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Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

- Isaiah

by Charles John Ellicott




Late Dean of Wells.


I. Life of Isaiah.—(1) We cannot write the life of Isaiah as we can write that of St. Paul. We have no contemporary notices of him by other writers, and only a few dim traditions as to any facts of his life and death. His writings, containing, as they do, the messages which he had to give to men from God, are as far as possible from being intentionally autobiographical. We know less of his home-life than we do of Hosea’s; less of the manner in which he was treated by priests and princes and rival prophets, than we do of the manner in which Jeremiah was treated by his contemporaries. All that we can do, in the dearth of this information from without, is to look to the prophet’s writings, and see what they tell us of the man, to draw inferences more or less legitimate from acknowledged facts, to trace out hints scattered here and there by chance, to supply a theory based upon some phenomena and explaining others, and so to construct what I have elsewhere called an “Ideal Biography of Isaiah.”[24]

[24] See a series of papers with this title in the Expositor, Second Series, 1883.

(2) Of the father of Isaiah we know nothing but the name which he bore himself, and that which he gave his son. The former, Amoz, is probably a shortened form of Amaziah (“strong is Jehovah”), and if we were to accept the Rabbinic maxim, that where the name of a prophet’s father is given it is because the father also was a prophet, we might infer that Isaiah was trained in early youth for the work that lay before him. The name Isaiah (“Jah,” or “Jehovah, saves”) would seem to indicate that he who gave it was a man whose belief in the Lord God of Israel was strong and living, perhaps that he dedicated his child to be a witness of the truth which the name implies. Isaiah’s practice of giving symbolic and suggestive names to his children may have been inherited from his father. It may be inferred, without much risk of error, from the circumstances of Isaiah’s call (Isaiah 6:1), that he was a priest. The vision which he saw was from the court which none might enter but the sons of Aaron. The reformer of the ceremonial hypocrisy that had defiled the sanctuary (Isaiah 1:11-14; Isaiah 28:7) was to come, as in the instances of Jeremiah, the Baptist, Savonarola, Luther, from the sanctuary itself. The character of a man’s mother may always in some measure be inferred from that of the man himself. In Isaiah’s case we have, besides this, suggestive allusions to a mother’s care for her children (Isaiah 49:15). The tenderness with which she comforts her son is the type of the pitying love of Jehovah for His chosen, which remembers even when that natural tenderness forgets (Isaiah 66:12-13). We may feel sure that she presented rather the older pattern of the godly matrons of Israel than the life of frivolous luxury sketched by her son in such vivid colours in Isaiah 3:16-23. Looking to the fact that from twenty-five to thirty was the normal age at which priest or Levite entered on his functions, and that Isaiah does not plead his youth, as Jeremiah did (Jeremiah 1:6), as a reason for shrinking back from his calling as a prophet, we may fix his birth at from B.C. 788-783, and accordingly we have to think of the boy as growing up during the latter half of the reign of Uzziah. His education was naturally grounded on the sacred books of his country, as far as they then existed. Allusive references to Eden and Noah (Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 54:9), to Abraham and Sarah (Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 51:1-2), to Jacob and Moses (Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 63:11-12), to Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 13:19), show that these books must have included the substance of Genesis and Exodus. The Book of Judges supplied the memories of the day of Midian (Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26). The Proverbs of Solomon, then, as always, prominent in Jewish education, furnished him with an ethical and philosophical vocabulary (Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 11:3; Isaiah 33:5-6), and with the method of parabolic teaching (Isaiah 28:23-29), and taught him to lay the foundations of morality in the “fear of the Lord.” As he advanced to manhood, the Book of Job met him, with its bold presentations of the problems of the universe, and gave the training which he needed for his work as the great poet-prophet of Israel. (See Cheyne’s “Isaiah,” ii. 226, and essay on “Job and the Second Part of Isaiah,” ii. 243.)

(3) The Psalms which were then in use in the Temple supplied emotions, imagery, culture of another kind, which bore fruit in the “songs” or “hymns” which Isaiah actually incorporated in the collection of his writings (Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 26:1-4), perhaps, also in the Psalms of the sons of Korah, some, at least, of which belong to the same period (Psalms 44-48), and bear traces of parallelism of thought. The instances of a like parallelism between the language of Isaiah and that of Deuteronomy,[25] are not sufficient to settle the question as to the date and authorship of that book, but they may be at least considered as contributing to its solution. Side by side with this religious education there are signs of a wider culture, of training in the medical science of the time (Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 38:21), of some knowledge of the history and religion of the great empires which were contending for the sovereignty of the East (Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 19:11-13; Isaiah 23:12-13; Isaiah 46:1). The prosperous reign of Uzziah revived the commerce of Jerusalem, and from the men of Tyre and others he heard of the far-off voyages of the ships of Tarshish to the isles of Chittim (Isaiah 2:16; Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 23:14; Isaiah 60:9), of the distant Shinar, and Media, and Elam (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 13:17; Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 22:6), and of the isles of the sea (Isaiah 11:11), even of the land of Sinim (China) (Isaiah 49:12). His knowledge of Egypt, of Zoan, and Noph, and Pathros (Isaiah 19:11), of the rivers of Ethiopia, and the seven streams of the Delta (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 11:15), of Dibon and Nebo, and other Moabite cities (Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 16:9), implies, if not actual travel, much intercourse with travellers, in those countries. He may have learnt the Aramaic of the northern provinces of Syria, and so been able, like Hezekiah’s ministers, to converse even with Assyrians (Isaiah 36:11), and have known more than his fellows of their names and titles, and the organisation of their armies, as in the Sargon and the Tartan of Isaiah 20:1. He may have watched with his own eyes the art of the metallurgist (Isaiah 1:25), of the sculptor, of the painter, which he describes so vividly (Isaiah 44:12).

[25] See Dr. Kay, in the Speaker’s Commentary, Note on Isaiah, chap. 1.

(4) Two facts in the reign of Uzziah would seem to have impressed themselves on the mind of the young prophet: (1) the earthquake which is mentioned by Amos (Isaiah 1:1), and Zechariah (Isaiah 14:5), and which has left many traces of its influence as a type of Divine judgments in Isaiah’s writings (Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 24:19-20); and (2) the leprosy which came on the king as a punishment for the sacrilegious usurpation of the functions of the priesthood (2 Chronicles 26:20-21), and which may well have suggested the terrible question whether he himself, and the whole nation of which he was a member, were not tainted with a like spiritual uncleanness, which yet he felt powerless to remedy (Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 6:5).

(5) The theophany of Isaiah 6:0 was the answer to these questionings and misgivings. He entered on a new stage of life, with new powers, and the sense of a new vocation. The touch of the burning coal upon his lips was, as it were, an instantaneous purgatory, cleansing his iniquity. But the work on which he entered was, beyond that of any other prophet, an arduous and a terrible one. He had to be a herald of devastation, and defeat, and exile; of messages the immediate effect of which would be to increase the spiritual deafness and blindness of his hearers (Isaiah 6:10). The one gleam of hope in the thick darkness was that which told of the “remnant” in which the true Israel should at last revive, of the young scion which should rise out of the decayed tree, the branches of which had been lopped off as by the axe of the Divine judgments (Isaiah 6:13).

(6) Isaiah does not seem, however, to have entered at once upon the public exercise of a prophet’s calling. His first work was to study the present and the future in the volume of the past, and in his history of the reign of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:22), with its material prosperity, its national arrogance, its formalism and hypocrisy, its luxuries and its pomp, its corruption and its cruelty, we may well believe that he probed to the quick the ulcerous sores which were eating into the nation’s life, as he did afterwards in the “great indictment,” with which his collected writings open. To this period of his life, under Jotham, we may also assign his marriage with a woman like-minded with himself, not without her own share of prophetic gifts (Isaiah 8:3), and the birth of the son whose name, Shear-jashub (“remnant returns”), embodying, as it did, at once the terror and the hope of his great vision, made him, even in his infancy, “a sign and a wonder” to the people (Isaiah 8:18).

(7) There are signs, however, that Isaiah was recognised as a prophet before the close of the reign of Jotham. At the beginning of that of Ahaz he had disciples, who gathered round him and took notes of his teaching (Isaiah 8:16). He would seem to have been on terms of intimacy with Zechariah, the father of the wife of Ahaz, the mother of Hezekiah, and with the high priest Urijah (Isaiah 8:2; 2 Chronicles 29:1). The tone of authority in which he speaks to Ahaz (Isaiah 7:4; Isaiah 13:0), might almost seem to suggest that the education of the young prince had been entrusted to his care, as that of Solomon had been to Nathan. If the result, as far as Ahaz was concerned, was disappointing, the influence which he began to exercise on the mind of his future successor, born when Ahaz himself was scarcely out of the age of tutelage, must have been abundant compensation. The fact that Hezekiah’s mother was the daughter or granddaughter of one who had understanding in the visions of God (2 Chronicles 26:5) suggests the inference that she may have been chosen by Jotham, under Isaiah’s guidance, as a wife for the young king, and that the devotion and purity of Hezekiah’s character were mainly due to her influence, as directed by him. Anyhow, the events of that reign, the invasion of Rezin and Pekah, the conquests of Pul, the intervention of Tiglath-pileser, the rise of the Ethiopian dynasty of the Pharaohs, represented by So, or Sabaco, the wars with the Philistines, and other neighbouring nations, must have given many occasions, over and above those recorded in his writings, for the exercise of his gifts of insight as a prophet and a statesman, seeing the secret workings that lay below the surface of things, and proclaiming the righteous government of Jehovah, as disposing and ordering all. During this period also we may rightly think of the influence of contemporary prophets such as Hosea and Amos, in the northern kingdom, and above all Micah, his friend and contemporary in Judah, as working upon his mind, enlarging his thoughts, completing the training which fitted him for the higher and more commanding position which he was to occupy in the reign of Hezekiah. To Micah especially we can trace his visions of the restored Temple (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1), his protests against greed and drunkenness (Micah 2:1-11), his hopes of a Prince of Peace rising out of the house of David (Micah 5:2; Micah 5:5).

(8) At the commencement of that reign, Isaiah must have been over sixty. The king whom he had trained, and whose mother was under his direction, was only twenty-five, and in the whole opening policy of his reformation, the restoration of the worship of the Temple, with its psalmody and music, the effort after a renewed unity shown in his invitation to Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, to keep the passover at Jerusalem, the conversion of the heathen and their admission, as proselytes, into fellowship with Israel, (2 Chronicles 29-32), we can trace, without the shadow of a doubt, the influence of his instructor. If the prophet did not identify the king with the ideal ruler, the Prince of Peace of his earlier utterances (Isaiah 9:6), he must have seen in him the pledge and earnest of the possibilities of a future like that of the stem and branch of Jesse in Isaiah 11:1. It was a time of joy such as the nation had not seen since the days of Solomon (2 Chronicles 30:26). The king himself assumed the office of a teacher, and “spake comfortably” to the hearts of priests and laity, and appeared almost as a priest interceding for the ignorant and erring (2 Chronicles 30:18), in words which must have been, in greater or less measure, the echo of Isaiah’s teaching. He added to the sacred books of Israel by collecting the Proverbs of Solomon that had been floating in the minds of men, though, as yet they had not been put together, and in which, as dealing largely with the duties and the faults of rulers, Isaiah may well have found the “ideal of a patriot king” which he hoped to see realised in his pupil (Proverbs 25-29). It was not long, however, before the bright dawn was overcast. There were perils from without and from within. The successive invasions of Shalmaneser, Sargon, Sennacherib, the conquest of Samaria, and the captivity of the Ten Tribes threw the people of Judah into a state of restless agitation. Some of the king’s counsellors trusted in the prospect of an alliance with the Ethiopian dynasty ruling in Egypt, represented by Sabaco and Tirhakah (Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 20:3; Isaiah 30:2). Some thought it more prudent to acknowledge the suzerainty of the Assyrian king and to pay a moderate tribute. Some fell back on new fortifications which were to make Jerusalem impregnable, and gave themselves up to a boastful and defiant revelry (Isaiah 22:9-13). The aged prophet stood almost alone as he told men, now in speech and now in strange and startling acts (Isaiah 20:2), that their one way of safety was to repent and to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Isaiah 22:12; Isaiah 26:8-9; Isaiah 28:16), and not to weave their webs of diplomacy and intrigue (Isaiah 30:1). They mocked at his iterated utterances in the name of the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 28:9-14; Isaiah 30:11). They, for their parts, would none of Him. The king himself fell away from the bright promise of his early reign. The chief place among his counsellers was given to Shebna, of low or foreign extraction, ostentatious, arrogant, the chief advocate of a braggart and rollicking defiance (Isaiah 22:15-19). Among those counsellors Isaiah could count only on the support of the respectable Eliakim, and even he was tainted with the nepotism which is the besetting sin of Eastern rulers, and in which the prophet read the forecast of a future fall (Isaiah 22:20-25).

(9) The danger which had threatened Jerusalem from the armies of Sargon was averted by submission and the payment of tribute. He laid waste Judah, but left the capital untouched. Before long a danger of another kind threatened the frustration of Isaiah’s hopes. The king, not yet thirty-five, and as yet without an heir, was sick unto death (Isaiah 38:1). In the words in which the prophet-physician announced the danger there was a sad significance. Men who read between the lines might trace in that “set thine house in order,” the hint that there was disorder alike in the policy of the kingdom and in the inner habitation of the soul, that needed to be set right. As it was, the king’s repentance and the prayer of faith prevailed, and fifteen years were added to his life. His marriage with Hephzibah (2 Kings 21:1) was probably determined by the counsels of the prophet, who saw in her very name (“my delight is in her “), an augury of good (Isaiah 62:4), and the name given to the child who was to succeed him, Manasseh (“forgetting”), bore witness that the king was following up his policy of conciliating the remnant of Ephraim and Manasseh, and of proclaiming an amnesty of all past animosities (2 Chronicles 30:1-12). There was, however, even then a cloud upon the horizon. The king lent too willing an ear to the insidious proposals of Merôdach-baladan, the rebel king of Babylon, against whom Sargon had been carrying on a long-continued warfare, and had in the weakness of his pride displayed the treasures of his palace and his arsenal, as if they, and not the living God, were the strength of Israel (Isaiah 39:1-8; 2 Chronicles 32:31). Against that alliance the fiery zeal of the old prophet kindled into a white heat of indignation. It was full of untold evils in its immediate and remote consequences. It was in that burst of inspiration that Isaiah had his first clear vision of the Babylonian captivity, beyond which he was afterwards led to see the dawn of a brighter day of redemption and return.

(10) The danger which Isaiah had predicted soon drew near. Sargon was murdered in his palace, and his successor (Sennacherib) having in the first year of his reign crushed the Babylonian revolt, and driven Merôdach-baladan into the marshes of the lower Euphrates (see Notes on Isaiah 36:1), turned his arms to subdue the rebels of his southern provinces, and among others Hezekiah, who had attacked and imprisoned the Assyrian ruler of Ashdod, and demanded an exorbitant tribute, which could only be paid by emptying the treasure-house, that had been boastfully shown to the Babylonian envoys, and stripping even the Temple of its gold (2 Kings 18:14-16). Even this, however, did not avail. The Assyrian king, suspecting probably that negotiations were going on between Hezekiah and Tirhakah, tore up the treaty, led his armies against Jerusalem, and sent Rabshakeh and his companions to demand an unconditional surrender (2 Kings 18:17-27). We need not now follow the history of that mission. In its relation to Isaiah’s life we may find in it the time of his crowning glory. At last mockers were silenced, and the people could “see their teachers” (Isaiah 30:20). King, priests, nobles, came in procession to the house of Isaiah in the sackcloth of supplication. Would he not once more intercede for them with the Holy One of Israel? The occasion was worthy of the grand burst of prophecy which was Isaiah’s last public utterance.

(11) During the three or four years that remained of Hezekiah’s reign, after the destruction of the Assyrian armies, the position of Isaiah was one of safety and of honour. It was probably during this period that he fell back upon the line of work with which he started, and wrote the history of the reign of Hezekiah, which manifestly served as the basis of 2 Chronicles 29:1 to 2 Chronicles 32:32. But the time must also have been one of disappointment and of dark forebodings for the future. Hezekiah had only partially fulfilled the hopes with which Isaiah had hailed his accession to the throne. He must have seen that the boy prince, Manasseh, whom he was too old to educate himself, was likely to walk in the steps of his grandfather rather than his father. As soon as Hezekiah died his whole policy was reversed. The Shebna party were once more in the ascendant. Foreign alliances and foreign idolatries prevailed as they had done in the days of Ahaz. The disciples who had gathered round Isaiah during his long career entered an unavailing protest (2 Chronicles 33:10), and were slain by Manasseh as the prophets of Jehovah had been slain of old by Jezebel and Ahab (2 Kings 21:16). According to a Jewish tradition, not in itself improbable, Isaiah himself perished in the persecution, being accused of blasphemy for having said that he had seen the Lord, as in Isaiah 6:0 and was condemned to die by being enclosed in the hollowed trunk of a tree, and then sawn asunder. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is supposed to allude to this tradition in Hebrews 11:37. Of the sons of Isaiah we have nothing but the names; but it is well to remember that those names must have made them, as long as they lived, the representatives to the generation that came after them of all that was most characteristic in their father’s teaching. Whether the prophet himself was engaged during the later years of his life in providing for the perpetuation of his leading ideas in another form, is a question which will meet us farther on.

II. Arrangement of Isaiah’s prophecies.—(1) It is obvious that the writings of a man who has played a conspicuous part as a writer or a teacher may be brought together in very various ways. The writer may be his own editor, sifting and selecting from the MSS. of many years, and arranging them either in chronological order or else according to a method independent of that order, and determined by personal or ideal associations. Or the task of editing may be left to a friend, disciple, or secretary, acting as Baruch seems to have acted in relation to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:4; Jeremiah 36:18; Jeremiah 36:32). Or again, the papers may come in a loose and fragmentary state into the hands of the scribes, or men of letters, of a later generation, and they may exercise their functions with varying degrees of insight or of accuracy, editing with or without notes and glosses and interpolations. When we have no record as to which process was adopted, the problem is complicated by the possibility that all three processes may have mingled in varying and uncertain proportions. It is not to be wondered at that critics who are not content to assume that the arrangement which they find in the existing Hebrew text of the Old Testament can claim a Divine authority which could be claimed by no other, should come on these points to widely different conclusions, and be influenced by considerations more or less subjective. The task of a complete critical analysis lies beyond the limits within which the present writer has to work, and all that will be now attempted will be the endeavour to note the probable sequence of the chapters or other sub-sections of Isaiah’s writings.

(2) It is tolerably plain, at the outset, that we have three chief divisions.

(A) Isaiah 1-35. A collection, not necessarily a complete collection, of prophetic writings from the death of Uzziah to the closing years of Hezekiah.

(B) Isaiah 36-39. An historical appendix to that collection, connected with the most memorable passage in Isaiah’s life.

(C) Isaiah 40-66. A complete and systematically arranged collection, manifestly having a unity of its own, and having for its central subject the restoration of the Jews from Babylon.

It remains to examine the arrangement of the sections in each group.
(A) Isaiah 1:0. A general introduction to the whole, probably written in the latter part of the reign of Jotham, embodying the results of Isaiah’s study of the reign of Uzziah, possibly retouched under Hezekiah.

Isaiah 2-5. A further denunciation of the sins of Israel, and the judgments coming on them, coloured in part by reminiscences of the earthquake under Uzziah, and painting the social evils of that period. Mingling with the prophecies of judgment are visions of a future restoration (Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 4:2-6), shared by Isaiah with his contemporary Micah. Isaiah 1-5 may be considered as deliberately placed before Isaiah 6:0, as showing the state of things which preceded the call there narrated.

Isaiah 7:1 to Isaiah 10:4. Narrative mingled with prophecies belonging to the early years of Ahaz. First definite prediction of the Assyrian invasion, and of an ideally righteous king (Isaiah 9:6-7); the witness of the names of Isaiah’s children; the true Immanuel.

Isaiah 10:5 to Isaiah 12:6. Clearer announcement of the Assyrian invasion of Tiglath-pileser (?), Salmaneser (?), or Sargon (?). Renewed vision of the return of the remnant (the true Shear-Jashub), and of the true Immanuel, or righteous King (Isaiah 11:1-16), coloured probably by the virtues of the young Hezekiah, and the captivity of the ten tribes.

Isaiah 13-23. Obviously in its form an independent collection of “burdens” or oracles, bearing on the history of Jerusalem and the neighbouring nations, all probably written under Hezekiah, and in some cases as an answer to ambassadors who came to consult the prophet as to the future of the people who sent them (Isaiah 14:32). “The burden of Babylon” (Isaiah 13:14), assuming it to be Isaiah’s, was probably among the latest, written after the mission of Merôdach-bala-dan had directed the prophet’s mind to that city, as almost equally with Nineveh the capital of the Assyrian empire, and destined for a time to take its place as the great world-power (Isaiah 14:25), but is placed first, as the Epistle to the Romans stands in the New Testament at the head of St. Paul’s epistles, on account of its importance. Isaiah 18-20 are connected with the plans of an Egypto-Ethiopian alliance; Isaiah 21:0 with the future destruction of Babylon; Isaiah 22:0 with Sargon’s or Sennacherib’s (?) attack on Judah.

Isaiah 24-27. The four poems seem grouped together, not necessarily as having been written continuously, but as having for their common subject “the day of the Lord,” which brings at once judgment and redemption. The recurrence of the phrase “in that day,” in Isaiah 26:1; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 27:12, connects them with Isaiah 4:1; the glory of the “mountain of the Lord,” in Isaiah 25:6, with Isaiah 2:2. With the exception of the passing reference to Moab in Isaiah 25:10, the group is less definitely historical than any other.

Isaiah 28-32, like the “burdens” of Isaiah 13-23, have an outward unity in the opening formula of “Woe to” (Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 29:1; Isaiah 30:1; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 33:1), in which the prophet falls back upon the model of one of his earlier writings (Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:18; Isaiah 5:20). The whole group belongs to the time when the march of Sargon’s (?) or Sennacherib’s (?) armies was striking terror into the people, and leading them once again to projects of foreign alliances. The picture of the ideally righteous king, in Isaiah 32:1-8, reminding us of Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-9, is suggestive. Hezekiah had not fulfilled the ideal. It was still in the distant future; but the hopes of the prophet were inextinguishable.

Isaiah 33-35. The close of the first great collection, historically turning mainly on Sennacherib’s invasion, and the part taken by the Edomites in his attack on Judah (Isaiah 34:5-6), but ending in a vision of the restoration of all things which transcends all history (Isaiah 35:1-10). They would have been fitting “last words” for the aged prophet, when his work seemed all but over. They were, perhaps, a stepping stone to the greater and more connected work which, more than anything else, was to make his name immortal, in Isaiah 40-66

(B) Isaiah 36-39. Probably, looking to the difference of style, not written by Isaiah, but appended, perhaps by some disciple, perhaps by a scribe-editor, in the time of Ezra, as embodying what could be gathered of the prophet’s closing work, and his almost greatest utterance, and based, perhaps, upon the prophet’s history of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:32). In chronological order, Isa 38:39 should come first, as dealing with events prior to the destruction of Sennacherib’s army.

(C) The question of the arrangement of Isaiah 40-66 will be considered here independently of its authorship. A tripartite division is apparently indicated by the recurrence of the burden, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked,” in Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:21, as follows:—

(1) Isaiah 41:1 to Isaiah 48:22, open with the proclamation of the return of the exiles, and pass on to the contrast between the greatness of Jehovah and the nothingness of the gods of the heathen. Cyrus appears as the central figure, the ideally righteous man, the anointed of the Lord (Isaiah 44:26 to Isaiah 45:7); but the Servant of the Lord, afterwards so prominent, appears also in Isaiah 42:1-7.

(2) Isaiah 49:1 to Isaiah 57:21 are occupied chiefly with the Servant of the Lord, thought of now in his personal, now in his collective, unity, in whom the prophet is taught to see even more than he had seen in Hezekiah or Cyrus, the instrument by which God’s work for Israel and for mankind was to be accomplished, by the victory, not of power only or chiefly, but of vicarious suffering (Isaiah 49:4-7; Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12).

(3) Isaiah 58:1 to Isaiah 66:24. This portion ends with an expansion of the thought of the “no peace” of the two previous sections. It is remarkable as gathering up, and developing to their highest point, what had been throughout the prominent thoughts of Isaiah’s work as a teacher—his condemnation of his people’s sins (Isaiah 65:2-12; Isaiah 66:3-4); his visions of a new world of righteousness and peace (Isaiah 60, 62, Isaiah 65:17-25); of a redeemed Israel fulfilling its ideal (Isaiah 66:10-14); of one in whom the ideas of the righteous King and the Servant of the Lord are strangely blended (Isaiah 61:1-3); of the ultimate overthrow of all the enemies of God (Isaiah 66:15; Isaiah 66:24). Not a few critics have gone farther than this, and have traced an elaborate tripartite division of three sections in each part; and again a further grouping of three sub-sections under each of the nine thus formed, the structure of the whole book being, on this view, as elaborately planned as Dante’s Commedia, on the basis of the mystic number three thus squared and cubed.[26] It may be questioned, however, whether this arrangement is not too artificial, at variance with the character of Isaiah’s mind, and embarrassing rather than helpful in tracing, what it is in any case difficult to trace, the sequence and continuity of thought. A more natural explanation seems to be, that the writer’s mind, dwelling now on one great idea, now on another, wrote now this and now that section, often with a considerable interval between them, so that we have not a book after modern fashion, with beginning, middle, and end, but rather a series of detached pieces, connected mainly by subtle links of association, like the Pensées of Pascal, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, or Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sonnets. On the assumption of Isaiah’s authorship, the whole of this second volume must be assigned, with scarcely the shadow of a doubt, to the closing years of the reign of Hezekiah or the opening years of that of Manasseh, and therefore to a very advanced period of the prophet’s life. Of him, as of Moses, it might have been said, that “his eye was not dim nor his natural force abated.” The old age of Isaiah must have been the counterpart, in its receptive and apocalyptic power, of the old age of St. John.

[26] See Delitszch’s Isaiah, on chaps. 40-66 in Clark’s Foreign Theological Library.

III. The authorship of Isaiah 40-66—(1) The limits within which I must confine myself do not admit of anything like an exhaustive treatment of this question. It may be well to begin by noting what it involves. Were the authorship of Isaiah disproved, it would not follow that we had a spurious book, a counterfeit and a forgery, or even, as in the case of the hypothesis of the later date of Ecclesiastes, a case of personated authorship without the animus decipiendi. All that would follow would be that some unknown writer, at or about the time of the return of the Jews from Babylon, had so imbued himself with the thoughts and even the style of Isaiah, that his work was accepted by his contemporaries, or by the scribes who were concerned in the completion of the Old Testament Canon under Ezra, as rounding off the cycle of that prophet s teaching. In regard to all the Messianic elements in it, its great argument against idolatry, and its visions of judgment and restoration, it would still retain all the dignity and authority of inspiration, and be entitled to the place which it occupies in the Hebrew Canon. Even its appeals to the foreknowledge of God, as manifested in prophetic announcements of the downfall of Babylon and the victories of Cyrus (Isaiah 40:13; Isaiah 41:26-28; Isaiah 43:9; Isaiah 45:21), would retain their force as referring to prophecies, like those of Jeremiah and Micah, which foretold a like downfall of the city on the Euphrates, and a like restoration of Jerusalem.

(2) The arguments which have led many recent critics to the conclusion that the authorship of Isaiah is disproved, are briefly these:—
(a) That the whole standpoint of the writer is that of one who was living at the time of the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, and specially that the name of Cyrus was altogether beyond the horizon of Isaiah’s knowledge.

(b) That the central thought of the Servant of the Lord, as made perfect through suffering and dying vicariously for the sins of his people, is entirely foreign to the teaching of the historical Isaiah.

(c) That the style and vocabulary of Isaiah 40-66 are so different from those of Isaiah 1-39 as to imply diversity of authorship.

(3) On the other hand, it has been urged—
(a) That on the assumption of Isaiah’s inspiration, he may have been led to place himself, as in an ecstatic vision, like that of Balaam and other prophets, in a time and country other than his own.

(b) That the name of Cyrus may have been within the limit of Isaiah’s human knowledge, or may have been supernaturally revealed to him. See Note on Isaiah 44:28.

(c) That the knowledge of Babylon and its life and worship as shown in 2 Isaiah is not more than may be accounted for by the commerce of the time, the diplomatic intercourse with Merôdach-baladan, and other sources.

(d) That the forms of idolatry condemned in Isaiah 57:5-6; Isaiah 65:3-5; Isaiah 65:11, belong much more to the state of Palestine under Manasseh than to that of the Babylonian exiles, either before or after their return.

(e) That the reference to Hephzibah and Azubah. the names of the mothers of Manasseh and Jehoshaphat, in Isaiah 62:4; Isaiah 62:12, is more natural in one living under the former king than it would be in a writer a century and a half later.

(f) That the local colouring of the book, as seen in the “clifts of the rocks” in Isaiah 57:5, the trees of Isaiah 41:19; Isaiah 44:14; Isaiah 55:12, the “tents” of Isaiah 54:2, the references to Midian, Kedar, Nebaioth, Lebanon, in Isaiah 60:6-13, is Palestinian rather than Mesopotamian.

(g) That the idea of the Servant of the Lord was one which might have been developed by Isaiah’s experience, from the failure of his earlier hopes, from teaching like that of the Book of Job, with which he was obviously familiar, and from the lesson thus learnt that in that apparent failure, in the suffering and death of every righteous servant, culminating in those of Him who was to fulfil the ideal, lay the secret of an eternal victory.

(h) That the ideal completeness of the restoration of Israel depicted in Isaiah 40:1-16; Isaiah 41:17-19; Isaiah 43:2-6; Isaiah 49:7-26, Isaiah 54, 55, Isaiah 58:8-14, is more natural in one contemplating the return of the exiles from a distance, than to one who, as a contemporary, watched the somewhat meagre results recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah, in Haggai and Zechariah.

(i) That on the assumption of the writer of 2 Isaiah having been a contemporary with the return, it is strange that there should be no trace of him in any one of the writers just mentioned, no reference in what he himself wrote to those who were contemporary actors on the stage of history, Zerubbabel and Joshua, or to the prophets who had preceded him, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel.

(j) That the resemblances of style and language between the two books—a resemblance closer than that between either of them and any other book of the Old Testament—preponderate over the diversities. The induction upon which this statement is based has been exhibited with much fulness by Dr. Kay, Mr. Birks, Mr. Cheyne, and others, in their respective Commentaries. The limits within which I have to confine myself prevent my entering on it. It will be enough to note one or two of the most striking instances:

(A) The dominance in both books of the name and the thought of the Holy one of Israel, fourteen times in each, and very rarely elsewhere.

(B) The recognition of the Spirit of the Lord as the source of the wisdom of the true king in Isaiah 11:1-2; Isaiah 61:1.

(C) The formula “the Lord” or “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken,” in Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 1:20; Isaiah 40:5; Isaiah 58:14, and of the peculiar Hebrew form for “saith the Lord,” in Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 33:10, and in Isaiah 41:21; Isaiah 66:9, both peculiar, or all but peculiar, to Isaiah.

(D) The frequent recurrence of the word tohu, the “chaos” of Genesis 1:1, three times in 1 Isaiah, and seven times in 2 Isaiah, almost, as it were, the catchword of both books, much as some modern writers are characterised by their use of phrases like “the absolute” or “the eternities.”

(E) The numerous traces in both books that the writers of each had received the same literary culture, and were cast in the same mould. Allusive references to Genesis, the Psalms, the Book of Job, Proverbs, are conspicuous in each. (See Cheyne, ii. Appendix, for details).

(4) It has to be remembered, however, that the inductive argument on either side is hardly more than tentative, and is uncertain in its results. A writer of genius, as he grows old, develops new thoughts, enlarges his vocabulary, varies his phraseology and style according to the occasion which leads him to write or the intensity of his own emotions. Many, if not most, New Testament students find no difficulty in accepting the Pastoral Epistles as written by St. Paul, in spite of the long list of words found in them which are not found in his other writings, and the peculiarities of style and thought which characterise them. On the other hand, the history of all literature shows that one writer may, either from pure reverence and love, or from a deliberate purpose of personation, so imbue his mind with the thoughts and language of another, adopt his phrases, reproduce the turns and tricks of his style, that it will not be easy even for an expert to distinguish between the counterfeit and the original. All that can be said as to the application of this inductive method to 1 and 2 Isaiah is, that the parallelisms and the peculiarities may fairly be left to balance each other. So far as I can judge, and I speak with the reserve of one who cannot claim the authority of an expert, there seems to me a slight preponderance in favour of the former.
(5) On this ground then, as well as on a review of the other elements of evidence, I adopt the hypothesis that we have in the two books that are placed in the Hebrew Canon of the Old Testament under the name of Isaiah, substantially the work of one and the same author. I admit in so doing that there is so strong a primâ, facie case for the opposite hypothesis, that it would be simply impertinent and unfair to charge those who adopt it with irreverence, or haste, or prejudice. The second part of Isaiah would remain as a priceless treasure whoever wrote it, just as the worth of the Epistle to the Hebrews is unaffected by the question whether it was written by Paul or by Apollos, or some unknown writer; it would still have for us, as Christians, the incomparable attraction of having been in part, at least, the basis of the theology of Christendom. It was given to that book to revive, from time to time, the dormant Messianic hopes of Israel; to exercise a traceable influence on the minds of later prophets, such as Jeremiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; to nourish the souls of those who were looking for consolation and redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38); to contribute, if “the word be not too bold,” to the education of Him who was to meet those longing expectations. There, as in the mirror of the Divine word, Jesus of Nazareth saw, in the Servant of the Lord, the guiltless Sufferer, the righteous King, that which He recognised as the archetype, after which His own life and death were to be fashioned (Mark 10:45). There the Baptist found that which defined his position in the kingdom of God, as a voice crying in the wilderness (John 1:23). There the publican Evangelist found the Christ delineated as he had seen Him in Jesus (Matthew 8:17). There Peter, and Paul, and John, and Philip, found the foreshadowings of all that was most precious to them in the teaching of their Master, a witness to Jesus in His lowliness, His purity, His gentleness, His sufferings and death and victory (Acts 8:35; 1 Peter 2:21-24), the ground of their hopes of the restoration of Israel (Romans 10:15; Romans 10:20), of the redemption of mankind, and of the restoration of all things, the vision of a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13), the apocalypse of the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22). There the souls of devout Christians, century after century, have found, more than in any other utterance of prophecy, the Evangel pre-evangelised, the exceeding great and precious promises which sustained them in their conflict with temptation, under the burden of their sins, and turned their sorrow and sighing into the songs of an everlasting joy.

IV. (1) It remains that I should acknowledge the debt of gratitude which I owe, in greater or less measure, to some of my forerunners. The list of commentators on Isaiah is a very long one, and it is probable, to use a phrase of the old Rabbis, that no one has ever entered into the House of the Interpreter with reverent footsteps without finding some treasure which he might make peculiarly his own. Of these I cannot claim to have consulted more than comparatively few. The circumstances under which I have had to write the notes that follow—a somewhat prolonged absence from England, and the pressure of other work on my return—have restricted my range of choice. The English student will scarcely complain if that limitation has led me to a more careful study of those whom I chose as the safest and most trustworthy guides. The limits within which 1 have had to work forbade my discussing the views of other commentators, and I have had to be content with giving results, apart from the processes which led to them. All the more is it right that I should, here at least, acknowledge my obligations to those to whom I am conscious that I am most largely indebted—to Ewald, here, as always, suggestive, bold, original; to Delitzsch, exhaustive and complete, with an almost more than Teutonic exhaustiveness; to my old Oxford instructor in Hebrew, Dr. Kay, looking into the spiritual significance of words and phrases, and investigating suggestive parallelisms with a microscopic minuteness; above all, to Mr. Cheyne, in whom the spirit of a wide and fearless research, and the vividness of historical imagination, are blended, in a measure rarely found elsewhere, with a spirit of devout reverence and insight which makes his Commentary on Isaiah wellnigh all that the scholar student can desire. It has been my effort, while reserving to myself the right of an independent judgment so far as I felt competent to exercise it, to follow, though with unequal steps, in the path in which these interpreters have gone before me, learning myself, according to the old adage, in the endeavour to teach others.
(2) I have further to acknowledge my many obligations to Mr. Sayce, M. Oppert, and the other Assyriologists whose labours, collected in the Records of the Past series, published by Mr. Bagster, have made the inscriptions which have thrown a new light on the writings of Isaiah accessible to the average English student. Looking to the class of readers for whom I write, I have thought it better, as a rule, to refer to that series than to books like Mr. George Smith’s Assyrian Discoveries and History of Sennacherib; or Dr. Ginsburg’s Moabite Stone, or Mr. Budge’s Esarhaddon, or Schrader’s Keil-Inschriften; or papers that lie buried as it were, in the Transactions of learned societies.

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