God who gave Israel over to their enemies for punishment. Consider Isaiah 43:
“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. “I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no savior besides Me. “It is I who have declared [or predicted] and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange god among you; So you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God. (Isaiah 43:10-12)
None of the other gods were able to declare, save, and proclaim these events before they happened. This was done “so that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He.”
The central challenge of the books rings out again in chapter 44:
Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me. ‘Who is like Me? (Isaiah 44:6-7)
These verses go on to challenge the gods to declare the future as YHWH does.
Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me in order, From the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming And the events that are going to take place. ‘Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none.'” (Isaiah 44:7-8)
Now we will be able to discern who the true God is and who really has the power and sovereign control of the universe. The God that can explain the future is the true God. To this fact, Israel is God’s witness. Those Israelites who read this during and after the exile will know who the true God is because they saw His prophecy become reality right before their very eyes.
How will the entire world know that YHWH is the true God? Because God will raise up a king named Cyrus who will do his bidding. (Isaiah 45:1-6) At that time, people will read these prophecies and know for certain who YHWH is. Furthermore, YHWH does not make his predictions in a corner where no one can hear him. On the contrary, YHWH announces His predictions where everyone can hear them and where everyone can know if they really come true.
I have not spoken in secret, In some dark land; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek Me in a waste place’; I, the LORD, speak righteousness, Declaring things that are upright. “Gather yourselves and come; Draw near together, you fugitives of the nations; They have no knowledge, who carry about their wooden idol And pray to a god who cannot save. “Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. (Isaiah 45:6-7, 19-21)
YHWH is the One who predicted that these things would come true long before they happened. Again in chapter 46, the author speaks of how the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is so far superior to the gods of the other nations. Bel and Nebo have to be hauled around on carts; they cannot even protect their own people. (Isaiah 46:1-2) But no one is equal to God. (Isaiah 46:5) One of the reasons God is so far superior is because only He can know the future, and only He can announce things which are going to happen before they ever occur.
Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose [or predictions] will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure; (Isaiah 46:8-10)
What other reason is given for this?
The New Testament authors assume that these chapters were written by Isaiah. Jesus quotes Isaiah 53 and attributes the quote to Isaiah the prophet. (John 12:38) Other examples of this are:
- Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:2–3, and John 1:23 quoting Isaiah 40:3;
- Matthew 12:17–21 quoting Isaiah 42:1–4;
- Acts 8:32–33 quoting Isaiah 53:7–8;
- Romans 10:16 quoting Isaiah 53:1.
What reasons do liberal scholars give for not believing in the unity of Isaiah?
First, because it is assumed that a prophet can only speak to the situation in which he himself lives. Davidson writes:
The general canon on which these conclusions are based [i.e. that Isaiah is not the author of chapters 40-66] is this: That a prophetic writer always makes the basis of his prophecies the historical position in which he himself is placed. This principle is not an a priori principle but is one gathered from careful observations made on those prophecies the age of which is known. And this principle is supported by another which is also a conclusion drawn from observation namely that the purpose of prophecy as exercised in Israel was mainly ethical bearing on the life and manners of the people among whom the prophet lived. source
Since Isaiah 40-66 are speaking to a people in exile or even those having returned from exile, they cannot have been written by Isaiah who was never in exile.
Allis tells a story in the preface of his book on The Unity of Isaiah:
During a visit to the Harz Mountains, the writer heard this story told in a little gathering of ministers. A certain student for the ministry was told by his professor at the University, that no scholars any longer believed that Isaiah the contemporary of Hezekiah wrote the last twenty-seven chapters of the book that bears his name, that it was the unanimous judgment of scholars that these chapters were written by a prophet who lived toward the close of the Babylonian Captivity, more than a century after Isaiah’s time. But it was also impressed upon him that when he was ordained and entered upon the work of the pastorate, he must tell his people that all the sixty-six chapters of this book were from the pen of Isaiah the contemporary of Hezekiah. The result was that when the young man, having been ordained and installed, entered the pulpit to preach his first sermon, he chose a text from Isaiah 40-66 and again and again in the course of the sermon instructed his hearers that Isaiah the contemporary of Hezekiah uttered those words at the close of the Babylonian Captivity! The story has its humorous side, and it was largely for this reason that it was told on the occasion referred to. But it provides food for serious reflection. It shows very clearly the confusion and mental indigestion which is likely to follow the attempt to combine and assimilate incompatible and mutually exclusive ideas. This young man was to believe one thing for himself; he was to tell the flock of which he had just been made the spiritual shepherd another thing. Small wonder that, having in his very first discourse fallen “into a place where two seas met,” he was in serious danger of making both intellectual and moral shipwreck.