Isaiah: Glimpses of God
Isaiah has rightly been called the “prince of prophets.” Both Jews and Christians consider Isaiah to be the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. The book which bears his name is both timely and timeless. Not only did Isaiah speak with accuracy to Judah in the 8th century BC when he lived, to the remnant who lived during the Babylonian captivity, and to those who later returned to the land, he also prophesied events yet future. Regardless of the day in which one might live, Isaiah’s message remains relevant.
Isaiah is significant for us today because of his revelation of God, his prophecies of Jesus the Messiah, and his visions of the end of history. Isaiah answers many questions including the following: What is God like?; Why does God send judgment?; For whom does God provide redemption?; Who is the redeemer and what is He like?; What hope does God promise and to whom?; What does God expect of His people?; What relevance does this have for me in my current circumstances?
Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah is salvation” and that is the primary theme of his book. However, throughout this book we also are given multiple glimpses of God. Seeing God for who He really is changed Isaiah’s life. I pray that as we journey through this marvelous book and catch glimpses of God, we will not merely glance but will gaze at Him, pausing and pondering who He really is. I pray that you and I will be changed by these encounters as well.
I. DAY ONE: Isaiah the Prophet
A. Isaiah the man:
- We don’t know a lot about Isaiah, except that he was the son of Amoz (no relationship to the prophet Amos), that he was married to a prophetess, and that he had at least two sons. There is reason to speculate that Isaiah may have been a cousin of King Uzziah1 of Judah (with their fathers being brothers), but that cannot be proven. Nevertheless, Isaiah was very comfortable going in and out of the palace and interacting with royalty. Isaiah was a well-educated man, evidenced by the high quality of his writing, much of it in poetic form.
- Isaiah was a prophet, chosen by God to give His message to His people, most specifically the people of Judah, even though God knew that they as a nation would not listen. Isaiah was to call the people to turn from their lives of sin and to warn them of judgment which was coming. He was also to include a message of hope for those, the remnant, who did turn to God.
- Isaiah was a man who loved God supremely. He also deeply loved the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem as is obvious from the way he delivered God’s messages.
- Isaiah’s ministry spanned approximately 60 years. He served during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, all kings of Judah. Uzziah died in 739 BC2, the year of Isaiah’s encounter with God (Isaiah 6). The majority of Isaiah’s ministry occurred from roughly 740-700 BC, during which time he wrote the first portion of his book. He probably wrote the second section during his later years. It is believed his ministry ended around 681 BC, when according to tradition he was sawn in half (inside a hollow log) under the rule of the evil king Manasseh, son of the good king Hezekiah. This is probably the event referred to in Hebrews 11:37.
B. Isaiah the author:
- Until the mid-18th century and the “age of reason,” it was commonly accepted by both Jewish and Christian tradition that Isaiah was the author of the book bearing his name. Because Isaiah had two distinct sections with different focuses, and because the second section predicted events many years after Isaiah’s death, some liberal scholars postulated that there were two authors—Isaiah, who wrote chapters 1-39, and Deutero-Isaiah (someone living during or after the Babylonian captivity), who wrote chapters 40-66. Liberal scholars denied the possibility that chapters 40-66, which spoke not merely about those times, but to the people who would be living in them in a predictive way, could have been written in such detail by Isaiah. A few divided it further, assigning chapters 40-55 to Deutero-Isaiah, and chapters 56-66 to Trito-Isaiah, or even to a group of multiple authors.
- Conservative Christian scholars point to a number of proofs that there was one author of the entire book.
- External evidence: Both the Septuagint (2nd century BC) and the complete copy of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls treat Isaiah as a single book. Jesus and the apostles held to the unity of Isaiah. The New Testament, in quoting extensively from all major sections of Isaiah, ascribed all of them to Isaiah. An interesting example is John 12:38-40 which quotes from both sections and attributes both quotes to Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10).
- Internal evidence: This includes the theological unity of the entire book, and the use of at least 25 specific terms typical of Isaiah each found in both sections of the book. For instance, “the Holy One of Israel” is a title for God which occurs 12 times in the first section and 14 times in the second section, but only 6 times in all the rest of the Old Testament. In addition, Isaiah’s name is the only one attached to the book.
- The liberal theologians’ view that Isaiah could not have predicted Cyrus’ role in Isaiah 44:28 does not take into account the sovereignty of God. We have many other instances in Scripture where prophets were enabled to see events many years or centuries into the future. Can you think of at least two?3
- For more detailed information on this debate, see the commentaries referenced in the footnotes.4 (This study takes the viewpoint that the entire book of Isaiah was written by one author, the prophet, Isaiah, as has been traditionally believed by both Christian and Jewish scholars.)
II. DAYS TWO and THREE: Isaiah the Book
A. Interesting trivia:
- Remembering that chapter and verse markings were a later addition to the Bible, it is still interesting to note the following about the book of Isaiah. As the Bible has 66 books in two divisions, Isaiah has 66 chapters in two divisions. The Old Testament contains 39 books, much of which cover judgment of Israel and the nations. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah do the same. The New Testament has 27 books which focus on hope and salvation, as do the last 27 chapters of Isaiah.
- Isaiah is quoted specifically at least 50 times and alluded to over 250 times in the New Testament.
- Isaiah includes both prose and poetry, which some consider to be unsurpassed in quality in the Old Testament. Isaiah uses many literary techniques such as “personification” (Isaiah 44:23). Isaiah also refers to previous events in Israel’s history (Isaiah 1:9).
- Current and future prophecies are intermingled in a way which challenges us to careful study.
- Chapters 1-39 were written primarily to the people of Isaiah’s day. Isaiah reminded Judah of their covenant relationship with God. Read Genesis 12:2-3; 15:18-21; 17:3-8, 19 to find the promises God made to Israel through the “Abrahamic Covenant.” What were the components of this covenant? Was this covenant conditional or unconditional?
- Because of their covenant relationship with God as His chosen people, Judah couldn’t believe that God would allow them to suffer at the hands of another nation, so Isaiah reminded them of the “Mosaic Covenant” (Exodus 19-24). This was a conditional covenant. Judah, like Israel, had broken this covenant with God so Isaiah was commissioned to warn them of the resultant coming judgment, to plead with them to repent, to turn from trusting foreign powers to trusting God, and to come back into their covenant relationship with Him while there was yet time.
- From Deuteronomy 28:1-14, list the blessings God promised if Israel obeyed God and kept the covenant.
- From Deuteronomy 28:15-68, list four or more types of curses which would fall on them if they disobeyed God. Notice in particular verses 36-37 and 47-48.
- Although just judgment was coming, because of the Abrahamic Covenant, Isaiah knew that after God judged the nation, He would again bring them back into their land. Chapters 40-55 are written to encourage those living in Babylon in exile, and chapters 56-66 seem to address those who would later return to Judah. What encouragement does Moses give in Deuteronomy 30:1-6 which is a basis for Isaiah’s confidence?
- A third covenant, called the “Davidic Covenant,” would seem to be in jeopardy if God in fact brought the judgment Isaiah was prophesying. This was also an unconditional promise. Read II Samuel 7:5-16. What did God promise? Much of the hope Isaiah offers Judah stems from this covenant.
- Although Isaiah was sent specifically to Judah, his book shows God’s concern for the nations of the world as well. Not only would Judah be punished for their sins, so would the nations. Not only was Judah offered the opportunity to repent and be restored into relationship with God, so were the nations.
- Isaiah was not only written to Judah; it was also written for our benefit today. We cannot fully understand or appreciate the New Testament without it. In addition to truths which are foundational to our faith and prophecies regarding our future, Isaiah also warns and encourages us regarding who God is, what He is like, and how we must live our earthly lives in relationship to Him.
III. DAYS FOUR and FIVE: Isaiah’s Themes
A. Judgment and Salvation:
- Isaiah has many themes, but perhaps central is “salvation.” Although the first section emphasizes judgment for sin and the second emphasizes redemption and restoration, judgment and hope are both interwoven throughout the book.
- In the first section, judgment of sin is emphasized as being necessary to bring about repentance and forgiveness. “The Day of the Lord,” while encompassing all the events of end times, here refers primarily to judgment. The second section emphasizes atonement for sin which makes salvation possible and leads to restoration, first of God’s people, and then of God’s creation.
- Isaiah’s message was that if there was true repentance, judgment could be avoided. But since Judah was not repentant, if there was to be hope for them, it would only come through judgment. If God did bring judgment, there was hope beyond it – so Isaiah kept urging Judah to believe the messages God sent.
- “Deliverance” might be another way of looking at salvation. Isaiah includes five acts of deliverance by God:
- Judah from Assyria (Isaiah 36-37)
- The Jews (people of Judah) from the Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 40)
- The future deliverance of the Jews from worldwide dispersion (Isaiah 11-12)
- The deliverance of sinners from judgment (Isaiah 53)
- The final deliverance of creation from bondage due to sin (Isaiah 60 and 66)5
B. Servants and Kings:
- God can use anyone He chooses for His purposes, even those who are not His followers. Read Isaiah 41:2 and Isaiah 44:28-45:7 to see what God says about Cyrus the Great, king of Persia.
- God intended that Israel be His servant on earth to the nations, but they had failed to fulfill their role. What does God “sing” to them in Isaiah 44? Just as cleansing Isaiah’s lips let him speak God’s word to Judah, if the nation’s “lips” were cleansed, they could become God’s servant to declare His word to the nations.
- The Messiah, whom we know as Jesus, was the Servant who perfectly fulfilled the role God gave Him. He accomplished what Israel could not do. Isaiah 42:1-7, 49:1-7, 50:4-9, and 52:13-53:12 are among many references to the Messiah who was to come, who did come, and who will come again.
- Isaiah also was concerned with the kings in David’s line and presented an interesting contrast between Judah’s kings as they decided whether or not to trust God. In Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah revealed that God would keep His promise to David through a unique king. Not understanding that this would be a servant-king caused great confusion to the Jewish nation, leading many to believe Isaiah was talking of two different people, and causing others to look for a warrior king while ignoring the servant role of the Messiah.
C. The Uniqueness of God:
- In Isaiah’s day, people believed in “tribal” gods – that is, they saw each people group as having its own god who was responsible to take care of them, and whose power was often limited to a certain geographical area. Israel’s God was different. He was (and is) the God of gods, with unlimited power and authority.
- Isaiah’s God is the Creator. Isaiah 57:15 describes the fact that He is separate and distinct from His creation, wholly “other,” a trait we call His “transcendence”; yet He is also involved with His creation (His “immanence”). The only way we can know anything about a transcendent God is if He chooses to reveal Himself to us, which He has done in numerous ways, including through the prophet, Isaiah.
- Isaiah tells us that God was and is the one and only true God. No idols and no other gods can accurately foretell future events like Isaiah’s God. No idols and no other gods have power in comparison to His. Therefore, God and God alone is to be worshiped, feared, and obeyed. God will not share His glory with anyone or anything else. This transcendent, holy, personal God is not to be manipulated to meet our needs; He is to be humbly surrendered to, trusted and obeyed. Having right standing with God the Creator is the most important thing we, His creation, can seek.
- Isaiah used many titles for God, each of which describes something about Him; among them are “God,” “the Lord of Hosts,” and “the Lord, the LORD Almighty.” However, a title for which Isaiah is noted is: “the Holy One of Israel.”
- A holy God can require that His people also be holy. We demonstrate this characteristic by the way we treat other people and nations. God’s character is the standard for us. Although our relationship with God is never on any basis but divine grace, God’s people must exhibit a holy, righteous life as God does, or one can question whether they are truly God’s people. ( See Isaiah 1:21-28; 35:8; Matthew 5:48.)
D. The outline for our study:
- Isaiah Chapters 1-39: Judgment
- Chapters 1-12: Sermons denouncing sins of Judah
- Chapters 13-35: Oracles denouncing sins of the nations
- Chapters 36-39: Historical interlude
- Isaiah Chapters 40-66: Salvation
- Chapters 40-48: God’s greatness—Doctrine of God
- Chapters 49-57: God’s grace— Doctrine of Salvation
- Chapters 58-66: God’s glory—Doctrine of Last Days
- Memorize Isaiah 45:22, the cry of God’s heart and a theme verse of this book.
- As we walk through Isaiah, let’s be careful not to look down on Judah for her failures, but to examine ourselves to see if any of Isaiah’s warnings apply to us. Let’s journal those personal applications and as well as those promises of comfort which also apply to us.
- In particular, as God reveals Himself through many glimpses of His person, His purposes, His actions, we may find that we need to readjust our understanding of who our God truly is. Plan to ponder, then journal, then share what you discover about God.
- Journal your goal for your study of this marvelous book which may well become one of your favorites!
1. Uzziah is also known as Azariah. Compare II Kings 14:21 with II Chronicles 26:1.
2. Dates are approximate. Some can be precisely known. Others may be within a few years of the actual date.
3. Exekiel and Revelation are two similar cases. There are many other prophetic utterances which you could also include.
4. John N. Oswalt, The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 33-41. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament (USA: Victor Books, 1988), 1030-1031.
5. Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 1992), 15-16.
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