Overview of Contents
Isaiah (Hebrew ישׁעיהו Yeshayahu or Yəša‘ăyāhû) is a book of the Jewish Hebrew Bible as well as the Christian Old Testament, containing prophecies attributed to Isaiah. This book is often seen by scholars as being divided into at least two sections. The first section, consisting of chapters 1-39, is generally accepted as being written by the prophet Isaiah of Jerusalem, or by his followers who took down his words. The second section, chapters 40-66, is of more debatable origin, as will be described further below.
The first 39 chapters of Isaiah consist primarily of prophecies of the judgments awaiting nations that are persecuting Judah. These nations include Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Israel (the northern kingdom), Ethiopia, Egypt, Arabia, and Phoenicia. The prophecies concerning them can be summarized as saying that Yahweh is the God of the whole earth, and that nations which think of themselves as secure in their own power and might will be conquered by other nations, at Yahweh's command.
The judgments, however, are not only against those who persecute Isaiah's country, Judah. Chapters 1-5 and 28-29 prophesy judgment against Judah itself. Judah thinks itself safe because of its covenant relationship with Yahweh, the God of all the earth. However, Yahweh tells Judah, through Isaiah, that the covenant cannot protect them when they have broken it by idolatry, the worship of other gods, and by acts of injustice and cruelty, which oppose Yahweh's law.
Some exceptions to this overall foretelling of doom do occur, throughout the early chapters of the book. Chapter 6 describes Isaiah's call to be a prophet of Yahweh. Chapters 35-39 provide historical material about King Hezekiah and his triumph of faith in Yahweh.
Chapters 24-34, while too complex to characterize easily, are primarily concerned with prophecies of a "Messiah," a person anointed or given power by God, and of the Messiah's kingdom, where justice and righteousness will reign. This section is seen by Jews as describing an actual king, a descendant of their great king, David, who will make Judah a great kingdom and Jerusalem a truly holy city. It is traditionally seen by Christians as describing Jesus, who was descended from David, and who, they believe, began a non-political kingdom of justice which will one day encompass the whole earth. At present, this kingdom has more reality in non-physical planes than in the material world. A number of modern scholars believe that it describes, in somewhat idealized terms, King Hezekiah, who was a descendant of David, and who tried to make Jerusalem into a holy city.
The prophecy continues with what some have called “The Book of Comfort” which begins in chapter 40 and completes the writing. In the first eight chapters of this book of comfort, Isaiah prophesies the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of the Babylonians and restoration of Israel as a unified nation in the land promised to them by Yahweh. Isaiah reaffirms that the Jews are indeed the chosen people of Yahweh in chapter 44 and that Yahweh is the only God for the Jews as he will show his power over the gods of Babylon in due time in chapter 46. It is of much interest to note that in chapter 45:1, the Persian ruler Cyrus is named as the person of power who will overthrow the Babylonians and allow the return of Israel to their original land.
The remaining chapters of the book contain prophecies of the future glory of Zion under the rule of a righteous servant(52 & 54). There is much complex prophecy about this servant that is written in a very poetic language. Although there is still the mention of judgment of false worshippers and idolaters (65 & 66), the book ends with a message of hope of a righteous ruler who extends salvation to his righteous subjects living in the Lord’s kingdom on earth.
Historical Setting for Isaiah
Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Legend has it that he was martyred during the reign of Manasseh, who came to the throne in 687 BCE. He apparently was of an aristocratic origin because he seems to have had ready access to the kings.
This was the time of the divided kingdom, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. There was prosperity for both kingdoms during Isaiah’s youth with little foreign interference. Jeroboam II ruled in the north and Uzziah in the south. The small kingdoms of Palestine, as well as Syria, were under the influence of Egypt. However, in 745 BCE, Tiglath-pileser III came to the throne of Assyria. He was interested in Assyrian expansionism, especially to the west. Tiglath-pileser took Samaria and a lot of Galilee in 732. Shalmenezer V (727-722) and then, Sargon II (722-705) attacked Samaria. Samaria fell in 722, this marking the end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel forever, as its population was taken into exile and dispersed amongst Assyrian provinces. It is as a result of this exile that reference is made to Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Egypt recovered to a degree around the end of the century and Babylon exerted some independence as well. Because of this, Judah and other states rebelled against Assyria, only to have Sennacherib (705-681) invade and capture 46 Judean towns. Isaiah reports that Jerusalem was spared when God miraculously struck down the Assyrian army besieging it.
The Syro-Ephraimite War:
Because of the threat from Tiglath-pileser, the leaders of Syria and Israel tried to force Judah to ally with them around 734 BCE. Ahaz was on the throne of Judah then. He was advised by Isaiah to trust in the Lord, but, instead, he called to Assyria for help. Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria attacked Judah and inflicted damage on it before Assyria came to its aid, but there would be more serious religious consequences of Ahaz’s refusal to accept the Lord’s guidance through Isaiah.
Fall of Syria and Samaria:
Damascus, capital of Syria, was taken by the Assyrians in 732. Tiglath –pileser died in 727, raising false hopes for the Palestinian countries. Ahaz died a year later. Isaiah warned Philistia and the other countries not to revolt against Assyria. Hoshea, then king of Samaria, withheld tribute to Assyria. Consequently, Shalmenezer V laid siege to Samaria for 3 years, and his successor, Sargon II, took the city and deported 27,000 Israelites to northern parts of the Assyrian empire. There was peace in the area for 10 years or so , but then, Sargon returned in 711 to crush a coalition of Egypt and the Philistines. Judah had stayed out of this conflict, Hezekiah wisely listening to Isaiah’s advice.
Hezekiah and Sennacherib:
Sennacherib came to the throne of Assyria in 705. He had trouble immediately – with Ethiopian monarchs in Egypt and with the Babylonian leader, Merodach-Baladan. Despite Isaiah’s warnings, Hezekiah became involved as well. The Assyrians invaded the area, taking 46 towns before putting Jerusalem under siege. Isaiah persuaded Hezekiah to trust in the Lord and Jerusalem was spared.
Merodach-Baladan took power in Babylon in 721. Sargon entered Babylon without a fight in 711, but after Sargon’s death, Merodach-Baladan rebelled against Sennacherib. Babylon was defeated this time but would revive in another century to defeat Assyria and subjugate the Jews and destroy Jerusalem.
Isaiah is concerned with the connection between true worship and ethical behaviour. One of his major themes is Yahweh's refusal to accept the ritual worship of those who are treating others with cruelty and injustice.
He speaks also of idolatry, which was common at the time. The Canaanite worship, which involved fertility rites, including sexual practices forbidden by the Jewish law, had become very popular among the Jewish people. Isaiah picks up on a theme used by other prophets and tells Judah that it is like a wife who is committing adultery, having run away from her true husband, Yahweh.
One important theme is that Yahweh is the God of the whole earth. Many gods of the time were believed to be local gods or national gods who could participate in warfare and be defeated by each other. The concern of these gods was the protection of their own particular nations. Isaiah's Yahweh is the God, the one who rules over any other gods that may happen to exist. No one can defeat Yahweh; if His people suffer defeat in battle, it is only because Yahweh chooses for that to happen. Furthermore, Yahweh is concerned with more than the Jewish people. Yahweh has called Judah and Israel to be His covenant people for the specific purpose of teaching the world about Him. They are His servants, in His concern for all the people of the earth.
A unifying theme found throughout the entire writing of Isaiah is the use of the expression of "the Holy One of Israel". This is a title for Yahweh that is found 12 times in chapters 1-39 and 14 times in chapters 40-66. This expression is unique within the Christian Old Testament to the book of Isaiah which suggests that, although scholars believe that the book of Isaiah was written in various sections by different authors, the work was intended to be a unified body evidenced with the attention to literary consistency.
A final thematic goal that Isaiah constantly leans toward throughout the writing is the establishment of the Lord's kingdom on earth with Godly rulers and subjects. The stress is on Godly, or righteous, because there remains the prophecy of judgment of wicked ways even at the end of the book of Isaiah. However, the messages of judgment near the end are well balanced with prophecy of the future glory and splendor of the people of Israel who remain faithful to their Lord, Yahweh.
One of the most critically debated issues in Isaiah is the thought of more than a single author. Not many scholars will give more than three authors, dividing the sections as below. For those who hold the two-author hypothesis, the divide is at Isaiah 39. This seems to be the most widely held view - that Isaiah was written by two different prophets - one from the eighth century BCE, and the other from the post-exilic period. Still other scholars hold to a third division at Isaiah 55, saying that we have yet another later addition to the book of Isaiah.
The objections to single authorship of the book of Isaiah are as follow:
1. Anonymity→ That is to say that Isaiah’s name is suddenly not used from chapter 40-66.
2. Style → There is a sudden change in the mood of the book from Isaiah after chapter 40.
3. Historical Situation → If this were one man, then he would have to have intimate knowledge of a time 150 years after his life.
There are others who maintain the unity of Isaiah. They will quote Josephus as attributing both sections of the book of Isaiah to a single author. Another unifying theme found throughout the entire writing is the use of the expression of "the Holy One of Israel"; this is a title for Yahweh. As stated under themes, it occurs almost equally in both ‘sections’ of Isaiah.
These and other considerations have led most modern critical scholars to conclude that the book of Isaiah, in its present form, is the result of an extensive editing process, in which the promises of God's salvation are re-interpreted and claimed for the Judean people through the history of their exile and return to the land of Judah. Since it is probably useless to try to reconstruct a precise account of the history of the book's composition, Biblical scholars such as Brevard Childs have argued for reading the book as a literary unity. Current research is exploring the book's intertextuality, the allusions and references later editors made to connect the different layers of the book.
Other scholars dispute these conclusions and argue for the unity of the composition of the book. They argue that the diversity of subjects treated and the peculiarities of the prophet's position at the time the prophecies were uttered can sufficiently account for the differences in style, theme, and language. They also argue that there is enough similiarity in language and style, in thought and image and rhetorical ornament, throughout the book to support their position. Furthermore, when the Septuagint version was made (about 250 BC) the entire contents of the book were ascribed to Isaiah, the son of Amoz. In the time of Jesus the book existed in its present form. Many prophecies in the disputed portions are quoted in the New Testament as the words of Isaiah (Matthew 3:3; Luke 3:4-6; 4:16-41; John 12:38; Acts 8:28; Romans 10:16-21).
Use in the New Testament
Isaiah was quoted extensively by New Testament authors. A selection of such quotations is discussed here.
One of the most famous quotations from Isaiah in the New Testament is the citation of Isa. 7:14 in Matt. 1:23. This passage is a prophecy about a "virgin" who shall bear a child. Matthew states that this passage refers to the birth of Jesus. Modern scholars believe that the prophecy originally referred to a young woman of Isaiah's own day, who was not necessarily a virgin, in modern terms; the context indicates that she would have her child within the year.
Isaiah 61:6 is cited in 1 Peter 2:9. Isaiah prophesies that Israel will become a holy priesthood in which everyone serves the Lord. Peter applies this to the Christian Church.
Romans 9:27-29, in discussing the history of Israel's relationship with God, quotes Isaiah 1:9 and Isaiah 10:22-23. Following that, in Romans 9:33, Paul refers to Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16, and applies them to Jesus, the precious stone over which Israel stumbles.
Isaiah 6:9 is echoed in Matthew 13:14-15 and in Mark 4:12, where a reference to the telling of God's truth in stories, so that people will see but not see the point, and hear but not hear the meaning, is applied to Jesus, who was known for his parables, or stories which told God's truths.
Isaiah 8:12 is cited in 1 Peter 3:14, as Peter counsels Christians to be unafraid, as Isaiah counselled the Jews who trusted God to be unafraid.
In 1 Peter 1:24-25, asserting the enduring value of the Scriptures, Peter refers to Isaiah 40:6-8. In 1 Peter 2:6-8, he, like Paul, uses Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 to refer to Jesus.
Isaiah 8:17-18 are cited in Hebrews 2:13.
Isaiah 9:1 is cited in Matthew 4:15-16, as Matthew applies the prophecy of a light shining to those in darkness to Jesus' ministry in the parts of the country described in the passage.
Some other Isaiah passages are listed below, with the comparable New Testament passage following each one.
Is. 1:9 If the LORD of hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we would have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah.
Rom. 9:29 And as Isaiah predicted,
“If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us,
we would have fared like Sodom
and been made like Gomorrah.”
Is. 6:9 And he said, “Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Matt. 13:14, 15 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’
Mark 4:12 in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”
Is. 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
Matt. 1:23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
Is. 8:12 Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread.
1Pet. 3:14, 15 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are
blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,
but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to
make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for
the hope that is in you;
Is. 8:14 He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Rom. 9:33 as it is written,
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a
rock that will make them fall,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Is. 8:17 I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.
Heb. 2:13 And again,
“I will put my trust in him.” And again,
“Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”
Is. 9:1 ¶ But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
Matt. 4:15, 16 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of theGentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
Is. 10:22 For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness.
Rom. 9:27, 28 ¶ And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number
of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of
them will be saved;
for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and
Is. 11:10 ¶ On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Rom. 15:12 and again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
Is. 13:10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
Matt. 24:29 “Immediately after the suffering of those days
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
Is. 21:9 Look, there they come, riders,
horsemen in pairs!”
Then he responded,
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon;
and all the images of her gods
lie shattered on the ground.”
Rev. 18:2 He called out with a mighty voice,
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
It has become a dwelling place of demons,
a haunt of every foul and hateful bird,
a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.
Is. 22:13 but instead there was joy and festivity,
killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
eating meat and drinking wine.
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”
1Cor. 15:32 If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at
Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Is. 25:8 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.
1Cor. 15:54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this
mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be
fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
Rev. 7:17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their
shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Is. 26:19 Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.
O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a radiant dew,
and the earth will give birth to those long dead.
Matt. 11:5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are
cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good
news brought to them.
Luke 7:22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen
and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are
cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news
brought to them.
Is. 28:11 ¶ Truly, with stammering lip
and with alien tongue
he will speak to this people,
1Cor. 14:21 In the law it is written,
“By people of strange tongues
and by the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people;
yet even then they will not listen to me,” says the Lord.
Is. 28:16 therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
“One who trusts will not panic.”
Rom. 9:33 as it is written,
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a
rock that will make them fall,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Rom. 10:11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put
Is. 29:10 For the LORD has poured out upon you
a spirit of deep sleep;
he has closed your eyes, you prophets,
and covered your heads, you seers.
Rom.11:8 as it is written,
“God gave them a sluggish spirit,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
Is. 29:13 ¶ The Lord said:
Because these people draw near with their mouths
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;
Matt. 15:8, 9 ‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”
Mark 7:6, 7 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you
hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
Is. 29:14 so I will again do
amazing things with this people,
shocking and amazing.
The wisdom of their wise shall perish,
and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.
1Cor. 1:19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Is. 29:16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?
Shall the thing made say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
Rom. 9:20 But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God?
Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made
me like this?”
Is. 52:5 Now therefore what am I doing here, says the LORD, seeing that my people are taken away without cause? Their rulers howl, says the LORD, and continually, all day long, my name is despised.
Rom. 2:24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Is. 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Rom. 10:15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Is. 52:11 Depart, depart, go out from there!
Touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of it, purify yourselves,
you who carry the vessels of the LORD.
2 Cor. 6:17 Therefore come out from them,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch nothing unclean;
then I will welcome you,
Is. 52:15 so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Rom. 15:21 but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand.”
Is. 53:1 Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
John 12:38 This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
“Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Rom. 10:16 But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”
Is. 53:4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
Matt. 8:17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
1 Pet. 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
Is. 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
Acts 8:32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
Is. 53:9 They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
1 Pet. 2:22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
Is. 53:12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Luke 22:37 For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.”
Is. 54:1 Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
burst into song and shout,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more
than the children of her that is married, says the LORD.
Gal. 4:27 For it is written,
“Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children,
burst into song and shout, you who endure no birthpangs;
for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous
than the children of the one who is married.”
Is. 54:13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD,
and great shall be the prosperity of your children.
John 6:45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
Is. 55:3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Acts 13:34 As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
‘I will give you the holy promises made to David.’
Is. 55:10 ¶ For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
2 Cor. 9:10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
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Prepared in 2005 for the course BIBL5023 at Acadia Divinity College