Book Of Isaiah
From Bible Encyclopedia
Of all Israel's celebrated prophets, Isaiah is the king. 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.
The first 39 chapters of Isaiah consist primarily of prophecies of the judgments awaiting nations that are persecuting Judah. These nations include Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Israel (the northern kingdom), Ethiopia, Egypt, Arabia, and Phoenicia. The prophecies concerning them can be summarized as saying that God is the God of the whole earth, and that nations which think of themselves as secure in their own power and might will be conquered by other nations, at God's command.
The judgments, however, are not only against those who persecute Isaiah's country, Judah. Chapters 1-5 and 28-29 prophesy judgment against Judah itself. Judah thinks itself safe because of its covenant relationship with God. However, God tells Judah (through Isaiah) that the covenant cannot protect them when they have broken it by idolatry, the worship of other gods, and by acts of injustice and cruelty, which oppose God's law.
Some exceptions to this overall foretelling of doom do occur, throughout the early chapters of the book. Chapter 6 describes Isaiah's call to be a prophet of God. Chapters 35-39 provide historical material about King Hezekiah and his triumph of faith in God.
Chapters 24-34, while too complex to characterize easily, are primarily concerned with prophecies of a "Messiah," a person anointed or given power by God, and of the Messiah's kingdom, where justice and righteousness will reign. This section is seen by Jews as describing an actual king, a descendant of their great king, David, who will make Judah a great kingdom and Jerusalem a truly holy city. It is traditionally seen by Christians as describing Jesus, who was descended from David, and who began a non-political kingdom of justice which will one day encompass the whole earth. A number of modern scholars believe that it describes, in somewhat idealized terms, King Hezekiah, who was a descendant of David, and who tried to make Jerusalem into a holy city.
The prophecy continues with what some have called “The Book of Comfort” which begins in chapter 40 and completes the writing. In the first eight chapters of this book of comfort, Isaiah prophesies the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of the Babylonians and restoration of Israel as a unified nation in the land promised to them by God. Isaiah reaffirms that the Jews are indeed the chosen people of God in chapter 44 and that Hashem is the only God for the Jews (and only the God of the Jews) as he will show his power over the gods of Babylon in due time in chapter 46. It is of much interest to note that in chapter 45:1, the Persian ruler Cyrus is named as the person of power who will overthrow the Babylonians and allow the return of Israel to their original land.
The remaining chapters of the book contain prophecies of the future glory of Zion under the rule of a righteous servant (52 & 54). There is much complex prophecy about this servant that is written in a very poetic language. Although there is still the mention of judgment of false worshippers and idolaters (65 & 66), the book ends with a message of hope of a righteous ruler who extends salvation to his righteous subjects living in the Lord’s kingdom on earth.
Historical setting for Isaiah
Isaiah lived during the late eighth and early seventh centuries BC, which was a difficult period in the history of Jerusalem. He was part of the upper class but urged care of the downtrodden. At the end, he was loyal to King Hezekiah, but disagreed with the King's attempts to forge alliances with Egypt and Babylon in response to the Assyrian threat.
Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of four kings -- Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Legend has it that he was martyred during the reign of Manasseh, who came to the throne in 687 BC. That he is described as having ready access to the kings would suggest an aristocratic origin.
This was the time of the divided kingdom, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. There was prosperity for both kingdoms during Isaiah’s youth with little foreign interference. Jeroboam II ruled in the north and Uzziah in the south. The small kingdoms of Palestine, as well as Syria, were under the influence of Egypt. However, in 745 BC, Tiglath-pileser III came to the throne of Assyria. He was interested in Assyrian expansionism, especially to the west. Tiglath-pileser took Samaria and a lot of Galilee in 732. Shalmenezer V (727-722 BC) and then, Sargon II (722-705 BC) attacked Samaria. Samaria fell in 722, this marking the end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel forever, as its population was taken into exile and dispersed amongst Assyrian provinces. It is as a result of this exile that reference is made to Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Egypt recovered to a degree around the end of the century and Babylon exerted some independence as well. Because of this, Judah and other states rebelled against Assyria, only to have Sennacherib (705-681) invade and capture 46 Judean towns. Isaiah reports that Jerusalem was spared when God miraculously struck down the Assyrian army besieging it.
The Syro-Ephraimite War
Because of the threat from Tiglath-Pileser, the leaders of Syria and Israel tried to force Judah to ally with them around 734 BC. Ahaz was on the throne of Judah then. He was advised by Isaiah to trust in the Lord, but, instead, he called to Assyria for help. Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria attacked Judah and inflicted damage on it before Assyria came to its aid, but there would be more serious religious consequences of Ahaz’s refusal to accept the Lord’s guidance through Isaiah.
Fall of Syria and Samaria
Damascus, capital of Syria, was taken by the Assyrians in 732 BC. Tiglath–Pileser died in 727 BC, raising false hopes for the Palestinian countries. Ahaz died a year later. Isaiah warned Philistia and the other countries not to revolt against Assyria. Hoshea, then king of Samaria, withheld tribute to Assyria. Consequently, Shalmenezer V laid siege to Samaria for 3 years, and his successor, Sargon II, took the city and deported 27,000 Israelites to northern parts of the Assyrian empire. There was peace in the area for 10 years or so , but then, Sargon returned in 711 BC to crush a coalition of Egypt and the Philistines. Judah had stayed out of this conflict, Hezekiah wisely listening to Isaiah’s advice.
Hezekiah and Sennacherib:
Sennacherib came to the throne of Assyria in 705 BC. He had trouble immediately – with Ethiopian monarchs in Egypt and with the Babylonian leader, Merodach-Baladan. Despite Isaiah’s warnings, Hezekiah became involved as well. The Assyrians invaded the area, taking 46 towns before putting Jerusalem under siege. Isaiah persuaded Hezekiah to trust in the Lord and Jerusalem was spared.
Merodach-Baladan took power in Babylon in 721 BC. Sargon entered Babylon without a fight in 711, but after Sargon’s death, Merodach-Baladan rebelled against Sennacherib. Babylon was defeated this time but would revive in another century to defeat Assyria and subjugate the Jews and destroy Jerusalem.
Isaiah is concerned with the connection between worship and ethical behavior. One of his major themes is God's refusal to accept the ritual worship of those who are treating others with cruelty and injustice.
Isaiah speaks also of idolatry, which was common at the time. The Canaanite worship, which involved fertility rites, including sexual practices forbidden by Jewish law, had become popular among the Jewish people. Isaiah picks up on a theme used by other prophets and tells Judah that the nation of Israel is like a wife who is committing adultery, having run away from her true husband, God.
An important theme is that God is the God of the whole earth. Many gods of the time were believed to be local gods or national gods who could participate in warfare and be defeated by each other. The concern of these gods was the protection of their own particular nations. Isaiah's God is a conceived as the only true god, and the god of all humankind, not just the Israelite nation.
No one can defeat God; if God's people suffer defeat in battle, it is only because God chooses for that to happen. Furthermore, God is concerned with more than the Jewish people. God has called Judah and Israel His covenant people for the specific purpose of teaching the world about Him.
A unifying theme found throughout the Book of Isaiah is the use of the expression of "the Holy One of Israel". This is a title for God that is found 12 times in chapters 1-39 and 14 times in chapters 40-66. This expression is unique within the Old Testament to the book of Isaiah which suggests that, although scholars believe that the book of Isaiah was written in various sections by different authors (on which, more below), the work was intended to be a unified body evidenced with the attention to literary consistency.
A final thematic goal that Isaiah constantly leans toward throughout the writing is the establishment of God's kingdom on earth, with rulers and subjects to who strive to live by the will of God.
Until the latter part of the 18th century, Isaiah had been accepted by both Jews and Christians as having one author, who was named Isaiah. While liberal skeptics are united in a multiple author theory, there are many scholars, especially in the Protestant and traditionalist Catholic traditions, who maintain the unity of Isaiah. An example of the approach is illustrated by the words of John in John 12:38-40.
38This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" 39For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40"He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them."
The linking passage, verse 39, between the two passages says that the same Isaiah wrote them both. Since verse 38 comes from Isaiah 53:1 and verse 40 comes from Isaiah 6:10, there cannot be two books of Isaiah, or two separate people who contributed to the one book. Other references would appeal to Josephus, who attributes both sections of the book of Isaiah to a single author, and would point to the distinctive use of the title "the Holy One of Israel" for G-d as a unifying theme.
Consists of prophecies delivered (Isaiah 1)
(1) in the reign of Uzziah (Isaiah 1 - 5),
(2) of Jotham (Isaiah 6:1-13),
(5) the second half of Hezekiah's reign (Isaiah 36 - Isaiah 66).
Thus, counting from the fourth year before Uzziah's death (762 BC) to the last year of Hezekiah (698 BC), Isaiah's ministry extended over a period of sixty-four years. He may, however, have survived Hezekiah, and may have perished in the way indicated above.
The book, as a whole, has been divided into three main parts:
(1) The first thirty-five chapters, almost wholly prophetic, Israel's enemy Assyria, present the Messiah as a mighty Ruler and King.
(2) Four chapters are historical (Isaiah 36 - 39), relating to the times of Hezekiah.
(3) Prophetical (Isaiah 40 - 66), Israel's enemy Babylon, describing the Messiah as a suffering victim, meek and lowly.
The genuineness of the section Isaiah 40 - 66 has been keenly opposed by able critics. They assert that it must be the production of a deutero-Isaiah, who lived toward the close of the Babylonian captivity. This theory was originated by Koppe, a German writer at the close of the last century. There are other portions of the book also (e.g., Isaiah 13; 24 - 27; and certain verses in Isa. 14 and Isaiah 21) which they attribute to some other prophet than Isaiah. Thus they say that some five or seven, or even more, unknown prophets had a hand in the production of this book. The considerations which have led to such a result are various:
(1) They cannot, as some say, conceive it possible that Isaiah, living in 700 BC, could foretell the appearance and the exploits of a prince called Cyrus, who would set the Jews free from captivity one hundred and seventy years after.
(2.) It is alleged that the prophet takes the time of the Captivity as his standpoint, and speaks of it as then present; and
(3.) that there is such a difference between the style and language of the closing section (Isaiah 40 - 66) and those of the preceding chapters as to necessitate a different authorship, and lead to the conclusion that there were at least two Isaiahs. But even granting the fact of a great diversity of style and language, this will not necessitate the conclusion attempted to be drawn from it. The diversity of subjects treated of and the peculiarities of the prophet's position at the time the prophecies were uttered will sufficiently account for this.
The arguments in favour of the unity of the book are quite conclusive. When the Septuagint version was made (about 250 BC) the entire contents of the book were ascribed to Isaiah, the son of Amoz. It is not called in question, moreover, that in the time of our Lord the book existed in the form in which we now have it. Many prophecies in the disputed portions are quoted in the New Testament as the words of Isaiah (Matthew 3:3; Luke 3:4-6; Luke 4:16-41; John 12:38; Acts 8:28; Romans 10:16-21). Universal and persistent tradition has ascribed the whole book to one author.
Besides this, the internal evidence, the similarity in the language and style, in the thoughts and images and rhetorical ornaments, all points to the same conclusion; and its local colouring and allusions show that it is obviously of Palestinian origin. The theory therefore of a double authorship of the book, much less of a manifold authorship, cannot be maintained. The book, with all the diversity of its contents, is one, and is, we believe, the production of the great prophet whose name it bears.
In Hebrew ישׁעיהוּ, yesha‛yāhū, and ישׁעיה, yesha‛yāh; Greek Ἠσαΐ́ας, Ēsaías; 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; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Isaiah 60-62; Isaiah 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. Tiglath Pileser 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 Kings 20; Isaiah 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 $1,500,000; 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 Kings 18:17 through 2 Kings 19:8; Isaiah 36:2 through Isaiah 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). Isaiah 2 through 4 contain three distinct pictures of Zion:
(a) her exaltation (Isaiah 2:2-4),
(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 Isaiah 7:1 through Isaiah 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 Isaiah 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 Isaiah 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 - Syria 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 (Isaiah 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 Isa 24 through 27, which tell of Yahweh's world-judgment, issuing in the redemption of Israel. These prophecies stand closely related to Isa 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 Daniel 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 Isaiah 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 (Isaiah 26:20 through Isaiah 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 Mount 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 (Isaiah 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 Isa 1 through 35 and as an introduction to Isa 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 Kings 18:13 through 2 Kings 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 Isaiah 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.
Sennacherib made two attempts in 701 BC to reduce Jerusalem: one from Lachish with an army headed by the Rabshakeh (Isaiah 36:2 through Isaiah 37:8), and another from Libnah with a threat conveyed by messengers (Isaiah 37:9). The brief section contained in 2 Kings 18:14-16 is omitted from between 2 Kings 18:1 and 2 Kings 18:2 of Isaiah 36, because it was not the prophet's aim at this time to recount the nation's humiliation. Isaiah's last “word” concerning Assyria (Isaiah 37:21-35) is one of the prophet's grandest predictions. It is composed of three parts:
- (1) a taunt-song, in elegiac rhythm, on the inevitable humiliation of Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:22-29);
- (2) a short poem in different rhythm, directed to Hezekiah, in order to encourage his faith (Isaiah 37:30-32);
- (3) a definite prediction, in less elevated style, of the sure deliverance of Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:33-35). Isaiah's prediction was literally fulfilled.
The section Isaiah 38:9-20 contains Hezekiah's Song of Thanksgiving, in which he celebrates his recovery from some mortal sickness. It is a beautiful plaintive “writing”; omitted altogether by the author of the Book of Kings (compare 2 Kings 20). Hezekiah was sick in 714 BC. Two years later Merodach-Baladan, the veteran arch-enemy of Assyria, having heard of his wonderful recovery, sent letters and a present to congratulate him. Doubtless, also, political motives prompted the recalcitrant Babylonian. But be that as it may, Hezekiah was greatly flattered by the visit of Merodach-baladan's envoys, and, in a moment of weakness, showed them all his royal treasures. This was an inexcusable blunder, as the sight of his many precious possessions would naturally excite Babylonian cupidity to possess Jerusalem. Isaiah not only solemnly condemned the king's conduct, but he announced with more than ordinary insight that the days were coming when all the accumulated resources of Jerusalem would be carried away to Babylon (Isaiah 39:3-6; compare Micah 4:10). This final prediction of judgment is the most marvelous of all Isaiah's minatory utterances, because he distinctly asserts that, not the Assyrians, who were then at the height of their power, but the Babylonians, shall be the instruments of the Divine vengeance in consummating the destruction of Jerusalem. There is absolutely no reason for doubting the genuineness of this prediction. In it, indeed, we have a prophetic basis for Isaiah 40 through 66, which follow.
Coming now to Isa 40 through 66, we have prophecies of comfort, salvation, and of the future glory awaiting Israel. These chapters naturally fall into three sections:
- (1) Isaiah 40 through 48, announcing deliverance from captivity through Cyrus;
- (2) Isaiah 49 through 57, describing the sufferings of the “Servant” of Yahweh, this section ending like the former with the refrain, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isaiah 57:21; compare Isaiah 48:22);
- (3) Isaiah 58 through 66, announcing the final abolition of all national distinctions and the future glory of the people of God. Isaiah 60 is the characteristic chapter of this section, as Isaiah 53:1-12 is of the second, and Isa 40 of the first.
Entering into greater detail, the first section (Isa 40 through 48) demonstrates the deity of Yahweh through His unique power to predict. The basis of the comfort which the prophet announces is Israel's incomparable God (Isa 40). Israel's all-powerful Yahweh in comparison with other gods is incomparable. In the prologue (Isaiah 40:1-11) he hears the four voices:
- (1) of grace (Isaiah 40:1, Isaiah 40:2);
- (2) of prophecy (Isaiah 40:3-5);
- (3) of faith (Isaiah 40:6-8), and
- (4) of evangelism (Isaiah 40:9-11). Then, after exalting the unique character of Israel's all-but-forgotten God (Isaiah 40:12-26), he exhorts them not to suppose that Yahweh is ignorant of, or indifferent to, Israel's misery. Israel must wait for salvation. They are clamoring for deliverance prematurely. Only wait, he repeats; for with such a God, Israel has no reason to despond (Isaiah 40:27-31).
In Isaiah 41 he declares that the supreme proof of Yahweh's sole deity is His power to predict. He inquires, “Who hath raised up one from the east?” Though the hero is left unnamed, Cyrus is doubtless in the prophet's mind (compare Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1). He is not, however, already appearing upon the horizon of history as some fancy, but rather predicted as sure to come. The verb tenses which express completed action are perfects of certainty, and are used in precisely the same manner as those in Isaiah 3:8; Isaiah 5:13; Isaiah 21:9. The answer to the inquiry is, “I, Yahweh, the first, and with the last, I am he” (Isaiah 41:4). Israel is Yahweh's servant. The dialogue continues; but it is no longer between Yahweh and the nations, as in Isaiah 41:1-7, but between Yahweh and the idols (Isaiah 41:21-29). Addressing the dumb idols, Yahweh is represented as saying, Predict something, if you are real deities. As for myself, I am going to raise up a hero from the north who will subdue all who oppose him. And I announce my purpose now in advance “from the beginning,” “beforetime,” before there is the slightest ground for thinking that such a hero exists or ever will exist (Isaiah 41:26), in order that the future may verify my prediction, and prove my sole deity. I, Yahweh, alone know the future. In Isaiah 41:25-29, the prophet even projects himself into the future and speaks from the standpoint of the fulfillment of his prediction. This, as we saw above, was a characteristic of Isaiah in Isaiah 24 through 27.
In Isaiah 42:1 through Isaiah 43:13 the prophet announces also a spiritual agent of redemption, namely, Yahweh's “Servant.” Not only a temporal agent (Cyrus) shall be raised up to mediate Israel's redemption, which is the first step in the process of the universal salvation contemplated, but a spiritual factor. Yahweh's “Servant” shall be employed in bringing the good tidings of salvation to the exiles and to the Gentiles also. In Isaiah 42:1-9 the prophet describes this ideal figure and the work he will execute. The glorious future evokes a brief hymn of thanksgiving for the redemption which the prophet beholds in prospect (Isaiah 42:10-17). Israel has long been blind and deaf to Yahweh's instructions (Isaiah 41:18, Isaiah 41:19), but now Yahweh is determined to redeem them even at the cost of the most opulent nations of the world, that they may publish His law to all peoples (Isaiah 42:18 through Isaiah 43:13).
In Isaiah 13:14 through Isaiah 44:23 forgiveness is made the pledge of deliverance. Yahweh's determination to redeem Israel is all of grace. Salvation is a gift. Yahweh has blotted out their transgressions for His own sake (Isaiah 43:25). “This passage,” Dillmann observes, “marks the highest point of grace in the Old Testament.” Gods of wood and stone are nonentities. Those who manufacture idols are blind and dull of heart, and are “feeding on ashes.” The section Isaiah 44:9-20 is a most remorseless exposure of the folly of idolatry.
In Isaiah 44:24 through Isaiah 45:25 the prophet at length names the hero of Israel's salvation and describes his mission. He is Cyrus. He shall build Jerusalem and lay the foundations of the temple (Isaiah 44:28); he shall also subdue nations and let the exiles go free (Isaiah 45:1, Isaiah 45:13). He speaks of Cyrus in the most extraordinary, almost extravagant terms. He is Yahweh's “shepherd” (Isaiah 44:28), he is also Yahweh's “anointed,” i.e. Messiah (Isaiah 45:1), “the man of my counsel” (Isaiah 46:11), whom Yahweh has called by name, and surnamed without his ever knowing Him (Isaiah 45:3, Isaiah 45:1); the one “whom Yahweh loveth” (Isaiah 48:14), whose right hand Yahweh upholdeth (Isaiah 45:1), and who will perform all Yahweh's pleasure (Isaiah 44:28); though but “a ravenous bird from the east” (Isaiah 46:11). The vividness with which the prophet speaks of Cyrus leads some to suppose that the latter is already upon the horizon. This, however, is a mistake. Scarcely would a contemporary have spoken in such terms of the real Cyrus of 538 BC. The prophet regards him (i.e. the Cyrus of his own prediction, not the Cyrus of history) as the fulfillment of predictions spoken long before. That is to say, in one and the same context, Cyrus is both predicted and treated as a proof that prediction is being fulfilled (Isaiah 44:24-28; Isaiah 45:21). Such a phenomenon in prophecy can best be explained by supposing that the prophet projected himself into the future from an earlier age. Most extraordinary of all, in Isaiah 45:14-17, the prophet soars in imagination until he sees, as a result of Cyrus' victories, the conquered nations renouncing their idols, and attracted to Yahweh as the Saviour of all mankind (Isaiah 45:22). On any theory of origin, the predictive element in these prophecies is written large.
Isaiah 46 through 47 describe further the distinctive work of Cyrus, though Cyrus himself is but once referred to. Particular emphasis is laid on the complete collapse of the Babylonian religion; the prophet being apparently more concerned with the humiliation of Babylon's idols than with the fall of the city itself. Of course the destruction of the city would imply the defeat of her gods, as also the emancipation of Israel. But here again all is in the future; in fact Yahweh's incomparable superiority and unique deity are proven by His power to predict “the end from the beginning” and bring His prediction to pass (Isaiah 46:10, Isaiah 46:11).
Isaiah 47:1-15 is a dirge over the downfall of the imperial city, strongly resembling the taunt-song over the king of Babylon in 14:4-21.
Isaiah 48 is a hortatory summary and recapitulation of the argument contained in Isa 40 through 47, the prophet again emphasizing the following points:
- (1) Yahweh's unique power to predict;
- (2) that salvation is of grace;
- (3) that Cyrus' advent will be the crowning proof of Yahweh's abiding presence among His people;
- (4) that God's chastisements were only disciplinary; and
- (5) that even now there is hope, if they will but accept of Yahweh's proffered salvation. Alas! that there is no peace or salvation for the godless (Isaiah 48:20-22). Thus ends the first division of Isaiah's remarkable “vision” of Israel's deliverance from captivity through Cyrus.
The second section (Isaiah 49 through 57) deals with the spiritual agent of salvation, Yahweh's suffering “Servant.” With Isaiah 49 the prophet leaves off attempting further to prove the sole deity of Yahweh by means of prediction, and drops entirely his description of Cyrus' victories and the overthrow of Babylon, in order to set forth in greater detail the character and mission of the suffering “Servant” of Yahweh. Already, in Isaiah 40 through 48, he had alluded several times to this unique and somewhat enigmatical personage, speaking of him both collectively and as an individual (Isaiah 41:8-10; Isaiah 42:1-9, Isaiah 42:18-22; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:1-5, Isaiah 44:21-28; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 48:20-22); but now he defines with greater precision both his prophetic and priestly functions, his equipment for his task, his sufferings and humiliation, and also his final exaltation. Altogether in these prophecies he mentions the “Servant” some 20 times. But there are four distinctively so-called “Servant-Songs” in which the prophet seems to rise above the collective masses of all Israel to at least a personification of the pious within Israel, or better, to a unique Person embodying within himself all that is best in the Israel within Israel. They are the following:
(1) Isaiah 42:1-9, a poem descriptive of the Servant's gentle manner and world-wide mission;
(2) Isaiah 49:1-13, describing the Servant's mission and spiritual success;
(3) Isaiah 50:4-11, the Servant's soliloquy concerning His perfection through suffering; and
(4) Isaiah 52:13 through Isaiah 53:12, the Servant's vicarious suffering and ultimate exaltation. In this last of the four “Servant-Songs” we reach the climax of the prophet's inspired symphony, the acme of Hebrew Messianic hope. The profoundest thoughts in the Old Testament revelation are to be found in this section. It is a vindication of the “Servant,” so clear and so true, and wrought out with such pathos and potency, that it holds first place among Messianic predictions. Polycarp called it “the golden passional of the Old Testament.” It has been realized in Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 58 through 66 describe the future glory of the people of God. Having described in Isaiah 40 through 48 the temporal agent of Israel's salvation, Cyrus, and in Isaiah 49 through 57 the spiritual agent of their salvation, the “Servant” of Yahweh, the prophet proceeds in this last section to define the conditions on which salvation may be enjoyed. He begins, as before, with a double imperative, “Cry aloud, spare not” (compare Isaiah 40:1; Isaiah 49:1).
In Isaiah 58:1-14 he discusses true fasting and faithful Sabbath observance.
In Isaiah 59 he beseeches Israel to forsake their sins. It is their sins, he urges, which have hidden Yahweh's face and retarded the nation's salvation. In Isaiah 59:9 the prophet identifies himself with the people and leads them in their devotions. Yahweh is grieved over Israel's forlorn condition, and, seeing their helplessness, He arms himself like a warrior to interfere judicially (Isaiah 59:15-19). Israel shall be redeemed. With them as the nucleus of a new nation, Yahweh will enter anew into covenant relation, and put His Spirit upon them, which will abide with them henceforth and forever (Isaiah 59:20-21).
Isaiah 60 through 61 describe the future blessedness of Zion. The long-looked-for “light” (compare Isaiah 59:9) begins to dawn: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Yahweh is risen upon thee” (Isaiah 60:1). The prophet pauses at this point to paint a picture of the redeemed community. As in Isaiah 2:3, Isaiah 2:4, the Gentiles are seen flocking to Zion, which becomes the mistress of the nations. Foreigners build her walls, and her gates are kept open continually without fear of siege. The Gentiles acknowledge that Zion is the spiritual center of the world. Even Israel's oppressors regard her as “the city of Yahweh,” as “an eternal excellency,” in which Yahweh sits as its everlasting light (Isaiah 60:10-22).
In Isaiah 61:1-11, which Drummond has called “the program of Christianity,” the “Servant” of Yahweh is again introduced, though anonymously, as the herald of salvation (Isaiah 61:1-3). The gospel monologue of the “Servant” is followed by a promise of the restoration and blessedness of Jerusalem (Isaiah 61:4-11). Thus the prophecy moves steadily forward toward its goal in Jesus Christ (compare Luke 4:18-21).
In Isaiah 62:1 through Isaiah 63:6 Zion's salvation is described as drawing near. The nations will be spectators of the great event. A new name which will better symbolize her true character shall be given to Zion, namely, Hephzibah, “My delight is in her”; for Jerusalem shall no more be called desolate. On the other hand, Zion's enemies will all be vanquished. In a brief poem of peculiar dramatic beauty (Isaiah 63:1-6), the prophet portrays Yahweh's vengeance, as a victorious warrior, upon all those who retard Israel's deliverance. Edom in particular was Israel's insatiate foe. Hence, the prophet represents Yahweh's judgment of the nations as taking place on Edom's unhallowed soil. Yahweh, whose mighty arm has wrought salvation, returns as victor, having slain all of Israel's foes.
In Isaiah 63:7 through Isaiah 64:12, Yahweh's “servants” resort to prayer. They appeal to Yahweh as the Begetter and Father of the nations (Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8). With this thought of the fatherhood of God imbedded in his language, Isaiah had opened his very first oracle to Judah and Jerusalem (compare Isaiah 1:2). As the prayer proceeds, the language becomes increasingly tumultuous. The people are thrown into despair because Yahweh seems to have abandoned them altogether (Isaiah 63:19). They recognize that the condition of Jerusalem is desperate. “Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned with fire; and all our pleasant places are laid waste” (Isaiah 64:11). Such language, however, is the language of fervent prayer and must not be taken with rigid literalness, as Isaiah 63:18 and Isaiah 3:8 plainly show.
Finally, in Isaiah 65 through 66, Yahweh answers His people's supplications, distinguishing sharply between His own “servants” and Israel's apostates. Only His chosen “seed” shall be delivered (Isaiah 65:9). Those who have obdurately provoked Yahweh by sacrificing in gardens (Isaiah 65:3; Isaiah 66:17), offering libations to Fortune and Destiny (Isaiah 65:11), sitting among the graves to obtain oracles from the dead, and, like the Egyptians, eating swine's flesh and broth of abominable things which were supposed to possess magical properties, lodging in vaults or crypts in which heathen mysteries were celebrated (Isaiah 65:4), and at the same time fancying that by celebrating such heathen mysteries they are holier than others and thereby disqualified to discharge the ordinary duties of life (Isaiah 65:5) - such Yahweh designs to punish, measuring their work into their bosom and destroying them utterly with the sword (Isaiah 65:7, Isaiah 65:12). On the other hand, the “servants” of Yahweh Shall inherit His holy mountains. They shall rejoice and sing for joy of heart, and bless themselves in the God of Amen, i.e. in the God of Truth (Isaiah 65:9, Isaiah 65:14, Isaiah 65:16). Yahweh will create new heavens and a new earth, men will live and grow old like the patriarchs; they will possess houses and vineyards and enjoy them; for an era of idyllic peace will be ushered in with the coming of the Messianic age, in which even the natures of wild animals will be changed and the most rapacious of wild animals will live together in harmony (Isaiah 65:17-25). Religion will become spiritual and decentralized, mystic cults will disappear, incredulous scoffers will be silenced. Zion's population will be marvelously multiplied, and the people will be comforted and rejoice (Isaiah 66:1-14). Furthermore, all nations will flock to Zion to behold Yahweh's glory, and from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh will come up to worship in Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:15-23).
It is evident that the Book of Isaiah closes, practically as it begins, with a polemic against false worship, and the alternate reward of the righteous and punishment of the wicked. The only essential difference between the prophet's earlier and later oracles is this: Isaiah, in his riper years, on the basis of nearly half a century's experience as a preacher, paints a much brighter eschatological picture than was possible in his early ministry. His picture of the Messianic age not only transcends those of his contemporaries in the 8th century bc, but he penetrates regions beyond the spiritual horizon of any and all Old Testament seers. Such language as that contained in Isaiah 66:1, Isaiah 66:2, in particular, anticipates the great principle enunciated by Jesus in John 4:24, namely, that “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” To attempt to date such oracles as these on the basis of internal evidence is an absolute impossibility. Humanly speaking, one age could have produced such revelations quite as easily as another. But no age could have produced them apart from the Divine spirit.
8. Isaiah's Prophecies Chronologically Arranged
The editorial arrangement of Isaiah's prophecies is very suggestive. In the main they stand in chronological order. That is to say, all the dates mentioned are in strict historical sequence; e.g. Isaiah 6:1, “In the year that king Uzziah died” (740 BC); Isaiah 7:1, “In the days of Ahaz” (736ff BC); Isaiah 14:28, “In the year that king Ahaz died” (727 BC); Isaiah 20:1, “In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him” (711 BC); Isaiah 36:1, “In the 14th year of king Hezekiah” (701 BC). These points are all in strict chronological order. Taken in groups, also, Isaiah's great individual messages are likewise arranged in true historical sequence; thus, Isa 1 through 6 for the most part belong to the last years of Jotham's reign (740-736 BC); Isaiah 7 through 12 to the period of the Syro-Ephraimitic war (734 BC); Isaiah 20:1-6, to the year of Sargon's siege of Ashdod (711 BC); Isa 28 through 32, to the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib (701 BC); while the distinctively promissory portions (Isa 40 through 66), as is natural, conclude the collection. In several minor instances, however, there are notable departures from a rigid chronological order. For example, Isaiah 6:1-13, which describes the prophet's initial call to preach, follows the rebukes and denunciations of Isa 1 through 5; but this is probably due to its being used by the prophet as an apologetic. Again, the oracles against foreign nations in Isa 13 through 23 belong to various dates, being grouped together, in part, at least, because of their subject-matter. Likewise, Isa 38 through 39, which give an account of Hezekiah's sickness and Merodach-baladan's embassy to him upon his recovery (714-712 BC), chronologically precede Isaiah 36 through 37, which describe Sennacherib's investment of Jerusalem (701 BC). This chiastic order, however, in the last instance, is due probably to the desire to make Isa 36 through 37 (about Sennacherib, king of Assyria) an appropriate conclusion to Isa 1 through 35 (which say much about Assyria), and, on the other hand, to make Isa 38 through 39 (about Merodach-baladan of Babylon) a suitable introduction to Isaiah 40 through 66 (which speak of Babylon).
The attempt to date Isaiah's individual messages on the basis of internal criteria alone, is a well-nigh impossible task; and yet no other kind of evidence is available. Often passages stand side by side which point in opposite directions; in fact, certain sections seem to be composed of various fragments dating from different periods, as though prophecies widely separated from each other in time had been fused together. In such cases much weight should be given to those features which point to an early origin, because of the predominatingly predictive character of Isaiah's writings.
Isaiah always had an eye upon the future. His semi-historical and biographical prophecies are naturally the easiest to date; on the other hand, the form of his Messianic and eschatological discourses is largely due to his own personal temper and psychology, rather than to the historical circumstances of the time. The following is a table of Isaiah's prophecies chronologically arranged:
Chs BC 1-6 written probably c 740-736 7-12 " " c 734-732 15:1-16:12; [[Isaiah 17:1-14 " " c 734 13:1-14:23 " " between 732-722 Isaiah 14:24-27 " " " 732-722 Isaiah 14:28-32 " " c 727 23 " " shortly before 722 24-27 " " " " 722 [[Isaiah 28:1-6 " " " " 722 19 " " c 720 38 " " c 714 Isaiah 39:8 " " c 712 Isaiah 21:11, Isaiah 21:12, Isaiah 21:13-17 " " c 711 Isaiah 22:15-25 " " c 711 Isaiah 21:1-10 " " c 709 Isaiah 22:1-10 " " c 709 28:7-33:24 " " shortly before 701 Isaiah 18:1-7 " " c 701 34-35 " " c 701 36-37 " " soon after 701 40-66 " " " " 701
The prophet's standpoint in Isaiah 40 through 66 is that of Isaiah himself. For if Isaiah, before 734 BC, in passages confessedly his own, could describe Judah's cities as already “burned with fire,” Zion as deserted as “a booth in a vineyard” (Isaiah 1:7, Isaiah 1:8), Jerusalem as “ruined,” Judah as “fallen” (Isaiah 3:8), and Yahweh's people as already “gone into captivity” (Isaiah 5:13), surely after all the destruction and devastation wrought on Judah by Assyria in the years 722, 720, 711, and 701 BC, the same prophet with the same poetic license could declare that the temple had been “trodden down” (Isaiah 63:18) and “burned with fire,” and all Judah's pleasant places “laid waste” (Isaiah 64:11); and, in perfect keeping with his former promises, could add that “they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations” (Isaiah 61:4; compare Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 58:12).
Or again, if Isaiah the son of Amoz could comfort Jerusalem with promises of protection when the Assyrian (734 BC) should come like an overflowing river (Isaiah 8:9, Isaiah 8:10; Isaiah 10:24, Isaiah 10:25); and conceive a beautiful parable of comfort like that contained in Isaiah 28:23-29; and insert among his warnings and exhortations of the gloomy year 702 BC so many precious promises of a brighter future which was sure to follow Sennacherib's invasion (Isaiah 29:17-24; Isaiah 30:29-33; Isaiah 31:8, Isaiah 31:9); and, in the very midst of the siege of 701 BC, conceive of such marvelous Messianic visions as those in Isaiah 33:17-24 with which to dispel the dismay of his compatriots, surely the same prophet might be conceived of as seizing the opportunity to comfort those in Zion who survived the great catastrophe of 701 BC. The prophet who had done the one was prepared to do the other.
There was one circumstance of the prophet's position after 701 BC which was new, and which is too often overlooked, a circumstance which he could not have employed to anything like the same degree as an argument in enforcing his message prior to the Assyrian's overthrow and the deliverance of Jerusalem. It was this: the fulfillment of former predictions as proof of Yahweh's deity. From such passages we obtain an idea of the prophet's true historical position (Isaiah 42:9]; Isaiah 44:8; Isaiah 45:21; Isaiah 46:10; Isaiah 48:3). Old predictions have already been fulfilled (Isaiah 6:11-13; Isaiah 29:8; Isaiah 30:31; Isaiah 31:8; Isaiah 37:7, Isaiah 37:30), on the basis of which the prophet ventures to predict new and even more astounding things concerning the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus, and Israel's deliverance through him from their captors (Isaiah 43:6). Isaiah's book is signally full of predictions (Isaiah 7:8, Isaiah 7:10; Isaiah 8:4, Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 9:11, Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 10:26; Isaiah 14:24-27; Isaiah 16:14; Isaiah 17:9, Isaiah 17:12-14; Isaiah 20:4-6; Isaiah 21:16; Isaiah 22:19; Isaiah 23:15; Isaiah 38:5), some of which, written down and sealed, were evidently committed by the prophet to his inner circle of disciples to be used and verified by them in subsequent crises (Isaiah 8:16). Failure to recognize this element in Isaiah's book is fatal to a true interpretation of the prophet's real message.
9. The Critical Problem
“For about twenty-five centuries” as A. B. Davidson observes (Old Testament Prophecy, 1903, 244), “no one dreamed of doubting that Isaiah the son of Amoz was the author of every part of the book that goes under his name; and those who still maintain the unity of authorship are accustomed to point, with satisfaction, to the unanimity of the Christian church on the matter, till a few German scholars arose, about a century ago, and called in question the unity of this book.” Tradition is unanimous in favor of the unity of the book.
(1) The History of Criticism
The critical disintegration of the book began with Koppe, who in 1780 first doubted the genuineness of Isaiah 50:1-11. Nine years later Doederlein suspected the whole of Isaiah 40 through 66. He was followed by Rosenmueller, who was the first to deny to Isaiah the prophecy against Babylon in Isaiah 13:1 through Isaiah 14:23. Eichhorn, at the beginning of the last century, further eliminated the oracle against Tyre in Isaiah 23, and he, with Gesenius and Ewald, also denied the Isaianic origin of Isa 24 through 27. Gesenius also ascribed to some unknown prophet Isaiah 15:1-9 and Isaiah 16:1-14. Rosenmueller then went farther, and pronounced against Isaiah 34 and Isaiah 35:1-10, and not long afterward (1840) Ewald questioned Isaiah 12:1-6 and 33. Thus by the middle of the 19th century some 37 or 38 chapters were rejected as no part of Isaiah's actual writings. In 1879-80, the celebrated Leipzig professor, Franz Delitzsch, who for years previous had defended the genuineness of the entire book, finally yielded to the modern critical position, and in the new edition of his commentary published in 1889, interpreted Isaiah 40 through 66, though with considerable hesitation, as coming from the close of the period of Babylonian exile. About the same time (1888-90), Drs. Driver and G.A. Smith gave popular impetus to similar views in Great Britain. Since 1890, the criticism of Isaiah has been even more trenchant and microscopic than before. Duhm, Stade, Guthe, Hackmann, Cornill and Marti on the Continent, and Cheyne, Whitehouse, Box, Glazebrook, Kennett, Gray, Peake, and others in Great Britain and America have questioned portions which hitherto were supposed to be genuine.
(2) The Disintegration of “Deutero-Isaiah”
Even the unity of Isaiah 40 through 66, which were supposed to be the work of the “Second” or “Deutero-Isaiah,” is now given up. What prior to 1890 was supposed to be the unique product of some celebrated but anonymous seer who lived in Babylonia about 550 BC is today commonly divided and subdivided and in large part distributed among various writers from Cyrus to Simon (538-164 BC). At first it was thought sufficient to separate Isaiah 63 through 66 as a later addition to “Deutero-Isaiah's” prophecies; but more recently it has become the fashion to distinguish between Isaiah 40 through 55, which are claimed to have been written by “Deutero-Isaiah” in Babylonia about 549-538 BC, and Isaiah 56 through 66, which are now alleged to have been composed by a “Trito-Isaiah” about 460-445 BC.
(3) Recent Views
Among the latest to investigate the problem is Professor R.H. Kennett of Cambridge, English, who, in his Schweich Lectures (The Composition of the Book of Isaiah in the Light of History and Archaeology, 1910, 84ff), sums up the results of investigations as follows:
(a) all of Isaiah 3; 5; Isaiah 6:1-13; 7; Isaiah 20:1-6 and Isaiah 31:1-9, and large portions of Isaiah 1; 2; Isaiah 4:1-6; 8; 9; 10; 14; Isaiah 17:1-14; 22 and 23, may be assigned to Isaiah, the son of Amoz;
(b) all of Isaiah 13; 40 and Isaiah 47:1-15, and large portions of Isaiah 14; 21; 41; 43; 44; 45; Isaiah 46:1-13 and 48, may be assigned to the time of Cyrus;
(c) all of Isaiah 15:1-9; 36; 37 and Isaiah 39:1-8, and portions of Isaiah 16:1-14 and 38, may be assigned to the period between Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great, but cannot be dated precisely;
(d) The passage Isaiah 23:1-14 may be assigned to the time of Alexander the Great;
(e) all of Isaiah 11; Isaiah 12:1-6; 19; 24 through 27; 29; 30; 32 through 35; 42; 49 through 66; and portions of Isaiah 1; 2; Isaiah 4:1-6; 8; 9; 10; Isaiah 16:1-14; Isaiah 17:1-14; Isaiah 18:1-7; 23; 41; 44; 45; 48 may be assigned to the 2nd century BC (167-140 BC).
Professor C. F. Kent, also (Sermons, Epistles, and Apocalypses of Israel's Prophets, 1910, 27ff), makes the following critical observations on Isa 40 through 66. He says: “The prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah ... afford by far the best approach for the study of the difficult problems presented by Isaiah 40 through 66.... Isaiah 56 through 66 are generally recognized as post-exilic.... In Isaiah 56:1-12 and the following chapters there are repeated references to the temple and its service, indicating that it had already been restored. Moreover, these references are not confined to the latter part of the book.... The fact, on the one hand, that there are few, if any, allusions to contemporary events in these chapters, and on the other hand, that little or nothing is known of the condition and hopes of the Jews during this period (the closing years of the Babylonian exile) makes the dating of these prophecies possible, although far from certain.... Also, the assumption that the author of these chapters lived in the Babylonian exile is not supported by a close examination of the prophecies themselves. Possibly their author was one of the few who, like Zerubbabel, had been born in Babylon and later returned to Palestine. He was also dealing with such broad and universal problems that he gives few indications of his date and place of abode; but all the evidence that is found points to Jerusalem as the place where he lived and wrote.... The prophet's interest and point of view center throughout in Jerusalem, and he shows himself far more familiar with conditions in Palestine than in distant Babylon. Most of his illustrations are drawn from the agricultural life of Palestine. His vocabulary is also that of a man dwelling in Palestine, and in this respect is in marked contrast with the synonyms employed by Ezekiel, the prophet of the Babylonian exile.”
That is to say, two of the most recent investigators of the Book of Isaiah reach conclusions quite at variance with the opinions advocated in 1890, when Delitzsch so reluctantly allowed that Isaiah 40 through 66 may have sprung from the period of Babylonian exile. Now, it is found that these last 27 chapters were written after the exile, most probably in Palestine, rather than in Babylonia as originally claimed, and are no longer considered addressed primarily to the suffering exiles in captivity as was formerly urged.
(4) The Present State of the Question
The present state of the Isaiah question is, to say the least, confusing. Those who deny the integrity of the book may be divided into two groups, which we may call moderates and radicals. Among the moderates may be included Drs. Driver, G.A. Smith, Skinner, Kirkpatrick, Koenig, A.B. Davidson, Barnes and Whitehouse. These all practically agree that the following chapters and verses are not Isaiah's: Isaiah 11:10-16; Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 13:1 through Isaiah 14:23; Isaiah 15:1 through Isaiah 16:12; Isaiah 21:1-10; 24 through 27; 34 through 35; 36 through 39; 40 through 66. That is to say, some 44 chapters out of the whole number, 66, were not written by Isaiah; or, approximately 800 out of 1,292 verses are not genuine. Among the radicals are Drs. Cheyne, Duhm, Hackmann, Guthe, Marti, Kennett and Gray. These all reject approximately 1,030 verses out of the total 1,292, retaining the following only as the genuine product of Isaiah and his age: 1:2-26;29-31; Isaiah 2:6-19; Isaiah 3:1, Isaiah 3:5, Isaiah 3:8, Isaiah 3:9, Isaiah 3:12-17; Isaiah 4:1; Isaiah 5:1-14, Isaiah 5:17-29; Isaiah 6:1-13; Isaiah 7:1-8, Isaiah 7:22; Isaiah 9:8 through Isaiah 10:9; Isaiah 10:13, Isaiah 10:14, Isaiah 10:27-32; Isaiah 17:1-14; Isaiah 18:1-7; Isaiah 20:1-6; Isaiah 22:1-22; Isaiah 28:1-4, 7-22; Isaiah 29:1-6, Isaiah 29:9, Isaiah 29:10, Isaiah 29:13-15; Isaiah 30:1-17; Isaiah 31:1-4. That is, only about 262 verses out of the total 1,292 are allowed to be genuine. This is, we believe, a fair statement of the Isaiah-question as it exists in the hands of divisive critics today.
On the other hand there have been those who have defended and who still defend the essential unity of Isaiah's entire book, e.g. Strachey (1874), Nagelsbach (1877), Bredenkamp (1887), Douglas (1895), W.H. Cobb (1883-1908), W.H. Green (1892), Vos (1898-99), Thirtle (1907), Margoliouth (1910) and O.T. Allis (1912).
(5) Reasons for Dissecting the Book
The fundamental axiom of criticism is the dictum that a prophet always spoke out of a definite historical situation to the present needs of the people among whom he lived, and that a definite historical situation shall be pointed out for each prophecy. This fundamental postulate, which on the whole is reasonable and perfectly legitimate if not overworked, underlies all modern criticism of Old Testament prophecy. It is not possible, however, always to trace a mere snatch of sermonic discourse to a definite historical situation apart from its context. Moreover, the prophets often spoke consciously, not only to their own generation, but also to the generations to come. Isaiah in particular commanded, “Bind thou up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples” (Isaiah 8:16); that is, preserve my teachings for the future. Again in Isaiah 30:8, he says, “Now go,... inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever.” And also in Isaiah 42:23, “Who is there among you that will give ear to this? that will hearken and hear for the time to come?”
Certain false presuppositions often govern critics in their disintegration of the book. Only a few examples need be given by way of illustration:
- (a) According to some, “the conversion of the heathen” lay quite beyond the horizon of any 8th-century prophet; consequently, Isaiah 2:2-4 and all similar passages which foretell the conversion of those outside the chosen people are to be relegated to an age subsequent to Isaiah.
- (b) To others, “the picture of universal peace” in Isaiah 11:1-9 is a symptom of late date, and therefore this section and all kindred ones must be deleted.
- (c) To others, the thought of “universal judgment” upon “the whole earth” in Isaiah 14:26 and elsewhere quite transcends Isaiah's range of thought.
- (d) To others still, the apocalyptic character of Isaiah 24 through 27 represents a phase of Hebrew thought which prevailed in Israel only after Ezekiel.
- (e) Even to those who are considered moderates “the poetic character” of a passage like Isaiah 12:1-6, and the references to a “return” from captivity, as in Isaiah 11:11-16, and the promises and consolations such as are found in Isaiah 33 are cited as grounds for assigning these and similar passages to a much later age. Radicals deny in toto the existence of all Messianic passages among Isaiah's own predictions, relegating all Messianic hope to a much later age.
But to deny to the Isaiah of the 8th century all catholicity of grace, all universalism of salvation or judgment, every highly developed Messianic ideal, every rich note of promise and comfort, all sublime faith in the sacrosanct character of Zion, as some do, is unwarrantably to create a new Isaiah of greatly reduced proportions, a mere preacher of righteousness, a statesman of not very optimistic vein, and the exponent of a cold ethical religion without the warmth and glow of the messages which are actually ascribed to the prophet of the 8th century.
As a last resort, certain critics have appealed to 2 Chronicles 36:22, 2 Chronicles 36:23 as external evidence that Isaiah 40 through 66 existed as a separate collection in the Chronicler's age. But the evidence obtained from this source is so doubtful that it is well-nigh valueless. For it is not the prediction of Isaiah concerning Cyrus to which the Chronicler points as Jeremiah's, but the “70 years” of Babylonian supremacy spoken of in 2 Chronicles 36:21, which Jeremiah actually did predict (compare Jeremiah 25:11; Jeremiah 29:10). On the other hand, Isaiah 40 through 66 were certainly ascribed to Isaiah as early as 180 BC, for Jesus Ben-Sirach, the author of Ecclesiasticus, speaks of Isaiah as the prophet who “saw by an excellent spirit that which should come to pass at the last, and comforted them that mourned in Zion” (Ecclesiasticus 48:20ff; compare Isaiah 40:1). Furthermore, there is absolutely no proof that Isaiah 1 through 39, or Isaiah 40 through 66, or any other section of Isaiah's prophecies ever existed by themselves as an independent collection; nor is there any substantial ground for supposing that the promissory and Messianic portions have been systematically interpolated by editors long subsequent to Isaiah's own time. The earlier prophets presumably did more than merely threaten.
(6) Arguments for One Isaiah
It is as unreasonable to expect to be able to prove the unity of Isaiah as to suppose that it has been disproved. Internal evidence is indecisive in either case. There are arguments, however, which corroborate a belief that there was but one Isaiah. Here are some of those which might be introduced:
(A) The Circle of Ideas
The circle of ideas, which are strikingly the same throughout the entire book: For example, take the characteristic name for God, which is almost peculiar to Isaiah, “the Holy One of Israel.” This title for Yahweh occurs in the Book of Isaiah a total of 25 times, and only 6 times elsewhere in the Old Testament, one of which is a parallel passage in Kings. This unique epithet, “the Holy One of Israel,” interlocks all the various portions with one another and stamps them with the personal imprimatur of him who saw the vision of the majestic God seated upon His throne, high and lifted up, and heard the angelic choirs singing: “Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). The presence of this Divine title in all the different sections of the book is of more value in identifying Isaiah as the author of all these prophecies than though his name had been inserted at the beginning of every chapter, for the reason that his theology - his conception of God as the Holy One - is woven into the very fiber and texture of the whole book. It occurs 12 times in Isa 1 through 39, and 13 times in Isaiah 40 through 66; and it is simply unscientific to say that the various alleged authors of the disputed portions all employed the same title through imitation (compare Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 5:19, Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 17:7; Isaiah 29:19; Isaiah 30:11, Isaiah 30:12, Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 37:23; also Isaiah 41:14, Isaiah 41:16, Isaiah 41:20; Isaiah 43:3, Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 45:11; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:17; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 55:5; Isaiah 60:9, Isaiah 60:14; elsewhere, only in 2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22; Psalm 78:41; Psalm 89:18; Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:5).
Another unique idea which occurs with considerable repetition in the Book of Isaiah is the thought of a “highway” (compare Isaiah 11:16; Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 49:11; Isaiah 57:14; Isaiah 62:10). Another characteristic idea is that of a “remnant” (compare Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 10:20, Isaiah 10:21, Isaiah 10:22; Isaiah 11:11, Isaiah 11:16; Isaiah 14:22, Isaiah 14:30; Isaiah 15:9; Isaiah 16:14; Isaiah 17:3; Isaiah 21:17; Isaiah 28:5; Isaiah 37:31; Isaiah 46:3; compare Isaiah 65:8, Isaiah 65:9). Another striking trait of the book is the position occupied by “Zion” in the prophet's thoughts (compare [[Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 4:5; Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 29:8; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 31:9; Isaiah 33:5, Isaiah 33:20; Isaiah 34:8; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 49:14; Isaiah 51:3, Isaiah 51:16; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 60:14; Isaiah 62:1, Isaiah 62:11; Isaiah 66:8). Still another is the oft-repeated expression, “pangs of a woman in travail” (compare Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 21:3; Isaiah 26:17, Isaiah 26:18; Isaiah 42:14; Isaiah 54:1; Isaiah 66:7). These, and many others less distinctive, psychologically stamp the book with an individuality which it is difficult to account for, if it be broken up into countless fragments and distributed, as some do, over the centuries.
(B) The Literary Style
As negative evidence, literary style is not a very safe argument; for, as Professor McCurdy says, “In the case of a writer of Isaiah's environments, style is not a sure criterion of authorship” (History, Prophecy and the Monuments, II, 317, note). Yet it is certainly remarkable that the clause “for the mouth of Yahweh hath spoken it” should be found 3 times in the Book of Isaiah, and nowhere else in the Old Testament (compare Isaiah 1:20; Isaiah 40:5; Isaiah 58:14). And it is noteworthy that the phrase, “streams of water,” should occur twice in Isaiah and nowhere else (compare Isaiah 30:25; Isaiah 44:4 in the Hebrew). And very peculiar is the tendency on the prophet's part to emphatic reduplication (compare Isaiah 2:7, Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 6:3; Isaiah 8:9; Isaiah 24:16, Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 40:1; Isaiah 43:11, Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 48:15; Isaiah 51:12; Isaiah 57:19; Isaiah 62:10). In fact, it is not extravagant to say that Isaiah's style differs widely from that of every other Old Testament prophet, and is as far removed as possible from that of Ezekiel and the post-exilic prophets.
(C) Historical References
Take, for example, first, the prophet's constant reference to Judah and Jerusalem, his country and its capital (Isaiah 1:7-9; Isaiah 3:8; Isaiah 24:19; Isaiah 25:2; Isaiah 40:2, Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 62:4); likewise, to the temple and its ritual of worship and sacrifice. In Isaiah 1:11-15, when all was prosperous, the prophet complained that the people were profuse and formal in their ceremonies and sacrifices; in Isaiah 43:23, Isaiah 43:14, on the contrary, when the country had been overrun by the Assyrian and Sennacherib had besieged the city, the prophet reminds them that they had not brought to Yahweh the sheep of their burnt offerings, nor honored Him with their sacrifices; while in Isaiah 66:1-3, Isaiah 66:6, Isaiah 66:20, not only is the existence of the Temple and the observance of the ritual presupposed, but those are sentenced who place their trust in the material temple, and the outward ceremonials of temple-worship. As for the “exile,” the prophet's attitude to it throughout is that of both anticipation and realization. Thus, in Isaiah 57:1, judgment is only threatened, not yet inflicted: “The righteous is taken away from the evil to come.” That is to say, the exile is described as still future. On the other hand, in Isaiah 3:8, “Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen,” which seems to describe the exile as in the past; yet, as everybody admits, these are the words of Isaiah of the 8th century. In Isaiah 11:11, Isaiah 11:12, the prophet says, “The Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people.... from the four corners of the earth.” To interpret such a statement literally and mechanically without regard to 8th-century conditions, or to Isaiah's manifest attitude to the exile, leads to confusion. No prophet realized so keenly or described so vividly the destiny of the Hebrews.
(D) The Predictive Element
This is the strongest proof of the unity of the Book of Isaiah. Prediction is the very essence of prophecy (compare Deuteronomy 18:22); Isaiah was preëminently a prophet of the future. With unparalleled suddenness, he repeatedly leaps from despair to hope, from threat to promise, and from the actual to the ideal. What Professor Kent says of “Deutero-Isaiah” may with equal justice be said of Isaiah himself: “While in touch with his own age, the great unknown prophet lives in the atmosphere of the past and the future” (Sermons, Epistles, and Apocalypses of Israel's Prophets, 28). Isaiah spoke to his own age, but he also addressed himself to the ages to follow. His verb tenses are characteristically futures and prophetic perfects. Of his book A.B. Davidson's words are particularly true: “If any prophetic book be examined ... it will appear that the ethical and religious teaching is always secondary, and that the essential thing in the book or discourse is the prophet's outlook into the future” (HDB, article “Prophecy and Prophets,” IV, 119).
Isaiah was exceptionally given to predicting: thus
(i) before the Syro-Ephraimitic war (734 BC), he predicted that within 65 years Ephraim should be broken to pieces (Isaiah 7:8); and that before the child Maher-shalal-hash-baz should have knowledge to cry, “My father,” or “My mother,” the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria should be carried away (Isaiah 8:4; compare Isaiah 7:16). These are, however, but two of numerous predictions, as shown above, among his earlier prophecies (compare Isaiah 1:27, Isaiah 1:28; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 10:20-23; Isaiah 11:6-16; Isaiah 17:14).
(ii) Shortly before the downfall of Samaria in 722 BC, Isaiah predicted that Tyre should be forgotten 70 years, and that after the end of 70 years her merchandise should be holiness to Yahweh (Isaiah 23:15, Isaiah 23:18).
(iii) In like manner prior to the siege of Ashdod in 711 BC, he proclaimed that within 3 years Moab should be brought into contempt (Isaiah 16:14), and that within a year all the glory of Kedar should fail (Isaiah 21:16).
(iv) And not long prior to the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 BC, he predicted that in an instant, suddenly, a multitude of Jerusalem's foes should be as dust (Isaiah 29:5); that yet a very little while and Lebanon should be turned into a fruitful field (Isaiah 29:17); and that Assyria should be dismayed and fall by the sword, but not of men (Isaiah 30:17, Isaiah 30:31; Isaiah 31:8). And more, that for days beyond a year, the careless women of Jerusalem should be troubled (Isaiah 32:10, Isaiah 32:16-20); and that the righteous in Zion should see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, and return and come with singing (Isaiah 33:17; Isaiah 35:4, Isaiah 35:10); but that Sennacherib, on the contrary, should hear tidings and return without shooting an arrow into the city (Isaiah 37:7, Isaiah 37:26-29, Isaiah 37:33-35).
In like manner, also, after the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 BC was over, the prophet seems to have continued to predict; and, in order to demonstrate to the suffering and unbelieving remnant about him the deity of Yahweh and the folly of idolatry, pointed to the predictions which he had already made in the earlier years of his ministry, and to the fact that they had been fulfilled. Thus, he says, “Who hath declared it from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, He is right?” (Isaiah 41:21-23, Isaiah 41:16); “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9, Isaiah 42:23); “Who among them can declare this, and show us former things (i.e. things to come in the immediate future)?... I have declared, and I have saved, and I have showed” (Isaiah 43:9, Isaiah 43:12); “Who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it ...? And the things that are coming, and that shall come to pass, let them (the idols) declare.... Have I not declared unto thee of old, and showed it? And ye are my witnesses.... That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built; and of the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (Isaiah 44:7, Isaiah 44:8, Isaiah 44:27, Isaiah 44:28); “It is I, Yahweh, who call thee by thy name, even the God of Israel.... I have called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.... Ask me of the things that are to come.... I have raised him (Cyrus) up in righteousness, and ... he shall build my city, and he shall let my exiles go free” (Isaiah 45:3, Isaiah 45:4, Isaiah 45:11, Isaiah 45:13); “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done;... calling a ravenous bird (Cyrus) from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country; yea, I have spoken, I will also bring it to pass” (Isaiah 46:10, Isaiah 46:11); “I have declared the former things from of old,... and I showed them: suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.... I have declared it ... from of old; before it came to pass I showed it thee; lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them” (Isaiah 48:3, Isaiah 48:5); “I have showed thee new things from this time, even hidden things.... Yea, from of old thine ear was not opened.... Who among them hath declared these things?... I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him;... from the beginning I have not spoken in secret” (Isaiah 48:6-8, Isaiah 48:14-16). Such predictions are explicit and emphatic.
(E) Cyrus a Subject of Prediction
From all the above-mentioned explicit and oft-repeated predictions one thing is obvious, namely, that great emphasis is laid by the prophet on prediction throughout the entire Book of Isaiah. And it must be further allowed that “Cyrus” is represented by the author as predicted, from any point of view. The only question is, Does the prophet emphasize the fact that he himself is predicting the coming of Cyrus? or that former predictions concerning Cyrus are now, as the prophet writes, coming to pass before his readers' eyes? Canon Cheyne's remark upon this point is instructive. He says: “The editor, who doubtless held the later Jewish theory of prophecy, may have inferred from a number of passages, especially Isaiah 41:26; Isaiah 48:3, Isaiah 48:1.14, that the first appearance of Cyrus had been predicted by an ancient prophet, and observing certain Isaianic elements in the phraseology of these chapters, may have identified the prophet with Isaiah” (Introduction to the Book of Isaiah, 238).
Dr. G.A. Smith likewise allows that Cyrus is the fulfillment of former predictions.
He says: “Nor is it possible to argue, as some have tried to do, that the prophet is predicting these things as if they had already happened. For as part of argument for the unique divinity of the God of Israel, Cyrus, 'alive and irresistible,' and already accredited with success, is pointed out as the unmistakable proof that former prophecies of a deliverance for Israel are already coming to pass. Cyrus, in short, is not presented as a prediction, but as a proof that a prediction is being fulfilled” (HDB, article “Isaiah,” 493). And further he says: “The chief claim, therefore, which Isa 40ff make for the God of Israel is His power to direct the history of the world in conformity to a long-predicted and faithfully followed purpose. This claim starts from the proof that Yahweh has long before predicted events now happening or about to happen, with Cyrus as their center. But this is much more than a proof of isolated predictions, though these imply omniscience. It is a declaration of the unity of history sweeping to the high ends which have been already revealed to Israel - an exposition, in short, of the Omnipotence, Consistence, and Faithfulness of the Providence of the One True God” (ibid., 496).
It is obvious, therefore, in any case, whether these chapters are early or late, that Cyrus is the subject of prediction. It really makes little difference at which end of history one takes his stand, whether in the 8th century bc with Isaiah, or in the 6th century bc with “Deutero-Isaiah.” Cyrus, to the author of these chapters, is the subject of prediction. In other words, whether indeed the author is really predicting Cyrus in advance of all apparent fulfillment, or Cyrus is the fulfillment of some ancient prediction by another, does not alter the fact that Cyrus was the subject of prediction on the part of somebody. Accordingly, as was stated at the outset, the whole question is, which does the prophet emphasize,
- (a) The fact that he himself is predicting? or,
- (b) that former predictions by someone else are now before his eyes coming to pass? The truth is, the prophet seems to live in the atmosphere of the past and the future as well as in the present, all of which are equally vivid to his prophetic mind. This is a peculiar characteristic of Isaiah. It is seen in the account he gives of his inaugural vision (Isaiah 6:1-13), of which Delitzsch remarks that it is “like a prediction in the process of being fulfilled.” The same is true of Isaiah 24 through 27. There the prophet repeatedly projects himself into the future, and speaks from the standpoint of the fulfillment of his predictions. It is especially true of Isaiah 40 through 48. At one time the prophet emphasizes the fact that he is predicting, and a little later he describes his predictions as coming to pass. When, accordingly, a decision is made as to when the author predicted Cyrus, it is more natural to suppose that he was doing so long before Cyrus' actual appearance. This, in fact, is in keeping with the test of true prophecy contained in Deuteronomy 18:22 : “When a prophet speaketh in the name of Yahweh, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which Yahweh hath not spoken; the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be afraid of him.” Besides, there is a similar explicit prediction in the Old Testament, namely, that of King Josiah, who was foretold by name two centuries before he came (1 Kings 13:2; compare 2 Kings 23:15, 2 Kings 23:16).
Dr. W. H. Cobb in the Journal of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, 1901, 79, pleads for a “shrinkage of Cyrus,” because Cyrus figures only in Isaiah 40 through 48, and is then dismissed. Dr. Thirtle, on the other hand, argues that the name “Cyrus” is a mere appellative, being originally not Kōresh (Cyrus), but ḥōresh (“workman,” “artificer,” “imagebreaker”), and that Isaiah 44:27, Isaiah 44:28 is a gloss (compare Old Testament Problems, 244-64). But in opposition to these views the present writer prefers to write Cyrus large, and to allow frankly that he is the subject of extraordinary prediction. For the very point of the author's argument is, that he is predicting events which Yahweh alone is capable of foretelling or bringing to pass; in other words, that prescience is the proof of Yahweh's deity. Isaiah lived in an age when Yahweh's secrets were first revealed privately unto His servants the prophets (compare Amos 3:7). Political conditions were unsettled and kaleidoscopic, and there was every incentive to predict. That Isaiah actually uttered wonderful predictions. is attested, furthermore, both by Jesus Ben-Sirach in Ecclesiasticus 48:20-25 (written circa 180 BC), and by Josephus in his Ant, XI, i, 1, 2 (dating from circa 100 AD); and these are ancient traditions worthy of credence.
Recently, Mr. Oswald T. Allis, after a thorough and exhaustive critical investigation of “the numerico-climactic structure” of the poem in Isaiah 44:24-28, concludes that “the most striking and significant features of the poem favor the view that while the utterance was significant in and of itself, it was chiefly significant in view of the exceptional circumstance under which it was spoken, i.e. in view of its early date. The chronological arrangement of the poem assigns the Restoration and Cyrus to the future. The perspective of the poem, together with the abrupt change of person in the 2nd strophe, argues that the future is a remote future. And finally the carefully constructed double climax attaches a significance to the definiteness of the utterance which is most easily accounted for if this future was so remote that a definite disclosure concerning it would be of extraordinary importance.” And he further alleges that “it is impossible, if justice is done to the plain declarations of Scripture, to limit the prophetic horizon of the prophet Isaiah to the preëxilic period and that ... when the form of the poem is recognized, there is every reason to assign it to a pre-exilic prophet, to Isaiah, since the form of the poem is admirably calculated to emphasize the fact that Cyrus and the Restoration belong to a distant future, and to make it clear that it is just because of this fact that the definitehess of the prophecy, the mention of Cyrus by name, is so remarkable and of such unique significance” (Biblical and Theological Studies, by the members of the Faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary, Centennial Volume, 1912, 628-29).
After all, why should men object to prediction on so large a scale? Unless there is definiteness about any given prediction, and unless it transcends ordinary prognostication, there is no especial value in it. Should it be objected, however, that prediction of so minute a character is “abhorrent to reason,” the answer is already at hand; it may be abhorrent to reason, but it is a handmaid to faith. Faith has to do with the future, even as prediction has to do with the future; and the Old Testament is preëminently a book which encourages faith. There is really no valid objection to the prediction of Cyrus. For the one outstanding differentiating characteristic of Israel's religion is predictive prophecy. The Hebrews certainly predicted the coming of a Messiah. Indeed, the Hebrews were the only people of antiquity whose “Golden Age” lay in the future rather than in the past. Accordingly, to predict the coming of a Cyrus as the human agent of Israel's salvation is but the reverse side of the same prophet's picture of the Divine agent, namely, the obedient, Suffering Servant of Yahweh, who would redeem Israel from its sin. Deny to Isaiah the son of Amoz the prediction concerning Cyrus, and it is but logical to go farther and to deny to him the Messianic hope which is usually associated with his name. Deny to Isaiah the son of Amoz the predictions concerning a return from captivity, and the prophecies of his book are robbed of their essential character and unique perspective. Emasculate those portions of the Book of Isaiah which unveil the future, and they are reduced to a mere vaticinium ex eventu, and their religious value as Divine oracles is largely lost.
So much has been written on Isaiah's prophecies that only a selected list can be given here:
I. Commentaries on Isaiah
Owen C. Whitehouse, The New Century Bible, 2 volumes, 1905; J. Skinner, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, 2 volumes, 1896-98; W.E. Barnes, The Churchman's Bible, 2 volumes, 1901-3; G.A. Smith, The Expositor's Bible, 2 volumes, 1888-90; Franz Delitzsch, Clark's Foreign Theological Library, 2 volumes, 1892; (C. von Orelli, Clark's Foreign Theological Library, 1895; T.K. Cheyne, The Prophecies of Isaiah, 2 volumes, 1892; G.W. Wade, Westminster Commentaries, 1911; G.H. Box, The Book of Isaiah, 1909; G.B. Gray, International Critical Commentary, I, chapters i-xxvii, 1912; II, chapters xxviii-lxvi, by G.B. Gray and A.S. Peake; J.E. McFadyen, “Book of the Prophecies of Isaiah” (The Bible for Home and School), 1910; G. Campbell Morgan, The Analyzed Bible, 2 volumes, 1910; Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 volumes, 1906; H.G. Mitchell, Isaiah: A Study of chapters 1-12, 1897; Nägelsbach in Lange's Bibelwerk, English edition, 1878; J.A. Alexander, 1865; H. Ewald, English edition, 1876-81; John Calvin, English edition, 1850; R. Lowth, 1778; Vitringa, 1732; W. Gesenius, 1820-21; F. Hitzig, 1833; C.J. Bredenkamp, 1887; A. Dillmann, 1890, as revised by Kittel, 1898; B. Duhm, in Nowack's Handkommentar zum Altes Testament, 1892; K. Marti, 1900; A. Condamin (Roman Catholic), 1905.
II. Introduction and Criticism
S.R. Driver, Isaiah, His Life and Times, in “The Men of the Bible Series,” 1888; T.K. Cheyne, Introduction to the Book of Isaiah, 1895; W.R. Smith, The Prophets of Israel, 2nd edition, 1896; A.F. Kirkpatrick, The Doctrine of the Prophets, 1892; J.W. Thirtle, Old Testament Problems, 1907; W.E. Barnes, An Examination of Isaiah 24-27, 1891; G. Douglas, Isaiah One and His Book One, 1895; J. Kennedy, A Popular Argument for the Unity of Isaiah, 1891; E. Koenig, The Exiles' Book of Consolation, 1899; G.C. Workman, The Servant of Yahweh, 1907; M.G. Glazebrook, Studies in the Book of Isaiah, 1910; R.H. Kennett, The Composition of the Book of Isaiah in the Light of History and Archaeology, 1910; R.R. Ottley, Isaiah according to the Septuagint, 1904; Hackmann, Die Zukunftserwartung des Jesaia, 1893; J. Meinhold, Die Jesajaerzählungen, Jesaja 36-39, 1898; O.T. Allis, “The Transcendence of Yahweh, God of Israel, [[Isaiah 44:24-28,” in Biblical and Theological Studies, Princeton's Centennial Commemoration Volume, 1912, 579634; J. Hastings, The Great Texts of the Bible, 1910; C.S. Robinson, The Gospel in Isaiah, 1895; E. Sievers, Metrische Studien, 1901; G.L. Robinson, The Book of Isaiah, 1910; H. Guthe, Das Zukunfisbild des Jesaia, 1885; Feldmann, Der Knecht Gottes, 1907; W. Urwick, The Servant of Yahweh, 1877; K. Cramer, The Historical Background of Isa 56 through 66, 1905; A.B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy, 1903.
III. Articles in Journals and Dictionaries
W.H Cobb in Journal of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, 1891, II; 1895, I and II; 1898, I; 1901, I; 1908, I; F. Brown, JBL, 1890, I; W. H. Cobb, in the BS, 1882; G. A. Smith, article “Isaiah” in HDB, 1899; T. K. Cheyne, in the EB, 1901, and in the Encyclopedia Brit, 11th edition, 1910; Jas. Robertson, in the Illustrated Bible Dict., 1908; E. Koenig, in the Standard Bible Dict., 1909; A. Klostermann and J. A. Kelso, in The New Sch-Herz, 1910; A. Klostermann in the See Hauck-Herzog, Realencyklopadie fur protestantische Theologie und Kirche, 1900; G. Vos, Presbyterian and Reformed Review, 1898; D.S. Margoliouth, in The Temple Dictionary, 1910; C.A. Briggs, article “Analysis of Isa 40 through 62” in Harper Memorial Volume.