The book of Isaiah is a portion of God’s Holy Word in which spiritually minded believers find much to exercise their hearts and encourage their glad anticipation of the coming day when Immanuel will take His great power and reign.
Longer than any other prophetic book, Isaiah contains the fullest Messianic predictions to be found in the Old Testament, testifying in no uncertain way to “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Peter 1:11).
Like all other books of the Bible, Isaiah has suffered much at the hands of unbelieving and haughty critics who have done their best to undermine the faith of the simple in the integrity and unity of the Bible. But for those who have faith, all doubts are settled by the Lord Jesus, who when here on earth placed the seal of His divine approval on the prophecy in its entirety. After the ascension of the Savior, the apostles drew from this book again and again in their ministry, all by the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, thus giving the prophecy a place of unquestionable authority as the very word of Jehovah.
According to Jewish tradition, Isaiah was a man of wealth, rank, and learning. He is supposed to be the one referred to in Hebrews 11:37 as having been “sawn asunder” by the enraged rejecters of his prophetic ministry. If this be so, the execution occurred at the close of a long and honored life, for his public service extended over at least half a century. As he told us in his opening verse, he prophesied “in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.” In all likelihood he did not appear in the prophetic office until the last year of Uzziah’s long reign (Isaiah 6:1).
Chapter 6 records his divine commission, and it is questionable that he had written the previous chapters before he had the vision “in the year that King Uzziah died”—not necessarily after Uzziah died, but in the same year as that solemn event. We know Isaiah continued to proclaim the word of the Lord after the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, for it was then that the prophet was commissioned to make known to the stricken monarch that fifteen years were to be added to his life.
Isaiah was therefore contemporary with Hosea and possibly for a very brief season with Amos. However, it is more likely that the herdsman-prophet had passed off the scene before Isaiah began to make known the mind of God. Micah also held the prophetic office during the reigns of the last three kings mentioned. So Isaiah would have been the chief among a goodly little company to whom the secrets of the Lord were revealed in a day when formalism and hypocrisy largely prevailed.
That there was but one Isaiah, not two, is evident from the testimony given by the inspired writer of the Gospel of Luke. He told us that on the occasion of the Lord’s first public visit to the synagogue at Nazareth “there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias [Isaiah]” and from it He preached His gospel of “deliverance to the captives” and “the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:17-19). Thus the Lord cited the glorious predictions of Isaiah 61:1-2 as inspired Scripture written by Isaiah, not as the writing of an unknown poet of the Maccabean or later period.
The book of Isaiah as it stands bears every evidence of having been preserved in its divinely arranged order. Only unbelieving ignorance coupled with amazing egotism could lead anyone to want to rearrange it and dissect it in the manner of “modern” critics such as George Adam Smith. His Isaiah in The Expositor’s Bible Series is the most commonly known specimen of virtual denial of inspiration. Smith’s book is a biased attempt to destroy the true prophetic character of the Messianic portions of this magnificent prophecy.
Unbelief finds difficulties where faith bows with adoring reverence. As I write not for skeptics, but for those who truly know the Christ whose sufferings and glories Isaiah foretold, I will pay but slight attention to the objections of those unbelieving natural men, albeit distinguished in the world of letters and in the Christless religious circles of the day.
Many professing Christians pay little or no attention to the prophetic word, but in neglecting that which forms so large a part of the Holy Scriptures, they wrong their own souls and dishonor Him who gave His Word for our edification and comfort. The real value of prophecy is that it occupies us with a person, not merely with events. That person is our Lord Jesus Christ, who came once to suffer and is coming again to reign. Isaiah wrote of both these advents, and in a way more plain and full than that of any of the other Old Testament seers.
Prophecy is not simply the foretelling of future events; it is also the forth-telling of the mind of God for the moment. When both the priesthood and the monarchy had failed completely in Israel and Judah, God continued to minister to His people through the prophets. These were men to whom special insight was given into holy things, and who were sent by God to call an erring people to repentance. It was the responsibility of the prophets not only to inform the people of the coming glories of Messiah’s day, but also to impress upon them the necessity of preparing the way of the Lord. The people could prepare the way by turning from sin to righteousness, and by turning from their idolatrous vanities to the living God, who had so wonderfully manifested His power on their behalf throughout Israel’s history.
There are many things in the writings of Isaiah that are perhaps beyond our present comprehension, even as they were beyond the comprehension of the writer himself. Like the other prophets, Isaiah wrote at the command of the Lord and searched the Scriptures then available when he testified beforehand concerning the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. The portions of Isaiah that deal with the sufferings of Christ at the time of His first advent have become amazingly clear in the light of the New Testament Gospels. The portions that have to do with the glories that will follow at His second advent, while linked with all prophecy concerning that glorious advent, will never be fully understood until the day of fulfillment arrives. Even though at times we may seem to see through a glass darkly as we study this book, we may be assured of real blessing as we weigh carefully before God that which He commissioned Isaiah to proclaim.
Those who are interested in the curious things of Scripture have noticed that the book of Isaiah in one sense comprises a miniature Bible. The Bible consists of sixty-six books; Isaiah has sixty-six chapters. The Bible is divided into two Testaments, Old and New; Isaiah is divided into two parts, the first having to do largely with Israel’s past condition and the promise of Messiah’s coming, and the second dealing particularly with their future deliverance. The Old Testament has thirty-nine books; the first part of Isaiah has thirty-nine chapters. The New Testament has twenty-seven books; the second part of Isaiah has twenty-seven chapters. This of course is a mere coincidence because it was not the Spirit of God, but human editors who divided the book in this way. Nevertheless it is interesting and quite suggestive when we realize that Isaiah deals in a very definite way with that which is the outstanding theme of all the Scriptures: God’s salvation as revealed in His blessed Son.
The first part of Isaiah can be divided into two sections, the first consisting of chapters 1-35 and the second consisting of chapters 36-39. If, for the purpose of structural analysis, we make each of these sections a separate part, we can think of the prophecy as being divided into three parts: (1) chapters 1-35; (2) chapters 36-39; (3) chapters 40-66.
The first of these three parts is an orderly, connected series of messages evidently uttered by Isaiah before the illness of Hezekiah. The messages minister chiefly to the consciences of Israel and Judah. The people are warned of suffering under God’s hand of judgment, and they are promised blessing in connection with Messiah’s coming.
The second part, though of a prophetical and typical character, is historical, showing how all blessing for Judah is bound up with a Son of David who will go down to death but be raised up by omnipotent power. Isaiah 36-39 is almost identical to 2 Kings 18:13— 20:19 and the main points of 2 Chronicles 32. Isaiah himself doubtless was the recorder of the portion of the book of Kings written during his ministry, and by divine direction he introduced the passage specified into the book bearing his name.
The third part of Isaiah concludes the prophecy by setting forth the utter failure of the first man and the arrival of the Second, the Lord from Heaven. Israel, shown to be unfaithful in every particular as a servant of God, is set aside so that the true Servant, the Elect of Jehovah, may be manifested.
Prophecy does not go beyond this earth; its scope is only “as long as the sun and moon endure” (Psalm 72:5). But we know from later revelation that the eternal Son of the Father will be the One in whom all the fullness of the godhead will be displayed forever. Through the true Servant, all God’s counsels will stand and God’s glory will be established.
With these preliminary thoughts before us, let us turn to the consideration of the book itself, assured that we will find it, like all other Scriptures, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).