the Fifth Week of Lent
Dr. Constable's Expository Notes Constable's Expository Notes
by Thomas Constable
"The Book of Isaiah can be called ’a Bible in miniature.’ There are sixty-six chapters in Isaiah and sixty-six books in the Bible. The thirty-nine chapters of the first part of Isaiah may be compared to the Old Testament with its thirty-nine books, and both focus primarily on God’s judgment of sin. The twenty-seven chapters of the second part may be seen to parallel the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, and both emphasize the grace of God." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, "Isaiah," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 48.]
TITLE AND WRITER
The title of this book of the Bible, as is true of the other prophetical books, comes from its writer. The book claims to have come from Isaiah (Isa_1:1; Isa_2:1; Isa_7:3; Isa_13:1; Isa_20:2; Isa_37:2; Isa_37:6; Isa_37:21; Isa_38:1; Isa_38:4; Isa_38:21; Isa_39:3; Isa_39:5; Isa_39:8), and Jesus Christ and the apostles quoted him as being the writer at least 21 times, more often than they quoted all the other writing prophets combined. There are also many more quotations and allusions to Isaiah in the New Testament without reference to Isaiah being the writer. The only Old Testament book referred to more frequently than Isaiah in the New Testament is Psalms.
"It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Isaiah for the Christology of the church." [Note: Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 319.]
The name of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, is the only one connected with the book in any of the Hebrew manuscripts or ancient versions. Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote at the end of the first century A.D., believed that Isaiah wrote this book. He said that Cyrus read the prophecies that Isaiah had written about him and wished to fulfill them. [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 11:1:1-2.] Josephus’ statement is not necessarily true, but it does show that Josephus believed that Isaiah wrote Isaiah.
There is no record of any serious scholar doubting the Isaianic authorship of the entire book before the twelfth century when Ibn Ezra, a Jewish commentator, did so. With the rise of rationalism, moreover, some German scholars took the lead in questioning it in the late eighteenth century. They claimed that the basis for their new view was the differences in style, content, and emphases in the various parts of the prophecy. Many scholars have noted that it is not really the text itself that argues for multiple authorship as much as the presence of predictive prophecy in chapters 40-66, which antisupernaturalistic critics try to explain away. Many modern rationalistic critics believe the purpose of prophetic literature is simply to call a particular people to faith in God, not to predict the future. However, if the prophets did not predict the future, their theology is questionable. They frequently claimed that the fulfillment of their predictions would validate their theology, and it did. Six times in Isaiah God claimed the ability to predict the future (Isa_42:8-9; Isa_44:7-8; Isa_45:1-4; Isa_45:21; Isa_46:10; Isa_48:3-6).
At first, these critics hypothesized that the respective emphases on judgment in chapters 1-39 and consolation in chapters 40-66 pointed to separate writers: Isaiah and "Deutero-Isaiah." With further study, a theory of three writers ("Trito-Isaiah") emerged because of the differences between chapters 40-55 and 56-66. These critics conceived addresses to three different historical settings in these three parts of the book: Isaiah’s lifetime (ca. 739-701 B.C.; chs. 1-39), the Babylonian exile (ca. 605-539 B.C.; chs. 40-55), and the return (ca. 539-400 B.C.; chs. 56-66). [Note: See Eugene H. Merrill, "Survey of a Century of Studies on Isaiah 40-55," Bibliotheca Sacra 144:573 (January-March 1987):24-43; and idem, "Literary Genres in Isaiah 40-55," Bibliotheca Sacra 144:574 (April-June 1987):144-55. One modern commentator on Isaiah who advocated this approach is John D. W. Watts.] One can make a case for Isaiah writing chapters 1-39 in preparation for the exile, chapters 40-55 as though he were in exile, and chapters 56-66 as though he were living after the exile. But that does not mean three different writers wrote these sections.
"Along with what is known as the JEDP theory of the origins of the Pentateuch, the belief in the multiple authorship of the book of Isaiah is one of the most generally accepted dogmas of biblical higher criticism today." [Note: John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39, p. 17.]
Here is a chart of how "normative" biblical criticism dates Isaiah and some other Old Testament books. [Note: Adapted from Bruce K. Waltke, "Micah," in Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, p. 170.]
|Pre-exilic (760-586 B.C.)|
|First Isaiah (chs. 1-35)|
|Psalms of Zion (Psalms 46, 48, , 87)|
|Exilic (586-539 B.C.)|
|Deuteronomist (Deuteronomy-2 Kings)|
|Late||Second Isaiah (chs. 40-55)|
|Post-exilic (516-?350 B.C.)|
|Third Isaiah (chs. 56-66)|
Internal and external evidence points to the unity of authorship. The title for God, "Holy One of Israel," which reflects the deep impression that Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6 made on him, occurs 12 times in chapters 1-39 and 14 times in chapters 40-66, but only seven times elsewhere in the entire Old Testament. Other key phrases, passages, words, themes, and motifs likewise appear in both parts of the book. [Note: See Oswalt, pp. 17-23.] Jewish tradition uniformly attributed the entire book to Isaiah, as did Christian tradition until the eighteenth century. The Isaiah Dead Sea Scroll, the oldest copy of Isaiah that we have, dating from the second century B.C., has chapter 40 beginning in the same column in which chapter 39 ends. All the major commentaries and introductions deal with the unity problem. [Note: See particularly O. T. Allis, The Unity of Isaiah, A Study in Prophecy; and Longman and Dillard, pp. 303-11.]
Isaiah lived in Jerusalem, and that capital city features prominently in his prophecies. Isaiah referred to Jerusalem by using more than 30 names. His easy access to the court and Judah’s kings, revealed in his book, suggests that he ministered to the kings of Judah and may have had royal blood in his veins. Jewish tradition made him the cousin of King Uzziah. His communication gifts and his political connections, whatever those may have been, gave him an opportunity to reach the whole nation of Judah. The prophet was married and had at least two sons, to whom he gave significant names that summarized major themes of his prophecies (Isa_8:18): Shearjashub (a remnant shall return, Isa_7:3), and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (hastening to the spoil, Isa_8:3). Hosea’s children also received names with prophetic significance.
Isaiah received his call to prophetic ministry in the year that King Uzziah died (740 B.C.; ch. 6). He responded enthusiastically to this privilege, even though he knew from the outset that his ministry would prove fruitless and discouraging (Isa_6:9-13). His wife was a prophetess (Isa_8:3), probably in the sense that she was married to a prophet; we have no record that she prophesied herself. Isaiah also trained a group of disciples who gathered around him (Isa_8:16). His vision of God, which he received at the beginning of his ministry, profoundly influenced Isaiah’s whole view of life as well as his prophecies, as is clear from what he wrote. As Paul’s Damascus road vision of God shaped his theology, so Isaiah’s vision of God shaped his.
The prophet had a very broad appreciation of the political situation in which he lived. He demonstrated awareness of all the nations around his homeland. Judah and Jerusalem were the focal points of his prophecies, but he saw God’s will for them down the corridors of time, as well as in his own day. He saw that the kingdom that God would establish through His Messiah would include all people. He was a true patriot who denounced evils in his land, as well as giving credit where that was due. He condemned religious cults yet remained neutral politically. His understanding of theology was profound. He set forth the wonder and grandeur of Yahweh more ably than any other biblical writer. As a writer, Isaiah is without a peer among the Old Testament prophets. He was a poetic artist who employed a large vocabulary and many literary devices to express his thoughts beautifully and powerfully. Most of his prophecies appear to have been messages that he delivered, so he was probably also a powerful orator.
"Of all the O.T. prophets, Isaiah is the most comprehensive in range. No prophet is more fully occupied with the redemptive work of Christ. In no other place, in the Scriptures written under the law, is there so clear a view of grace." [Note: The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 713.]
There is no historical record of Isaiah’s death. Jewish tradition held that he suffered martyrdom under King Manasseh (697-642 B.C.) because of his prophesying. The early church father Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150) wrote that the Jews sawed him to death with a wooden saw (cf. Heb_11:37). [Note: See also The Martyrdom of Isaiah 5:1ff.] Another ancient source says he took refuge in a hollow tree, but his persecutors discovered and extracted him. This may account for the unusual method of his execution.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND DATE
Isaiah ministered during the reigns of four Judean kings (Isa_1:1): Uzziah (792-740 B.C.), Jotham (750-732 B.C.), Ahaz (735-715 B.C.), and Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.). [Note: See 2 Kings 15:1-7, 32-38; 16:1-20; 18-20; and 2 Chronicles 26-32 for the biblical accounts of these kings’ reigns. Edwin R. Thiele, A Chronology of the Hebrew Kings, p. 75.] The prophet began his ministry in the year that King Uzziah (or Azariah) died, namely, 740 or 739 B.C. (Isa_6:1).
During Uzziah’s reign, Judah enjoyed peace because of her surrounding nations’ lack of antagonism and hostility. However, in 745 B.C. Tiglath-pileser III mounted the throne of Assyria and began to expand his empire. His three successors (Shalmaneser V, Sargon II, and Sennacherib) proved equally ambitious. Aram (Syria) and Israel (Ephraim) felt the pressure of Assyrian expansion before Judah did, because they were closer to Assyria. But in King Ahaz’s reign, Judah had to make a crucial decision regarding her relationship to Assyria. Isaiah played a major role in that decision (ch. 7).
A second major crisis arose during the reign of King Hezekiah. By this time Babylon had defeated Assyria, and it was also expanding aggressively in Judah’s direction. Again Isaiah played a major part in the decision about how Judah would respond to this threat (chs. 36-39).
". . . Isaiah exercised his prophetic ministry at a time of unique significance, a time in which it was of utmost importance to realize that salvation could not be obtained by reliance upon man but only from God Himself. For Israel it was the central or pivotal point of history between Moses and Christ. The old world was passing and an entirely new order of things was beginning to make its appearance. Where would Israel stand in that new world? Would she be the true theocracy, the light to lighten the Gentiles, or would she fall into the shadow by turning for help to the nations which were about her?" [Note: Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah , 1:4-5.]
Sennacherib outlived Hezekiah, who died in 686 B.C., and Isaiah recorded the death of Sennacherib in 681 B.C. (Isa_37:38). Just how long the prophet ministered after that event is impossible to determine, but he must have prophesied for at least 60 years. However, the bulk of the material in his book derives from the first 50 of those years (ca. 740-690 B.C.).
|Important dates for Isaiah|
|745||Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria begins his reign|
|740||Uzziah of Judah dies; Isaiah begins his ministry|
|735||Ahaz of Judah begins his co-regency with Jotham; Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Aram ally against Assyria|
|733-32||Tiglath-pileser invades Aram and Israel|
|732||Damascus falls; Pekah and Rezin die; Jotham dies|
|722||Samaria falls; Shalmaneser V of Assyria dies and Sargon II begins to reign|
|715||Ahaz dies and Hezekiah begins his reign|
|711||Sargon attacks Ashdod and returns to Assyria|
|710||Sargon attacks Babylon|
|701||Sennacherib of Assyria defeats Egypt at Eltekah and departs from Jerusalem; Merodach-baladan of Babylon sends messengers to visit Hezekiah|
|697||Manasseh of Judah begins his co-regency|
|690||Tirhakah of Egypt begins his reign|
|689||Sennacherib of Assyria defeats Babylon|
|681||Sennacherib of Assyria dies and Esarhaddon begins to reign|
|671||Esarhaddon imports foreigners into Israel and defeats Egypt|
|612||Nineveh falls to Babylon|
|609||Nabopolassar of Babylon defeats Assyria and Assyria falls|
|605||Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeats Egypt at Carchemish; first deportation of Judahites to Babylon|
|597||Second deportation of Judahites to Babylon|
|586||Jerusalem falls to Nebuchadnezzar|
|559||Cyrus II of Persia begins to reign|
|539||Cyrus overthrows Babylon|
|538||Cyrus issues his decree allowing Jews to return to Palestine|
|518||Darius Hystaspes of Persia destroys Babylon|
Isaiah was arguably the greatest of four prophets who lived and wrote toward the end of the eighth century. Amos and Hosea ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel at this time, and Micah and Isaiah served in Judah. An easy way to remember these four is to remember the phrase "ah mi" made from the first letters of their names. Jonah also prophesied in Israel in the eighth century (2Ki_14:25), but the book that bears his name records his ministry to Nineveh.
"Beyond all question, Isaiah was the greatest of all the OT prophets, for his thought and doctrine covered as wide a range of subjects as did the length of his ministry." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, pp. 204-5.]
AUDIENCE AND PURPOSE
Isaiah ministered and wrote to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. His task was to explain to these chosen people that the old world order was passing away and that the new order-controlled by Gentile world empires that sought to swallow Judah up-required a new commitment for Israel to trust and obey Yahweh as His "servant" nation. The Assyrian threat called for this new dedication. This was a theological even more than a historical and political crisis for Judah. It raised many questions that Isaiah addressed.
"Is God truly the Sovereign of history if the godless nations are stronger than God’s nation? Does might make right? What is the role of God’s people in the world? Does divine judgment mean divine rejection? What is the nature of trust? What is the future of the Davidic monarchy? Are not the idols stronger than God and therefore superior to him?" [Note: Oswalt, p. 28.]
The far-reaching nature of these questions called for reference to the future, which Isaiah revealed from the Lord. The Northern Kingdom had made the wrong commitment, which Amos denounced, but the Southern Kingdom still had an opportunity to trust Yahweh and live.
"Stated briefly, the purpose of Isaiah is to display God’s glory and holiness through His judgment of sin and His deliverance and blessing of a righteous remnant." [Note: Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 527.]
The Book of Isaiah (1,292 verses), the fourth longest book in the Bible after Psalms (2,461 verses), Genesis (1,533 verses), and Jeremiah (1,364 verses), deals with as broad a range of theology as any book in the Old Testament. [Note: Kaiser, p. 204. See also Longman and Dillard, pp. 312-17] In this respect it is similar to Romans. However, there are four primary doctrines, all arising out of the prophet’s personal experience with God in his call (ch. 6), that receive the most emphasis. These are: God, man and the world, sin, and redemption.
Isaiah presented God as great, transcendently separate, authoritative, omnipotent, majestic, holy, and morally and ethically perfect. In contrast, he described sarcastically the stupidity of idolatry. God creates history as well as the cosmos, and He has a special relationship with Israel among the nations. The adjective "holy" (Heb. qadosh) describes God 33 times in Isaiah, but only 26 times in the rest of the Old Testament. Holiness is the primary attribute of God that this prophet stressed.
Isaiah showed the tremendous value that God places on humanity and the world, but also the folly of pride and unbelief. Assuming pretensions to significance leads to insignificance for the creation, but giving true significance to God results in glory for humanity and the world. As all the other eighth-century prophets, Isaiah condemned injustice.
Sin is rebellion, for Isaiah, that springs from pride. The book begins and ends on this note (Isa_1:2; Isa_66:24). All the evil in the world results from man’s refusal to accept Yahweh’s Lordship. The prophet repeatedly showed how foolish such rebellion is. It not only affects man himself but also his environment. God’s response to sin is judgment if people continue to rebel against Him, but He responds with redemption if they abandon self-trust and depend on Him. Sin calls for repentance, and forgiveness for the penitent is available.
God’s judgment, the outworking of the personal rage of offended deity, takes many forms: natural disaster, military defeat, and disease being a few, but they all come from God’s hand ultimately. The means of salvation can only be through God’s activity. Substitutionary atonement makes possible God’s announcement of pardon and redemption. This redemption comes through the promised Messiah ultimately, the Lord’s anointed King. The goal of redemption is not just deliverance from sin’s guilt but the sharing of God’s character and fellowship. Salvation could only come to God’s people as they accepted the role of servant. Deliverance cannot come to man through his own effort, but he must look to God alone for it. His emphasis on salvation has earned Isaiah the title of "evangelist of the Old Testament." One writer called the fifty-third chapter "the fifth Gospel." [Note: David Baron, The Servant of Jehovah, p. 3.] Isaiah’s name, "The Lord (Yahweh) is salvation," meaning the Lord is the source of salvation, summarizes his message.
". . . in that one name is compressed the whole contents of the book!" [Note: F. C. Jennings, Studies in Isaiah, p. 15.]
Isaiah is also strongly eschatological. In many passages the prophet dealt with the future destiny of Israel and the Gentiles. He wrote more than any other prophet of the great kingdom into which the Israelites would enter under Messiah’s rule.
"We stand precisely on Isa_56:1, looking back to the work of the Servant (now fulfilled in the person, life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus) and looking forward to the coming of the Anointed Conqueror." [Note: J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 33.]
Isaiah’s emphasis on the coming Messiah is second only to the Psalms in the Old Testament in terms of its fullness and variety. God revealed more about the coming Messiah to Isaiah than He did to any other Old Testament character. Messianic themes in Isaiah include: the branch, the stone (refuge), light, child, king, and especially servant. In some of the passages in Isaiah, Israel is the servant of the Lord that is in view, in others he is Cyrus, in others the faithful remnant in Israel is the servant, and in still others a future individual, the Messiah, must be in view. As Matthew clarified, Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of what God intended the Israelites to be (Mat_2:15; cf. Hos_11:1-2).
"What is the overarching theme of OT theology? Perhaps it is the covenant. Here in Isaiah, God’s special relationship with Israel is presupposed throughout. Perhaps it is the kingdom of God. The whole structure of the book brings out the implications of God’s sovereign control of things in the interests of his kingdom. Perhaps it is promise and fulfillment. Here we see time and again the word of divine authority being fulfilled and further fulfillment thereby pledged. Perhaps it is simply God himself, Israel’s Holy One. This book is one long exposition of the implications-for Israel and the world-of who and what he is. So this great prophecy-its whole structure unified by its teaching about the Holy One of Israel, who is true to his word, faithful to his covenant, and pursues the establishment of his kingdom-is a classic disclosure of the very heart of the OT faith." [Note: Geoffrey W. Grogan, "Isaiah," in Isaiah-Ezekiel, vol. 6 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 21-22.]
"The theological message of the book may be summarized as follows: The Lord will fulfill His ideal for Israel by purifying His people through judgment and then restoring them to a renewed covenantal relationship. He will establish Jerusalem (Zion) as the center of His worldwide kingdom and reconcile once hostile nations to Himself." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "A Theology of Isaiah," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 305.]
GENRE AND INTERPRETATION
The book is a compilation of the revelations that Isaiah received from the Lord. He presented this revelation as messages and compiled them into their present form. His disciples may have put finishing touches on the collection under divine inspiration. Most of the book is poetic in form, the prophet having been lifted up in his spirit as he beheld and recorded what God revealed to him. Much of the content is eschatological and therefore prophetic, though most of the ministry of the prophets, including Isaiah, was forth-telling rather than foretelling. Some of what is eschatological is also apocalyptic, dealing with the final consummative climax of history in the future. These portions bear the marks of that type of literature: symbols, analogies, and various figures of speech. Psalms, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation also contain apocalyptic writing.
Students of Isaiah have difficulty understanding the eschatological portions of the book. Some believe that we should look for a literal fulfillment of everything predicted. Others believe that when Isaiah spoke of Israel and Jerusalem he was referring to the church. More literal interpretation results in a premillennial understanding of prophecy, whereas spiritualization results in an amillennial or postmillennial understanding. The problem with taking every prophecy literally is that in many places the prophet used metaphors and other figures of speech to describe his meaning; what he wrote does not describe exactly what he meant. The problem with spiritualizing all the prophecies is that one has to reinterpret "Israel," and the New Testament teaches that Israel will have a future in God’s plans-as Israel (Rom_11:26-27). The church will not replace Israel, though the church does participate in some of the blessing promised to Israel. The most satisfying position, for me, is to interpret Isaiah as literally as seems legitimate in view of other divine revelation, while at the same time remembering that some of what appears to be literal description, may in fact be metaphorical. This is the approach taken by most premillennialists.
"Surely God may be expected to have one basic meaning in what he says. This is true, but just as human speech, especially when it is poetical, may suggest further levels of significance beyond the meaning conveyed by the passage in its context, so may the Word of God." [Note: Grogan, p. 15.]
Occasional time references scattered throughout the book indicate that Isaiah arranged his prophecies in a basically chronological order (cf. Isa_6:1; Isa_7:1; Isa_14:28; Isa_20:1; Isa_36:1; Isa_37:38). However, they are not completely chronological. More fundamentally, Isaiah arranged his prophecies as an anthology in harmony with a unifying principle. That organizing principle seems to be that God’s people should view all of life in the light of God’s reality, and should therefore orient themselves to Him appropriately, namely: as His servants.
Isaiah built a huge mosaic out of his prophecies and used pre-exilic material to serve pre-exilic, exilic, post-exilic, and eschatological ends. It is not unreasonable to assume that after Isaiah had completed what we now have in chapters 1-39, he received new revelations from God along a different line, that led him to adopt the somewhat different style that is characteristic of the last part of the book. The first part (chs. 1-35) deals primarily with the threat of Assyria and the second (chs. 40-66) with that of Babylonia, with chapters 36-39 forming a transition. Chapters 1-5 are an introduction to the whole collection of messages. Chapters 6 and 53 are the key chapters because they provide the most concise answers to the great questions raised in the book. The book contains many extended doublets: repetition of the same truth in the same consecutive steps. [Note: See Longman and Dillard, pp. 317-19, for a summary of the "bifid" (two part) approach to Isaiah proposed by W. H. Brownlee and followed by R. K. Harrison and C. A. Evans.]
I. Introduction chs. 1-5
A. Israel’s condition and God’s solution ch. 1
B. The problem with Israel chs. 2-4
C. The analogy of wild grapes ch. 5
II. Isaiah’s vision of God ch. 6
III. Israel’s crisis of faith chs. 7-39
A. The choice between trusting God or Assyria chs. 7-12
4. Trust in God’s favor ch. 12
B. God’s sovereignty over the nations chs. 13-35
1. Divine judgments on the nations chs. 13-23
2. Divine victory over the nations chs. 24-27
3. The folly of trusting the nations chs. 28-33
4. The consequences of Israel’s trust chs. 34-35
C. Tests of Israel’s trust chs. 36-39
1. The Assyrian threat chs. 36-37
2. The Babylonian threat chs. 38-39
IV. Israel’s calling in the world chs. 40-55
A. God’s grace to Israel chs. 40-48
1. The Lord of the servant ch. 40
4. The servant’s attention to her Lord ch. 48
B. God’s atonement for Israel chs. 49-55
3. Invitation to salvation chs. 54-55
V. Israel’s future transformation chs. 56-66
A. Recognition of human inability chs. 56-59
1. The need for humility and holiness chs. 56-57
2. The relationship of righteousness and ritual chs. 58-59
B. Revelation of future glory chs. 60-62
1. Israel among the nations ch. 60
2. Israel under the Lord chs. 61-62
C. Recognition of divine ability chs. 63-66
Another way of outlining the book is according to the groups of people to whom Isaiah apparently delivered his prophecies. [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 833, n. 13, used the critical terms "First Isaiah," "Second (Deutero-) Isaiah," and "Third (Trito-) Isaiah," "to designate different historical horizons, not to indicate any prophets other than the one identified in Isaiah 1:1."]
Prophecies to the people of Isaiah’s day (pre-exilic Israelites) chs. 1-39
Prophecies to the captives in Babylon (exilic Israelites) chs. 40-55
Prophecies to the restoration community (post-exilic Israelites) chs. 56-66
The ancient Near East in Isaiah’s times
Canaan in Isaiah’s times
Judah and Israel in Isaiah’s times
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