ISAIAH lived in the times of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. His ministry covered fifty-odd years. There were many changes that took place during his time. For instance, there seems to have been comparative prosperity during certain portions of the reign of Uzziah. There was, however, the ebb and flow of events which rapidly changed the established order.
The prophet Isaiah, judged from the human standpoint, was indeed one of Israel's greatest statesmen. Of course, his wisdom and insight into matters were due to his inspiration. Nevertheless he had natural ability as a leader of men.
Though he was a very strong character, he encountered much opposition. Yet he stood like a towering oak against the storm of criticism and persecution. According to tradition he finally suffered a martyr's death.
The Book of Isaiah is one of the greatest of all the books of the Scriptures. It is, in the original Hebrew, poetry with the exception of chapters 36-39. Isaiah is called the great evangelical prophet. He ran the whole gamut of prophetic vision and outlook. His prophecies reach the highest point of glory and power. No one can justly claim to have a grip upon the Scriptures who is not familiar with his writings.
By certain rationalistic scholars, the Book of Isaiah has been dissected and apportioned to various writerswithout any justification whatsoever. It is purely upon subjective grounds that any portion of the book is denied to our great statesman-prophet. The vocabulary and style are the same throughout. The outlook is the same. The marvelous predictions that blossom in chapters 40-66 and send forth their fragrance throughout the world appear here and there in the first thirty-nine chapters. The last twenty-seven have been appropriately called "The Rhapsodies of Zion Redeemed." Thinking of the entire book in terms of a modern hymn, I would call the last twenty-seven chapters the chorus, whereas the first thirty-nine constitute the verses of the song. The very measures that reach the highest point of sublimity in the chorus are found scattered here and there through the verses.
THE first chapter of the book has been well called "The Great Indictment of the Jewish Nation." The prophet detested formalism and professionalismformalism on the part of the laity and professionalism on the part of the priesthood. He, like any other true servant of God, preferred that there be no worship at all rather than that which was offered in a perfunctory mannerserving God with the lips whereas the heart is far removed from contemplation upon and worship of God.
The prophet's second recorded sermon constitutes chapters 2:1-4:6. In this message he struck the keynote of all his declarations which vibrate with the hope of the establishment of Messiah's great kingdom. This sermon began with an oracle concerning Jerusalem, redeemed and glorified, the capital of King Messiah. In his vision he sees streams of people visiting it from all quarters of the globe, going there to be taught by the God of Jacob, King Messiah, who rules a peaceful world in which righteousness is the dominant element. Following this introduction he denounced the customs, borrowed from the heathen and introduced into Jewish society. He condemned their wickedness and foretold the day of Jehovah, which is the Tribulation. He depicted the moral and spiritual decay of the nation at that time. Furthermore, he saw the wanton lives of the daughters of Zion (the Jewish women) in the last days. Finally, however, he concluded his message in chapter 4 by giving a picture of Jerusalem purged, cleansed, and created anew, the joy of the whole earth.
In chapter 5 there is a marvelous revelation. Israel is represented as the vineyard of Jehovah, upon which the Lord had spared no means in order to make it bear luscious grapes of righteousness and justice. Instead of that, this vine bore the sour, bitter grapes of oppression and wickedness. The prophet was very specific and pointed out various sins, pronouncing a woe upon those perpetrating them.
Chapter 6 is the call of Isaiah. At this time the prophet saw Jehovah high, lifted up, and His train filled the Temple. It was the Lord Jesus Christ whom he saw in this vision (John 12:39-41). Seeing the glory of the Lord, the prophet offered himself for full-time service and was accepted by the Lord but was shown the hard, difficult, rough road which lay before him. Nevertheless he accepted the challenge.
Chapters 7 to 12 constitute the Book of Immanuel. This word means "God with us." In 7:14 we see a prediction of the miraculous conception and virgin birth of King Messiah. In chapter 9:6,7 the vision advances; we see King Messiah who has destroyed all the weapons of war, mounting the throne of David and taking into His righteous hands the government of the world. Finally, in chapter 11 a most glorious picture of His universal reign is presented. At that time the curse will be lifted from the world; the lion and the lamb will lie down together, and universal peace will be the order of the day. This section of the book concludes with a song of redemption and praise in chapter 12.
Isaiah, like the other prophets, looking beyond the borders of Israel, was given a vision of the future that awaited surrounding nations. He looked as far east as Babylon and foretold its complete destruction in "the day of Jehovah," which is the Tribulation. In chapters 13 and 14 is a marvelous prediction of the final overthrow of this ancient enemy of God in the plains of Shinar. These two chapters should be studied, especially in connection with Jeremiah 50 and 51 and Revelation 18, all of which refer to the literal Babylon of the Tribulation. Babylon was never overthrown as was foretold by Isaiah and Jeremiah. Since those predictions have never been fulfilled, we may be certain that the Lord will make good His threat and will accomplish His purposes as set forth in these oracles. In chapters 15 and 16 an oracle relating to Moab, one of the enemies of Israel, is found. Chapter 17 contains a marvelous prediction concerning Damascus, and in 18 appears an oracle against Ethiopia. (This chapter has been misunderstood as referring to the United States, but, when the facts are examined, no evidence is found for such an identification.) In chapter 19 is an oracle concerning Egypt which has been fulfilled, up to verse 15 at least; but the message concerning the altar to Jehovah and the pillar mentioned in verse 19 has never been fulfilled. (This verse has been interpreted as referring to the pyramid. Such a position is untenable because the pyramid was hoary with age in Isaiah's day, whereas the altar and the pillar were future from his point of view. It is, therefore, erroneous to interpret this prophecy as referring to the great pyramid.) In chapter 20 appears an oracle concerning Egypt and Ethiopia. Several short oracles are found in chapter 21. Another one relating to Jerusalem especially appears in chapter 22, whereas the next one, in chapter 23, relates to Tyre, which was at that time the mart of the world.
Chapters 24-27 are known as the "little apocalypse of Isaiah." In these chapters the prophet looks beyond the borders of the surrounding nations and views the world situation in the endtime. Thus in chapter 24 we find one of the most vivid, graphic pictures of the Tribulation, followed by the incarceration of Satan and his hosts and the reign of Messiah in Jerusalem. In verses 14-16a is a prediction of the mighty revival that will sweep the world and bring myriads of souls to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. In chapter 26:9 we are told that, when God's judgments are in the world, the inhabitants thereof learn righteousness. In 27:2-6 is a wonderful prediction of Israel's filling the earth with fruit in the great Millennial Age.
The fourteenth year of Hezekiah was indeed a critical one. The predictions found in chapters 28:1-35:10 should be read in the light of the historical facts found in Kings and Chronicles. In the dark days of the Assyrian aggression Isaiah stood almost alone against forming alliances of any kind with heathen powers.
The historical section of the book, 36:1-39:8, likewise is very illuminating. This portion gives a clear insight into the political situation in which Hezekiah found himself. Certain of these chapters taken from II Kings throw a very brilliant light upon the times.
THE last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah, as stated above, reach the highest pinnacles of prophecy. Chapter 40 is acknowledged to be one of the greatest documents in existence today, even when judged purely from the literary standpoint. For the interpretation of this passage, see the study, "Jewish Evangelization Commanded." On account of the limited space for that discussion, I could not dwell upon the fact of the greatness of Messiah, who is the Creator of the universe and whose omniscience and omnipotence are set forth in verses 12-17. He is indeed King of kings and Lord of lords. Nations are as nothing before Him. They are counted by Him as less than nothing, and vanity. They are as small dust of the balances. The princes of the earth and the mighty ones have not taken root in the earth, but, when righteousness and justice demand that any aggressor be plucked up, this mighty, coming Messiah, the strong Son of God, will do so. There is no king who is saved by a multitude of a host. A horse is a vain thing for safetywhen men are not on God's side, when they go contrary to His will (Psalm 33: 13-19), when therefore men or nations find themselves morally and spiritually out of step with God, it is for them to repent, turn back to Him, and call upon Him through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, for deliverance. When they thus turn to Him in genuine faith, and when He has accomplished His purpose by allowing any deserved catastrophe to come upon the world, He will hear and will deliver. May all the freedom loving nations of the world realize that deliverance comes from the strong Son of God alone, whose coming to take the reins of government in His hands is speedily drawing near. We have already had the signs of the times indicating this mighty crisis. (See the study, The Olivet Discourse chart.)
In the latter half of Isaiah we meet several "servant" passages. For instance, see 41:8ff; 42:1ff; 44:1-4; 50:4ff; and 52:13-53:12. The word "servant" in Isaiah is used with three different meanings. Sometimes it refers to the nation of Israel, as in 41:8, but in verse 9 it is narrowed down to indicate the faithful remnant of Israel in the future. In 42:1f the servant is none other than the Messiah. In 44:1 the national aspect appears, but this fades into that of the faithful remnant in verses 3-5. The servant in chapters 49, 50, 52 and 53 without doubt is the Lord Jesus Christ. One must examine each context to determine its special meaning in a given case.
In the latter half of the Book of Isaiah the entire thought is focused upon the future with very few exceptions. Heathen nations look back to the past as the time of their golden eras. Israel could look only to slavery in her past, but she looks forward to a glorious consummation in the future. When she acknowledges her sin and returns to God, He will make good all the promises uttered by Isaiah and His other messengers.