6. IsaiahRelated Media
I. The Man
Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Depending on the interpretation of chapter 6 (is it Isaiah’s call to the ministry?) the termini of his work would be 745 to 680 (death of Sennacherib—Isa. 37:38). 1 Chron. 26:22 (Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah first to last, the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, has written) indicate some activity prior to Uzziah s death in 740 B.C. “The period of his activity is thus the last four and a half decades of the eighth century, the reigns of the Judean kings Jotham (. . .) Ahaz (. . .) and Hezekiah (. . . .), decades which were filled with the most momentous events, more so than almost any other period of Israelite history.”1 Isaiah was married to a prophetess (8:3) and had at least two children (Shear jashub, “a remnant will return” and Mahershalalhashbaz, “hurry spoil, hasten booty”). Little more is known about Isaiah’s personal life (contrast Jeremiah’s many references to himself).
II. The Milieu
Uzziah (Azariah) (792‑740) had a long reign of 52 years in Jerusalem. Gershon Brin2 shows that the roots ‘azar and ‘azaz (עָזַז עָזַר) converged and thus explains the two names. (Both mean “to help.”) It was during Uzziah’s reign that Tiglath‑Pileser III began to make inroads to the west and confronted Israel, forcing them to pay tribute (Menahem, Pekah, 2 Kings 15:29; Assyrian annals). Uzziah intruded into the priest’s office and God struck him with leprosy, and Jotham his son began to rule as co‑regent (2 Kings 15:7, 2 Chron. 26:21). The setting for chapter 6 of Isaiah is the year that King Uzziah died (6:1). One must wonder what relationship if any Isaiah had with this king who was generally sympathetic with spiritual things, but died a leper.3
Jotham (750/40‑732) was a spiritual man (2 Kings 15:34), but he saw the beginning of the decline of Judah as the initial attacks of Israel/Syria were in his time.
Ahaz (735‑716) was not a spiritual man (2 Kings 16:1‑3). During his rule, Jerusalem suffered a devastating attack from the combined armies of Israel and Syria (2 Kings 16:5,6; 2 Chron. 28:5‑15). Ahaz sent to Tiglath Pileser for help (2 Kings 16:7‑9) who gladly obliged for a price, and Israel/Syria withdrew their pressure from Judah. It was at this critical juncture that Isaiah met Ahaz and challenged him to trust in God for deliverance, but Ahaz refused (Isaiah 7:1‑19).
Hezekiah (716‑687), along with his later descendent Josiah, is known for his spiritual fervor and reform (2 Chron. 29:1—31:21). However, during his time, the Assyrian threat became stronger, culminating in Sennacherib’s attack of the fortified cities of Judah, including Jerusalem, and Hezekiah’s payment of tribute. It is poetic justice that the Rab Shekah stands in the very spot Isaiah had met Ahaz and warned him to trust in Yahweh rather than in Assyria and hurls insults at Hezekiah (2 Chron. 32:1‑23). Hezekiah received ambassadors from a newly emerging political group in Babylon. Their purpose was probably to stir up revolt in the west against Assyria.4
The second part of Isaiah (40‑66) focuses on the period of the exile. The historical background for that epoch will be discussed in the notes at that point.
III. The Message
There is a distinctive difference in perspective between the first 39 chapters and the last 27 of Isaiah. (We will ignore 36‑39 as a unit at this time). This difference, above all other issues, has led critical scholars to argue for at least two different authors and perhaps three or four. The emphasis in the first half of the book is on judgment while the last half is clearly an encouraging word of comfort: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people (40:1).” The setting of most of the second half is certainly the exile (from a prophetic point of view). It is designed to encourage the exiled Jews with the promise of restoration and messianic blessing.
The most unusual component of Isaiah is the individual Servant of the Lord passages (‘eved Yahweh עֶבֶד יהוה). The passages are chs. 42, 49, 50, 52‑53.5
IV. The Structure of Isaiah
The macro‑structure of Isaiah is, of course, 1‑35 (36‑39) and 40‑66.
Chapters 1‑39 have two historical centers: the Syro-Ephraimite war in chapter 7 where Ahaz is urged to trust the Lord (the implication is that Ahaz should not go to Assyria for help), and the Assyrian attack in 36‑37. Isaiah meets Ahaz at the “conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller’s field,” the precise place the Rab Shakeh hurled insults and threats at Hezekiah who trusted Yahweh and was delivered. This section of Isaiah should be considered the “Assyrian” section. It should probably be understood as a response to the Assyrian threat in which Judah is urged to repent of her sins and trust Yahweh for deliverance.
Chapters 36‑37 are a statement of the devastating results of apostate Ahaz’ refusal to trust Yahweh (the help, Assyria, becomes his son’s enemy). They also show Yahweh’s grace to a repentant Hezekiah as the Assyrians are supernaturally routed.
Chapters 38‑39, on the other hand, look toward Babylon and the Babylonian captivity, the major subject of the second half of the book. (These chapters should precede chronologically the events of chapters 36‑37 since Merodach Baladan had fled Babylon in 702/1. Thus his ambassadors to Judah must have been sent in 703 B.C.).6
Chapters 40‑66 are a response to the Babylonian captivity (in prophecy), urging Judah to recognize the uniqueness of Yahweh and to rejoice in His work of bringing His people and His world back to Himself through the Servant.
Ahaz seeks Assyria’s help
Result: Judah becomes a tributary to Assyria.
Hezekiah seeks Babylonia’s help
Result: Judah goes into captivity.
Before any discussion can be held on contemporary relevance, the importance of Isaiah in his own time and context must be determined. This is a major task in itself. But the fact that Isaiah is quoted so extensively in the NT (as many as 411 times) should alert us to the fact that the meaning of Isaiah is greater than its own historical milieu. While the OT must always be studied in its sitz im Leben it has a larger meaning as well. Therefore, we study the book of Isaiah in its historical, cultural context to ascertain first its meaning for the people of that time. At the same time, we are asking whether some of its messages are being stated prophetically with a fulfillment in later time. We cannot with McKenzie say that while Isaiah 53 speaks of vicarious suffering, it cannot refer to Jesus Christ except as the later church made it do.7 We believe that the one and only meaning of Isaiah 53 is the death of Jesus Christ. Consequently, there are parts of Isaiah that are fulfilled in the NT, parts to be fulfilled in the eschatological future, and part that can only be secondarily applied by application to our day. This latter requires us to ask, “In what sense are we like Israel so that the words of God to them should be directed to us?”
VI. Outline Notes
Part I: Judgment (chs. 1—39)
Working on the Assyrian construct, we can split off the indictment unit (1‑6) and show its Assyrian connection. The introductory riv chapter calling Judah into court for her sinfulness, informs us that “Your [Judah’s] land is desolate, your cities are burned with fire, your fields—strangers are devouring them in your presence; it is desolation, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a watchman’s hut in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. Unless the Lord of hosts had left us a few survivors, we would be like Sodom, we would be like Gomorrah” (1:7‑9).
The devastation spoken of in Isaiah 1 could be the result of the attack from Assyria during Tiglath‑Pileser III’s campaign of 743‑738.8 Yahweh has used the Assyrian attack to punish Judah for her sins and to focus her attention on Him. In His grace He has left a “few survivors.”
Azariah (Uzziah), old and Leprous, died a year or two after this attack (740/39). Isaiah received his vision in that same year. The vision may be placed in chapter 6 rather than in chapter 1, as would be expected, because it represents a climax of the judgment section in 1‑5. Chapter six judicially seals Judah in her sins.
A. Yahweh demonstrates that Judah has violated His covenant and is therefore worthy of judgment (1:1—6:13).
Chapters 1‑6 are a unit. It begins with a court case against Judah, moves to explicit statements about Judah’s sin, speaks of the unfruitful vineyard Yahweh planted, and culminates in Isaiah’s vision telling him to preach a message of hardening because of Judah’s sin.
1. Yahweh’s court case against Judah (1:1‑31).
The Hebrew word riv (רִיב) as in 1:23 is used to describe the type of literature we have in chapter 1. It is God’s court case with his people.
a. The introduction (1:1).
(1) The author—Isaiah (יְשַׁעְיָהוּ or יְשַׁעְיָה) means Yahweh is salvation.
(2) The time—Spanning parts of the reign of four kings.
(3) The medium—hezon (חֲזוֹן). This word pertains to divine communication (cf. 1 Sam. 3:1).
b. The stupidity of Judah (1:2‑3).
In God’s court case he calls as witness Heaven and Earth to testify to Judah’s conduct. The natural realm (animals) acts in an expected fashion, but Judah goes contrary to nature in forgetting God. (Note the parallelism in v. 3).
c. The sinfulness of Judah (1:4).
Yahweh delineates the sad state of affairs in which Judah finds herself. The children who have abandoned their father in v. 2 have become children of corruption.9
d. The suffering of Judah (1:5‑9).
Judah’s suffering is described first in metaphor as that of a sick man who receives no treatment (5‑6). Then a more literal description is given of the desolation of the land (7). Finally he refers metaphorically to Judah as a shelter in a vineyard or a watchman’s hut in a cucumber field or a besieged city. Except for God’s grace, Judah would have been wiped out like Sodom and Gomorrah (8‑9). This situation refers to some period in Judah’s history during which she was invaded and suffered terribly. As indicated above this might be the result of Tiglath-Pileser III’s invasion under Uzziah.10
e. The futile sacrifice of Judah (1:10‑15).
Some have taken this section to show an antipathy to the sacrificial system on the part of (second) Isaiah. These kind of statements however are known from other prophets (Jeremiah, Amos, Micah) who decry the empty formalism of sacrifice that does not acknowledge a personal relationship with Yahweh.
f. he admonition to Judah (1:16‑20).
God first gives Judah specific areas that must be rectified: Ceasing to do evil, learning to do good, justice, reproving the ruthless, defending the orphan and pleading for the widow. The second part (18‑20) is a promise of blessing for obedience and judgment for disobedience.
g. The lament over Zion and hope for Zion (1:21‑26).
Yahweh’s faithful city has become a harlot. Everything God desires in a people is missing from this city. Consequently, God through judgment will purge away Zion’s sins until she will be called the faithful city. (Note the chiasmus in “faithful city.”)
h. The promise of blessing for Zion and judgment for idolaters (1:27‑31).
This early prediction of redemption for Zion should be noted carefully. The references to idolatry (oaks, gardens) and the promise of judgment on such things. The promise of redemption is similar to the second half of the book; the idolatry to the first half. Watts11 would argue that the whole book was assembled in the middle of the fifth century and that there is a literary unity. Hayes and Irvine argue that chapters 1-33 are essentially from the eighth century prophet.12
2. Jerusalem: Yahweh’s and Israel’s contrasted (ch. 2‑4).
a. Zion in the last days (2:1‑4).
This beautiful passage (parallel in Micah 4:1‑3) speaks of a time when all things will be made right and people will flow to Zion as the center of the universe where they will be taught the torah of God. This messianic age spoken of often by Isaiah will be fulfilled in the Millennium. The purpose in this unit, is to show the great difference between the sinfulness of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s day and the purity of Jerusalem in the time to come.
b. Zion in Isaiah’s day (2:5‑11).
This section depicts Judah enthralled with idolatry, a system she has learned from the nations around her. God promises to judge this conduct.
c. Zion to be judged and purged (2:12—4:1).
The sins of Judah will be judged by God in that day of reckoning. The great sin here is pride. God will humble all the proud ones. In chapter 3 God speaks of a time when he will judge Zion and leave her leaderless and in shambles (3:1‑12). He speaks of his court case again against the leaders (3:13‑15). Finally he indicts the women who are preoccupied with their physical appearance (3:16—4:1).
d. The Branch of the Lord (4:2‑6).
This unit speaks of the purification of Zion and uses the imagery of the Exodus (cloud by day, flame by night) to speak of God’s blessing on Jerusalem.13
3. The song of the vineyard (Judah’s sinful state) (5:1‑30).
a. Yahweh indicts Judah with the parable of the vineyard (5:1‑7).
The vine dresser prepared the vineyard in the best possible way and yet it produced stinking grapes rather than good grapes. So, says Yahweh, is Judah: He has done everything possible for her, but she has turned away from Him. “He waited for justice (mishpat) and behold bloodshed (mishpah); for righteousness (tsedekah) and instead a cry (tseakah) of the oppressed ones.
b. Yahweh sets out a bill of particulars as to the sinful state of Judah (5:8‑12).
The sins of that day were in the area of greed (real estate expansion), drunkenness and debauchery.
c. Yahweh promises judgment on Judah in the form of exile (5:13‑17).
Note the pattern: “Woe” (5:8) followed by judgment (5:13); “Woe” (5:18) followed by judgment (5:24). Then the judgment is amplified in 5:26. What exile is this? It could refer to the Syro‑Ephraimite war, perhaps to Sennacherib’s expedition against Lachish in 701, or even to the exile of 605, 597, 586. The time is deliberately kept vague.
d. Yahweh delineates further sins of Judah (5:18‑23).
Judah is indicted for mocking Yahweh. They are heavily involved in sin (like construction workers dragging stones with ropes) yet they mock God by asking Him what his plans are. They call evil good and good evil. They reverse everything God does.
Yahweh states his judgment on those sins (5:24‑30).
The promise is of devastating judgment (24‑25). The threat is expanded by referring to the coming of a distant nation who will dominate the land (26‑30).
4. Yahweh reveals to Isaiah by a vision the reason for His judgment of Judah (6:1‑12).
a. The setting of the vision (the glory of Yahweh) (6:1‑4).
If this is Isaiah’s inaugural vision, it has been placed to make a point in the argument of the book: it is the culmination of the indictment of Judah because of her sins. God will harden those who have hardened themselves.14
b. The problem with Judah (Isaiah is representative) (6:5).
This verse shows that all people stand guilty before a holy and glorious God. Isaiah represents all people and Judah in particular in his uncleanness.
c. The need for cleansing by Judah (6:6‑7).
God in His grace cleanses those who come contritely to Him as Isaiah does.
d. The response of service (Isaiah’s message is given to him) (6:8‑13).
Isaiah volunteers to go to serve Yahweh and is then given a dismal message to preach. His message is one of judgment. This same message is used by Jesus (Matt. 13:14‑15) and Paul (Acts 28:26‑27).15 The message is so hard that Isaiah cries out asking how long he must preach it. The answer comes back that he will preach it until devastating judgment is wrought in Judah. At the same time a ray of hope shows in v. 13 where a stump (the holy seed or faithful remnant) is promised to Israel.16
B. Yahweh promises deliverance and predicts a divine son (7:1—12:6).
Chapters 1-7 are set in the time of Uzziah’s declining years. The era of 7-12 follows chronologically in the days of Ahaz. The “Book of Immanuel” (7‑12) is designed to show the futility of trusting in human help and the blessing from trusting in Yahweh. The hired deliverer (Assyria) will indeed break the back of the Syro-Ephraimite coalition, but the deliverer will become the devastator (ch. 8). Hope must come from Yahweh (the divine child, ch. 9), and even though Assyria will cut down trees, they themselves will be cut down. However, out of the stump of Jesse, Yahweh will raise up the righteous deliverer who will usher in the Kingdom (ch. 11). Chapter 12 is a psalm, giving praise to Yahweh for His deliverance.
1. The Syro-Ephraimite war (7:1‑25).
a. The situation (7:1‑2).
Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria (Aram) have decided to join forces to attack a weakened Judah ruled by King Ahaz and set up a puppet king, Tabeel.17 One attack has already been carried out and the Syrians are “resting” on Israel (that is they have encamped there instead of returning home). This latter action creates the fear that another attack will take place and Ahaz and his advisors are greatly frightened.18 Most scholars argue that the Syro-Ephraimite war was to force Judah into a coalition against Assyria, but see B. Oded19 who argues against that position.
b. God sends Isaiah to promise deliverance to Ahaz (7:3‑9).
Isaiah is instructed to go to the upper pool (location unknown, but perhaps near Gihon or ‘Ayin Rogel). He is to take with him his son with a prophetic name Shear Jashub (יְָשׁוּב שְׁאַר) meaning “a remnant will return.” This name has both negative and positive connotations. It is negative, because judgment will take place and only a remnant will return; positive, because in spite of judgment, a remnant will return. Isaiah tells Ahaz not to fear—that God will take care of the situation. As a matter of fact a specific time period is given (65 years) within which Israel will be shattered and judgment will come on Syria. Because of the difficulty in chronology it is difficult to relate these dates, but we know that Damascus was defeated by Assyria in 732 B.C. and Samaria in 722 B.C. Events of chapter 7 should have transpired about 735 B.C. Hence there are only about twelve years between Isaiah’s prediction and the fall of Israel in 722 B.C. Some believe the date refers to 670/69 when final deportations were made (Ezra 4:2,10.) Ahaz is told that if he will not believe, that he will not last (ki lo’ te’amenu ’im lo’ te’aminu כִּי לאֹ תֵאָמֵנוּ אִם לאֹ תַאֲמִינוּ).
c. God gives a sign to the whole house of Israel for all time (7:10‑16).20
Isaiah then instructs Ahaz to ask for a sign from God to confirm the fact that God will deliver him from the Syro-Ephraimite hostility. Ahaz, not known for his spiritual integrity, refuses to ask for a sign under the pretext of not tempting God. The fact is that he intends to go to Assyria for help and does not want anything to interfere with this (2 Kings 16:7‑9). I find it hard to understand Watt’s argument21 that Isaiah is urging Ahaz to remain faithful to Assyria. It seems to me that Isaiah wants Ahaz to trust in God and not in human deliverance, namely, Assyria.
Because Ahaz refuses the sign, Isaiah turns to the whole house of Israel (plural in Hebrew) and gives them a sign. The sign is that a virgin (‘almah עַלְמָה) will conceive and bear a child and call his name Immanuel (עִמָנוּאֵל, God with us). This is one of the most controversial passages in the OT. Knowing how Matthew uses the OT it is not impossible to view this prophecy as a reference to a young woman (virgin at that time as all ‘almahs are presumed to be) who later married and had a child. However, I believe the prophecy to be a reference to the virgin birth of Christ. It is as if Isaiah peered into the future and said, “I see a boy being born, and before he is old enough to choose good and evil . . . .” In answer to the question, “how is it a sign to that generation?,” we must turn to chapter eight where a second son of Isaiah, Maher Shalal Hash Baz , is said to be a sign and a similar time frame is assigned to him. With E. J. Young, I believe that Ahaz’s refusal of God’s promise causes God to give a sign to the whole house of Israel that refers to God’s ultimate deliverance of Israel through a savior. The time frame is important here—before the child knows . . . In order to give a sign to the people of that generation as well as to predict the birth of Christ, God uses Isaiah’s son Mahershalalhashbaz to provide the ad interim sign22of the short time before God would judge Israel/Syria.23
d. God promises judgment from the very people to whom Ahaz has gone for help (7:16‑25).
It is clear that Assyria is going to come against Judah for God will supernaturally cause it to happen. This judgment will bring great difficulty on the Judeans. There were several Assyrian contacts with Judah, the most severe being in 701 B.C. when Sennacherib attacked the fortified cities. 2 Chron. 27:16-21 shows that Ahaz’s attempt to bribe Assyria failed to prevent Assyrian oppression.
2. God’s deliverance as shown by Isaiah’s sons (8:1‑22).
a. The prophecy through Maher shalal hash baz (8:1‑4).
Since the fulfillment of the coming of Immanuel will not be for seven centuries, God provides a son for Isaiah who will serve a similar function: his early childhood will represent the time lapse before the captivity of Damascus. Isaiah writes a large sign that says “Maher shalal hash baz” or “hasten spoil, hurry booty.” Then he approaches his wife who conceives. The boy will then be called “maher shalal hash baz.” This strange name will mean that Assyria will quickly carry off Damascus as booty.24
b. The prophecy of the invasion of Assyria (8:5‑8).
Under the imagery of water, God explains why Assyria will not only damage Damascus, but also Judah. The gently flowing waters of Shiloah probably refer to the waters coming from the spring Gihon and flowing through the water channel. (Hezekiah will later cut a new tunnel under the city through which these same waters will flow.) The gently flowing waters represent God’s protection of Judah—a protection being set aside in favor of Assyria’s arm. The phrase “rejoice in Rezin and the son of Remaliah” is difficult. It must mean that Judah is rejoicing because they expect to defeat them through the Assyrians. Next the king of Assyria is depicted as a flood of water inundating all the land as he overflows the banks of the river. The phrase Immanuel occurs again. It should be related to the son to be born in 7:14. To him belongs the land of Israel. With this confidence, Isaiah can now challenge the nations of the world and say that regardless of what they plan, it will be frustrated because of the fact that “God is with us.”
c. God challenges Isaiah to trust His authority (8:11‑15).
Isaiah is warned not to follow the patterns of the people of Judah. His desire to trust God rather than Assyria is viewed as conspiracy by these people who refuse to trust God (cf. 7:9). Those who trust in Yahweh will find Him a rock, but those who refuse to do so will stumble over him (cf. 1 Pet. 2:8; Luke 2:34; Matt. 21:44; Rom. 9:33).
d. God predicts a time when His testimony will be rejected and a time of difficulty for Judah (8:16‑22).
The words of verse 16 should be understood as coming from God. “My disciples,” therefore, refers to God’s disciples, not Isaiah’s. These are the people who trust in the Lord and believe His word. In a secondary sense they are Isaiah’s disciples in whose hearts the word of God is being imbedded. The section beginning with v. 19 speaks of a people who are rejecting the revealed word of God and going to the occult for information. The result is that God will bring judgment upon them.
3. God’s deliverance is shown by the coming victorious Deliverer (9:1‑7).
a. The judgment God has promised will one day be lifted (9:1).
Matthew quotes this passage during Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Matt. 4:15,16).
b. Victory will come through the Deliverer (9:2‑7).
The people who have been walking in the darkness of judgment will see great light.25 The yoke will be taken from their shoulder. This will come about through the son whose name will be called Wonderful Counselor (pele’ yo‘etz ’el gibbor 26 Eternal Father (’bi‘ad sar shalom שׂר שָׁלוֹם) These epithets have divine implications. God will establish an eternal government which shall be centered in the throne of David. God’s zeal will effect this program which will result in justice and equity for all.27
4. Before that victory comes, God will judge His people (9:8—10:4).
a. This judgment will come through Rezin and others (9:8‑12).
Refrain: His anger does not turn away, and His hand is still stretched out (9:12).
b. This judgment will take place because of the stubborn rebellion of the people (9:13‑17).
c. God’s judgment even takes the form of civil war (9:18‑21).
d. Sins of social neglect will result in exile (10:1‑4).
5. God predicts judgment on his instrument Assyria (10:5‑34).
a. God pronounces a “woe” on Assyria (10:5‑11).
The theology of judgment in the OT is that God uses kings and empires to execute His will against His people. As a result, He refers to Nebuchadnezzar as his servant (Jer. 25:9) who will later be punished (Jer. 25:12). Likewise, Cyrus is even called “My anointed” (Isa. 45:1). However, when that “instrument” arrogates to itself the accomplishment, God in turn punishes it. Chapter 10 is God’s declaration of judgment against Assyria.
b. God gives the reason for judgment against Assyria (10:12‑19).
The time element is “when Yahweh finishes all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem.” The word “finishes” is Hebrew batsa (בָּצַע). It usually has violent connotations, to break off, to plunder. Here it has the idea of fulfillment, but probably in a violent sense: “When Yahweh has finished punishing Zion.”
The reason for the punishment of Assyria is her arrogance. She boasted in herself and did not give credit to Yahweh. (Cf. Rab Shakeh’s boast to Hezekiah in Isa. 36:13-20). The axe (instrument) is boasting against the hewer (God). Therefore, God is going to destroy Assyria. The city of Nineveh was defeated by the Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians in 612 B.C. The army fled west and was twice defeated by the Babylonians. Note the emphasis on trees in verses 18-19.
c. God promises deliverance for His people (10:20‑34).
The doctrine of the remnant is prominent in Isaiah. It begins in chapter 1, is developed in chapter 6 and here is spelled out in even more detail. Isaiah’s son, Shear Jashub (יְָשׁוּב שְׁאַר) was an early promise of a returning remnant. Here God says a remnant will return that will trust in Yahweh and not in Assyria.
In light of this promise Judah need not fear Assyria. The description of vv. 28‑32 is that of an advancing army striking fear in the hearts of God’s people. Yet God says not to fear because he will defeat Assyria and all her glorious trees will be lopped off.
6. God predicts victory through the coming Deliverer (11:1‑16).28
a. There will be a root out of Jesse’s stump (11:1).
Though the trees of Assyria will be cut down and Judah’s trees will also have been cut down, the stump of Jesse still exists, and God will cause a branch to grow from it.
b. The root will rule by the power of God (11:2‑5).
This person will be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord, and because of his relation to Yahweh, he will be able to judge with equity. He will also destroy the wicked with the breath of his mouth (2 Thess. 2:8).
c. The Kingdom will be ushered in (11:6‑10).
There will be also an unprecedented period of peace and tranquility. This is the glorious Kingdom age spoken of often in the OT and referred to as the one thousand year (Millennium) reign in Revelation 20. The nations will come to the center of God’s enterprise at Jerusalem to this “root” of Jesse.
d. There will be a restoration of Israel (11:11‑16).
See the following section for a discussion of the future identity of these various nations mentioned in this chapter. The language of this section takes us beyond the return of Israel in 538 B.C. It is being treated as the “second exodus” (11:16) and is universal in scope. See below for a discussion of Egypt.
7. The result of this great deliverance will be a people praising God (12:1‑6).
First there is an acknowledgement that deliverance comes from Yahweh. In light of this they will be able to “draw waters from the springs of salvation.” Out of that attitude will come a desire to share the good news with the whole world.
C. Yahweh urges Judah to trust Him because He is going to judge the very nations they hope to join for protection against Assyria (chs. 13—23).
The unit dealing with God’s deliverance of His people through the Messiah has concluded. The following section “Oracles against the Nations” (OAN) forms a unit. S. Erlandsson29 I believe is on to something when he argues that the section on the nations is a response to those who are trying to form an anti‑Assyrian coalition. The section cannot represent a general group of prophecies against the enemies of Judah (as in Jeremiah), for Judah herself is included in the oracles (ch. 22). Erlandsson points out that the conquests of Tiglath‑Pileser III created problems for the Elamites in the east (cut off trade routes) and the Egyptians in the west (cut off Phoenician trade). Consequently, it was in the interest of these two nations to foment rebellion against Assyria at every opportunity. Elam supported the Chaldean sheiks (from around the Persian Gulf) and Egypt stirred up trouble in the Levant. (Listen to Sennacherib: “The officials, the patricians and the [common] people of Ekron—who had thrown Padi, their king, into fetters [because he was] loyal to [his] solemn oath [sworn] by the god Ashur, and had handed him over to Hezekiah, the Jew—[and] he [Hezekiah] held him in prison, unlawfully, as if he [Padi] be an enemy—had become afraid and had called [for help] upon the kings of Egypt . . . land of the king of Ethiopia, an army beyond counting—and they actually had come to their assistance”).30
It is interesting that each nation mentioned in the OAN occurs in the Assyrian annals. Damascus and Samaria were defeated by Tiglath‑Pileser III (732). Moab, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ashdod, Edom and Tyre are all mentioned in Sennacherib’s campaign of 701. The “Valley of Vision” (ch. 22) seems to refer to the preparation for a siege in Hezekiah’s time (the Siloam tunnel was probably dug at this time [2 Chron. 32:2‑4,30]).
Ahaz had probably refused to join the anti‑Assyrian coalition headed up by Rezin of Syria, but he also refused to trust Yahweh and turned to Assyria for help. Hezekiah trusted Yahweh for victory over the Assyrians but listened to Babylonia’s overtures for an anti‑Assyrian coalition. The purpose of the OAN unit, therefore, is to say that this anti‑Assyrian coalition is futile. All the nations who become part of it will suffer defeat. On the other hand the Assyrians will be defeated, but it will be by Yahweh (14:24‑27).
1. Babylon (chs. 13—14:23).
The word used to describe the message against a nation is massa (מַשָּׂא). It probably comes from the root meaning to lift up and therefore means a burden. It usually is associated with doom and judgment.
It is strange that the prophecy headed “the burden of Babylon” does not mention Babylon until v. 19. The description of the “Day of Yahweh” is classic.31 There are astronomical changes (10,13), He is dealing with the whole world (Hebrew: tebel תֵּבֶל) (11); in fine, the destruction wreaked seems to be universal and eschatological.
Without going into the use of the phrase “Day of Yahweh” (which at times refers to local events), I would suggest that this introduction is placed here at the beginning of the OAN to say that Yahweh has promised to destroy the nations. What follows is a catalog of oracles against those people who wished to conspire against the Assyrians as though they in their own strength could deliver themselves. The purpose is to show Judah that it is futile to trust them for deliverance. The opening statement on the Day of Yahweh, therefore, applies to the entire group of nations. Since the NT is still looking for an eschatological “Day of the Lord,” we should not see the fulfillment of this promise in Babylon. The fact that God will ultimately bring the nations into judgment and destruction is an argument that He will judge those nations with whom Judah is trying to ally herself in Isaiah’s time.
The section beginning with 13:17, becomes very specific referring to the Medes and Babylonians. I believe Erlandsson is probably correct when he argues that the “to them” (v. 2) and “against them” (v. 17) are general references.32 The latter probably referring to the wicked in v. 11. It is more probable that the pronoun “them” is the beginning reference to Babylon made specific in v. 19. The Medes were enemies of Assyria in the eighth century, but these “Medes” may be mercenary troops in the Assyrian Army.33 (Sennacherib defeated them completely and tore down the city for the first time in 689 B.C.). (Note Isa. 23:13 where the destruction of Babylon is attributed to Assyria, not Persia in 539 B.C.) It is to this destruction that Isaiah is referring, and with this oracle God is warning Hezekiah and Judah not to put their trust in Babylon because she will be destroyed.34
Sennacherib speaks of his destruction of Babylon (689) in these words:
“The city and its houses,—foundation and walls, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire. The wall and the outer-wall, temples and gods, temple-towers of brick and earth, as many as there were, I razed and dumped them into the Arahtu canal. Through the midst of that city I dug canals, I flooded its site with water, and the very foundation thereof I destroyed. I made its destruction more complete than that by a flood. That in days to come, the site of that city, and its temples and gods, might not be remembered, I completely blotted it out with floods of water and made it like a meadow. . . . . After I had destroyed Babylon, had smashed the gods thereof, and had struck down its people with the sword,—that the ground of that city might be carried off, I removed its ground and had it carried to the Euphrates (and on) to the sea. Its dirt reached (was carried) unto Dilmun. . . .”35
Chapter 14 gives a vivid description of God’s judgment on the king of Babylon. This chapter is often said to describe the fall of Satan. However, the heading and all that follows are said to be descriptions of the king of Babylon. Indeed Satan is the arch enemy of God. As such every ruler who opposes God and God’s people is a servant of Satan. In some sense, the king of Babylon may be a “type” of Satan much as Antiochus IV is a type of Antichrist in Daniel 11. It is difficult to identify any one Babylonian king by this description. Consequently, he may be a personification of all Babylonian kings. Some would argue for an Assyrian king ruling from Babylon, as indeed was the case at times, but the eschatological significance of the passage takes us beyond the eighth century.36
The introduction to chapter 14 refers to Israel’s return in glowing terms. As a matter of fact, Isaiah 40‑66 are anticipated in these verses, and the same questions arise here as in that section: were these events fulfilled in 538 B.C. when the Jews returned, and if so how is the language to be understood? Certainly, the Jews returned under Zerubbabel in fulfillment of God’s promises (particularly Jeremiah 29). However, the return was rather pathetic in comparison to this language. Only a relatively small number of Jews returned. They were living among the ruins of Jerusalem, and their efforts to rebuild the temple were met with staunch resistance by the Gentiles (whereas this verse says the Gentiles will be servants). The language of the passage forces the interpreter who is trying to take the language seriously to see a future for Israel that far exceeds what happened when Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem (as in 11:11ff). The same will be said of chapters 40‑66.37
The message conveyed by Isaiah in chapter 14 is threefold: (1) Babylon, to whom Hezekiah was appealing, would one day be an oppressor as in chapter 39 (the first reason for not going to them for help); (2) Assyria will defeat Babylon in 689 B.C. and thus they would not be of any help (14:22-23 with 23:13); (3) God himself will judge Assyria (14:24-27). 14:28-32 is an example of the futility of alliances.
At 14:24, the subject switches from Babylon to Assyria to show that this mighty threat to God’s people will be broken by God. Judah thought she needed help from other nations, but God tells her to trust Him. Assyria’s swift demise sounds much like this verse, I will “break Assyria in My land, and I will trample him on My mountains.” Philistia is warned not to expect relief because the “rod that struck her is broken.” It sounds as though the rod is Ahaz, but Erlandsson argues (with some difficulty because of the chronology) that it is Assyria. 2 Chron. 28:18 says that the Philistines had attacked Ahaz and taken six of his towns. “How then will one answer the messengers of the nations?” indicates that the Philistines were trying to forge an alliance. Therefore, the Philistine passage continues the warning not to expect deliverance from Assyria until Yahweh brings it.38
2. Moab (chs. 15‑16).
Two chapters are devoted to the destruction of Moab. Certainly Moab has been destroyed and no longer exists. The emphasis on pride is a warning to Judah. The last verse in ch. 16 was probably added to the prophecy later by Isaiah when the time was imminent.
3. Damascus (ch. 17:1‑3).
Damascus likewise comes into God’s judgment. Assyria defeated Damascus in 732 B.C. This is a fulfillment of chapters 7-8 and is here to prove Yahweh’s prophecies to be authentic.
4. Ephraim (17:4‑14).
The mention of Damascus brings Isaiah to discuss Ephraim because she was contiguous to Damascus. The glory of Jacob will fade under this judgment. Apparently many will look to the Lord in that day of judgment.39The reason for the judgment is because they have forsaken the Lord. Because people will plunder Israel (12‑14) they will in turn be judged by God.
5. Land of whirring wings (ch. 18).
The description refers to the Nubian Cushite dynasty ruling in Egypt. This country sends envoys (to plan for defense against Assyria?). Are they sending messengers to the Medes? Whatever, the message will come to them that God will nip Assyria in the bud (4‑5). Then that nation will bring a tribute to Jerusalem. The language of this prediction indicates an eschatological future. It is part of that great picture of the future when nations will flow together to Jerusalem.
6. Egypt (chs. 19‑20).
a. The section covered by verses 1‑15 seems to be a prophecy of the near future when Assyria will attack Egypt. Yahweh will frustrate Egypt’s strategy and cause them to be defeated in battle. We know that Assyria was able to garrison upper Egypt,40 but Ashurbanipal allowed Egypt to slip away from Assyrian control—an important move since Egypt became an ally of Assyria, but in the earlier days, Assyria was a “mighty king” (19:4).41
b. Verses 6‑10 predict a devastated land. It sounds like a period of drought as known in Joseph’s day.
c. Verses 11‑15 castigate the alleged wisdom of the princes of the delta who have led Egypt astray, probably in the matter of military strategy, but also in that they lead them into idolatry.
d. A marvelous messianic section begins at v.16 and goes to v. 24. It is nothing less than the conversion of Egypt. The first 15 verses of the chapter refer to God’s judgment on Egypt, but this section refers to God’s blessings on them. Should we expect that the very same nations mentioned in the OT as having a place in the future will indeed exist at that time? Especially for those nations whose OT identity has been lost, e.g., Moab, Ammon, Edom, Philistia, etc., I would look to the continued work of God with at least the geographical areas. In this case Egypt still exists although she has been greatly influenced by other nations and ethnic groups, now speaks Arabic, and is largely Islamic although a large contingent of Orthodox Christians continues there.
e. The events predicted for Egypt are (1) terror on them from Judah (that is, Judah will dominate), (2) five cities will speak the language of Canaan—that is the language of the people of God. It means what we mean when we say: “I speak your language,” that is, I agree with what you are saying and doing. One city will be for destruction; but the word destruction with a slight change (as in 1QIsaa) means sun, and so he may be talking about “sun city” or Heliopolis.
f. Traditional enmity existed between Assyria and Egypt both of whom overran Judah, but in that day there will be a divine triangle of the three worshipping the Lord.
g. What a prophecy! Egypt today stands as an enemy of Israel in spite of the breakthrough under Sadat. Egypt today is essentially Muslim and unregenerate. But God is going to do a great work in the last days in her behalf. Today we must pray for the salvation of contemporary Egyptians; and in the future there is assurance that God will do a great work of salvation.
Sargon II (722‑705 B.C.) came to the throne in time to lead off some of the captives of Israel. We know that there was a rebellion against Assyria, and Egypt was probably involved in it.42 Isaiah has been preaching against going to Egypt for help against Assyria. Now God tells him to loosen his garments to say symbolically that Egypt will be defeated by Assyria. For three years Isaiah went about in the state of undress (the addition of “barefoot” should indicate that he was not totally naked, but wearing an undergarment). This symbolic act was to warn everyone that there was no hope in opposing Assyria (20:5‑6).43
7. Wilderness of the sea (21:1‑10).
This oracle refers apparently to Babylon (21:9). The Chaldeans who ruled Babylon after 625 B.C. had their origins at the head of the Persian gulf. Perhaps this is why they are referred to as the wilderness by the sea. Erlandsson argues that the mention of Elam and Media, countries near Babylon, are being called on to join a coalition against Assyria. This prophecy (in light of the discussion above) is given here because of Hezekiah’s move to join with Merodach Baladan against Assyria as recorded in Isaiah 39.
8. Edom (21:11‑12).
This is a short oracle predicting the destruction of Edom. When this destruction will take place is unknown. It may be tied in with the overall Assyrian activity.
9. Arabia (21:13‑17).
The same words could be said about Arabia.
10. Valley of Vision (Jerusalem) (ch. 22).
It may seem strange that Judah is mentioned in this section containing God’s oracles against the nations. The point is to indicate that, though Judah is God’s chosen people, she is one of the nations when it comes to God vindicating himself among them.
a. The attack on Judah (22:1‑11).
The time of this attack seems to be in Hezekiah’s day (note especially 22:11 and 2 Chron 32:1-7). This would be Sennacherib’s attack in 701. There are problems with this, and Young decides that the prophecy is generic, that is referring to the general idea that Judah will suffer from invading forces. The final and most significant one will be Babylon in 586 B.C.
b. The revelry of Judah (22:12‑14).
God had called upon Judah to fast and repent, but for some reason they are having a high old time. Some link this with the withdrawal of Sennacherib in 701.
c. The rebuke of Shebna and the investment of Eliakim—22:15‑25.
The steward over the house was a powerful office (see E. J. Young for a discussion). Shebna has abused his office for self‑aggrandizement. His powerful office causes him to hold a symbolic position, and he has misused it (was he part of an anti-Assyrian move?). As a result God promises to remove him. Eliakim will be appointed in his place and as such becomes a type of the Messiah (Rev. 3:7). Leadership is so important to the OT prophet who is always looking to that perfect leader, that human leaders come under chastisement for failing to measure up. Even Eliakim will be removed because he apparently will yield to the same temptations that befell Shebna (22:25).
11. Tyre (ch. 23).
The city of Tyre located on the Phoenician coast was the younger of two Phoenician cities: Sidon being the older. Tyre became almost a byword for trade and merchandizing. She controlled the Mediterranean and established colonies in north Africa and Spain. The destruction of Tyre mentioned here probably took place in the time of Nebuchadnezzar who besieged it for thirteen years. From 700 to 630 B.C. the Assyrians kept Tyre in check, but with her decline beginning in 630, her hold loosened. This may be what the seventy years refer to. God will allow restored Tyrian trade to flow to Judah.
D. Yahweh shows his sovereignty in salvation and judgment (chs. 24—27).
This unit is often referred to as “the little apocalypse” and is considered by some to be an early form of apocalyptic literature,44 but the tendency today is to move away from that identification, since there are a number of generally accepted facets of apocalypticism that are not present.45 There is also a general consensus that 24—27 must be understood in connection with 13—23.46 The questions are, how does the section relate to 13—23, and how are we to understand the contents of the unit.
1. Yahweh promises judgment on the earth (chapter 24).
There is a general agreement that chapter 24 refers to the destruction of the nations and generalizes what was specific in 13-23.47 However, I am going to launch out on my own and argue that 24:1-13 refers to Israel. I do this on the basis of the mention of “priest” in 24:2, the ruined city in 24:10,12, the apparent remnant in 24:13 (who rejoice in 14-16b) but especially the reference (v. 5) to “laws (toroth hoq berith ‘olam בְּרִית עוֹלָם).” The latter phrase in particular is difficult to apply to the Gentile world. Further, the language of the verse (including the idea that the people have polluted the land) sounds much like prophetic language applied to Israel. It is usually taken to refer to the Noahic covenant or to God’s covenant with the world (Calvin). It is instructive to replace “land” with “Israel”: “Behold, the LORD lays Israel waste, devastates it, distorts its surface, and scatters its inhabitants” (24:1). “Israel will be completely laid waste and completely despoiled, for the LORD has spoken this word” (24:3). “Israel is polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant” (24:5). “Jerusalem is broken down” (24:10). “Jerusalem is left desolate and the gate is battered to ruins” (24:12). “For thus it will be [for Israel] in the midst of the earth among the peoples. As the shaking of an olive tree, as the gleanings when the grape harvest is over” (24:13).48
There are two things that argue against this position: (1) the use of “world” (tebel, eretz, tebel, תֵּבֶל) can also be so used. Perhaps also the ruined city “Israel” is being compared with the ruined city “enemies of Israel.”
If indeed 24:1-13 is specific, referring to Israel, it is the scattered Israelites who cry out in exultation over their preservation in 24:14-16a. But why do they cry out? They are still alive after the judgment Yahweh has brought upon His people and are anticipating a return to their land. However, Isaiah responds negatively, saying that judgment is coming on the whole world. Now the message becomes universal, and the language more apocalyptic. The consummation will be the Lord of hosts reigning on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem.
This is a fitting conclusion to 13—23. Israel (Judah) is urged not to go to Babylon, Tyre, Sidon, etc., for help against Assyria for two reasons: (1) These nations will all fall before Assyria and therefore will be of no help and (2) God Himself will defeat the Assyrians and establish His eternal rule in Jerusalem. Israel’s failure to trust Him (epitomized by Ahaz and later Hezekiah) will result in destruction of the “land” (Israel). In the exile they will rejoice in their preservation and anticipate God’s deliverance. Before that can happen, however, God’s judgment will be poured out on the entire world. Finally, God will restore His people and rule over them.
The following chart shows the structure of 13-23. The relationship of the two units is shown by the Day of the Lord motif in both chapters 13 and 24. There is even a chiasm in the structure as shown below.
Structure of Isaiah 13-23
2. The believer praises Yahweh and hears about a future time of bliss (ch. 25).
This chapter consists of a psalm of praise (25:1-5), a banquet for resurrected saints (25:6-8), and a promise of defeat for Moab (as Edom, an archetype of evil against Israel). The millennial promises of Isaiah seem to merge into eternity (cf. New Heavens and New Earth of chapter 65). There will be a resurrection of believers, but we know from Revelation that death will not be removed for all time until Rev. 21 where this verse is cited (21:4).
3. The believer sings of God’s goodness and is told that a time of judgment is coming (ch. 26).
This song seems to answer to the taunt song of chapter 14. There it was sung against Babylon in the day of Israel’s restoration. The second stanza of that song celebrates God’s victory in Israel’s behalf (including Leviathan and the Dragon, 27:1). The wicked will be judged and will not be a part of the saint’s resurrection (26:14), but the saints will rise and shout for joy (26:19).
Finally, Isaiah exhorts his people to hide until the tribulation and trouble caused her passes, and God will have vindicated them (26:20-21). Leviathan and the Dragon are probably mythological symbols used here of all resistance against God and His people. God will defeat them (27:1). At Ugarit the following lines refer to Lotan: “When thou does smite Lotan the fleeing serpent/(And) shall put an end to the tortuous serpent; Shalyat of the seven heads . . .”49 Ps. 74:14 speaks of the heads of Leviathan (see Kline above).50
4. Yahweh promises a time of forgiveness and restoration (27:1‑13).
The rejected vineyard of chapter 5 will be restored as a fruitful and productive vine (27:2-6). God next provides an explanation of Israel’s suffering. It was caused by their sin and rebellion, but they have suffered sufficiently to atone for it (cf. 40:2, she has received double for all her sins). The result will be a rejection of idolatry. The “fortified city” is surely Jerusalem which sits alone because of former idolatry for which she was punished. The phrases “their Maker” and “their Creator” indicate Israel rather than Babylon as the antecedent.
Finally, the eschatological promise is made to restore the scattered ones of Israel from Assyria and Egypt and to bring them to worship the Lord in the holy mountain of Jerusalem.
Isaiah is of course not stipulating when this situation will come into existence. To him it is in the future, but the time is unknown. We know from the rest of Scripture that there will be a time of redemption of Israel at the end of the church age during the tribulation in which “all Israel will be saved” as opposed to the remnant during this present age.
Thus the instruction to Israel is complete. Trust Yahweh, Ahaz; trust Yahweh, Hezekiah. Do not go to the nations. God will one day visit them and judge them. He will also redeem His people and restore them to the holy city once ruined because of their failure to trust in Him, but restored in that day.
E. Yahweh delivers a series of woes to say that true deliverance is to be found in Him, not in Egypt (chs. 28—33).51
In Ahaz’s day, the threat was Syro‑Ephraim, and he went to Assyria for help. Now, in Hezekiah’s day, the threat is Assyria, and the temptation is to go to Egypt (in 38—39, he will make overtures to Babylon). Hezekiah was a good king, but he still played power politics.
1. Woe number one is against the drunkards of Ephraim and the scoffers of Jerusalem (28:1‑29).
Isaiah must first indicate that Ephraim and Judah will be judged for not trusting Him.
Verses 1-8 refer to the northern kingdom, ready for judgment because they have chosen to disobey Him and to reject His counsel. The rest of the chapter seems to refer to Judah. These people have convinced themselves that God’s judgment will not reach them (they have even made a covenant with Sheol). Consequently, God sends a stumbling block among them—here it probably refers to the prophet speaking the truth, ultimately it refers to Christ—those who believe will be made firm, those who reject will stumble and fall (28:1‑29).
2. Woe number two is against the southern kingdom (29:1‑24).
The phrase “Ariel” is not clear. As it stands it means “lion of God.” Many other suggestions have been made, but the only thing clear is that it is a name for the old city of David, and this judgment is against Judah (29:1-4). Even so, the enemies of Judah, those who besiege the city, will be judged by God (29:5-8). The vision God is trying to give to Judah will be as if they cannot understand it (29:9-12). He condemns them for an external religion that does not reflect true faith (29:13‑14). He criticizes them for thinking they can get away with sinning and God will never know (29:15‑16).
At the same time there is the promise of conversion and blessing for Judah. Lebanon (representing all nations) will be destroyed and God’s blessing will come on His people. They will sanctify His name and obey Him (29:17‑24).
3. Woe number three is against rebellious children (30:1‑33). (Cf. 1:2.) Those who go to Egypt for help will be disappointed.
a. Judah is condemned for planning her own defenses without consulting Yahweh. These plans will be frustrated, and those who have made them will be disappointed (30:1‑5).
b. Judah is condemned for taking her wealth to Egypt to buy her support (30:6‑7). Egypt is referred to as Rahab in v. 7. This word means basically “pride” or “arrogance.” It seems to be used in Psalms 89:10 as a beast or a serpent defeated by God. It should probably be put in the same category as Leviathan as a symbolic use of an ancient mythological creature (see my discussion at 27:1). As such it describes Egypt. The Hebrew of v. 7 is difficult, but the sense is clear: this proud beast will cease to be a threat to anyone.52
c. This promise is to be written on a tablet as a future witness against these rebellious children (30:8‑11). These children refuse to listen to God’s spokesmen and hence to God.
d. Yahweh promises judgment on Judah for refusing to trust Him and going to Egypt (30:12‑17). He tells them (v. 15) that they will be delivered only through repentance, but since they refuse, God will judge them by the very things they are seeking for help.
e. A beautiful plea is made by Yahweh to Judah to repent (30:18‑22), and a promise of messianic blessing if and when they do (30:18‑26).
f. Yahweh promises to judge Assyria and to deliver Judah (30:27‑33).
4. Yahweh continues to criticize Judah for going to Egypt for help (31:1‑9).
a. They are condemned for going to Egypt for help and not trusting in Yahweh (31:1‑3). There is a play on words: Judah is “leaning” (yisha`enu, Shau,שָׁעוּ) to the Holy One of Israel. Egypt is not God, and God will cause Egypt to stumble.
b. Yahweh promises deliverance from Assyria (31:4‑9). A call to repentance is given in v. 6 with a promise of the fall of Assyria in vv. 8‑9.
5. Yahweh speaks of a time when there will be proper leadership and the blessing that ensues (32:1‑20).
a. Since this chapter flows out of the deliverance in chapter 31, the reference may be to the messianic king first introduced in chapters 9 and 11. The contrast is obvious between this king and the wicked Assyrian king as well as Ahaz the unbelieving king and probably even Hezekiah who, though he was essentially a good king, was not ideal. Verse 8 may be an allusion to the plans to ally with Egypt, and thus forms a backdrop for the next section (32:1-8).
b. Yahweh challenges the women to leave their luxurious and easy life style and to recognize that in a short time, all that will be stripped away (32:9‑14).
c. He then resumes his discussion of the messianic age when the Spirit will be poured out (יֵעָרֶה ye‘areh “to make bare” as in “baring one’s soul”) upon the people of Israel, and millennial conditions will exist (32:15‑20).
6. The promise of judgment on Assyria (33:1‑24).
a. Destruction is promised to Assyria (33:1-2).
Divine retribution will come even upon the instrument God used to punish his people. As Assyria has meted out judgment, so she shall be judged by others. As she has acted treacherously, so she will be betrayed.
b. Yahweh promises deliverance of Judah and a time of justice (33:3‑12).
Hayes and Irvine may be correct in believing that these verses refer to northern Israelites fleeing to Zion after the destruction of Samaria in 722 B.C.53 The pain caused by Assyria (“He” in 33:8) created such havoc that many fled to the south.
c. Yahweh describes the righteous living of the one who trusts in Him (33:13‑16).
d. Yahweh describes the destruction of the enemy by the mighty God (33:17‑24).
F. The final message of God’s restoration of His people and the land (chs. 34—35).
1. A concluding chapter on the judgment of the nations (34:1‑17).
This is a summarizing chapter to the first part of the book showing judgment on the nations. A special emphasis is placed on Edom who stands out as an example of an implacable enemy of Israel. The language of this chapter is one of the best examples of what I call “destruction genre.” As we discussed earlier, this strong language is being used to say that a complete destruction of Edom will take place. The details do not need to be pressed because the language is hyperbolic, however, it is to be understood as a literal, severe destruction.
2. A final promise of blessing (35:1‑10).
The section from chapter 13 to chapter 35 shows the sovereignty of God over the nations. It concludes with this beautiful promise of the messianic age. What a fitting close to the first part of the book that has had so much “doom and gloom” because of Israel and Judah’s refusal to listen to God. In spite of that disobedience, they are God’s people whom He “will not cast off.” This chapter refers to the establishment of the OT Kingdom promises when Israel will be restored to the land in belief, and great blessing will accrue to all.
G. A historical interlude is given to show how the Assyrian threat was carried out and the way Yahweh dealt with it (chs. 36—39).
Isaiah has two major historical sections involving Ahaz (ch. 7) and Hezekiah (chs. 36—39). The first section responds to the Syro-Ephraimite threat and is followed by the Assyrian threat (8—37). The second deals with the Assyrian threat and is followed by the Babylonian threat (38—66).
1. The setting is Sennacherib’s invasion of the west to put down rebellion (36:1‑3).
In my third campaign I marched against Hatti, Luli, king of Sidon, whom the terror‑inspiring glamour of my lordship had overwhelmed, fled far overseas and perished. The awe‑inspiring splendor of the “Weapon” of Ashur, my lord, overwhelmed his strong cities (such as) Great Sidon, Little Sidon, Bit Zitti, Zaribru, Mahalliba, Ushu (i.e. the mainland settlement of Tyre), Akzib (and) Akko, (all) his fortress cities, walled (and well) provided with feed and water for his garrisons, and they bowed in submission to my feet. I installed Ethba’al upon the throne to be their king and imposed upon him tribute (due) to me (as his) overlord (to be paid) annually without interruption.
As to all the kings of Amurru—Menahem from Samsimuruna, Tuba’lu from Sidon, Abdili’ti from Arvad, Urumilki from Byblos, Mitinti from Ashdod, Buduili from Beth‑Ammon, Kammusunadbi from Moab (and) Aiarammu from Edom, they brought sumptuous gifts and—fourfold—their heavy ( ) presents to me and kissed my feet. Sidqia, however, king of Ashkelon, who did not bow to my yoke, I deported and sent to Assyria, his family‑gods, himself, his wife, his children, his brothers, all the male descendants of his family. I set Sharruludari, son of Rukibtu, their former king, over the inhabitants of Ashkelon and imposed upon him the payment of tribute (and of) ( ) presents (due) to me (as) overlord—and he (now) pulls the straps (of my yoke)!
In the continuation of my campaign I besieged Beth‑Dagon, Joppa, Banai‑Barka, Azuru, cities belonging to Sidqia who did not bow to my feet quickly (enough); I conquered (them) and carried their spoils away. The officials, the patricians and the (common) people of Ekron—who had thrown Padi, their king, into fetters (because he was) loyal to (his) solemn oath (sworn) by the god Ashur, and had handed him over to Hezekiah, the Jew—(and) he (Hezekiah) held him in prison, unlawfully, as if he (Padi) be an enemy—had become afraid and had called (for help) upon the kings of Egypt (and) the bowmen, the chariot(‑corps) and the cavalry of the king of Ethiopia, an army beyond counting—and they (actually) had come to their assistance. In the plain of Eltekeh, their battle lines were drawn up against me and they sharpened their weapons. Upon a trust(‑inspiring) oracle (given) by Ashur, my lord, I fought with them and inflicted a defeat upon them. In the melee of the battle, I personally captured alive the Egyptian charioteers with the(ir) princes and (also) the charioteers of the king of Ethiopia. I besieged Eltekeh (and) Timnah, conquered (them) and carried their spoils away. I assaulted Ekron and killed the officials and patricians who had committed the crime and hung their bodies on poles surrounding the city. The (common) citizens who were guilty of minor crimes, I considered prisoners of war. The rest of them, those who were not accused of crimes and misbehavior, I released. I made Padi, their king, come from Jerusalem and set him as their lord on the throne, imposing upon him the tribute (due) to me (as) overlord.
As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well‑stamped (earth‑)ramps, and battering‑rams brought (thus) near (to the walls) (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove out (of them) 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered (them) booty. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city’s gate. His towns which I had plundered, I took away from his country and gave them (over) to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Sillibel, king of Gaza. Thus I reduced his country, but I still increased the tribute and the katru‑presents (due) to me (as his) overlord which I imposed (later) upon him beyond the former tribute, to be delivered annually. Hezekiah himself, whom the terror‑inspiring splendor of my lordship had overwhelmed and whose irregular and elite troops which he had brought into Jerusalem, his royal residence, in order to strengthen (it), had deserted him, did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts of red stone, couches (inlaid) with ivory, nimedu‑chairs (inlaid) with ivory, elephant-hides, ebony‑wood, box‑wood (and) all kinds of valuable treasures, his (own) daughters, concubines, male and female musicians. In order to deliver the tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal) messenger.54
Isaiah tells us of this confrontation between the arrogant Rabshakeh, Sennacherib’s general, and the representatives of Hezekiah. It is poetic justice that Rabshakeh stands at the identical spot challenging God’s people that Isaiah had stood over a decade before challenging Ahaz to trust God and not to trust the Assyrians.
Eliakim is now the steward and Shebna has been deposed to scribe as predicted in 22:15‑25. With them is Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.
2. The challenge was given by the Rab Shakeh (36:4‑10).
a. Rabshakeh tells them the Egyptians will be no help (36:4‑6). This is the same thing Isaiah has been telling them.
b. Rabshakeh tells them Yahweh will be no help since Hezekiah must have offended Him by tearing down His altars and high places (36:7).
c. Rabshakeh offers the ultimate insult by offering to provide horses if Hezekiah can put men on them (36:8‑9).
d. Finally he even says that Yahweh has commissioned him to carry out this destruction (36:10).
e. Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah try to get Rabshakeh to speak Aramaic so that the people will not understand. This indicates (1) that Aramaic was the diplomatic language of the day and (2) that only trained people understood it (36:11).
f. Rabshakeh mockingly tells them that he is talking to the common people not the leaders. He then challenges the common people directly to surrender to him and allow him to take them to a pleasant land. He challenges Hezekiah’s trust in Yahweh since none of the other gods have been able to deliver their people from Assyria (36:12‑20).
g. The message is brought to Hezekiah (36:21‑22).
3. Hezekiah makes a godly response to the challenge (37:1-38).
a. The officials bring the report to Hezekiah who responds by tearing his clothes and going into the temple (v. 1). He then sends messengers to Isaiah to ask for God’s protection (37:2‑5). (N.B. the difference between Hezekiah’s response to the threat and Ahaz’s.)
b. Isaiah gives God’s word on the matter which is that He will cause him to hear a rumor and that he will return to his land and die (37:6‑7).
c. Rabshakeh gets word that Tirhakah the Ethiopian who is now Pharaoh of Egypt has come out. This means that Sennacherib had pulled back from Lachish and Rabshakeh is rushing to join up with him. His Parthian shot is to send a letter to Hezekiah saying that Yahweh cannot deliver from Assyria’s hand (37:8‑13).
d. Hezekiah goes to the temple with the letter and prays for Yahweh’s deliverance‑ (37:14‑20).
e. Isaiah sends word to Hezekiah that Yahweh has answered his prayers and that Assyria will be led by a bridle to do whatever Yahweh wants to do with them (37:21‑29).
f. Yahweh gives a sign of his protection in the matter of the food supply. God will see to it that there will be enough to eat from the food as it grows of itself in the first two years after the siege. King Sennacherib will go back home because God is going to defend Jerusalem and deliver it for His sake and David’s sake (37:30‑35).
g. Sennacherib returned to Nineveh where he was assassinated by his sons. Esarhaddon becomes king in his place. This act took place twenty years later. The important thing is that it did happen (37:36-38).
The Destruction of Sennacherib
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
4. Hezekiah becomes sick, miraculously recovers, and receives ambassadors from the Chaldeans (38:1‑39:8).
a. Hezekiah is told by God that he will die. Hezekiah pleads with God for life and God grants it along with a sign to assure him that he will live fifteen more years. He also promises him deliverance from Assyria during his lifetime (38:1‑8).
b. Hezekiah composed a lament as part of his prayer to Yahweh for recovery. When he was well, he put it all in writing (38:9‑20).
c. Isaiah had told them to use medicine through which the miracle took place. The sign of the backward movement of the shadow was in response to Hezekiah’s request for a sign (38:21‑22).
d. Merodach‑baladan was a member of the Chaldean grouping living at the head of the Persian gulf. He was insinuating himself into the government of the Babylonians and trying to throw off Assyrian control of Babylon. He has sent messengers west to try to stir up opposition to Assyria (39:1).
e. Hezekiah, because of his anti‑Assyrian stance, happily receives the messengers. He will support anyone who opposes Assyria. He shows them everything (39:2).
f. Isaiah tells Hezekiah that he has made a mistake for these same people will one day plunder Jerusalem and carry off some of the king’s descendants to Babylon‑ (39:3‑8).
The stage is now set for the history of Israel as affected by Babylon. Chapters 40‑66 are set in the Babylonian exile which came about, from a political perspective, because Hezekiah began the policy carried on by his great‑grandson, Josiah of supporting Babylonia against Assyria.
Excursus: Synthesis of Isaiah 1‑39
We are working on the construct that Assyria is the dominant political power and that Isaiah’s messages are all delivered in connection with the intent of instructing the people to trust in Yahweh instead of going to other nations for help.
I. Judah is indicted for her sinfulness (1—6).
Chapters 1‑6 are an entity. The historical setting is given in chapter 6 as the year that King Uzziah died. Since this chronological reference applies to the reception of the vision, we are assuming that it should be applied backward to the entire unit. The fact that Isaiah was involved in writing some of the memoirs of Uzziah (“Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, first to last, the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, has written [2 Chron. 26:22]), could imply that Isaiah’s ministry began prior to the death of Uzziah, but not necessarily. (He may have gathered the information from archives and his own pre‑call experience.) One would also expect more references to Uzziah’s reign within the prophetic framework if Isaiah’s ministry were more contemporaneous with Uzziah’s life. We are going to argue that chapter 1 is the consequence of the last couple of years of Uzziah’s life (c.742‑740, see the historical introduction for the invasion of Tiglath Pileser III). However, chapter 6 could still be the inaugural vision, and chapter 1 would be one of Isaiah’s early messages making reference to the recently devastated land. Therefore, I am leaning toward chapter 6 being Isaiah’s call to the prophetic ministry.
A. A “Riv” case and a call to repentance (1:1‑31) followed by a promise of restoration (millennium) (2:1‑4).
B. A statement of Judah’s sin and promise of judgment (2:5—3:26) followed by restoration (4:1‑6).
C. A statement of Judah’s sin (vineyard and indictment) and a promise of judgment (5:1‑30).
D. Isaiah’s call declaring the holiness of God, sinfulness of His people and commission to preach a message of hardening (6:1‑12) followed by a promise of a remnant (6:13).
Chapter 6 is the consummation of this unit. It shows that Judah, because of her obduracy, will be judged by God through the preaching of Isaiah. Jesus quotes this passage in connection with the parables, and Paul quotes it in connection with the rejection of the message of the Gospel by the Jews of Rome.
II. Judah will be saved from her enemies and cleansed from her sin, but neither of these will come from human sources (7—12).
This unit grows out of a political crisis and is one of the two major historical centers of the book. God challenges His people to trust him not human deliverers, but they refuse. God therefore promises judgment from those very nations to which Judah looked for help. At the same time, He promises ultimate deliverance by His own supernatural means. This unit is called the “Book of Immanuel” or the “Children’s Book” because five boys are mentioned in this section in connection with God’s deliverance.
A. Ahaz in response to the Syro-Ephraimite devastation and continuing threat goes to Assyria for help. Isaiah urges him to trust Yahweh, but he refuses. God gives a great sign to all Israel of ultimate deliverance through Immanuel (cf. 8:8). The short space in Immanuel’s life is the time left before Israel and Syria will be destroyed (7:1‑16).
B. God will bring Assyria (to whom Ahaz is going for help) against not only Syria and Israel, but also against Judah. The time element connected with that invasion (since Immanuel will not be there during Ahaz’s time) will be demonstrated by Isaiah’s second son, whose name, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, indicates that the invader will come (7:17—8:10).
C. The invasion will bring hard times (8:19‑22), but ultimately, God will bring salvation to His people through a divine child who will establish the kingdom (9:1‑7), but before that happens, there will be judgment on God’s people (9:8—10:4).
D. Assyria, God’s “axe,” must in turn be judged. Her “trees” will be cut down as she will cut down Judah’s trees (10:5‑34).
The stump of Jesse (house of David) will sprout a twig that will result in the restoration of the people of God to their land in triumph and the branch will rule and reign in the midst of the people. (Since the righteous rule is prominent, it is placed first, although the return of the people from exile must precede it.)
III. By showing that God will judge all the nations with whom she is trying to make an alliance, God is teaching Judah not to trust them but to trust Him (13—23).55
A. Babylon is the most important nation in the anti‑Assyrian movement. Consequently, that name appears first. However, the unit from 13:2‑16 is a general oracle of the Day of Yahweh saying that God is going to judge all the nations, and, therefore, His people should trust Him not them.
B. Babylon herself is dealt with in 13:17‑22. This fall of Babylon took place in 689 B.C. when Sennacherib defeated and razed the city of Babylon. Within a decade of Hezekiah’s response to the overtures of Merodach‑Baladan, that city was destroyed.
C Babylon will some day become an oppressor; therefore, Judah should not go to her for help. Furthermore, Assyria will defeat Babylon in 689 B.C., a second reason for not going to her for help. Thirdly, God will defeat Assyria in His own time apart from the Machiavellian politics of Judah (14:24-27). Finally, 14:29-32 is an example of the folly of revolting against Assyria. Babylon from the beginning (Genesis 10) was considered to epitomize evil. Chapter 14 therefore, probably refers to Babylon as a type of all rebellion against God and persecution of His people. (Since Satan is the ultimate anti‑God person, the King of Babylon also represents him.) The opening verses (14:1‑3) are described in such a way that the event cannot have been fulfilled in 539 B.C. It has in view the final great regathering of Israel to the land. Does this necessitate the revival of Babylon in the last days? I think not. As Babylon fell in 689 and in 539 as the enemy of God, so will the last oppressors of Israel fall in the Tribulation. The use of “Babylon” in Revelation 17-18 is in this symbolic sense. The literal meaning is still a national aggressor against Israel.
D. The coalition of Syria and Israel against Judah in c. 734 B.C. prompts this oracle against both of them in chapter 17. Some argue that the purpose of the attack against Ahaz was to force him to join a coalition against Assyria. If so, this would indicate the futility of any such movement. However, the nations despoiling the people of God in Israel will be judged (17:12‑14).
E. Chapters 18‑19 probably all refer to Egypt. 18:2 indicates that messengers have been sent. Chapter 19 indicates that God will judge Egypt through Assyria. The unit 19:16‑24 is in prose, indicating possibly that it was preached at a different time than the first part and placed here to complete the picture. A marvelous conversion of Egypt is to take place in the eschatological future.
F. Chapter 20 ties the unit into Sargon II’s time (he took the throne in 722 B.C.). He defeated Philistia in spite of the fact that she had joined with Egypt for defense. Egypt will be led away captive. Therefore, do not trust in her.
G. Another oracle against Babylon is found in 21:1‑11. The “sea lands” and “Chaldeans” probably stress the fact that Merodach‑Baladan and his descendants were not native Babylonians but Arameans. The Elamites and Medians of 21:2 are enemies of Assyria not Babylon. This unit reflects their boast that they will join Babylon against Assyria.56 However, they will fail to defeat Assyria in this time. (Assyria will fall to them and Babylon in 612 B.C.)
H. The Edomites and Arabians are promised destruction (21:11‑17).
I. An interesting judgmental statement is made about the “Valley of Vision” in chapter 22. The title refers to Judah as the language shows. Hezekiah has already been attacked by Assyria (701 B.C.). Note the past tenses in 1‑14. The Shebna parenthesis is put here possibly because he was the leader in the anti‑Assyrian coalition movement (this conjecture is because the sin of Shebna is not clearly set out).
J. The final nation dealt with is Tyre (chapter 23). Tyrian trade was damaged and controlled by the Assyrian tyranny. From 700‑630 B.C. Tyre was under Assyrian control. After that time, Assyria began to decline. Is this the seventy years spoken of?
IV. Chapters 24‑27 (often called the little apocalypse) concludes the first 23 chapters with a resumption of the Day of the Lord theme (chapter 24) and the restoration of Israel and Judah (25‑27).
A. Chapter 24 is difficult, but the first part (1-13) may refer to judgment on Israel as the people of Yahweh while the latter part refers to the eschatological Day of Yahweh. This great event will culminate in the rule of Yahweh from Mount Zion.
B. Chapter 25 is a marvelous statement of the restoration of Judah. Even the resurrection (end of tribulation) is presented in 25:8. Judah will exult in Yahweh in chapter 26.
C. Chapter 27 presents the restoration of the northern kingdom as well (as in Ezekiel 37). Leviathan and the Dragon are remnants of mythology, but they are not being used here in a mythological sense. Rather, they are terms used of all rebellion against God.
V. Chapters 28—33 pursue the idea that Judah should trust in Yahweh and not go to other nations (cf. 30:1‑2). In this unit however, Egypt is dominant, probably because Babylon fell in 689 B.C.
A. Ephraim (the northern kingdom) will be judged (28:1‑13).
B. Judah will also be judged (28:14—29:4).
C. Judah’s enemies will be judged (29:5‑8).
D. Judah’s refusal to listen to Yahweh is her problem (29:9‑24) (note the tie‑in with chapter 6 in 29:9‑10).
E. The issue of seeking an alliance with Egypt comes to the fore in chapters 30 and 31. Judah has rejected the word of Yahweh and is trusting in horses (30:12‑17). God will judge Assyria (30:31, 31:8) after he has punished Judah. Then there will be a great restoration (chapters 32,33).
VI. Chapters 34—35 are somewhat of a summary of the first part of Isaiah. Chapter 34 shows the results of disobedience (but judgment is on Edom, cf. 63:1-6) and 35 shows the results of God’s grace responding to obedience.
VII. Chapters 36—39 are an historical center to link the two parts of the book of Isaiah together.
A. Chapters 36—37 show the results of the folly of Ahaz in going to Assyria. These people have now come to fulfill chapter 8. Rabshakeh stands in the very spot Isaiah stood; the former to blaspheme the God of Judah and the latter to encourage faith in Him.
B. Chapters 38—39 look forward to the Babylonian era (40‑66) and show that even godly Hezekiah mistakenly tried to form alliances rather than trust Yahweh. The events of this chapter probably took place in 703 (since Merodach Baladan was deposed at that time) and are placed here for rhetorical reasons.57 However, 2 Chron. 32:31 speaks of the Babylonian ambassadors coming to enquire about the “sign” which took place in the land. If this refers to the miracle of deliverance, then chs. 38 and 39 would come after chs. 36-37.
Synopsis of the Events of Isaiah 36‑39
1. Sennacherib began his westward campaign to put down rebellion. (Isaiah 36:1; 2 Kings 18:13; 2 Chronicles 32:1)
2. Hezekiah prepared for the battle (2 Chron. 32:2‑8; Isaiah 22?).
3. With the fall of Lachish, Hezekiah sent messengers to placate Sennacherib and to offer him tribute (2 Kings 18:14‑22).
4. Sennacherib took the tribute, but still sent the Rabshakeh to threaten Jerusalem. Hezekiah prayed and God promised deliverance through a rumor (2 Kings 19:1‑9; Isaiah 37:1‑9).
5. Sennacherib withdrew because of the rumor about Egypt, but sent intimidating letters to Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:10‑13; Isaiah 37:10‑13).
6. Hezekiah prays to the Lord about the letters (2 Kings 19:14ff; Isaiah 37:14ff; 2 Chron. 32:20).
7. God promises deliverance and 185,000 Assyrians died (2 Kings 19:35‑37; Isaiah 37:36‑38; 2 Chron. 32:21‑23).
Part II: Comfort (Chs. 40—66)
Unit I: God’s Promise of Restoration: the Work of the Servant (40—55)
The message of Isaiah shifts in the second part of the book to one of comfort. (N.B. that approximately 111 verses of 675 in chs. 1‑35 or 16% deal with comfort and restoration. We must not assume that Chs. 1‑39 are only judgment. Conversely, large segments of the second part of Isaiah are judgmental. The larger thrust of the message, however, is “judgment” in 1—39 and “comfort” in 40—66.)
The setting of 40—66 is the exile. This, of course, does not mean that Isaiah was prophesying during the exile, but that he was prophesying about it.
Some recurring ideas in the book:
“Redeemer”: verb, 16 times; noun, 13 times.
“Holy one of Israel”: 30 times. (5 times with “Redeemer.”)
“Creator” 8 times (40:26; 41:20; 43:7; 45:8,12,18; 54:16,16).
“Babylon” and “Chaldee”: Chs. 1—39: 12 times; Chs. 40—66: 9 times.
A. Hermeneutical discussion on the book of Isaiah.
1. Isaiah 40-66 speaks of the return from the exile in 538 B.C. (Cyrus 41:2, 25; 44:28; 45:1-7, 13; 46:11; 48:14; Babylon: 43:14; 47:1; 48:14, 20; Chaldea: 43:14; 47:1, 5; 48:14, 20; building Jerusalem/temple: 44:28) but uses language that must either be interpreted as metaphor, hyperbole or unfulfilled (40:3-5, 9-11; 41:14-20; 42:14-17; 43:1-7, 14-21; 44:1-5; 45:11-17; 49:8-13, 22-23; 51:1-3; 60:4-9, etc.). Furthermore, an extraordinary individual is to lead the deliverance, and the description of his mission is universal in scope (42:1-7; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13—53:12; 61:1-3). Given the nature of Old Testament prophecy, that is, presented in a sort of kaleidoscopic pattern, the sequential understanding can only be derived with the passing of time. The promise, in this original form, makes it look like all one discussion (it can only be pulled apart with the progress of revelation).
2. A believing Jew returning under Zerubbabel and Jeshua would have recognized that the very fact of returning to Jerusalem was in some sense a fulfillment of the promise. While he may have been able to interpret the language of return metaphorically or hyperbolically the role of the servant was completely absent. The servant’s mission extended to the entire world, involved the restoration of Israel, contained a mysterious element of suffering that was to be vicarious, and involved the whole spectrum of redemption for the people of God.
3. Given the language of the return (returnees from all compass points, victory over Israel’s enemies, etc.) and especially the description of the servant’s task and even more particularly the suffering of the servant in 52/53, the entire second half of Isaiah takes on eschatological overtones.58 There are times, of course, when hyperbole is used to describe a situation. In that case one must be prepared to accept a limited fulfillment. A case in point in the first part of Isaiah is the destruction language of Isaiah 13.
4. A believing Jew, say in the Maccabean period, would have hoped for the fulfillment of the prophecies of deliverance in their times (cf. 1 Macc 5:53-54).59
5. By New Testament times the concept of a forerunner for the deliverer taken on by John the Baptist was not questioned. The role of Elijah was a puzzling one. Jesus himself was identified as Elijah on occasion (Matt 16). He performed miracles like those of Elijah and Elisha (healing lepers, raising a widow’s dead son). However, Zechariah was told that John would go in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus made clear that John the Baptist in some sense fulfilled the role of Elijah and thus the forerunner of Isaiah 40. However, Jesus said that Elijah must yet come, and so both Jesus and John the Baptist fulfill this prophecy. The theme of deliverance represented to some extent in the name Immanuel and more particularly in the names of Isa. 9:6, is taken up in Matthew where the incarnation of Christ is related to Isa. 7:14 and the place of the ministry of Christ is related to Isa. 9:1-2.
6. That Jesus is the fulfillment of the Servant prophecies is indicated when he applies Isa. 61:1 to himself (Luke 4). Matthew applies Isa. 42:3-4 to Jesus (Matt 12:18-21). He also cites Isa 53:4 in relation to the healing ministry of Christ (Matt 8:17) and Peter applies it to the redemptive work (1 Pet 2:24). Philip expounded Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian by preaching to him Jesus (Acts 8:32ff). These examples could be multiplied.60
7. That Isaiah’s prophecies are not exhausted in the first coming of Christ is shown by the references to eternal punishment (Isa 66:24 with Mark 9:48) and the new heavens and new earth (Isa 65:17ff; 66:22 with 2 Pet 3:13 and Rev 21:1, 4). Since these features are future even to the time of Christ, it should not be difficult to perceive adumbrations and prophecies of an earthly fulfillment of the many prophecies to the descendants of Abraham.61
8. The language of Isaiah is thus particular and general. It refers to the return under Zerubbabel in the days of Cyrus the Persian King. It also refers to the coming of John the Baptist and the Servant as the redeemer. Yet, the prophecies referring to the blessed restoration of Israel to their land and city, their triumph over their enemies, Edenic conditions prevailing in the land with the glory of God manifested throughout the earth refer neither to the first coming of Messiah nor to eternity. If the language is to be given its full force, the fulfillment must be upon the earth this side of eternity. The ultimate completion of God’s purpose, of course, must be in the eternal state and for this we all long, but we dare not empty these glorious promises to the chosen seed of their Old Testament covenantal meaning.
B. Yahweh states that Judah has suffered enough for her sins and is to be restored (40:1‑31).
1. Yahweh calls out rhetorically for Israel to be comforted since her sins are doubly paid for (40:1‑2).
2. Yahweh is coming in all his glory to redeem His people (40:3‑8).
Did this happen in 539 when Babylon was defeated and Cyrus’ decree was issued allowing the Jews to come home? Young says that there is nothing in this passage about a return from the Babylonian exile. He applies it entirely to the spiritual redemption effected in Jesus Christ and applied to all who believe in Him.
Yet, to some extent it must refer to the return from the Babylonian exile since this entire section refers to the Chaldeans, Babylonians and Cyrus. At the same time the language of the second part of Isaiah is so universal and comprehensive and is so often applied to NT situations that the ultimate fulfillment of these promises must be eschatological.
Was it fulfilled in the first century when Jesus was introduced to Israel by John the Baptist who said he was the “voice of one crying in the wilderness”? In a sense, yes, though Jesus Himself says that “Elijah must yet come” indicating that John the Baptist served in an interim capacity.
The ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy comes when God regathers all His people to restore them in faith to the land.
Recurring Strands in Isaiah 40-48
3. The good news being declared here is that God will restore His people (40:9‑11).
God is depicted here as the shepherd leading his flock. His reward is with him—that is, the redeemed ones. He will gently care for His people as He returns them from the distant lands to place them in the chosen land.
4. Yahweh now gives a statement of His character that when compared to humans, dwarfs them into silence (40:12‑17).
In view of the fact that God’s ability to carry out such a magnificent task might be questioned, He begins in this section to show His greatness over all that is known in the human experience.
5. In light of God’s greatness, idolatry is utterly foolish (40:18‑20).
Idolatry was being extensively practiced in Isaiah’s day and as such comes under scathing denunciation by the Lord throughout these prophecies. Idolatry is so utterly illogical that it hardly deserves denunciation, but because it is the warp and woof of the society of Isaiah’s day, it must be shown to be what it is—futile and hopeless.
6. Yahweh gives another statement on His greatness (40:21-26).
This passage constitutes one of the most beautiful statements about the sovereignty and greatness of God in the entire Bible. His control over the universe, nature and humanity is emphasized.
7. He concludes this section by saying that Israel cannot hide from God and that He is able to deliver completely (40:27‑31).
On the one hand, God’s greatness makes it impossible for people to escape His scrutiny. On the other hand, His greatness makes it possible for Him to help His stumbling, needy people and to deliver them. What a marvelous statement of God’s concern for His own.
C. Yahweh speaks of His greatness in redeeming Israel (41:1-29).
1. Yahweh calls upon the world to witness to His greatness in raising up Cyrus (41:1‑4).
This is the first reference to Cyrus. The references will grow and become more explicit, culminating at 44:28 and 45:1 when an actual name given. God calls Cyrus in righteousness—not Cyrus’ but God’s—to His feet, that is, to a place of obedience. Cyrus was unaware that Yahweh was so using him. He was not a worshipper of Yahweh, but the action Cyrus took in returning people to their lands shows the sovereignty of God in the affairs even of pagan kings.
2. Yahweh shows the uniqueness of Israel as His chosen servant (41:5‑16).
God points out that the coast lands (usually a reference to the Mediterranean areas) become afraid and consult their deities for help. The idolatry is stressed here as a futile action to prevent Cyrus’ takeover of their territory.
This discussion also allows for an opportunity to contrast the pagan peoples of the world with God’s chosen people. Here for the first time, the idea of servant, so prominent in the second half of Isaiah, is presented. Israel as God’s servant comes under the protection of God. The time will come when this servant will be able to defeat all his enemies because of God’s help.
Excursus: Servant of the Lord
The servant of the Lord (‘eved Yahweh, עֶבֶד יהוה)62 is one of the most important, most discussed, and in some ways the most difficult concepts in the book of Isaiah. It is clear from an exegesis of the individual passages that the phrase is being used in different ways at different times. The following list shows the groupings I have made for the various usages. The occurrence of Israel (ch. 49) in a group called messianic will be discussed at the appropriate place.
Servant of the Lord:
Plural referring to God’s people
the heritage of the servants of
the name of the Lord, to be his servants
Return for thy servants’ sake
so will I do for my servants’ sakes
and my servants shall dwell there
Behold, my servants shall eat
behold, my servants shall drink
behold, my servants shall rejoice
Behold my servants shall sing
and call his servants by another name
Lord shall be known toward his servants
Singular referring to Israel
But thou, Israel, (art) my servant
Thou (art) my servant
Who (is) blind, but my servant
and blind as the Lord’s servant?
and my servant whom I have chosen
Yet now hear, O Jacob, my servant
Fear not, O Jacob, my servant
for thou (art) my servant, I have formed thee thou art my servant
Confirming the word of his servant
(This probably refers to Isaiah)
For Jacob my servant’s sake
the Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob
Singular referring to Messiah
Behold my servant, whom I uphold
Thou (art) my servant, O Israel
that formed me from the womb (to be) his servant
thing that thou shouldest be my servant
to a servant of rulers
that obeys the voice of his servant
Behold, my servant shall deal prudently
shall my righteous servant justify many
“Chosen” (bahar, )
Jacob whom I have chosen
I have chosen thee, and not cast
my servant whom I have chosen
Israel, whom I have chosen
Jesurun, whom I have chosen
I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction
and choose (the things) that please
did choose (that) wherein I delighted
they have chosen their own ways
and chose (that) in which
3. Yahweh declares His greatness in restoring Israel (41:17‑20).
The hermeneutical principle established in chapter 40 is that there is an immediate reference to the return from the Babylonian exile, but that the ultimate fulfillment must be eschatological.
4. Yahweh challenges the false religions of that day to prove their reality (41:21‑24).
God’s greatness is shown in His ability to raise up Cyrus and return Israel to the land. The false religions can do nothing to help their people. Surely we should look upon the work of the government of Cyrus as evidence of the supernatural intervention of Yahweh.
5. Yahweh concludes by referring again to the fact that He has raised up Cyrus‑ (41:25‑29).
God refers again to His greatness in His work among men. He began this dissertation by showing that the raising up of Cyrus demonstrated His sovereignty. Now He concludes it by saying that the idols cannot provide the kind of information or action demonstrated in the calling of Cyrus.
D. Yahweh reveals His servant who is to rule the world (42:1‑25).
We now come to the first of the “Servant Songs.” The individualistic emphasis in this passage creates problems for those who want to see a collective interpretation.63
1. Yahweh reveals the character and work of the servant (42:1‑4).
The servant’s task is to bring forth justice to the nations. He will establish justice in the earth and the coast lands will wait expectantly for His torah. This concept of justice was presented in chapter 11 as the task of the root from the stump of Jesse.
A major new concept in this servant passage is that the servant will be humble and quiet. He will not cry out or raise his voice. His actions toward the weak are to be ones of compassion. Here the victorious one is seen not using a sword.
In the midst of Jesus’ miracle working, the Pharisees began to look for ways to destroy Him. Jesus quotes this servant passage in connection with His charge to the those he had healed to keep quiet about the miracle. At the same time, He is obviously applying the entire passage to Himself since He quotes it in toto (Matt. 12:15‑21). The people are astute enough to recognize that the work being accomplished by Jesus must be that prophesied in the OT (Matt. 12:23).
2. Yahweh reveals the commission of the servant (42:5‑9).
The stress is on God as creator in v. 5 and then on the servant whose commission includes being a covenant to the people, a light to the Gentiles, opening blind eyes and bringing prisoners from the dungeon.
3. In light of the Servant’s work, all people are urged to praise the Lord (42:10‑13).
4. Yahweh speaks of His restoration of creation (42:14‑17).
5. Yahweh speaks of the blindness of Israel and the reason He has punished her (42:18‑25).
In this section the servant is not an individual, for he is characterized as being blind. Here it refers to Israel who has not listened to God’s word. Because of the blindness of this servant who was to be God’s messenger to the world, God brought the judgment of Babylon upon her. Here again is the teaching that Israel was to be the servant, but she has miserably failed. Consequently, the servant, par excellence, is to be raised up to bring the light to the world Israel has failed to bring.
E. Yahweh calls on Israel to trust Him because He will deliver her (43:1‑28).
1. Yahweh speaks of His redemption and restoration of Israel (43:1‑7).
As indicated in the earlier discussion on hermeneutics, there may be some reference to the return in 539 B.C., but the universal language of this passage indicates that the time of fulfillment is subsequent to anything we know about in history for Israel. The exiles are not just in Babylon, but in the North, South, East, West and the ends of the earth.
2 Yahweh calls upon Israel to bear witness of His faithfulness as evidenced by His redemption of Israel (43:8‑13).
3. Yahweh states His sovereignty in delivering Israel from Babylon (43:14‑21).
Again the historic exile is in view, but the language goes beyond it to the ultimate deliverance of Israel.
4. Yahweh chides Israel for not worshipping Him (43:25‑28).
Israel has brought sacrifices, but they have not satisfied God since they do not come with the right attitude. Their sins and iniquities have burdened God. The only one who can redeem them is Yahweh. He is the one who “wipes out their sins.”
F. Yahweh again contrasts Himself with the idolatrous practices all around Israel and promises restoration (44:1‑28).
1. He promises great blessing on Israel (44:1‑5).
God’s promises in this section are far‑reaching. He promises to pour out His spirit and His blessing on the descendants of Israel. There will be a great turning to the Lord when that happens.
Jeshurun is from the Hebrew yashar (יָשָׁר) which refers to righteousness. It must mean, “My just ones.”
2. He speaks of His uniqueness and calls on Israel to trust Him (44:6‑8).
3. He gives a diatribe against idolatry (44:9‑17).
4. He shows the judgment of God on them (44:18‑20).
God has judged the nations so that they believe in idols in spite of the utter illogic of their faith.
5. He calls on Israel to recognize Yahweh, His redemption, and to return to Him (44:21‑24).
God has provided the necessary redemptive work for Israel’s sins. He calls upon Israel to return to Him and to shout because of God’s grace in His redemptive work.
6. He speaks again of His greatness and concludes by showing His sovereignty in raising up Cyrus (44:24‑28).
For the first time Cyrus is mentioned by name. God refers to him as a shepherd who will carry out His desire.
G. Yahweh reveals His sovereignty in calling Cyrus to deliver His people and issues a universal call for salvation (45:1‑25).64
1. He has raised up Cyrus for the sake of His servant Jacob (45:1‑7).
Cyrus says of himself: “All the kings of the entire world from the Upper to the Lower Sea, those who are seated in throne rooms, (those who) live in other [types of buildings as well as] all the kings of the West land living in tents, brought their heavy tributes and kissed my feet in Babylon. (As to the region) from . . . as far as Ashur and Susa, Agade, Eshnunna, the towns of Zamban, Me‑Turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Sumer and Akkad whom Nabonidus has brought into Babylon to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their (former) chapels, the places which make them happy.”65
Cyrus’ policy outlined in this statement is a radical departure from that of his predecessors. Normally, the various idols were brought to the conquering nation. Since Judah had no idols, the utensils of the temple were considered equivalent. It was these utensils that were brought back by Zerubbabel (Ezra 1).66
2. He calls on the world to acknowledge His lordship (45:8-10).
God is calling for a day in which righteousness will drop down like water. He is the one who will do it and therefore, He should be accepted as lord.
3. He speaks of His lordship in terms of the call of Cyrus (45:11‑19).
4. He appeals to the inhabited world to recognize His lordship and to come to Him (45:20‑25).
This section is a marvelous appeal to the entire world to turn to Yahweh and experience His salvation. This is one of those universal passages that indicates a message to all the world and not simply to Israel. The fulfillment of this prophecy could not possibly have been in Isaiah’s day nor in the return from the exile. It must have far‑reaching implications.
H. Yahweh declares the bankruptcy of Babylon’s religion and urges Israel to accept His lordship (46:1‑13).
1. Bel and Nebo are defeated (46:1‑2).
Bel is the Babylonian equivalent to Baal in the rest of the OT. Nebo is the god of science and learning. Both these deities, says Isaiah, will go into captivity. This probably refers to a literal removing of the idols, and indicates that idols are incapable of preventing Yahweh’s judgment on the Babylonians.
2. Israel is challenged to receive the person of God (46:3‑7).
Bel and Nebo, Babylonian gods, will be carried into captivity. However, the God of Israel will carry His people to deliverance.
3. He speaks of His purpose exemplified again in the call of Cyrus (46:8‑11).
Cyrus is spoken of obliquely as the “man of My purpose from a far country.”
4. He chides Israel for stubbornly refusing to recognize His purposes in saving Israel (46:12‑13).
I. Yahweh pronounces judgment on Babylon (47:1‑15).
1. He declares a debasement of Babylon under the imagery of a woman (47:1‑7).
Note again the OT theology of retribution on a nation used by God to punish Judah that is in turn punished.
2. He states that Babylon, who thought she could never be punished will undergo disaster (47:8‑11).
3. He argues that Babylon’s religion will not save her (47:12‑15).
Babylon was noted for her astrology and otherwise related religious practices. Compare this section with Revelation 17, 18.
J. Yahweh promises Judah deliverance from Babylon (48:1‑22).
1. He chides Judah for her obstinacy (48:1‑11).
Yahweh declares that He has given prophetic utterances so that Judah cannot claim that her idol has delivered her. The marvelous statements about Cyrus are designed to prove the sovereignty of God.
2. He appeals to Israel with the reminder that He has chosen her and worked sovereignly in history (48:12‑16).
Having reminded Israel of the fact that He has chosen her, God then speaks of the calling of Cyrus. The “him” in v. 14 is probably Cyrus rather than Israel. The word “love” here as elsewhere probably means to choose rather than to have an emotional feeling (Jacob I have loved.) Verse 16 is extraordinary. The subject in the first part of the verse must be Yahweh, but who is speaking in the second part? McKenzie argues that it is “the imagined response of Cyrus to the call of Yahweh.”67 Ridderbos68 may be correct in believing that the phrase “And now the Lord God has sent me and His spirit” refers to the prophet who is calling upon Israel to listen to the word of the Lord.
3. He tells Judah how good it would have been if they had obeyed (48:17‑19).
4. He warns Judah to flee Babylon since He is going to judge her (48:20‑22).
This section is a dramatic way of saying that God is going to judge Babylon. Just as he told Lot to leave Sodom, so he tells Israel to get out of Babylon because He is going to judge her.
K. The Servant of the Lord is the redeemer of the world (49:1‑26).69
1. The Servant is called and protected by God (49:1‑4).
The Servant is called from the womb of his mother; he has been named from his mother’s body (to name is another concept for choosing). Under the imagery of weaponry (sword, arrow, quiver) he says that God has made him effective in preaching his message.
God has called him His servant, Israel, and has promised to show him His glory. If this is an individual, more particularly Christ, why is he called Israel? North argues for an individualistic interpretation in spite of the occurrence of “Israel.”70 Some manuscripts do not have the word Israel, but it appears in 1QIsaa and the major LXX MSS. It would be tempting to omit it from the passage, but that might be self‑serving since we are assuming that the reference is to Christ.
Since the reference is clearly to an individual, the appearance of the word “Israel” must indicate that this person is looked upon as the ideal Israel, that is, all that God would like His people Israel to be. However, this does not imply that the individual is not a real person (as is true of those who want to idealize the individual), only that the real person is looked upon as “Mr. Israel.”
The Servant complains of having labored for nothing (v. 4). Did this ever happen in the life of Christ? There is nothing in Scripture that so indicates it, but His prayer in the garden certainly indicates the possibility of a private complaint made by the Son to the Father. The “futility of his work” may be more than an emotional response. It may indicate the refusal of the Jewish nation to receive Him and His kingdom. The rest of the verse shows Him immediately returning to a sense of confidence in God just as in the garden, “Nevertheless thy will be done.”
2. The Lord gives the Servant a double commission (49:5‑7).
The first task of the servant is to bring Jacob back to God and to gather Israel to Him (v. 5). The second task reaches beyond Israel to the Gentile world. He is to be a light of the nations, and God’s salvation is to reach to the end of the earth. The lowly, despised position of the Servant is presented in v. 7.
The Servant is spoken of as being a light to the Gentiles in 9:1, 42:6, and 49:6. Simeon says in Luke 2:30‑32: “Now Lord, Thou does let Thy bond‑servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” Paul says in Acts 13:47 in connection with his action of leaving the Jews to preach to the Gentiles in Antioch: “For thus the Lord has commanded us, I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, that You should bring salvation to the end of the earth.” Paul is not saying that he (Paul) is the light, but that he is bringing the light provided by God in His Son to the Gentiles.
3. The Lord assigns the Servant the task of restoring Israel to the land in great prosperity and peace (49:8‑13).
The addressee is singular “You.” This individual will be given as a covenant of the people. This covenant includes the restoration of the land and the freeing of people. They will be brought from distant lands by the gentle hand of the servant.
Israel complains that the Lord has forsaken her, but He argues that there is no way He can do so (49:14‑21).
As a mother cannot forget her children, so God cannot forget Israel. They are inscribed on His hands. He will restore them in great prosperity, and she who was barren will have more children than she knows what to do with.
5. God promises to restore Israel as He lifts up His standard to the nations and causes these people who have oppressed Israel to restore them. Then “all flesh will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (49:22‑26).
L. Yahweh gives the reason for Judah’s judgment and the Servant speaks again (50:1‑11).
1. Judah suffers because of sin (50:1‑3).
Yahweh says He is not the cause of Judah’s suffering—He did not initiate a divorce, and He was not in debt so as to be forced to sell His wife. Judah suffers because of sin. She is apparently in exile in this portion, and when she reads this she will understand why she is there.
Yahweh says that He is perfectly capable of delivering, but that His deliverance is predicated on a response from His people (50:2‑3).
2. The Servant introduces Himself again (50:4‑11).
a. He has the tongue of a disciple (50:4).
Though the word “Servant” is not used until v. 10, the passage by its nature requires it to be speaking of Him. Here the Servant is described as being a learning one of God. God teaches Him to sustain the weak.
b. He is obedient and suffers (50:5).
The Servant knows how to obey. “To open the ear” is to speak to. God has spoken, and the Servant has chosen to obey. “I do always those things that please the father.” This obedience brought Him suffering.
c. He is vindicated (50:7‑9).
The Servant has cast Himself upon the Father (“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me”; “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety,” Heb. 5:7).
All of this language could apply to some pious man who suffered for his faith, but who would he have been? The context of Isaiah, describing one who will even suffer vicariously, calls for a linking of all these intensely individualistic passages and to see in them statements about the coming Messiah, who we know is Jesus.
d. He admonishes the remnant to trust in the Lord (50:10‑11).
Those believers walking in darkness without light, the Servant admonishes to trust in Yahweh. Those who refuse to trust in Yahweh’s light, but have built their own fire, He promises that they will lie down in torment.
M. Yahweh appeals to the faithful remnant to trust Him (51:1‑23).
1. “Those who pursue righteousness” are exhorted to look (in trust) to the Lord (51:1‑3).
God encourages the believing remnant to renew their trust in Him (the rock from which they were hewn). He raises images from the past to challenge them: Abraham the faithful one to whom the Lord finally gave children; Sarah who was privileged to produce Isaac in her old age. Eden and the garden of Yahweh are descriptions given to that work God will do for Israel in that day.
2. God’s people are told that He will bring justice to the world (51:4‑8).
The theme returns to the time to come when God will bring justice to the world and that justice will be a light of the people. God has the strength (arm) to carry out His promises. God’s people are not to fear the reproach of man, for their destiny is well known.
3. God speaks of His great strength and control of the universe (51:9‑16).
Rahab and the dragon are mythological creatures we spoke about before. These symbols of myth are being used here without giving credence to the myth itself. Since God can conquer all His enemies, He is able to bring His people from captivity to His own land with great victory.
4. Defeated Judah is addressed (51:17‑23).
a. They have drunk from God’s hand the cup of His anger (51:17‑20).
b. God will judge the nations and free His people (50:21-23).
N. Judah is urged to flee from her oppressors (52:1‑12).
1. Yahweh will deliver Judah as He once delivered Israel from Egypt (52:1‑6).71
2. Yahweh will give good news to His people (52:7‑10).
3. The priests are urged to flee the unclean place (52:11-12).
O. Judah will be redeemed by the vicarious suffering of the Servant (52:13—53:12).72
1. The Servant will be successful even though physically abused (52:13‑15).
In the sight of God, the Servant’s work will be successful. People, however, will see him as a “marred” person. Kings will be amazed at him. He will sprinkle many nations. The word “sprinkle” has sparked endless discussion. This word normally is used in the OT in connection with blood sacrifices. So we should take it here, in spite of the difficulty of the context. The critics cannot accept it because they cannot comprehend such an idea in this context.73
2. The Servant was insignificant to the world (53:1‑3).
The human conception of the Servant was that He was utterly insignificant. God chose to have Him born in a manger of lowly Galilean parents—a “root out of parched ground.”
3. The Servant suffered vicariously (53:4‑6).
The believing remnant speaks of their failure to comprehend that God was not punishing the Servant when He suffered so, but He was causing Him to bear our sins. “The Lord caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
4. The Servant suffered innocently (53:7‑9).
In spite of His innocence, the Servant suffered silently. Grave and death are used here as parallels. The cross and the tomb are to be identified as grave and death without distinguishing them. Thus with the wicked (thieves) and the rich (Joseph of Arimathea) was his death/grave.
5. The Servant will have reward for His suffering (53:10-12).
Regardless of what the world thought about the death of the Servant, the Lord having deliberately crushed Him, now rewards Him. He will see the reward of His work (1QIsaa has “light” as does the LXX and this is probably to be preferred, since there is no object to the verb. This should be taken to mean that He would live again and refers to His resurrection).
P. God promises a future time of great prosperity (54:1‑17).
1. Judah is told to shout for joy because of what Yahweh is going to do (54:1‑8).
a. Under the imagery of a barren woman who has been allowed to have children (cf. Hannah, Elizabeth), Judah is told she will have so many children she will have to enlarge her dwelling space (54:1‑7).
b. The imagery continues, only now she is a widow or a forsaken wife. Now Yahweh is her husband and Redeemer. He forsook her for a brief moment, but with great compassion He has restored her (54:4‑8). (Compare this with the book of Hosea.)
2. God’s covenant with Judah will be like that of the rainbow with Noah (54:9‑10).
Key words in this section are “loving kindness” (ḥesed, berith shelomi, בְּרִית שְׁלוֹמִי).
3. God promises a future time of complete protection for Israel when no weapon will be raised against her (54:11‑17).
One must ask when this time of unprecedented blessing will take place. Certainly, it was not fulfilled when Zerubbabel took the little band of Jews back to Palestine where they struggled to exist in the midst of hostility. Nor has any succeeding age fit this description. It must refer to the messianic kingdom in the future called the Millennium.
Q. Yahweh delivers a magnificent call to the people of Israel (55:1‑13).74
1. An invitation to the grace of God and the covenant of David is issued (55:1‑5).
Under the imagery of food, God admonishes them to come for free food and water (His grace). He tells them He will make an everlasting covenant with them based on the faithful mercies shown to David (hasde dawid hane’emanim, חַסְדֵי דָוִיד הַנֶּאֱמָנִים). The faithful mercies shown to David refer to the Davidic covenant in which God promised David that he would have seed to sit upon the throne eternally. It seems that the rest of this section (4,5) refers to that seed, namely, the Messiah who will become a witness to the people of the grace of God. This seed of David will call a nation (collective) not hitherto known and a nation that has not known him. Though this work of the Messiah begins in the church age, this prediction refers ultimately to the outreach to the Gentiles in the time of restored Israel when the Gentiles will seek the Lord through her.
2. God urges Judah to repent and seek Him out (55:6‑13).
The wonderful pardon of God is promised to those who turn to Him. God indicates that His thoughts are above those of Judah (8‑9). Even so, just as the rain from heaven produces the desired result, so God’s promises in connection to the people of Israel will produce His desired end. They will be restored to the land, and they will experience God’s wonderful blessing.
Unit II—The Sinful Practices that Caused God’s Judgment (56—59)
A. God demands justice and obedience (56:1—57:21).
Up to this point Isaiah’s message has grown ever more positive. As a matter of fact, since there is less and less said about idolatry, the context is almost exclusively the end times. But in this unit the old theme is picked up again. Chapter 56 decries the sinfulness of the people of God, and chapter 57 is an indictment of Canaanite religious practices.
1. God promises blessing on those who keep His law and seek to do justice (56:1‑5).
The foreigner (ben hanneker, בֶּןהַנֵּכָר) and the eunuch are singled out as ones who are often discriminated against. God says that they will be fruitful and otherwise experience the blessing of God if they will obey Him.
2. God promises to make His house a house of prayer for all peoples when He brings people from other places and joins them to Himself along with His regathered Israel (56:6‑8).
3. God gives a pericope denouncing His leaders (56:9‑12). They are called blind, dumb dogs, dreamers, shepherds without understanding. One has to wonder whether this chapter was to be applied to the people of Isaiah’s day rather than to an eschatological era.
4. God addresses the evil people of Isaiah’s day (57:1‑10).
a. The righteous man (הַצַּדִּיק hassaddiq) perishes, and no one pays attention. There is a situation of which Ecclesiastes speaks: the man who tries to obey God dies young and no one cares (57:1‑2).
b. The wicked of that day, however, make fun of the righteous and of their God (57:4‑10).
The description given here by Isaiah is that of the cult practices of the Canaanite religion. The high places and the open air chapels (the trees) were used for sexual immorality in the name of religion. Children were sacrificed to the god Moloch (Ahaz is accused of this particular sin, 2 Kings 16:3). On the one hand they practice fertility rites to produce children, and on the other hand they sacrificed them to Moloch. Such is the contradiction of paganism. The Israelites were confronted with this heinous evil from the earliest times. Here the indigenous religion is condemned. We do not yet see the astral religions (Queen of Heaven, Host of Heaven, etc.) that were apparently introduced under Assyrian/Babylonian influence and spoken against by Jeremiah. This should lead us to conclude that this prophecy was against the Jews living in Isaiah’s day.
c. God tells them that, because they ignored Him to follow their idols, they can turn to their idols for help when they are in need (57:11‑13).
d. Despite this awful picture of sin in the early part of the chapter, God promises in His grace to restore His people. Those who are of a contrite heart and a lowly spirit will know the blessing of God in that day (57:14‑21).
B. Israel makes a false response to God’s overtures (58:1‑14).
1. He demands that the people be apprised of their sins (58:1).
2. The people say that they are seeking God (58:2‑5).
Here is a people with all the external appearances of being spiritual. They are seeking God for decisions. They act like a nation that has done righteously. They seem to delight in the nearness of God. They are fasting, but they are committing sins as they fast. Because they are fulfilling external form, they think they should be blessed of God and do not understand why they are not being blessed. In actuality they are abusing their workmen. The externals of the fast are totally unacceptable to the Lord. They are not “an acceptable day to the Lord.”
3. God tells them what a proper fast should be (58:6‑7).
It is to release people under a yoke; to share their plenty; to take care of the poor and homeless.
4. God tells them of the blessing that will come with obedience (58:8‑12).
Proper obedience will bring God’s guidance, strength, rebuilding of ancient ruins and repairing of the streets.
5. God admonishes them to keep the Sabbath properly (58:13-14).
This emphasis on the Sabbath seems to contradict what has just been said in the previous verses. It is necessary to understand the implication of these verses and to relate them to the verses on the fast. There is nothing wrong with keeping a fast any more than in offering the sacrifices. The problem is that the people were only going through the motions and were failing to have the proper attitude in the process. The same thing applies to the Sabbath. God tells them to keep the Sabbath properly and to delight in Him. This is the same message Jesus brings with regard to the Sabbath. He never condemns the Sabbath, only the abuse of the Sabbath. This understanding will avoid the apparent confusion.
C. God again presents the problem of sin (59:1‑21).
1. The problem is not with God’s lack of ability to save (59:1‑2). (Cf. 50:1‑3.)
God says that He is perfectly capable of delivering Israel, but they are separating themselves from Him by their sinful practices.
2. The problem is Israel’s sinful practice (59:4‑8).
Cf. this list with Romans 3. In chapter 57 the condemnation is against religious practices that are part of the Canaanite cult system. Here the sins condemned are more of a horizontal nature. The people are failing to treat their fellow human beings with justice and equity.
3. The result of these sinful practices is a life of futility (59:9‑15a).
Isaiah speaks for the faithful remnant much as does Daniel (Daniel 9), indicating that this sinful practice delineated in 3‑8 has resulted in hopelessness, darkness, moaning, and lack of justice.
4. God moves in to bring salvation to Israel and to all the world (59:15b‑21).
This section contains a marvelous promise of God’s rectification of the world system. There is no human source for deliverance. Consequently, God himself must take on the role of a savior (the Hebrew uses a perfect tense because the action is viewed as completed in God’s mind—a “prophetic perfect”). He arms Himself with the helmet of salvation, clothes Himself with vengeance, and proceeds to recompense the world for its rebellion against Him.
When all this takes place, God will place His spirit upon Israel and His words will not depart from them, their children or their grand‑children. This is reminiscent of the new covenant promised in Jer. 31:31.
Unit III—Looking to the New Heavens and the New Earth (60—66)
A. There is going to be a glorious restoration of Israel (60:1‑22).
1. Judah is told to arise and shine (60:1‑3).
Judah’s future glory is depicted under the imperative to “rise and shine for your light has come.” When this light shines, nations will come to that light and to the brightness of their rising. This speaks of the kingdom blessing during which time Israel will be the center of things and nations will flow to her.
2. Sons and daughters will be restored from distant lands with great wealth (60:4‑9).
In that glorious time (1) there will be a restoration of the dispersed ones of Israel (v. 4), (2) Israel will be restored in great wealth, (3) there will be an altar on which sacrifices will be made (v. 7), (4) the temple will be glorious. In that messianic age, there will be a return of the Jews who will worship at the altar in the temple.
3. The city, and temple will be built and glorified (60:10-14).
This section speaks of walls, temple and city. In some sense it must refer to the return in 538 and the rebuilding of the walls by Nehemiah in 445, but the ultimate fulfillment has to go beyond that, for there will be unprecedented glory as all the peoples of the world come to this city and do obeisance to God.
4. The people will be blessed with the wealth of the world and the presence of God (60:15‑22).
They will go up with acceptance on My altar, and I shall glorify My glorious house.
And I saw no temple in it. For the Lord God/Lamb are the temple.
No sun for light by day. No moon to give light. Yahweh will be everlasting light.
City has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it. For the glory of God has illumined it and its lamp is the Lamb (21:22‑23).
No more mourning
He shall wipe away every tear.
Nations shall walk by its light.
Kings shall bring their glory.
There is much similarity between Revelation 21 and Isaiah 60. There is also much similarity between Revelation 21:1 (new heavens and new earth) and Isaiah 65:17‑25 (new heavens and new earth), but we must be careful not to confuse them just because they are similar. There is no temple in Revelation 21 whereas in this section of Isaiah, there is both sacrifice and temple. Revelation 21 is speaking of eternity after the Millennium and Isaiah 60‑66 is talking about the messianic age or the Millennium itself. It will be blessedly true that a number of the same characteristics of eternity will prevail during the Millennium.
B. The restoration of Israel must take place through the Servant (61:1‑11).
1. The Servant is given a commission and task (61:1‑3).
Once more we have the abrupt appearance of the Servant after a section of great promise. The only way this promise can be carried out is through this unique servant. Jesus applies this section to Himself in Luke 4. It is interesting that Jesus breaks off reading at v. 2a. Christ in His first advent came to save not to judge. The second advent will be to set all things right.
2. The Servant’s work has a result (61:4‑9).
a. Rebuilding/reconstruction (61:4).
b. Foreigners will serve them (61:5).
c. Israel will be in a favored position (61:6).
d. Israel repaid for her suffering (61:7).
e. God’s grace is the basis for the action (61:8‑9).
3. A testimony of praise is given because of God’s work of grace (61:10‑11).
Once again Isaiah, representing the remnant, praises God for His grace in delivering His people because the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
C. A statement is given on the beloved status of Zion (62:1‑12).
1. God exults over Israel (62:1‑5).
This chapter is reminiscent of chapter 40. God promises that Jerusalem will be restored to a place of prominence in the world. She has been called “Forsaken” and “Desolate,” but she will be called “My delight is in her” hepsi‑bah: (חֶפְצִיבָהּ) and “married” beulah: (בְּעוּלָה).
2. God covenants with Israel that she will never be plundered again (62:6‑9).
God has placed watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem to remind Yahweh not to forget what He has promised. That is, that Jerusalem will be reestablished and will never again be oppressed by peoples around her.
3. God promises salvation to Israel (62:10‑12).
This section should be compared with 40:1‑11. A highway is to be built there for the return of Israel, and God comes as a shepherd with His reward with Him. If this is taken literally, it tells us that there will be a returning of the people of Israel in faith to the land and in allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. If all this is to be applied to the church and to missionary activity in this age, then the language of the passage cannot be taken in its normal literary sense.
D. God speaks of His deliverance in the future and in the past (63:1‑19).
The unit of chapters 1-33 culminates with chapter 34 referencing Edom, Bozrah, Day of Vengeance/ Year of Recompense, followed by chapter 35 a Garden for trusting God where the curse is removed. The unit of chapters 40-62 culminates likewise with chapter 63 referencing Edom, Bozrah, Day of Vengeance/Year of Recompense, followed by chapter 63:7-19 where the loving kindness of the Lord is revealed.
1. God comes from Bozrah (63:1‑6).
Edom was an implacable enemy of the Jews (cf. Obadiah). Bozrah was a capital of Edom. The fact that God is coming from that direction, having trampled the winepress of His wrath, indicates that He is going to punish the enemies of Israel of which Edom is the epitome. This chapter should be related to chapter 34 where Edom is the center.
Verse 44 speaks of the day of vengeance as does 61:2. It is the year of redemption. This refers to the redemption of Israel and God’s judgment on the nations. A time is coming in which the Lord Jesus Christ will judge the nations.
Verses 5‑6 echo 59:16‑20, that is, God is alone (here the Messiah) in the task of rectifying all the evil of the world. He was undaunted, however, and determined to carry out the divine injunction alone. This He will do successfully.
2. The remnant recognizes God’s deliverance in the past (63:7‑14).
Isaiah, speaking again for the remnant, talks about God’s loving kindness (ḥesed, חֶסֶד). God has chosen Israel and in the past protected her. However, they rebelled against Him, and God became their enemy. In distress the people remembered God’s gracious deliverance from Egypt. This unit should be related to chapter 35 where Israel is promised blessing after God judges Edom.
3. The remnant laments their rejection by God (63:15‑18).
As they remember God’s gracious acts in the past, they pray to Him in the present through the medium of a lament.
a. God is not active in Israel’s behalf (63:15).
b. Their ancestors would deny them, but God must not (63:16).
c. A plea is uttered for God to return them (63:17‑18).
At the time of this prayer, the temple is apparently in ruins. The prayer is for the restoration of the people to the land and the rebuilding of the temple. While this happened to a certain extent in 536‑516, the ultimate fulfillment of these marvelous promises must yet be in the future.
E. The remnant prays for restoration (64:1‑12).
1. They pray for God to manifest Himself (64:1‑7).
The allusions are to times when God manifested Himself in a glorious fashion at the Exodus and later at Sinai. The remnant confesses that they are unclean before God and acknowledge the justice of their present situation.
2. They confess their sin and pray for deliverance (64:8‑12).
The exile, the destruction of the temple and the waste of the land and the cities are their present lot. They pray for God to forgive and restore.
F. God appeals to the faithful remnant and condemns the unbelieving elements of Israel (65:1-25).
1. God has sought Israel, but they have not responded (65:1‑7).
God has done everything necessary to reach the people of Israel, but they have rejected Him. They are a rebellious people and continue to follow sinful practices. Consequently God promises judgment on them. (Paul seems to be applying 65:1 to the Gentiles, saying that God allowed Himself to be found by those who did not seek Him. Certainly, the words allow that application, but the primary statement is that He allowed Israel to seek Him, but she refused.)75
2. God promises grace to the remnant (65:8‑12).
The doctrine of the remnant in Isaiah began in chapter 1 with the promise of the salvation of a few. Here it is reiterated under the imagery of grapes. Since there is a little good, the cluster will not be destroyed. The servants (note the plural) refer to the remnant who trust in the Lord.
3. The result of obedience is blessing and of disobedience is cursing (65:13‑16).
This section is unique in that an emphasis is placed on the plural concept of servanthood. The people of God are the redeemed remnant who are now in the ideal relationship with God as is His ideal servant (singular) throughout the book.
4. The ultimate blessing is the messianic age or the Millennium now delineated (65:17‑25).
There will be a new heavens and a new earth as in Revelation 21. (See footnote #61.) However, here it is in connection with the restoration of Israel to a land with a temple and sacrifice. This must refer to the work of God in connection with preparation for the removal of the curse from the land. Jerusalem will be created for rejoicing. Infant mortality will be gone, and it will not be unusual for people to be considered young at the age of 100. God promises to answer prayer, and there will be a time of unprecedented peace even in the animal kingdom (cf. Isa. 11; Rev. 20)
G. God gives a closing word contrasting His eternal person with man’s finiteness and gives a final word on the glory of Zion (66:1‑24).
1. God takes up the theme of His infiniteness (66:1‑2).
No mere temple can hold an omnipresent God. God is interested in people who have a humble and contrite spirit and a willingness to obey His word.
2. God promises judgment on unbelievers (66:3‑6).
They have sacrificed, but only externally and therefore there is no value in the sacrifice for them. They have persecuted those Jews who did want to believe. Therefore, God is going to judge them.
3. God promises the restoration of Israel (66:7‑17).
Under the imagery of a woman giving birth, He promises the rebirth of Israel. He promises a time of great peace and prosperity. He promises judgment on His enemies.
4. God declares that He will be glorified among the nations (66:18‑24).
All nations will see His glory. He will bring survivors to them who will declare His glory. Who are these survivors? Jewish missionaries who have believed in the Lord? They will bring the Jewish remnant from distant places to Jerusalem. There will be perpetuity for the children of Israel just as there is of the new heavens and the new earth. People will come and bow down before the Lord. There they will see the end of those who rebel against God. They will be suffering eternal torment.76
Historical Background of the Seventh/Sixth Centuries
The great Assyrian juggernaut was grinding to a halt. The rise of Assyrian power had begun in the ninth century under such kings as Ashurnasirpal II (884‑859) and Shalmaneser III (859-824). These kings advanced as far as middle Syria without being able to establish lasting control there. Shalmaneser tells of his battle with a Syrian coalition that included Ahab king of Israel. Jehu paid tribute to that same king and has the dubious honor of appearing on the black obelisk of Shalmaneser bowing his face to the ground.
A succession of great Assyrian conquerors began with Tiglath-Pileser III (744‑727) (Pul in the Bible). They conquered Syria and Palestine, as well as other lands, and undertook frequent campaigns there. They include Shalmaneser V (727‑722) who began the deportation of Samaria, Sargon II (722‑705) who completed the deportation, Sennacherib (704‑681) who attacked Hezekiah and says “I shut up Hezekiah the Jew like a bird in a cage,” and Esarhaddon (681‑669) who undertook several campaigns against Egypt and occupied the Delta and the old royal city of Memphis.
The last goal of Assyrian expansion, the overthrow of Egypt, was brought very close. Esarhaddon’s son and successor, Ashurbanipal (669‑631) could indeed still garrison the upper Egyptian royal city of Thebes, but, under him, the Egyptian adventure soon came to an end, and the decline of the Assyrian might began.
II. The Rise of Babylon (625‑609 BC).
Josiah’s great grandfather, Hezekiah, had welcomed ambassadors from the ambitious Chaldean, Merodach Baladan (Isa. 39; 2 Kings 20:12‑19). The Chaldeans settled early in southern Mesopotamia at the head of the Persian Gulf (they are first met in the records around the beginning of the first millennium). The tribe from which Merodach Baladan came was situated in Bit Yakin. Because he was Chaldean, as were his better known descendants Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar, the empire and the language were called Chaldean. However, the language of diplomacy used by the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:26) was Aramaic, the speech of a people related to the Chaldeans who were situated east of the Tigris river.
The Chaldeans were apparently not welcomed by the Babylonians, but they were nonetheless able to ensconce themselves as kings after decades of skirmishing with the Assyrians. Finally, as the Assyrian government became weak, Nabopolassar was able to assert his independence and begin to attack the Assyrians.
The Egyptians, once ruled by the Assyrians but now independent, saw the wisdom of defending a weak Assyria against a rising Babylonian menace. The Scythians likewise supported the Assyrians, but for some reason (prospect of plunder perhaps) were persuaded to join the Medes and the Chaldeans in the assault on the capital Nineveh in 612 BC A few of the Assyrians escaped and fled to Haran where Ashur‑uballit was appointed the king. He waited for the Babylonian attack on the fort at Haran.
Nabopolassar attacked the Assyrians in 609 BC The Assyrians apparently took the field and the Babylonians captured Haran. The Egyptians under Necho II joined forces with the Assyrians, but were defeated by the Babylonians and their allies. The struggle apparently continued for another five years. Finally the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish and their control of Syria was firm.
King Josiah, following the long standing policy initiated by his grandfather, tried to interdict Necho at Megiddo to prevent him from going to the side of Assyria. (KJV in 2 Kings 23:29 says that Necho went up against the king of Assyria. The Hebrew is ‘al, עַל, which normally means “against” but can also mean “adjacent to.” Here it must mean “to the side of” as in NASB). As a result, Josiah was killed and his son Jehoahaz was put on the throne. This was in 609 BC. Pharaoh Necho deposed and deported Jehoahaz after just three months reign and placed his brother, Jehoiakim, on the throne. Daniel says that Nebuchadnezzar attacked the city of Jerusalem and deported people in the third year of Jehoiakim.77 Jeremiah 25:1 indicates that the first year of Nebuchadnezzar is the fourth year of Jehoiakim. The precise synchronism of these dates is difficult because of the problem of ante‑ and post‑dating systems in vogue at that time.
Jehoiakim submitted to Nebuchadnezzar for three years (2 Kings 24:1) and then rebelled. 2 Chron. 36:6 says that Nebuchadnezzar bound Jehoiakim in fetters to bring him to Babylon. This was his first foray against Jerusalem. Either he did not carry out his threat to deport Jehoiakim or he took him to Babylon and then returned him to Jerusalem. The former is more likely since there is no evidence of a viceroy governing until Jehoiakim returned. D. J. Wiseman78 says, “Jehoiakim may have been personally required to go to Babylon to take part in the victory celebrations as a conquered and vassal king <2 Ch. 36:6> as had Manasseh in the days of Esarhaddon <2 Ch. 33:11>.” Yahweh sent local groups against Jehoiakim to punish him. It was no doubt Nebuchadnezzar who was the human instrument to incite them because he was not yet able to attend the matter himself. By the time Nebuchadnezzar arrived, Jehoiakim was dead and his eighteen-year old son Jehoiachin was on the throne to capitulate to Babylon. This event is dated at 597 BC
Zedekiah ruled for eleven years as regent (on the probably valid assumption that Jehoiachin was considered the king even though in exile. He may have been held as a hostage to guarantee loyalty on the part of the Jews in Jerusalem) but was lured into a rebellion against Babylon in 588 (2 Kings 25:1) against the advice of Jeremiah (Jer 27). Nebuchadnezzar besieged the city and took it in 586.
Kings tells us that Evil‑Merodach (Ewal Marduk) restored Jehoiachin to favor in the thirty-seventh year of his captivity in twentieth‑seventh day of the twelfth month (2 Kings 25:27). This would be the year 560 BC The elevation of Jehoiachin is referred to in two administrative tablets.79
The Babylonian Empire lasted less than a century. In 539 Cyrus came into Babylon virtually unresisted by a populace disenchanted with King Nabonidus and his viceroy Belshazzar. The Persian policy of dealing with expatriates was benevolent, and a decree was issued in 538 allowing captive people to return to their homelands with their gods. The Jews were allowed to return with the temple vessels.80
1Eissfeldt, OTI, 305.
2Gershon Brin, Leshonenu 24 (1960): 8-14.
3For an excellent discussion of the historical setting of Isaiah (with some different conclusions) see J. H. Hayes and S. A. Irvine, Isaiah, His Times and His Preaching, (Abingdon Press, 1987) pp. 17-49.
4This period (Uzziah—Hezekiah) is one of the most difficult chronologically in the entire monarchial period—see the literature for discussions. We are using dates from Thiele, Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. For a survey of the dating issues, see Provan, Longman, and Long, A Biblical History of Israel, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2003.
5For a discussion of this very important theme see E. J. Young, Studies in Isaiah and Christopher North, The Suffering Servant in Deutero‑Isaiah.
6Hayes and Irving (Isaiah, pp. 13-14) place these chapters in 712-711.
7McKenzie, Second Isaiah, AB, XXXIX, XLIX.
8ANET, 282. For the text, see my notes at “Historical Background of the Eighth Century” (footnote 5 in the Introduction article). For a full discussion, see footnote 5 (in the Introduction article).
9Note the use of the “Holy One of Israel” to describe God. The phrase occurs thirty times in Isaiah.
10But see Hayes and Irvine (Isaiah, pp. 69-73) who argue that the devastation was caused by an earthquake, not an invasion. Most now question the Tiglath-Pileser III contact with Judah. See Historical Background section.
11Watts, Isaiah 1‑33, Word Biblical Commentary.
12Hayes and Irvine, Isaiah, 13.
13The word Branch (צֶמַח tsemah) will later be developed into a symbol of the Messiah (cf. Isaiah 11, Jeremiah 23, Zechariah 3,6). Here it may be a general symbol of fruitfulness (because of the parallel line: “the fruit of the earth . . .”), but one has to wonder if it is a seminal allusion to the Messiah. Hayes and Irvine, Isaiah, p. 96, believe it may refer to a Davidic prince.
14See Hayes and Irving (Isaiah, p. 109) who argue that Ch. 6 is used by Isaiah to justify his political stance in subsequent chapters.
15Note that it is preaching that hardens hearts. The people reject the preaching by hardening their hearts. This is also how Jesus interprets the words (Matthew 13:15). The fault lies with the people entirely.
16Beale, G. K. We Become What We Worship—a Biblical Theology of Idolatry. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008. I like what Beale does with Isaiah 6. The “making blind and deaf” are allusions to idolatry and therefore God is sealing them in the judgment they have brought on themselves by becoming blind and deaf (Isa 45). He has a more controversial position on the “remnant” and “stump” and “holy seed.” These represent unbelieving Israel (holy seed is their position not their practice as in Nehemiah). Burning the terebinth in Isaiah is judgment for idolatry. So even the tenth who will be saved will be judged because of their idolatry. (Chapter 2).
17 The MT points the name as if it were טָב אַל tab al “no good,” i.e., they are punning on the word to say that whoever this person was he was no good. See W. F. Albright (“The Son of Tabeel [Isa. 7:6]” BASOR 140 : 34-35). He discusses a letter from a “Tab’elite” to Tiglath-Pileser III toward the end of his reign. Hence, this is a prince (possibly a son of Uzziah or Jotham) with a Tabelite mother.
18For a harmony of this account with that of Kings and Chronicles, see E. J. Young Studies in Isaiah or his three volume commentary in NICOT. Hayes and Irving (Isaiah, pp. 120-121) believe that Syria controlled Gilead and Galilee and now through the puppet, Pekah, virtually controlled Ephraim.
19B. Oded, “The Historical Background of the Syro-Ephraimite War Reconsidered,” CBQ 34 (1972): 153-65.
20Hayes and Irving (Isaiah, p. 117) agree that the message is one of hope for the Davidic dynasty, but they argue that Isaiah encouraged Ahaz and later editorial placement of 17-25 caused it to be taken negatively.
21Watts, Isaiah 1‑33 in Word Biblical Commentary.
22See J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, Downers Grove, 1993, p. 135 for a discussion of ad interim prophecies in another context.
23Some reasons why I believe Isa. 7:14 refers only to Christ.
1. Cited in connection with Christ’s birth—Mary was a virgin before, during and after conception.
2. The word ‘almah is used seven times in the Bible and is not used of a married woman (Prov. 31 does not necessarily involve sex). (The word bethulah, often argued to be the better word if Isaiah really meant virgin, is used of a married woman in Joel 1:8).
3. ‘Almah does not fit Ahaz’s wife or Isaiah’s wife (must not be married and assumed to be a virgin).
4. There is no one on the scene to fit this description.
5. For a woman or women in general to give birth and say “Immanuel” is not much of a sign.
6. Isaiah’s son is not the same one: different name; different mother. So he must be taking the place of Immanuel.
7. The unit of Isaiah 7-12 is to be viewed as a whole. This section is teaching that God will deliver His people through His own means—a special son (7:14; 9:6; 11:1). IT IS NOT NECESSARY FOR A PROPHECY TO BE FULFILLED AT A GIVEN TIME IN ORDER TO BE RELEVANT.
24Note the way John the Baptist serves as the interim for Elijah in the Elijah prophecy, and the “little horn” for AntiChrist:
Maher Shalal Hash Baz
25“The area between the Sea of Chinnereth and the Mediterranean north of the Jezreel Valley had always been something of a melting pot, with Hebrews, Canaanites, Arameans, Hittites, and Mesopotamians all contributing to the mix. It was in this region, through which the various inland powers reached westward and southward toward the seacoast, that Israel commonly encountered the rest of the world (hence the name). But the area was destined to see an even more intense mixing after 735, for this was the first part of Israel to be stripped away by Tiglath-pileser, with the inhabitants resettled in Mesopotamia and new settlers from the area brought in. (See 2 K. 15:29; cf. also the annals of Tiglath-pileser III (ANET, pp. 283-84.)” Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah 1-39, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986, p. 239.
26See Isa 10:21; Deut 10:17; Jer 32:18 where this phrase is used of God.
27See E. J. Young (Isaiah in NICOT Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1:324-43) for a thorough defense of the divine aspects of this child. See also A. Cohen (Every Man’s Talmud, New York: Schocken Books, 1975, pp. 52-53) for a discussion of the Talmudic references to “metatron,” an angel that is almost worshipped. See C. H. Charlesworth, The OT Pseudepigrapha, 2:243: “By far the most significant angel in 3 Enoch is Metatron. Metatron’s position in the heavenly world is briefly and accurately summed up in the title ‘The lesser YHWH’ (3 En 10:3-6). Like the Holy One himself, he has a throne and presides over a celestial law court (3En 16:1). See also Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah 1-39, pp. 244-48.
28See J. J. Roberts, “The Old Testament’s Contribution to Messianic Expectations,” in The Messiah, ed. Charlesworth The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity. Augsburg Fortress, 2002, pp. 39-51. “Hillers has suggested a similar background for Micah 5:1-5. The reference to the seven shepherds and eight princes is most easily explained against the background of the south Syrian league active in the late eighth century and in which Judah apparently played a leading role prior to the battle of Kullani. Isa 11:1-9 would also fit this period as a statement of Isaiah’s hope in the context of the Syro-Ephraimitic war.” p. 45.
29Seth Erlandsson, Burden of Babylon (Lund, Sweden: CWK Gleerup, n.d.), 65-108.
31See Weiss, “The Origin of the ‘Day of the Lord’ Reconsidered,” HUCA 37 (1966): 29‑71, for a discussion.
32Seth Erlandsson, The Burden of Babylon, 116-117. So Hayes and Irving (Isaiah).
33Hayes and Irvine, Isaiah, p. 222. Note also the use of Elam as part of the attack on Jerusalem perhaps in 701.
34See H. Heater, “Do the Prophets Teach that Babylonia will be rebuilt in the Eschaton?” JETS 41 (1998) 23-43.
35D. D. Luckenbill, Annals of Sennacherib, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1924, p. 17.
36J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 142, “. . . so here the general idea of a hostile world power is personalized into the imaginative portrayal of the end of the world king and this, in turn, receives intermediate realization in the end of the imperial dynasty of Babylon (22-23). The more we think of chapters 13-27 as a study of the principles of world history merging forward into eschatology, the easier it becomes to see that from the start Babylon carries overtones of the ‘city of emptiness’ (24:10) whose fall is the end of all that opposes the Lord’s rule.”
37Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 141: “Just as Babylon, by providing mini-illustrations of the punitive aspects of the day, gave notice that the day was on its way, so the return foreshadowed some beneficent aspects of the day and provided an ‘earnest’ that the full promise would yet be kept.”
38See ANET, 286 for the attack by Sargon II on Ashdod in 711. Hayes and Irvine (Isaiah, p. 236) argue for a date of 720 B.C.
39Young (Isaiah, NICOT, 1:470) sees this fulfilled in the movement south by some of Israel after 732, 22 B.C.
40See ANET, 290 for Esarhaddon’s campaign (680-669) “its king, Tirhaka, I wounded five times with arrowshots and ruled over his entire country.”
41Shebitku (702-690 B.C.) was the son of Shabako (a Nubian) and nephew of Piankhy. He brought his sons to Thebes and to the Delta. Among them was Taharqa (690-664) who was then twenty years old. In 702/1 Hezekiah and others opened negotiations with the new Nubian king to rebel against Assyria. Sennacherib came west in 701 to put down the rebellion. He defeated the allies, including the first force of Taharqa, at Eltekah, proceeded to demolish the fortified cities of Judah and sent his officer to demand the surrender of Jerusalem by Hezekiah. However, upon hearing a report that Taharqa was going to attack with his second force, he withdrew Jerusalem to reunite his forces. The Egyptians withdrew, but God miraculously destroyed most of the Assyrian army. Taharqa was not pharaoh at this time, but was referred to as such in 681 when the account was written. Thus it is used proleptically and is not a dual account of Sennacherib’s invasion. Kitchen ably defends this in The Third Intermediate Period (p. 384-85) and in AOOT (pp. 82-83). See also an earlier discussion by D. D. Luckenbill, Annals of Sennacherib, pp. 11-14.
Esarhaddon of Assyria perceived Egypt to be the reason for rebellion among his western provinces. Consequently, he invaded Egypt in 674 but was defeated. He invaded again in 671 and defeated Taharqa. He set out again in 669 to attack Egypt but died on the way.
Under Ashurbanipal the Assyrians ruled Egypt. Taharqa fled to Thebes and then to Napata. The Assyrians appointed Necho I of Sais as a subordinate king.
43Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 163 calls this chapter an interim fulfillment (19:1-15 is a long range prophecy). See Herschel Shanks, “Assyrian Palace Discovered in Ashdad,” BAR 33:1 (2006) 56-60.
44See W. R. Millar, Isaiah 24-27 and the Origin of Apocalyptic (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976).
45J. Jensen, Isaiah 1-39, O.T. Message, 8:190.
46J. N. Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39, NICOT, 441. J. Jenson, ibid: “This collection . . . is neither haphazard nor purposeless. It provides a framework within which to understand those other oracles, which are seen now not simply as God’s dealing with individual nations but as steps on the way to the final age.”
47So, e.g., E. J. Young, Isaiah, NICOT 2:146ff; J. Jensen, Ibid; J.H. Oswalt, Ibid; F. Delitzsch, 1:421ff.
48M. Kline (“Death, Leviathan, and Martyrs: Isaiah 24:1--27:1.” A Tribute to Gleason Archer. Ed. W. Kaiser and R. Youngblood [Chicago: Moody, 1986], 228-249) argues that this entire section has to do with death and resurrection. Certainly those two themes are throughout this passage, but I believe the tribulation period is also in view.
49ANET, 137b, 138d.
50See Joel Knudsen, “The Archetypes of Evil in Isaiah 13‑27” (Th.M. thesis, DTS, 1980). He argues that the serpent, Babylon and sea are symbols of evil known in history and used to personify Satan and the Antichrist. This giant sea creature is probably a remnant of the mythological creature of paganism. In saying that, I am not suggesting that the Israelites believed in the creature as such. I believe such allusions in Isaiah and Job are used much as we would say “Damocles’ sword is hanging over my head.” I am not giving credence to the Greek myth, but I recognize that the dilemma in which I find myself is comparable to that problem depicted in the myth. It becomes a graphic means of communication without the concomitant acceptance of the reality of the symbol. Here the symbol represents all evil power opposed to God and headed up by Satan. God will destroy it.
51Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, says, “It is the task of chapters 28-37 to demonstrate that the Lord does actually rule world history and that, therefore, his as yet unfulfilled promises and purposes are sure” p. 227.
52N. B. KJV: “Their strength is to sit still” translates Rahab as strength and follows the MT on יָשַׁב (yashab) NASB: “exterminated” repoints MT to מָשְׁבָּת (mashbath) from שָׁבַת (shabath). The change suggested in BHS is promising and involves only redividing the words: רַהַב הֵם שָׁבֶת (rahab hem shabeth) to רָהְבָּהּ מָשְׁבָּת (rahabah mashbath): “Her pride is made to cease.”
53Hayes and Irving, Isaiah, loc. cit.
55Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 131-32, says there are ten oracles, consisting of five titles (13:1; 14:28; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; and four enigmatic titles (21:1, 11, 13; 22:1) and one plain title (23:1).
56Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 174, agrees.
57So Hayes and Irvine (Isaiah, pp. 13-14) and J. A. Brinkman (“Merodach-Baladan II” in Studies Presented to Leo Oppenheim, Chicago: Oriental Institute of University of Chicago, 1964, p. 24).
58Klaus Koch, The Prophets, the Babylonian and Persian Periods, vol 2, Phila.: Fortress, 1982, p. 118, says, “The abrupt change of direction between salvation history and the present time (cf. Jer. 2.7a with 2.7b) will be paralleled by a similar ‘bend’ in the future as well. History, conceived of metahistorically, therefore emerges as a line broken in two places (cf. Vol I, section 7.6). If we remember this viewpoint when we are considering the prophetic view of history, it is entirely appropriate to use the term ‘eschatology’ for the prophets’ expectation of the upheaval of the times, and the new evolution of the people of God which is to follow.”
59J. A. Goldstein, 1 Maccabees, AB, Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1967, p. 304: “Our author’s echoes here of prophesies [sic] of Isaiah are so audacious that he must be hinting that he saw their fulfillment in Judas’ victories.” On p. 3 he says, “The outcome [of the Syrian wars] was entirely unexpected: the desperate resistance of the Jews prevailed, and for a time the ‘yoke of foreign empires’ was lifted from the Jews as they became independent under the Hasmonaean dynasty. After the centuries of heartbreaking delay, were the glorious predictions of the prophets of a mighty restored Israel being fulfilled? For the Jews, the events cried out for an interpretation in accordance with the teachings of the Torah and the Prophets.” Throughout his commentary, Goldstein indicates references to Isaiah which he believes influenced the thinking of the Maccabees.
60See Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, pp. 758-62 for a complete listing of the citations and allusions to Isaiah.
61Peter indicates that there will be some sort of physical judgment of the earth followed by new heavens and a new earth in which dwells righteousness (2 Pet 3:8-13), and his language seems to require a literal interpretation. This would fit the scenario of Tribulation followed by Millennium as Isaiah 65 seems to indicate, but what do we make of the reference to new heavens and a new earth in Rev 21:1 which follows the Millennium? Before the Edenic-like conditions can be restored, there must be a renovation of the sphere of human existence. Yet, even as Isaiah speaks of the beauties of this restoration, he must speak of death and even of the serpent. When eternity is ushered in, obviously John must speak of a new heavens and a new earth, but this is not the only fulfillment of the promise.
62See Bernd Janowski and Peter Stuhlmacher, eds., The Suffering Servant; Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources, 2004. Originally: Der leidende Gottesknecht, by Mohr Siebeck, 1996, for an excellent discussion of all aspects of Isaiah 53.
63See McKenzie, Second Isaiah, AB for a discussion of the various views. He opts for a vague collectivistic interpretation. He says “The Servant belongs to the future, for he is what Israel must become. But he also belongs to the past, for his character is formed by reflection on Israel’s history and on the character of her leaders . . . Unless Israel accepts the Servant as its incorporation, it cannot keep faith with Yahweh” (LV).
64Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 352, says, “This new section, along with its parallel 49:1-53:12, constitutes the logical next step in Isaiah’s presentation, and the parallels between the two agents involved are very closely worked out: The work of Cyrus (44:24-48:22); the work of the Servant (49:1-53:12).”
66References (direct or oblique) to Cyrus
41:2 Who has aroused one from the east whom He calls in righteousness to His feet (1‑7).
41:25 I have aroused one from the north, and he has come; From the rising of the sun he will call on My name; and he will come upon rulers as upon mortar, Even as the potter treads clay (25‑26.)
44:28 It is I who says of Cyrus, He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.
45:1 Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand (1‑7).
45:13 I have aroused him in righteousness And I will make all his ways smooth; He will build My city, and will let My exiles go free (14‑16).
46:11 Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country.
48:14 The Lord has loved him . . . I have called him (14‑15).
(See Phillip Schafron, “The Importance of Cyrus in the Argument of Isaiah 40‑48,” Th.M. Thesis, DTS, 1981.)
67McKenzie, Second Isaiah, AB, 96.
68Ridderbos, Isaiah, 40-41.
69See Norman Podhoretz, The Prophets, pp. 283-85, for a discussion and overview from a modern Jewish point of view.
70See Christopher North (The Second Isaiah: Introduction, Translation and Commentary to Chapters 40-55) for an excellent discussion of this passage.
71See H. Wolf, “The Relationship Between Isaiah’s Final Servant Song (52:13-53:12) and Chapter 1-6,” A Tribute to Gleason Archer.
72For a discussion (with texts) of the Jewish interpretation of this passage, see S. R. Driver and A. Neubauer, The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Oxford: Parker & Co., 1877. Reprint 1969 New York: Harmon Press.
73See E. J. Young, Studies in Isaiah for a full discussion.
74Motyer (The Prophecy of Isaiah, pp. 452ff) has an excellent discussion of this passage.
75Cf. E. J. Young, Isaiah, NICOT, 3:501, who argues that verse 1 is Gentile and verse 2 is the Jew.
76Note Jesus’ allusion to this verse in speaking of eternal torment in Mark 9:48.
77For a discussion of this problem, see R. D. Wilson, Studies in Daniel. More recently, Wiseman and Kitchen, Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel.
78D. J. Wiseman, Some Problems in the Book of Daniel, 18.
80This historical recapitulation is based on a number of works, including The Cambridge Ancient History and The Babylonian Chronicle.