The book of Isaiah (Isaiah 1)

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Isaiah 1:1 specifies that the book was written by the eighth century B.C. prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, and other Scropture passages concur (Matthew 12:17-21, John 12:38-41, Romans 10:16, 20-21). Today, however, many scholars believe that only a part of the book came from this individual. Many assert that Isaiah 40-55 were added by a prophet who lived during the Babylonian exile and who is referred to as “Deutero-Isaiah” and that Isaiah 56-66 were composed later still by a post-exilic prophet referred to as “Ttrito-Isiah”. This leaves only Isaiah 1-39 purported to be the work of “Isaiah son of Amoz“. In reality, however, most critical scholars hold to schemes for explaining the authorship of Isiah that are much more complex than this simplified explanation would indicate. Indeed, some scholars suggest that Isaiah, son of Amoz, wrote very little of the book that bears his name.

The critical issue here is the matter of whether or not Isaiah 40-55 was written after the exile had begun. Critical scholars point to verses such as 44:26 as proof that the time this section was being written Jerusalem was already uninhabited (having been destroyed by the Babylonians). Yet the entire book of Isaiah was written under the presumption that Judah was doomed. This conviction was indeed the very foundation of Isaiah’s ministry; he had learned of Jerusalem’s imminent destruction from God in what appears to have been his prophetic calling (Isaiah 6). There are in fact valid reasons for believing that the prophet Isaiah wrote the entire book (see also The authorship of Isaiah, also under Isaiah 1).

Isaiah dated his prophecy to the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham , Ahaz and Hezekiah (1:1). This indicates a prophetic ministry encompassing the period from roughly 640 to 700 B.C.

Isaiah’s primary ministry was to the people of Judah, who were failing to live according to the requirements o God’s law. But he prophesied judgement not only upon Judah but also upon Israel and the surrounding nations. On the other hand, Isaiah delivered a stirring message of repentance and salvation for any who would turn to God.

Isaiah wrote during a period of upheaval and general unrest, as the Assyrian empire was expanding and the northern kingdom of Israel facing decline and imminent disaster. Judah was also vulnerable, although her destruction was ultimately to come at the hands of a later power, Babylonia.

Taking the call of Isaiah (Isaiah 6) as the starting point for  his ministry and message, it appears that the prophet laboured under the conviction – in his mind a foregone conclusion – that the people would reject his message and the nation of Judah would be destroyed (6:9-13). Nevertheless, the prophet still followed through with his duty to warn the people and exhort them to repent. But beyond that Isaiah offered words of comfort: The Gentile nations would also face judgement (Isaiah 13-19), a remnant od Israel as a whole would be healed and restored (Isaiah 40) and ultimately the Gentiles would themselves turn to Israel’s God (2:2-4, 42:6).

Notice Isaiah’s polished literary style; rich vocabulary, beautiful and varied use of poetic imagery; and distinctive phraseology, such as “the Holy One of Israel” and “my servant”. Of particular interest in this book are the following:

  • Isaiah’s use of fore imagery to represent punishment (e.g. 1:31, 10:17, 26:11, 33:11-14, 34:9-10, 66:24).
  • The prophet’s repeated symbolism of the vineyard, the winepress and the cup of God’s wrath (e.g. 5:7, 63:3, 51:17, respectively).
  • The apocalyptic section of the book (Isaiah 24-27), focusing on the last days.
  • Examples of personification, one of Isaiah’s favourite literary devices (e.g. 24:23, 35:1, 44;23, 55:12).
  • Development of the “servant” theme in Isaiah 41-54. A Bible commentary would be a helpful companion for this detailed study.

Did you know that recent archaeological discoveries confirm that some Israelites worshiped Asherah as the Lord’s consort or partner (17:8)? Did you know that the Assyrians were notorious for leading away captives by ropes tied to rings in their noses (37:29)? Did you know that throughout the Old Testament we see instances of God dispatching angelic agents as carriers of plague (37:36)? Did you know that the Hebrew phrase for “a memorial and a name” (yad vashem) was many centuries later chosen as the name of the pricipal Holocaust monument in Jerusalem in modern Israel (56:5)? Did you know that during the Jerusalem siege Hebrew slaves were released – only to be reclaimed by their masters after further consideration (58:6)?


 

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