Book Overview - Isaiah
by Albert Barnes
Introduction to Isaiah
Section 1. Division of the Books of the Old Testament
Early on the Jews divided the books of the Old Testament into three parts - the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa (the holy writings). The Law was comprised of the five books of Moses. Priority was given to this division because it was the first composed, as well as on account of its containing their civil and ecclesiastical constitution and their oldest historical records.
The Prophets comprised the second and the largest division of the sacred writings of the Jews. This portion included the books of Joshua, Judges, 1Samuel, 2Samuel, 1Kings, and 2Kings, which were called the “former prophets;” and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the books from Hosea to Malachi, which were called the “latter prophets.” Daniel has been excluded from this portion by later Jews and assigned to the third division, because they did not regard him as a prophet, but as an historical writer. Formerly, his work was doubtless included in the second division.
The third portion, “the Hagiographa,” includes the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and the two books of Chronicles.
This three-fold division of the Old Testament is as old as the time of our Saviour, because he refers to it in Luke 24:44. The Jews attribute the arrangement and division of the canonical books to Ezra. They say that he was assisted in this by 120 men who constituted ‹a great synagogue;‘ that Daniel, and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were of this number; and that Haggai and Zechariah, together with Simon the Just, were also connected with it. But this statement is known to be erroneous. From the time of Daniel to the time of Simon the Just, not less than 250 years intervened (Alexander on the Canon, pp. 26,27); and of course all these persons could not have been present. It is not, however, improbable that Ezra may have been assisted by learned and pious men who aided him in the work. What Ezra did is indeed unknown. It is the general opinion that he collected and arranged the books which now compose the Old Testament; that perhaps he wrote some of the historical books, or compiled them from fragments of history and documents that might have been in the public archives (compare the Analysis of Isaiah 1:1, we are told that he was the son of Amoz, and that he discharged the prophetic office under the reign of the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. In regard to those times, and the character of the period in which they reigned, see section 3 of this introduction (below). It is evident also from the prophecies themselves that he delivered them during the reign of these kings. In Isaiah 6:1, it is expressly said that he had a vision of Yahweh in the year in which Uzziah died. Of course, he must have commenced his prophetic labors at least as early as during the last year of that king. If that chapter or vision was not designed as an inauguration of the prophet, or an induction into the prophetic office (see the notes on Isaiah 6:1-13), and if his prophecies were collected and arranged as they were delivered, then it will follow that the previous chapters Isaiah 39:1-8 Uzziah died, according to Calmet, 754 years before Christ. Isaiah must therefore have occupied the prophetic office at least from 754 to 707 b.c., or 47 years; that is, under Uzziah one year, under Jotham for 16 years, under Ahaz for 16 years, and under Hezekiah for 14 years.
It is not known at what age Isaiah entered into the prophetic function. It is probable that he lived much longer than to the 15th year of Hezekiah. In 2 Chronicles 32:32, it is said that ‹the rest of the acts of Hezekiah‘ were ‹written in the vision of Isaiah;‘ and this statement obviously implies that he survived him, and recorded the deeds of his reign up to his death. Since Hezekiah lived 14 or 15 years after this (Isaiah 38:5, compare 2 Kings 18:2), this would make the period of his public ministry to extend to at least 61 or 62 years. If Isaiah survived Hezekiah, he probably lived some time until during the reign of Manasseh. This supposition is confirmed not indeed by any direct historical record in the Old Testament, but by all the traditional accounts which have been handed down to us. The testimony of the Jews and of the early fathers is uniform that Isaiah was put death by Manasseh by being sawn asunder. The main alleged offence was that Isaiah had said that he had seen Yahweh, and that for this he ought to die, in accordance with the law of Moses Exodus 33:20, “No man shall see me and live.” If Isaiah lived until the time of Manasseh, and especially if Isaiah prophesied under Manasseh‘s reign, it is probable the true reason why he was put to death was that he was offensive to the monarch and his court.
The circumstances which render the supposition probable that Isaiah lived under Manasseh, and that he was put to death by him by being sawn asunder, are the following:
(1) The fact which has been stated above that Isaiah lived to complete the record of the reign of Hezekiah and of course survived him.
(2) The testimony of the Jewish writers: There is indeed much that is fabulous in their writings, and even in connection with the truths which they record; there is much that is puerile and false. However, there is no reason to doubt the main “facts” which they relate. Indeed, Josephus does not expressly state that he was slain by Manasseh, but he gives an account of the reign of Manasseh which renders it probable that if Isaiah were then alive he would have been put to death. Thus, he says (Ant. book 10, chapter 3, section 1) that ‹he barbarously slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews; nor would he spare the prophets, for he every day slew some of them, until Jerusalem was overflown with blood.‘ In the Talmud the following record occurs: Manasseh put Isaiah to death. The rabbi said that he condemned him and put him to death, because he said to him, “Moses, thy lord, said, ‹No man shall see me and live‘ Exodus 33:20, but thou hast said, ‹I saw the Lord upon a throne high and lifted up‘ Isaiah 6:1. Moses, thy lord, said, ‹Who will make the Lord so near that we can call to him‘; but thou hast said, ‹Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near‘ Isaiah 55:6. Moses, thy lord, said, ‹The number of thy days will I fulfill‘ Exodus 22:26; but thou hast said, ‹I will add to thy days fifteen years‘ Isaiah 38:5, etc. See Gesenius, Einlei. p. 12. The testimony of the Jews on this subject is uniform. Michaelis (the Preface to Isaiah) has referred to the following places in proof on this point. Tract. Talmud. Jabhamoth, 49; “Sanhedrin, fol. 103; Jalkut, part ii. fol. 38; Schalscheleth Hakkab.” fol. 19. Rashi and Abarbanel in their commentaries give the same statement.
(3) The testimony of the early Christian writers is the same. Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, speaking of Isaiah, says, ὄν πρίον ζυλῳ ἐπρίσατε on prioni zulō eprisate ‹whom ye sawed asunder with a wooden saw.‘ Tertullian (de patientia, c. 14) says, His patientiae viribus secatur Esaias. - Lactantius (lib. iv. c. 2) says, Esais, quem ipsi Judaei serra consectum crudelissime necaverunt. - Augustine (de Civit. Dei, lib. 18, c. 24) says, ‹the prophet Isaiah is reputed to have been slain by the impious King Manasseh.‘ Jerome (on Isaiah 57:1) says, that the prophet prophesied in that passage of his own death, for ‹it is an undisputed tradition among us, that he was sawn asunder by Manasseh, with a wooden saw.‘ These passages and others from the Jewish writers and from the fathers are to be found in Michaelis‘ Preface to Isaiah; in Gesenius‘ Introduction; and in Carpzov, Crit. Sacr. In a matter of simple fact, there seems to be no reason to call this testimony into question. It is to be remembered that Jerome was well acquainted with Hebrew, that he dwelt in Palestine, and no doubt has given the prevalent opinion about the death of Isaiah.
(4) The character of Manasseh was such as to make it probable that, if Isaiah lived at all during his reign, Manasseh would seek his death. In 2 Kings 21:16, it is said of Manasseh that he ‹shed innocent blood very much, until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another.‘ This account is in entire accordance with that of Josephus, quoted above. In the early part of his reign, it is recorded that he did evil, and especially that he raised the high places and the altars of idolatry which Hezekiah had destroyed, and endeavored to restore again the abominations which had existed in the time of Ahab, 2 Kings 21:2-3. It is scarcely credible that such a man as Isaiah would see all this done without some effort to prevent it; and it is certain that such an effort would excite the indignation of Manasseh. If, however, Manasseh cut off the righteous men of Jerusalem, as Josephus testifies, and as the author of the Books of Kings would lead us to believe, there is every probability that Isaiah would also fall a sacrifice to his indignation. It is not necessary in order to this to suppose that Isaiah appeared much in public; or that, being then an old man, he should take a prominent part in the transactions of that period. That we have no recorded prophecy of that time, as we have of the times of Uzziah, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, leaves it probable that Isaiah had withdrawn from the more public functions of the prophetic office, and probably (see section 4 of this introduction) had given himself to the calm and holy contemplation of future and better times under the Messiah. But still Isaiah‘s sentiments would be known to the monarch; and his influence while he lived among the people may have been materially in the way of the designs of Manasseh. Manasseh, therefore, may have regarded it as necessary to remove him, and in the slaughter of the good men and prophets of his time, there is every probability that Isaiah would have been made a victim.
(5) It affords some confirmation of this statement that Paul Hebrews 11:37 affirms of some of the ancient saints, that they were ‹sawn asunder.‘ In the Old Testament there is no express mention of any one‘s being put to death in this manner, but it has been common with all expositors, from the earliest periods, to suppose that Paul had reference to Isaiah. The universal tradition on this subject among the Hebrews makes this morally certain. It is certain that Paul could not have made such an enumeration unless there was a well-established tradition of some one or more who had suffered in this manner; and all tradition concurs in assigning it to Isaiah.
(6) The character of the second part of the prophecies of Isaiah Isaiah 56:1-12; Jeremiah 1:6, we learn that an earlier call than this to the prophetic office sometimes occurred. On this supposition, Isaiah would have been 82 years of age at the death of Hezekiah. There is no improbability, therefore, in the supposition that he might have lived 10 or even 15 years or more, under the long reign of Manasseh. The priest Jehoiada attained the great age of 130 years 2 Chronicles 24:15. Evidently, Isaiah lived a retired and a temperate life. It is the uniform tradition of the oriental Christians that he lived to the age of 120 years; see Hengstenberg‘s Christol. vol. i. p. 278.
Where Isaiah lived is not certainly known nor are many of the circumstances of his life known. Isaiah‘s permanent residence, in the earlier part of his prophetic life, seems to have been at Jerusalem. During the reign of the ungodly Ahaz, he came forth boldly as the reprover of sin, and evidently spent a considerable part of his time near the court, 2 Kings 14:1. Thus, David Kimchi on Isaiah 1:1, writes, ‹We are ignorant of his family, from what tribe he was, except that our doctors have handed down by tradition, that Amotz and Amaziah were brothers.‘ And thus Rabbi Solomon says, ‹It is handed down to us from our ancestors that Amotz and Amaziah were brothers.‘ The same is said also by Rabbi Levi (in Megilla, c. i. fol. 10); and by Abarbanel, Preface fol. 1 (quoted by Michaelis, Preface to Isa.) In this supposition there is nothing improbable: and the fact that he was admitted so freely to the counsels of Hezekiah, and that he went so boldly to Ahaz Isaiah 7:1, may seem to give some countenance to the idea that he was connected with the royal family.
Isaiah‘s father was evidently well known; see Isaiah 1:1, and elsewhere, where his name is introduced. Indeed, it is not improbable that most of the prophets were descended from families that were highly respectable, since they generally mention the name of their father as a name that is well known; compare Ezekiel 1:3; Jeremiah 1:1; Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jonah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1; Zechariah 1:1. In the other prophets the name of the “father” is omitted, probably because he was obscure and unknown. It is morally certain that Isaiah was not connected with the Levitical order, since if he had been, this would have been designated as in Jeremiah 1:1; Ezekiel 1:3. The wife of Isaiah is called “a prophetess” Isaiah 8:3, and it is supposed by some that she had the spirit of prophecy, but the more probable opinion is that the wives of the prophets were called prophetesses, as the wives of the priests were called “priestesses.”
On the question as to whether Isaiah had more than one wife, see the notes at Isaiah 7:3, the meaning of which is, “the remainder shall return” - designed, undoubtedly, to be a sign or pledge that the remnant of the Jews who should be carried away at “any time” would return; or that the whole nation would not be destroyed and become extinct. This was one of the axioms or fundamental points in all the writings of this prophet; and whatever calamity or judgment he foretold, it was always terminated with the assurance that the nation would still be ultimately preserved, and greatly enlarged, and glorified. Isaiah seems to have resolved this idea to keep as much as possible before the minds of his countrymen, and to this end he gave his son a name that would be to them a pledge of his deep conviction of this truth.
The name of the other is “Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz” Isaiah 8:1, “haste to the spoil; haste to the prey” - a name significant of the fact that the Assyrians Isaiah 15:1-9 and notes at Isaiah 16:1-14); and there is abundant evidence that Isaiah was studied by the other prophets. The regard with which he was held by the Lord Jesus, and by the writers of the New Testament will be shown in another part of this introduction (section 6). Josephus (Ant. book 11, chapter 1, section 2) says that Cyrus was moved by the reading of Isaiah to the acknowledgment of the God of Israel, and to the restoration of the Jews, and to the rebuilding of the temple. After stating (section 1) the decree which Cyrus made in favor of the Jews, he adds, ‹This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind of his prophecies: for this prophet had said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision, “My will is that Cyrus whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations will send back my people to their own land, and build my temple.”
This was foretold by Isaiah 44:28; ‹That saith of Cyrus, He is my Shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid;‘ compare Isaiah 45:1 ff. On the genuineness of this passage of Josephus see Whiston‘s note. It is justly remarked (see Jahn‘s observation, quoted by Hengstenberg, Christol. i. 279) that this statement of Josephus furnishes the only explanation of the conduct of Cyrus toward the Jews. It is only a commentary on Ezra 1:2, where Cyrus says, ‹Yahweh, the God of heaven and earth hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.‘ It is incredible that Cyrus would not have seen the prophecy Isaiah 44:28 respecting himself before he made this proclamation.
The writings of the fathers are full of the praise of Isaiah. Jerome says of him that he is not so much to be esteemed a prophet as an evangelist. And he adds, ‹he has so clearly explained the whole mystery of Christ and the church that you will regard him not as predicting future events but as composing a history of the past.‘ In Jerome‘s “Epistle ad Paulinum” he says, ‹Isaiah seems to me not to have composed a prophecy but the gospel!‘ And in Jerome‘s preface he says, ‹that in his (Isaiah‘s) discourse he is so eloquent, and is a man of so noble and refined elocution, without any mixture of rusticity, that it is impossible to preserve or transfuse the beauty of his style in a translation;‘ compare the Confessions of Augustine, ix. 5; De Civita. Dei. lib. viii. c. 29. Moses Amyraldus said of Isaiah that he ‹seems to thunder and give off lightning; he seems to confound and mingle not Greece, as was formerly said of Pericles; not Judea, and the neighboring regions, but heaven and earth and all the elements;‘ see Michaelis‘ Preface to Isaiah, pp. 8-10; compare Josephus, Ant. book 10, chapter 3; also 2 Kings 19:2. It may be added here, that although his writings are not so ancient as those of Moses, or as those of Homer and Hesiod, yet they are more ancient than most of the admired Classic productions of Greece, and are far more ancient than any of the Latin Classics. As an “ancient writer” he demands respect. And laying out of view altogether the idea of his inspiration, and his “religious” character, he has a claim as a poet, an orator, a writer of eminent beauty and unrivaled sublimity to the attention of those who are seeking eminence in literature.
No reason can be given why in a course of mental training, Isaiah, and the language in which he wrote, should be neglected, while Hesiod and Homer, with the language in which they wrote, should be the objects of admiration and of diligent culture. In no book, perhaps, can the mere man of taste be more gratified than in the study of Isaiah; by no writings would the mind be more elevated in view of the beautiful and the sublime, or the heart be more refined by the contemplation of the pure. Few - very few of the Greek and Latin Classical writers - can be put into the hands of the young without endangering the purity of their morals; but Isaiah may be studied in all the periods of youth, and manhood, and old age, only to increase the virtue of the heart and the purity of the imagination, at the same time that he enriches and expands the understanding. And while no one who has just views of the inestimable value of the Greek and Latin Classics in most of the respects contemplated in education would wish to see them banished from the schools, or displaced from seminaries of learning, yet the lover of ancient writings, of purity of thought and diction, of sweet and captivating poetry, of the beautiful and sublime in writing, of perhaps the oldest language of the world, and of the pure sentiments of revelation, may hope that the time will come when the Hebrew language shall be deemed worthy of culture in American schools and colleges as well as the Latin and Greek; and that as a part of the training of American youth, Isaiah may be allowed to take a place “at least” as honorable as Virgil or Homer - as Cicero or Demosthenes.
It is indeed a melancholy reflection which we are compelled to make on the seminaries of learning in our land - a Christian land - that the writings of the Hebrew prophets and poets have been compelled to give place to the poetry and the mythology of the Greeks; and that the books containing the only system of pure religion are required to defer to those which were written under the auspices of idolatry, and which often express sentiments, and inculcate feelings, which cannot be made to contribute to the purity of the heart, or be reconciled with the truth as revealed from heaven. As specimens of taste; as models of richness of thought and beauty of diction; as well as for their being the vehicles in which the knowledge of the only true religion is conveyed to man, these writings have a claim on the attention of the young. If the writings of Isaiah were mere human compositions; if they had come down to us as the writings of Demosthenes and Homer have done; and if they had not been connected with “religion,” we might be permitted to express the belief that the Jewish “Classics,” along with the Classics of Greece and Rome, would have been allowed an honorable place in all the seminaries of learning, and in all the public and private libraries of the land.
Section 3. The Times of Isaiah
As we have seen, Isaiah lived for the greater part of a century, and possibly even more than a century. It is probable also that for a period of more than 70 years he exercised the prophetic function. During that long period, important changes must have occurred; and a knowledge of some of the leading events of his time is necessary to understand his prophecies. Indeed, a simple knowledge of historical facts will often make portions of his prophecies clear which would otherwise be entirely unintelligible.
The kingdom of Israel, which during the reigns of David and Solomon had been so mighty and so magnificent, was divided into two separate kingdoms 990 years before Christ, or 240 years before Isaiah entered into his prophetic office. The glory of these kingdoms had departed; and they had been greatly weakened by contentions with each other and by conflicts with surrounding nations. In a particular manner, the kingdom of Israel (Samaria, Ephraim, the ten tribes, as it was indiscriminately called) had been governed by a succession of wicked princes, had become deeply imbued with idolatry, and had so far provoked God as to make it necessary to remove them to a foreign land. It was during the time in which Isaiah discharged the duties of the prophetic function that that kingdom was utterly overturned and the inhabitants were transplanted to a distant country. In the year 736 b.c., or not far from 20 years after Isaiah entered into his work, Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria killed Rezin, king of Damascus, the ally of Pekah, the king of Samaria. Tiglath-Pileser entered the land of Israel and took many cities and captives, chiefly in Gilead and Galilee, and he carried many of the inhabitants to Assyria; 2 Kings 16:5-9; Amos 1:5; 2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:26.
This was the first captivity of the kingdom of Israel. Shalmaneser succeeded Tiglath-Pileser as king of Assyria in 724 b.c. In the year 721 b.c. Shalmaneser besieged Samaria, and, after a siege of three years, he took it. He carriedthe inhabitants which Tiglath-Pileser had not removed beyond the Euphrates he and placed them in cities there Hosea 13:16; 1 Chronicles 5:26. This was the end of the kingdom of Israel, after it had subsisted for 254 years. Isaiah exercised the prophetic function during about 30 of the last years of the kingdom of Israel. But his residence was principally at Jerusalem; and not many of his predictions have reference to the kingdom of Israel. Most of his prophecies which have reference to the Jews relate to the kingdom of Judah and to Jerusalem.
The kingdom of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem, had greatly declined from the splendor and magnificence which had existed under David and Solomon. It had been greatly weakened by the revolt of the ten tribes, and by the wars in which it had been engaged with the kingdom of Samaria, as well as with surrounding nations. Though its kings were superior in virtue and piety to the kings of Israel, yet many of them had been unworthy to be the descendants of David and their conduct had exposed them greatly to divine displeasure.
When Isaiah entered into his prophetic office, the throne was occupied by Uzziah; or as he is elsewhere called, Azariah. He succeeded his father Amaziah, and was 16 years old when he came to the throne, and he reigned for 52 years. Uzziah began his reign in the year 809 b.c., and, of course, his reign extended to the year 757 b.c. His general character was that of integrity and piety. He was a worshipper of the true God, yet he did not remove the groves and high places which had been established in the land for idolatrous worship. He greatly strengthened Jerusalem, was successful in his wars with the Philistines, with the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and extended his kingdom somewhat into surrounding regions. Near the close of his life he was guilty of one act of rashness and folly in claiming as a monarch the right of going into the temple of the Lord, and of burning incense upon the altar. For this sin he became a leper and remained so until his death; 2 Chronicles 26:21. During this period, the affairs of the government were administered by his son, Jotham; 2 Chronicles 26:21. During the reign of Uzziah it is probable that Isaiah exercised the prophetic function for only a short time, perhaps for a single year. None of Isaiah‘s prophecies can be proved with certainty to relate to Uzziah‘s reign except what is contained in Isaiah 6:1-13. It is more natural, however, to suppose that those in the previous five chapters were delivered durring the reign of Uzziah.
Uzziah (Azariah) was succeeded by his son, Jotham. He ascended the throne at the age of 25, and reigned for 16 years in Jerusalem. The general character of Jotham was like that of his father. He was upright; and he was not guilty of idolatry. Yet, the high places were not removed, the groves still remained, and the state of the people was corrupt 2 Kings 15:32-36; 2 Chronicles 27:1-9. Jotham carried forward the plan which his father had commenced of fortifying the city 2 Chronicles 26:3 and of enlarging and beautifying his kingdom. In a particular manner, Jotham is said to have built a high gate to the house of the Lord, and to have fortified Ophel; 2 Chronicles 26:3. Ophel was a mountain or “bluff,” which was situated between Mount Zion and Mount Moriah. From the base of this bluff flowed the waters of Siloam. This hill was capable of being strongly fortified and of contributing much to the defense of the city, and, accordingly, it became one of the strongest places in Jerusalem. Jotham also built cities, and castles, and towns in the mountains and forests of Judea 2 Chronicles 26:4, and it is evident that his great aim was to beautify and strengthen his kingdom. The principal wars in which he was engaged were with the Ammonites, whom he subdued and laid under tribute 2 Chronicles 26:5.
It was during the reign of Jotham that very important events occurred in the vast empire of the East. The ancient empire of the Assyrians which had governed Asia for more than 1,300 years was dissolved upon the death of Sardanapalus in the year 747 b.c. Sardanapalus was distinguished for sloth and luxury. He sunk into the lowest depths of depravity, clothed himself as a woman, spun amidst the companies of his concubines, painted his face and decked himself as a harlot. So debased was he that his reign became intolerable. He became odious to his subjects and particularly to Arbaces the Mede, and to Belesis the Babylonian. Belesis was a captain, a priest, and an astrologer.
So, by the rules of his art, he took it upon himself to assure Arbaces that he should dethrone Sardanapalus, and become lord of all his dominions. Arbaces listened to him, and promised him the chief place over Babylon if his prediction proved to come true. Arbaces and Belesis promoted a revolt, and the defection spread among the Medes, Babylonians, Persians, and Arabians, who had been subject to the Assyrian empire. They mustered an army of not less than 400,000 men, but were at first defeated by Sardanapalus, and driven to the mountains; but they again rallied and were again defeated with great slaughter, and put to flight toward the hills. Belesis, however, persisted in the opinion that the gods would give them the victory, and a third battle was fought, in which they were again defeated. Belesis again encouraged his followers; and it was determined to try to secure the aid of the Bactrians.
Sardanapalus, supposing victory was secure, and that there could be no more danger, had returned to his pleasures, and given himself and his army up to riot and dissipation. Belesis and Arbaces, with the aid of the Bactrians, fell upon the army, sunk in inglorious ease and vanquished it entirely. Somehow they drew Sardanapalus outside the walls of his capital. Here, closely besieged, he sent away his three sons and two daughters into Paphlagonia. In Nineveh Sardanapalus determined to defend himself, trusting to an ancient prophecy, “that Nineveh could never be taken until the river became her enemy;” and as he deemed this impossible, he regarded himself as secure. He maintained his position, and resisted the attacks of his enemies for two years, until the river, swelled by great rains, rose and overflowed a considerable part of it. Regarding his affairs as now desperate, he caused a vast pile of wood to be raised in a court of his palace, in which he placed his gold and silver and royal apparel, and within which he enclosed his eunuchs and concubines, and retired within his palace, and caused the pile to be set on fire, and was consumed himself with the rest; Universal History, the Ancient Part, vol. iii. pp. 354-358. London edition, 1779.
From this kingdom, thus destroyed, arose the two kingdoms of Assyria, as mentioned in the Scriptures, and of Babylonia. Arbaces, who, according to Prideaux, is the same as Tiglath-Pileser (compare however, Universal History, vol. v. 359), obtained a large part of the empire. Belesis had Babylon, Chaldea, and Arabia. Belesis, according to Prideaux (Connection, book i. p. 114), was the same as Nabonassar, or Baladan (see the note at Isaiah 39:1); and was the king from whom was reckoned the famous era of Nabonassar, commencing in the 747th year before the Christian era. It is not improbable that there was some degree of dependence of the Babylonian portion of the empire upon the Assyrian empire; or that the king of Babylon was regarded as a viceroy to the king of Assyria, since we know that among the colonists sent by Shalmaneser to populate Samaria after the ten tribes were carried away were some from Babylon, which is there mentioned in such a manner as to leave the impression that it was a province of Assyria 2 Kings 17:24. The kingdom of Babylon, however, ultimately acquired the ascendency, and the Assyrian kingdom was merged into the Chaldean monarchy. This occurred about 100 years after the reign of Nabonassar, or Baladan, and was effected by an alliance formed between Nabopolassar and Cyaxares the Median; see Robinson, Calmet, “Babylonia”; compare the note at Isaiah 39:1. It should be observed, however, that the history of the Assyrian empire is one of the most obscure portions of ancient history; see the article “Assyria” in Robinson, Calmet.
There is no decided evidence that Isaiah delivered any prophecies during the reign of Jotham. Most commentators have supposed that the prophecies in 2 Kings 16:2; 2 Chronicles 28:5. The character of Ahaz was the reverse of that of his father; and, excepting Manasseh, his grandson, there was probably not a more impious prince who ever sat on the throne of Judah, nor was there a reign that was on the whole more disastrous than his. A statement of his evil deeds and a brief record of the calamitous events of his reign is given in 2 Chronicles 28:15. It was at this juncture, and when Ahaz trembled with alarm at the prospect of the invasion of the kings of Syria and Samaria, that he resolved to call in the aid of the Assyrians, and thus to repel the apprehended invasion.
Though he had been able to defeat the united armies of Syria and Samaria once 2 Kings 16:5, yet those armies returned once more, and Ahaz in alarm determined to seek the aid of Assyria. For this purpose he sent messengers, with terms of most humble submission and entreaty, and with the most costly presents that his kingdom could furnish, to secure the alliance and aid of Tiglath-Pileser, the king of Assyria 2 Kings 16:7-8. It was at this time, when Ahaz was so much alarmed, that Isaiah met him at the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller‘s field Isaiah 7:3-4, and assured him that he had no occasion to fear the united armies of Syria and Samaria; that Jerusalem was safe, and that God would be its protector. He assured him that the kingdoms of Syria and Samaria would not be enlarged by the accession and conquest of the kingdom of Judah Isaiah 7:7-9. So, Isaiah advised Ahaz to ask for a sign (demonstration) from Yahweh that this would be fulfilled Isaiah 7:10-11.
Ahaz indignantly, though with the appearance of religious scruple, said that he would not ask for a sign Isaiah 7:12. The secret reason, however, why he was not solicitous to procure a sign from Yahweh was that he had formed an alliance with the king of Assyria and scorned the idea of recognizing his dependence upon Yahweh. Isaiah, therefore, proceeded Isaiah 7:13. to assure him that Yahweh would himself give a sign anyway and would furnish a demonstration to him that the land would be soon forsaken of both the kings which Ahaz dreaded. See the notes at Isaiah 7:17 ff and Isaiah 7:16).
At about the same time, the kingdom of Judah was threatened with an invasion from the Edomites and Philistines 2 Chronicles 28:17-18. In this emergency, Ahaz had recourse to his old ally the king of Assyria 2 Chronicles 28:20-21. To secure his friendship, Ahaz made him a costly present obtained from the temple, from his own house, and from the princes 2 Chronicles 28:21. The king of Assyria professedly accepted the offer, marched against Rezin the king of Syria, took Damascus, and killed Rezin, agreeably to the prediction of Isaiah Isaiah 7:16. While Tiglath-Pileser was at Damascus, Ahaz visited him, and being much charmed with an altar which he saw there, he sent a model of it to Urijah the priest to have one constructed like it in Jerusalem 2 Kings 16:10. This was done. Ahaz returned from Damascus, offered sacrifice upon the new altar which he had had constructed, and gave himself up to every kind of idolatry and abomination 2 Kings 16:12. Ahaz offered sacrifice to the gods of Damascus on the pretence that they had defended Syria and that it might be rendered propitious to defend his own kingdom 2 Chronicles 28:23. Then Ahaz broke up the vessels of the temple, shut up the doors, and erected altars to the pagan deities in every part of Jerusalem 2 Chronicles 28:24-25. Thus, Ahaz finished his inglorious reign in the 36th year of his age, and he was buried in the city of Jerusalem, but not in the sepulchres of the kings, on account of his gross abominations 2 Chronicles 28:27.
The prediction of Isaiah Isaiah 8:8) was not accomplished during the time of Ahaz, but was literally fulfilled in the calamities which occurred by the invasion of Sennacherib in the time of Hezekiah (see the notes at 2 Chronicles 29:1. Hezekiah‘s character was the reverse of that of his father. One of the first acts of his reign was to remove the evils introduced during the reign of Ahaz, and to restore again the pure worship of God. Hezekiah began the work of reform by destroying the high places, cutting down the groves, and overturning the altars of idolatry. He destroyed the brass serpent which Moses had made, and which had become an object of idolatrous worship. He ordered the doors of the temple to be rebuilt, and the temple itself was thoroughly cleansed and repaired 2 Kings 18:1-6; 2 Chronicles 28:18. Successful in his efforts to reform the religion of his country and in his wars with the Philistines 2 Kings 18:8, he resolved to cast off the inglorious yoke of servitude to the king of Assyria 2 Kings 18:7. Therefore, Hezekiah refused to pay the tribute which had been promised to the Assyrian monarch which had been paid by his father, Ahaz.
As might have expected, this resolution excited the indignation of the king of Assyria, and led to the resolution to compel submission. Sennacherib, therefore, invaded the land with a great army; spread desolation through no small part of it; and was rapidly advancing toward Jerusalem. Hezekiah saw his error, and, alarmed, he sought to avoid the threatened blow. So, he put the city in the best possible posture of defense. He fortified it, enclosed it with a second wall, erected towers, repaired the Millo fortification in the City of David, stopped up all the fountains, and made darts and shields so that the city might be defended 2 Chronicles 32:1-8. He tried to prepare himself as well as possible to meet the mighty foe; and he did all that he could to inspire confidence in the true God among the people (see the notes at Isaiah 22:9-11).
Yet, as if not quite confident that Hezekiah could be able to hold out during a siege, and to resist an army so mighty as that of Sennacherib, he sent ambassadors to him, acknowledged his error, and sued for peace. Sennacherib proposed that Hezekiah should send him 300 talents of silver, and 30 talents of gold, and gave the implied assurance that if this were done his army should be withdrawn 2 Kings 18:13-14. Hezekiah readily agreed to send what was demanded. And to accomplish this, Hezekiah emptied the treasury, and stripped the temple of its ornaments 2 Kings 18:15-16. Sennacherib then went on down to Egypt (see the notes at Isaiah 36:2. To this embassy no answer was returned by the messengers of Hezekiah Isaiah 36:21-22; and the messengers of Sennacherib returned to him at Libnah (see the note at Isaiah 37:8). At this period, Sennacherib was alarmed by the rumor that Tirhakah, whom he had so much reason to dread, was advancing against Sennacherib Isaiah 37:9, and again Sennacherib sent messengers to Hezekiah to induce Hezekiah to surrender, intending evidently to anticipate the news that Tirhakah was coming, and to secure the conquest of Jerusalem without being compelled to settle down before it in a long siege. This message, like the former, was unsuccessful. Hezekiah spread the case before Yahweh Isaiah 37:15-20, and Hezekiah received the answer that Jerusalem was safe. Sennacherib advanced to attack the city, but, in a single night 185,000 of his men were destroyed by an angel of the Lord, and he himself fled to his capital, where he was slain by his two sons Isaiah 37:36-38.
These events were among the most important in Jewish history. Isaiah lived during their occurrence; and a large portion of his prophecies from Isaiah 38:1. Hezekiah prayed to God for the preservation of his life, and an assurance was given to him that he would live 15 years longer Isaiah 38:5. In attestation of this, and as a demonstration of it, the shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz was made to recede ten degrees (see the notes at Isaiah 38:8).
Hezekiah, after his signal success over his foe, and the entire deliverance of his kingdom from the long dreaded invasion, and his recovery from the dangerous illness, became eminently prosperous and successful. He was caressed and flattered by foreign princes, presents of great value were given to him, and he surrounded himself with the usual splendor and magnificence of an oriental monarch 2 Chronicles 32:23, 2 Chronicles 32:27-28. As a consequence of this, his heart was lifted up with pride; he gloried in his wealth and magnificence, and even became proud of the divine interposition in his favor. To show what was in his heart, and to humble him, he was left to display his treasures in an ostentatious manner to the ambassadors of Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylon 2 Chronicles 32:25, 2 Chronicles 32:31, and, for this act, received the assurance that all his treasures and his family would be carried in inglorious bondage to the land from whence the ambassadors came (2 Kings 20:12-18; see the notes at Isaiah 39:1-8). The rest of the life of Hezekiah was in peace Isaiah 39:8. He died at the age of 54, and was buried in the most honored of the tombs of the kings of Judah 2 Chronicles 32:33, and was deeply lamented by a weeping people at his death.
The reign of Hezekiah stretched through a considerable portion of the prophetic ministry of Isaiah. A large part of his prophecies are, therefore, presumed to have been uttered during this reign. It is probable that to this period we are to attribute the entire series from 2 Chronicles 32:11 - another proof that Babylon was at this time a dependent province of the Assyrian monarchy. In Babylon, Manasseh repented of his sins and humbled himself, and he was again returned to his land and his throne. After his restoration, he removed the worship of idols, and re-established the worship of Yahweh. He built a wall on the west side of Gihon, and extended it around to Mount Ophel, and put Jerusalem in a posture of defense. He broke down and removed the altars which he himself had erected in Jerusalem and in the temple; and he removed all traces of idolatrous worship except the high places, which he still allowed to remain. There is evidence of his reformation, and the latter part of his reign appears to have passed in comparative happiness and virtue.
It was only during the early part of his reign that Isaiah lived, and there is in his prophecies no express mention made of Manasseh. If Isaiah lived during any part of it, it is evident that he withdrew entirely, or nearly so, from the public exercise of his prophetic functions, and retired to a comparatively private life. There is evidently between the close of Isaiah 39:1-8 of his prophecy, and the period when the latter part of his prophecies commences Isaiah 40 an interval of considerable duration. It is not a violation of probability that Isaiah after the death of Hezekiah, being an old man, withdrew much from public life, that he saw and felt that there was little hope of producing reform during the impious career of Manasseh, and that, in the distress and anguish of his soul, he gave himself up to the contemplation of the happier times which would yet occur under the reign of the Messiah. It was during this period, I suppose, that Isaiah composed the latter part of his prophecies, from Isaiah 40 to Isaiah 66.
The nation was full of wickedness. An impious prince was on the throne. Piety was banished, and the friends of Yahweh were bleeding in Jerusalem. The nation was given up to idolatry. The kingdom was approaching the period of its predicted fall and ruin. Isaiah saw the tendency of events; he saw how hopeless the attempt at reform would be. He saw that the captivity of Babylon was hastening on, and that the nation was preparing for that gloomy event. In this dark and disastrous period, he seems to have withdrawn himself from the contemplation of the joyless present, and to have given his mind to the contemplation of happier future scenes. An interval perhaps of some 10 or 15 years may be supposed to have elapsed between his last public labors in the time of Hezekiah, and the prophecies which compose the remainder of the book.
During this interval, Isaiah may have withdrawn from public view, and fixed his mind upon the great events of future times. In his visions he sees the nation about to go into captivity. Yet he sees also that there would be a return from bondage, and he comforts the hearts of the pious with the assurance of such a return. He announces the name of the monarch by whom that deliverance would be accomplished, and gives assurance that the captive Jews would return to their own land again. But Isaiah is not satisfied with the announcement of this comparatively unimportant deliverance. With that he connects a far greater and more important deliverance, that from sin, under the Messiah. Isaiah fixes his eye, therefore, on the future glories of the kingdom of God, sees the long promised Messiah, describes his person, his work, his doctrine, and states in glowing language the effects of his coming on the happiness and destiny of mankind. As Isaiah advances in his prophetic descriptions, the deliverance from Babylon seems to die away and is forgotten or it is lost in the contemplation of the event to which it had a resemblance - the coming of the Messiah - as the morning star is lost in the superior glory of the rising sun. He
the Second Week of Lent