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Introduction to Isaiah

I. OPENING STATEMENTS

 

A. Isaiah is quoted more often in the NT than any other prophet (over 411 times). His message was one of a radical universal monotheism and a redemptive plan for all creation.

1. one God

2. one world

3. one faith

 

B. Isaiah is wonderfully Messianic.

1. the special children of the New Age, chapters 7-14

2. the Servant Songs, 41:1-4; 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12 (possibly 61:1-3)

3. the future Messianic Kingdom (New Age), chapters 56-66. The fall of Genesis 3 is not the last word!

 

C. E. J. Young, in An Introduction to the OT, states:

1. "The book of Isaiah is rightly considered the greatest of the OT prophecies," p. 168.

2. "Of all the prophets of Israel, Isaiah understood most completely the mind of God and His plan for the ages," p. 171.

3. "In spiritual insight he is unsurpassed in all the OT," p. 172.

 

II. THE NAME OF THE BOOK

 

A. The book is named after its prophetic spokesman.

 

B. The name means "salvation of YHWH" or "YHWH saves." The Hebrew names that end in "iah" are an abbreviation of YHWH, as are many of the names in English that begin with a "j" and a vowel, example Joshua and Joel.

 

III. CANONIZATION

 

A. This is the first of the four scrolls of the Latter Prophets.

1. Isaiah

2. Jeremiah

3. Ezekiel

4. the Twelve (minor prophets)

 

B. It was accepted early and completely into the sacred writings of the Israelites.

 

IV. GENRE

 

A. Isaiah's literary skills surpass all OT prophets. His word plays and poetry are majestic and intriguing. The book is mostly Hebrew poetry (see Appendix One).

 

B. It is difficult to sit down and read all of Isaiah at one time. It is difficult to outline the book. This is because Isaiah was a preacher, not just an author or editor. His book records his spoken messages over a long period of time. These are linked together, sometimes

1. by theme

2. by chronology

3. by events which affect Israel

4. by the cultural norms of the Ancient Near East, which are so different from our own

5. mostly by key words and word plays

 

V. AUTHORSHIP

 

A. Jewish views of authorship

1. The Talmud's Baba Bathra 15a said Hezekiah and his men wrote (i.e., edited or compiled) Isaiah, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.

2. Ben Sirah, in Ecclesiasticus 49:17-25, written about 185 b.c., said, "Isaiah, son of Amoz," wrote the book (1:1; 12:1; 13:1).

3. II Chronicles 32:32 attests to Isaiah's vision, as does the parallel in Kings (II Kgs. 18:19-20:19 tells us about the man).

a. He was from a wealthy noble family in Jerusalem, possibly even a cousin to King Uzziah.

(1) some evidence that "iah" (as an ending to names), which is an abbreviation of YHWH, was practiced almost exclusively among Judah's royalty

(2) Isaiah's access to King Uzziah also lends support to his possible family connection

(3) see Talmud, "Meg." 10b

b. He married a prophetess (8:3).

(1) first son, "Shear-Jashub," which means "a remnant shall return"

(2) second son, "Maher-shalal-hash-baz" (8:3), which means "speed the spoil, haste the booty"

c. Isaiah had one of the longest prophetic ministries of any of the OT prophets. He was God's spokesman in Judah from the reign of Jotham (742-735 b.c.) to that of Hezekiah (715-687 b.c.) with the possibility of even reaching into the reign of Manasseh (687-642 b.c.); Manasseh was possibly co-regent from 696 b.c.

d. If II Chr. 26:22 refers to Isaiah, then he was the official scribe and keeper of the royal chronicles of the king.

e. Traditions said he was sawed in two inside a log (cf. Assumption of Isaiah) during Manasseh's reign (cf.. Heb. 11:37).

4. Moses ben Samuel Ibn Gekatilla, about a.d. 110, said that chapters 1-39 are Isaiah's, but chapters 40-66 were written during the Second Temple period (Persian Period, 538-430 b.c.).

5. Ibn Ezra (a.d. 1092-1167) followed Gekatilla's lead and denied, or at least questioned, chapters 40-66 to the eighth century Isaiah.

 

B. Modern scholarship's views of authorship

1. A good historical summary is found in R. K. Harrison's Introduction to the OT, Eerdmans, 1969.

2. A good discussion of the technical reasons for asserting two authors can be found in S. R. Drivers' Introduction to the Literature of the OT, reprint 1972.

3. No Hebrew or Greek (LXX) manuscripts have ever been found which show a division between chapters 1-39 and 40-66.

a. There is a two line space at the end of chapter 33 in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This implies a division at this point, not chapter 39.

b. There seems to be a parallel structure between 1-33 and 34-66. This dual structure based on the author's own day and then the future, was common in the Hebrew prophets (cf. Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah).

4. Modern scholarship has no unanimity as to how many authors or where to divide the book.

 

C. Some reasons for the unity of Isaiah

1. Twenty-five terms are found in both sections of Isaiah which are not found elsewhere in the OT (NIV, Intro. to Isaiah, p. 1014).

2. The title "the Holy One of Israel" occurs 13 times in chapters 1-39 and 14 times in chapters 40-66 and only six times in all other OT books.

3. Jesus, in John 12:38,40, quotes from Isa. 53:1 and 6:10 and attributes both to Isaiah.

4. Passages from Isaiah 40-66 are attributed to Isaiah in Matt. 3:3; 8:17; 12:17; Luke 3:4; 4:17; John 1:23; Acts 8:28; and Rom. 10:16-20.

5. There is no manuscript evidence of a division of the book at chapter 39 (MT, DSS, or LXX).

6. There is no historical mention of a great prophet (Deutro-Isaiah) in the 6th century.

R. K. Harrison, in Introduction to the OT, comments on this subject,

"Arguments from literary style were greatly in vogue at the end of the nineteenth century, but in the light of a much wider knowledge of ancient Near Eastern languages they have now assumed a far less important position. The very subjectivity of stylistic considerations had a great appeal for the adherents of the Graf-Wellhausen theory of literary analysis, who saw no inconsistency whatever in perusing material ascribed to a Biblical author, and then denying parts of that very corpus to him because the literary form and vocabulary of each chapter did not happen to be identical. Apparently it did not occur to those early investigators that it was only possible to derive some concept of the style of an ancient author as the result of careful study of all the material ascribed to him, and that subsequent rejection of part or all of that corpus could only be validated on the basis of some rigorous external control" (p. 776).

 

D. Some reasons for multiple authorship of Isaiah.

1. In chapters 40-66 the name "Isaiah" is not mentioned.

2. Chapters 40-66 do not fit into Isaiah's historical setting.

3. There seems to be a mixing of Isaiah's references to:

a. Assyria's invasion, exile, and judgment

b. Babylon's invasion, exile, and judgment

4. There are some reasons for theorizing multiple authorship.

a. change of historical setting

(1) pre-invasion Judah, 1-39

(2) exile, 40-55

(3) post-exilic Judah, 56-66

(4) in Isaiah 1-39 the Temple will never fall, while in 40-66 it apparently has already fallen. The author seems to be in exile.

b. change of terms to describe God's chosen

(1) Messianic child

(2) Suffering Servant

(3) Israel as

(a) wife, 50:1

(b) servants of YHWH, 54:17

5. Modern conservative scholars

a. E. J. Young's statement about chapters 56-66 is helpful, "another possibility is that Spirit-led, editor-collected prophecies from different prophets of the Isaiah school around the basic themes of this section," (p. 188).

b. R. K. Harrison's statement, "The present writer holds to the view that Isaiah, like the majority of the other extant prophetic writings, represents an anthology of utterances given at various times, and as such the work merits no different treatment from that accorded the other major OT prophecies. In this connection it is important to note that arguments based upon differences of style or literary expression are immediately vitiated by this approach, since an anthology may be taken quite fairly as representing the total style of the author over the different periods of his creative activity. Justification for describing the work as an anthology in the best sense of that term is furnished by the opening verse of the prophecy, which constitutes a heading for the work, and speaks specifically of the revelatory material that Isaiah the son of Amoz received in visions concerning Judah and Jerusalem in days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. As with all anthologies it is fairly evident that the book contained only a selection of the available prophetic oracles and sermons, and it is highly probable that Isaiah produced considerably more material than has survived in his book. The nature of the prophecy as an anthology is further indicated by the presence of superscriptions in Isa. 2:1 and 13:1, which may have represented, or pointed to the presence of, earlier collections of prophetic utterances," (p. 780).

6. The literary style of chapters 40-66 is different from that of chapters 1-39.

 

E. Concluding comments about authorship

1. Godly scholars continue to disagree about how our OT book of Isaiah came to be in its current form (cf. DSS and MT). The main emphasis must be placed on its inspiration and trustworthiness in revealing the character and purposes of YHWH.

2. We must reject any presuppositions that deny God's faithful revelation through Isaiah. This also includes the á priori rejection of predictive prophecy and the lowering of the OT to an exclusively human, contemporary, historical account.

 

VI. DATE

 

A. Isaiah is part of the 8th century prophets.

1. Jonah, Amos, and Hosea in the Northern Kingdom (Israel), during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-640 b.c.)

2. Isaiah and Micah in the Southern Kingdom (Judah)

 

B. He was born in 760's b.c. and was called into prophetic office around 742 b.c. in the year Uzziah died (6:1). Uzziah is also called Azariah (783-742 b.c.).

 

C. Isaiah had a long ministry from the closing years of Uzziah (783-742 b.c.) through Jotham (742-735 b.c.), Ahaz (735-715 b.c.), Hezekiah (715-687 b.c.), and into the reign of Manasseh (687-642 b.c.) because Isaiah predicts/records Sennacherib's death in 37:38 (i.e., 681 b.c.).

 

D. R. K Harrison states that the book is an anthology of the prophet's writings and sermons over many years through several Judean kings. It was finally compiled and edited after the prophet's death, about 630 b.c.

 

VII. HISTORICAL SETTING OF EIGHTH CENTURY PROPHETS

 

A. The biblical material is found in

1. II Kings 14:3-17:6 

2. II Chronicles 25-28 

3. Amos 

4.  Jonah

5. Hosea 

6. Isaiah

7. Micah

 

B. The simplest summary of the state of idolatry among God's people can be seen in Hosea.

1. 2:16, "will no longer call Me Baali"

2. 4:12-14, " . . . daughters play the harlot . . ."

3. 4:17, "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone"

4. 13:2 "men kiss calves!" (ritual)

 

C. Social setting

1. It was a time of economic prosperity and military expansion for both Israel and Judah. However, this prosperity was beneficial only to the wealthy class. The poor were exploited and abused. It almost seems that "the buck and the gun" became idols!

2. The social stability and property of both Israel and Judah are related to several causes.

a. the long and prosperous reigns of Jeroboam II (786-746 b.c.) in the North and Uzziah (783-742 b.c.) in the South

b. Assyrians' defeat of Syria by Adad-Nirari III in 802 b.c.

c. the lack of conflict between Israel and Judah

d. the taxation and exploitation of the trade routes from north to south through the land bridge of Palestine caused rapid economic growth, even extravagance for the wealthy class

3. The "Ostraca of Samaria," which are dated during the reign of Jeroboam II, seem to indicate an administrative organization much like Solomon's. This seems to confirm the widening gap between the "haves" and "have nots."

4. The dishonesty of the wealthy is clearly depicted in Amos, who is called "the prophet of social justice." The bribery of the judiciary and the falsification of commercial weights are two clear examples of the abuse that was common apparently in both Israel and Judah.

 

D. Religious Setting

1. It was a time of much outward religious activity, but very little true faith. The fertility cults of Canaan had been amalgamated into Israel's religion. The people were idolaters but they called it YHWHism. The trend of God's people toward political alliances had involved them in pagan worship and practices.

2. The idolatry of Israel is spelled out in II Kgs. 17:7-18.

a. In v. 8 they followed the worship practices of the Canaanites.

(1) fertility worship (cf. Lev. 18:22-23)

(a) high places, vv. 9, 10, 11

(b) sacred pillars (Ba'al), vv. 10, 16

(c) Asherim, v. 16, these were wooden symbols of the female consort of Ba'al. They were either carved stakes or live trees.

(2) divination, v. 17. This was condemned in Leviticus 19-20 and Deuteronomy 18.

b. In v. 16 they continued the worship of the two golden calves, symbolizing YHWH, set up at Dan and Bethel by Jeroboam I (I Kgs. 12:28-29).

c. In v. 16 they worshiped the astral deities of Babylon: sun, moon, stars, and constellations.

d. In v. 18 they worshiped the Phoenician fertility fire god, Molech, by sacrificing their children (cf. Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5). This practice is called molech; it was not the name of the god.

3. Ba'alism (cf. W. F. Albright's Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, p. 82ff)

a. Our best archaeological source is "Ba'al Epic from Ugarit."

(1) It depicts Ba'al as a seasonal dying and rising god. He was defeated by Mot and confined to the underworld. All life on earth ceased. But, helped by the female goddess (Anat), he rises and defeats Mot each spring. He was a fertility deity who was worshiped by imitation magic.

(2) He was also known as Hadad.

b. El is the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon, but Ba'al's popularity usurped his place.

c. Israel was most influenced by Tyrian Ba'alism through Jezebel who was the King of Tyre's daughter. She was chosen by Omri for his son, Ahab.

d. In Israel Ba'al was worshiped at local high places. He was symbolized by an uplifted stone. His consort, Asherah, is symbolized by a carved stake symbolizing the tree of life.

4. Several sources and types of idolatry are mentioned.

a. the golden calves at Bethel and Dan set up by Jeroboam I to worship YHWH.

b. the worship of the Tyrian fertility god and goddess at local high places

c. the necessary idolatry involved in political alliances of that day

 

E. Brief summary of the invasions of Assyria and Babylon during the eighth century which affected Palestine.

1. The four eighth-century prophets were active during the rise of the Tigris-Euphrates empire of Assyria. God would use this cruel nation to judge His people, particularly Israel.

a. The specific incident was the formation of a trans-Jordan political and military alliance known as the "Syro-Ephramatic League" (735 b.c.). Syria and Israel tried to force Judah to join them against Assyria. Instead Ahaz sent a letter to Assyria for help. The first powerful empire-minded Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 b.c.), responded to the military challenge and invaded Syria.

b. Later, Assyria's puppet king, Hoshea (732-722 b.c.), in Israel also rebelled, appealing to Egypt. Shalmaneser V (727-722 b.c.) invaded Israel again. He died before Israel was subdued but his successor, Sargon II (722-705 b.c.), captured Israel's capital of Samaria in 722 b.c. Assyria deported over 27,000 Israelites on this occasion as Tiglath-Pileser had exiled thousands earlier in 732 b.c.

2. After Ahaz's death (735-715 b.c.) another military coalition was formed by the trans-Jordan countries and Egypt against Assyria (714-711 b.c.). It is known as the "Ashdod Rebellion." Many Judean cities were destroyed when Assyria invaded again. Initially Hezekiah supported this coalition, but later withdrew his support.

3. However, another coalition again tried to take advantage of the death of Assyria's powerful king, Sargon II, in 705 b.c., along with the many other rebellions which occurred throughout the Assyrian empire.

a. Hezekiah fully participated in this rebellion. In light of this challenge Sennacherib (705-681 b.c.) invaded (701 b.c.) Palestine and camped near the city of Jerusalem (II Kings 18-19; Isaiah 36-39), but his army was miraculously destroyed by God.

b. There is some question among scholars as to how many times Sennacherib invaded Palestine (e.g., John Bright has one invasion in 701 b.c. and another possible one in 688 b.c., cf. The History of Israel, p. 270).

c. Hezekiah was spared an Assyrian takeover, but because of his prideful exhibition of the treasures of Judah to the Babylonian delegation, Isaiah predicted Judah's fall to Babylon (39:1-8). Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 587-586 b.c.

4. Isaiah specifically predicted the restoration of God's people under Cyrus II, the Medo-Persian ruler (41:2-4; 44:28; 45:1; 56:11). Nineveh (capital of Assyria) fell in 612 b.c. to Babylon, but the city of Babylon fell in 539 b.c. to Cyrus' army. In 538 b.c. Cyrus issued a decree that all exiled people, including the Jews, could return home. He even provided funds from his treasury for the rebuilding of the national temples. He was a superstitious person and wanted all the gods to favor him.

 

VIII. LITERARY UNITS

 

A. Brief Outline

1. Chapters 1-39, the prophet and his day

2. Chapters 40-66 (or possibly 40-55 and 56-66), the new age

 

B. Chapters 1-39, the historical setting in Isaiah's day (pre-exilic)

1. Chapters 1-6, under Kings Uzziah and Jotham

2. Chapters 7-14, under King Ahaz

3. Chapters 15-39, under King Hezekiah (chapters 36-39 are parallel to II Kgs. 18:13-20:19)

 

C. Chapters 40-66, the exilic and post-exilic period, are types of the future kingdom

1. As chapters 1-39 reflect Isaiah's preaching and are obviously oral presentations, chapters 40-55 reflect a new setting. God's judgment has come and now restoration is the major theme. There is also the stylistic hint that these chapters are not so much oral as written.

2. Chapters 1-39 obviously deal with the Assyrian threat and Babylonian threat in type, specifically in chapters 13-14, 21 and 39. Chapters 40-55 deal with the Persian period and the restoration of God's people to the Promised Land.

3. The later chapters of Isaiah, 56-66, are eschatological, using historical metaphors from the Ancient Near East to foreshadow the universal monotheistic world worship of YHWH.

 

D. The difficulty of outlining Isaiah

1. Most modern scholars divide the book into at least two sections: chapters 1-39 and 40-66. R. K. Harrison: chap. 1-33 and 34-66 because of a gap in DSS text. This obvious division in the DSS between chapters 33 and 34 has given rise to the suggestion that Isaiah was produced by his followers in two volumes. W. H. Brownlee has proposed that the two volumes mirror each other in structure.

 

  Volume 1 Volume 2
chapters 1-5 
chapters 6-8 
chapters 9-12 

chapters 13-23 
chapters 24-27

chapters 28-31 
chapters 32-33 

ruin and restoration 
biographical material 
agents of divine blessing
and judgment
oracles against foreign powers 
universal redemption and the 
deliverance of Israel
ethical sermons 
the restoration of the nation 
chapters 34-35
chapters 36-40
chapters 41-45

chapters 46-48
chapters 49-55

chapters 56-59
chapters 60-66

2. Some outlines focus on the historical setting, while others focus on the Messianic content

 

  NIV Leupold
chap. 7-12

chap. 28-33

"Prophecies occasioned by
the Aramean and Israelite threat
against Judah"
"Six Woes: Five on the Unfaithful 
in Israel and One on Assyria" 
"Immanuel Book"

"The Book of Zion"
(the Cornerstone)

3. Some examples of the uncertainty of literary units (chaps. 1-12)

a. Outline of chapters 1-12 by E. Y. Young, pp. 211-214

(1) 1:1-12:6 Prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem

(a) 1:1-31 The great arraignment

(b) 2:1-4:6 Messiah's reign and judgment upon the people

(c) 5:1-30 The prevalent iniquities of Judah 

(d) 6:1-13 Isaiah's vision of the Lord

(e) 7:1-12:6 Prophecies uttered during Ahaz's reign

b. Outline of chapters 1-12 by R. K. Harrison, p. 764

(1) Prophecies about the ruin and restoration of Judah, chaps. 1-5

(2) The call of Isaiah; biographical material, chaps. 6-8

(3) Present world empires and their roles, chaps. 9-12

c. Outline of chapters 1-12 by The NIV Study Bible, p. 1016

(1) chapters 1-6

(a) Introduction: charges against Judah for breaking the Covenant, ch. 1

(b) The future discipline and glory of Judah and Jerusalem, chs. 2-4

i Jerusalem's future blessings (2:1-5)

ii The Lord's discipline of Judah (2:6-4:1)

iii The restoration of Zion (4:2-6)

(c) The nation's judgment and exile (ch. 5)

(d) Isaiah's unique commission (ch. 6)

(2) chapters 7-12

(a) Ahaz warned not to fear the Aramean and Israelite alliance (ch. 7)

(b) Isaiah's son and David's son (8:1-9:7)

(c) Judgment against Israel (9:8-10:4)

(d) The Assyrian Empire and the Davidic Kingdom (10:5-12:6)

i The destruction of Assyria (10:5-34)

ii The establishment of the Davidic king and his kingdom (ch. 11)

iii  Songs of joy for deliverance (ch. 12)

 

IX. MAIN TRUTHS

 

A. Isaiah held Judah to fidelity to the Davidic covenant (II Samuel 7), but he also went back to the original purpose of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:1-3), which was God choosing Israel to choose the world (i.e., Exod. 19:5-6). What a shock this universal reign of YHWH must have been. God will not only restore Israel, but will extend God's redemptive plan to the entire world!

 

B. Isaiah specifically predicted the movement of world events in his own day and in the future, leading to the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom through God's Messiah (so too, Micah). This kingdom is holy and universal (so too, Micah). These are both aspects of Isaiah's monotheistic, holy, redemptive Deity.

 

C. Isaiah clearly shows the futility of God's people trusting in worldly, fallen, human resources. Deliverance will come from YHWH only!

 

D. Isaiah reveals the three most powerful characteristics of God's redemptive plan.

1. the coming Messiah

2. the Messiah as Suffering Servant

3. the universal reign of the Messiah

 

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Bible Study Methods