The Author and His Times
The opening verse of this great book gives us information concerning the prophet Isaiah and the period covered by his official ministry: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”
Of Isaiah’s personal history we know but little. Jewish tradition claims that he was related to King Uzziah. That the prophet must have come from a prominent family may be gathered from the fact that he had ready access into the presence of Ahaz and Hezekiah, and probably also the other kings of Judah. That Isaiah was married we learn from his book. He had two sons who bore prophetic names. One was named Shear-jashub (“a remnant shall return”), prophetically indicating that God would leave a remnant of His people. The name of the other was Maher-shalal-Hashbaz (“hasting to the spoil, hurrying to the prey”), which was prophetic of the threatening invasion by Assyria.
Nothing else is said of Isaiah’s personal history in the book that bears his name, nor do we find anything about his death. There is a trustworthy tradition that because he reproved the vices and idolatries rampant during the reign of the wicked king Manasseh, Isaiah suffered martyrdom by being “sawn asunder,” and if this is true, Hebrews 11:37 applies to him. Josephus wrote of the cruel persecutions under the reign of Manasseh in the following words: “He barbarously slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews; nor would he spare the prophets, for he every day slew some of them, till Jerusalem was overflowed with blood.”
Isaiah must have lived to a very old age, for it is quite certain that he exercised his God-given office for seventy years during the eighth century before Christ. The prophet’s home was in Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah, and from there he witnessed the calamity that befell the northern kingdom of Israel. The glory had departed from both Israel and Judah, but because of Israel’s gross idolatries God’s righteous judgment fell on them first, and the ten northern tribes were carried into captivity by the Assyrians.
Isaiah began his ministry under the reign of the good king Uzziah and had his remarkable vision, which is recorded in chapter 6, in the year Uzziah died. Uzziah’s son Jotham, who reigned in his stead, did not trouble himself about the corruption and idol worship rampant in his nation. It was during his tenure that the dissolution of the great Assyrian monarchy took place. Jotham was succeeded by the ungodly Ahaz, whose reign was marked by disaster. His son Hezekiah, who proved to be the very opposite of his wicked father, was one of the most godly of the kings who occupied the throne of David. A large portion of the prophecies of Isaiah up to chapter 39 are occupied with events that took place during the reigns of these kings and can only be rightly understood in the light of the history of Judah during that period.
The Message of Isaiah
Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah saves” or “Jehovah is salvation,” and he has well been called the evangelical prophet. In the New Testament there are more direct quotations from, as well as allusions to his book than any other prophetic book. The early church held Isaiah in high esteem, and all the great men of God down through the centuries have acknowledged the importance of his book and its message. First Peter 1:11 describes the contents of the writings of the prophets as “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” and this is more true of Isaiah than of any of the other prophetic books except the Psalms.
Isaiah’s message reveals the Redeemer and King of Israel, and he refers to Him by the title, the “Holy One of Israel,” twenty-five times. The prophet announced His virgin birth; revealed many of His titles; described Him in His lowliness, His tenderness, and His miracles; and presented Him as the servant of Jehovah. Above all else, he depicted Him as the sin bearer in his wonderful fifty-third chapter. Isaiah also pictured in prophetic vision the kingdom that is yet to come with the return of our Savior-Lord in glory, and predicted future blessings for Israel, Jerusalem, and the nations.
Isaiah was but the mouthpiece of Jehovah; he wrote under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit as He moved him and put words into his pen. Though wide in scope, the book of Isaiah is an organic whole. It can be divided into two main sections: chapters 1-35, which contain the earlier prophecies; and chapters 40-66, which contain the later prophecies. Between these two sections is a historical parenthesis as it were (chapters 36-39). In the earlier prophecies judgments on Jerusalem, Judah, and other nations are announced. While blessings of the future are also given, they take a secondary place. In the later prophecies we likewise read of judgments, but the major portion of those chapters reveals the glories and blessings of the future.
In the earlier prophecies, the Assyrian invasion is announced and at the same time a forecast is given of an invasion from the north in the time of the end. In the later prophecies the Assyrian is no longer mentioned. The Babylonian captivity announced in chapter 39 is seen by the prophet as past and he predicts the return of some of the captives to Judah. Beyond that, he foretells the return of a remnant from the greater dispersion and the final glory of the kingdom with the coming of the King.
Outline Of The Book Of Isaiah
I. Isaiah’s Early Prophetic Ministry (1:1-35:10)
A. Vision concerning Judah (1:1-5:30)
B. Call for Service (6:1-13)
C. Messianic Prophecies (7:1-12:6)
D. Burdens regarding Israel’s Enemies (13:1-23:18)
E. Judgment on the Earth (24:1-23)
F. Songs of Salvation (25:1-27:13)
G. Six Woes (28:1-33:24)
H. The Lord’s Vengeance (34:1-35:10)
II. Historical Interlude (36:1-39:8)
III. Isaiah’s Later Prophetic Ministry (40:1-66:24)
A. God’s Controversies with Israel (40:1-57:21)
1. Over Their Worship of Idols (40:1^18:22)
2. Over Their Treatment of Messiah (49:1-57:21)
B. Visions of Coming Glory (58:1-66:24)