the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
by Peter Pett
The Book of Isaiah, the Prophet
The Book of Isaiah was written at a crucial time in history when the people whom God had brought out of Egypt, and had formed into a covenant community possessing His Law, were facing one of their greatest ever threats. For the first time since they had entered the land of Canaan and had settled there, ISRAEL, which had split into two nations, were being threatened by a powerful and cruel empire, the empire of Assyria, even to the point of extinction.
It was at this point in time that God raised up a prophet named Isaiah to guide them through this troubled period of their history, and in this Book we are brought face to face with his message. But the reason why it is so important is not only because it describes a turning point in history, but also because in revealing the future that lay ahead Isaiah explained in some detail both how in that future God would bring judgment on the world, and how He was going to send into the world His King and Servant Whose power and ministry would transform the world and offer it righteousness and salvation. It was He Who was to be the hope of generations yet to come, and Who would bring that righteousness and salvation to all who responded to Him. Indeed He would bring it not only to those of Israel who responded to Him, but to the world, for He would not only bring Israel back to God, but would be a light to all nations.
Written over seven hundred years before the coming of Jesus Christ it explains in some detail precisely what He would come to do, and how He would accomplish it, first through suffering, and then by being crowned in glory. It reveals Him as the crowning point in history, and as the hope of all nations.
Commentary on Isaiah.
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
General Background and Authorship.
It cannot be doubted that ancient testimony agrees with one consent that Isaiah was the writer of the whole book. In support of this we should note the following:
1) That the book of Isaiah itself claims to record the prophecies of Isaiah the Prophet (Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1; Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 20:2; Isaiah 37:2; Isaiah 37:6; Isaiah 37:21; Isaiah 38:1; Isaiah 38:4; Isaiah 38:21; Isaiah 39:3; Isaiah 39:5; Isaiah 39:8).
2) That Jesus Christ and the apostles quoted him as being the author of the prophecies at least twenty one times, and these quotations by them are taken from every part of the book demonstrating their view that the whole book resulted from his work. He was quoted by them more often than all the other writing prophets combined. Thus by the time of the New Testament Isaianic authorship of the whole was considered certain.
3) That the prophecies were stated in the Talmud to have been finally collected together by ‘Hezekiah and his company’, probably signifying scribes set to the task under King Hezekiah’s oversight, and if this was so, it would be in Isaiah’s own days, presumably in cooperation with Isaiah himself.
4) That early Jewish tradition uniformly attributed the entire book to Isaiah from as early as the pre-Christian Ecclesiasticus 49:17-25, as did ancient Christian tradition.
5) That the oldest copy of Isaiah that we possess, which was discovered among the Qumran scrolls, and comes from before the time of Christ, has chapter 40 beginning in the same column in which chapter 39 ends in a continuing narrative (for there were, of course, no chapter divisions then). Thus by that time the unity of the book was seen as firmly established. The book was seen as one.
That is not to say that there may not have been a few updatings to the book and an occasional clarification. All such literature was subject to necessary modernisation by scribes desirous of making what was written intelligible to later readers by a modernisation or by a note, but there are no grounds for seeing these as extensive or as altering the sense.
One solid argument that has been posited constantly by reputable conervative scholars, and which all those who are against unity of authorship have failed to answer, is this. If the author was not Isaiah, how did the great figure who supposedly prophesied in the second part of Isaiah from chapter 40 onwards, the most superlative of the prophets, totally disappear from view in so short a time, not even to be remembered? This is strange indeed if the author was any other than Isaiah, indeed in our view almost incomprehensible. Imagine what honour would have been accorded to such a man when his prophecy about Cyrus within a fairly short time came true. And yet no one remembered him. Nor is there any evidence that schools of different prophets continued through the centuries, constantly updating their works, and that is especially noteworthy in view of the fact that other great prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel had arisen meanwhile, who would surely have connected up with them, and yet they not only do not mention them or even seem to know of them, but also spoke of themselves as though they stood alone (e.g. Ezekiel 2:5; Ezekiel 22:30), apart in the case of Jeremiah from his own supporters. Yet the idea of schools of prophets who carried on the tradition of their masters is almost essential if alternative positions about Isaiah are to be credible
Both internal and external evidence can be adduced as supporting this unity of authorship. The title for God as "The Holy One of Israel," which reflects the deep impression that Isaiah's vision in chapter 6 made on him, occurs twelve times in chapters 1 to 39 and fourteen times in chapters 40 to 66, but only seven times elsewhere in the entire Old Testament. Similar key phrases, passages, presentations, words, themes, and motifs likewise appear in all sections of the book as the commentary will make apparent.
Furthermore in Isaiah 40:9 the cities of Judah are still seen as standing, as are the walls of Jerusalem in Isaiah 62:6. See also Isaiah 43:6; Isaiah 48:2. And it is Canaanite religion that is castigated (e.g. Isaiah 44:9-20; Isaiah 57:5-7). Thus these verses appear to have been written before the exile. The flavour of the writings is Palestinian (Isaiah 44:14 - trees of the type were not common in Babylon; Isaiah 41:19; Isaiah 55:13) whereas there are no indications of its being written by someone knowledgeable about Babylon. Passages which suggest that it was not written in Babylon include Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 52:11; see also Isaiah 41:9; Isaiah 45:22; Isaiah 46:11.
All this being made clear we can see no reason for doubting Isaianic authorship for the whole book. (Arguments brought forward against Isaianic authorship of the whole will be dealt with at the appropriate places).
An Analysis of The Book.
From one point of view the Book of Isaiah can be divided into seven main parts, 1-12; 13-23; 24-27; 28-35; 36-39; 40-55; 56-66. These can be summarised as follows:
· The first section (1-12) deals with the sinful condition of Judah and the need for judgment on Jerusalem, and includes reference to the depredations of Assyria, the rod of God’s anger, but promises the final triumph of Yahwism and God’s law (Isaiah 2:1-4), the raising up of a king from the house of David, miraculously born, who will establish God’s rule over the world (7-11), the return of worldwide exiles (Isaiah 11:11) and the final restoration of a remnant in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 4:3-4).
· The second part (13-23) deals with God’s judgments on the nations, including especially Babylon (mentioned specifically five times), and Judah/Israel (Isaiah 22:1-25), but with a resultant turning to the Lord by Egypt and Assyria (Isaiah 19:16-25) who along with Israel will become a blessing to the world.
· The third part (24-27) looks forward to world catastrophe, followed by blessing, and restoration for His people, including the return of exiles from Egypt and Assyria Isaiah 27:13, the restoration of Jerusalem (Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 25:6-8; Isa 27:19), and the defeat of death by resurrection (Isaiah 25:7-8; Isaiah 26:19).
· The fourth part (28-35) contains a series of prophecies mainly against Judah and Jerusalem because of their sins, but also against Ephraim/Samaria, (Isaiah 28:1-13) and Edom (34), which include warnings against trusting in Egypt (Isaiah 30:1-7; Isaiah 31:1-3), and promises of deliverance from Assyria (Isaiah 30:31-33; Isaiah 31:8), all intermingled with promises of restoration (Isaiah 29:17-24; Isaiah 30:19-26; Isaiah 31:5; Isaiah 32:15-18; Isaiah 33:5-6; Isaiah 33:20-22), of a coming king (Isaiah 32:1-8; Isaiah 33:17), of the establishment of Jerusalem (Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 33:20) and of final restoration (35).
· The fifth part (36-39) deals with God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians, culminating in a warning that, because Hezekiah has trusted in Babylon (mentioned four times in the one chapter), Babylon will strip Judah of her possessions and will take Hezekiah’s sons captive to Babylon.
· The sixth part (40-55) reveals God as Creator and Sovereign Who will act, in spite of Israel’s undeserving and clearly revealed failure, to make Jerusalem free (Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:11-20; Isaiah 41:27; Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 52:1-2); to bring righteousness and deliverance (Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5-6; Isaiah 51:8); to raise up His Servant to deliver Israel and fulfil the promises to Abraham (41-53); to establish the Davidic covenant (Isaiah 55:3); to save and redeem a purified remnant of His people (Isaiah 49:6); to be revenged on Egypt and Assyria (Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 45:14; Isaiah 52:4-6); to destroy the great anti-God, the city of Babylon (mentioned four times - Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 46:1-2; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:20); to be Israel’s Saviour and Redeemer (Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:1-3; Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 49:26; and Mighty Warrior (Isaiah 42:13), and through them to bless the world (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). This will include the bringing back of His people from all around the world (Isaiah 41:9; Isaiah 42:15-16; Isaiah 43:5-6; Isaiah 49:22-23).
· The seventh part continues the theme of righteousness and deliverance (Isaiah 56:1; Isaiah 59:16-17; Isaiah 61:10; Isaiah 62:1), introduces the coming Anointed Prophet Isaiah 61:1-3 and reintroduces the Mighty Warrior and Redeemer (Isaiah 59:16-21); upholds the Sabbath (Isaiah 56:2; Isaiah 58:13-14); welcomes the stranger and the bastard (Isaiah 56:2-7) and the outcasts of Israel (Isaiah 56:8); warns against sin (Isaiah 56:9 to Isaiah 57:3; Isaiah 58:1-5; Isaiah 59:1-15; ), idolatry (Isaiah 57:4-8; Isaiah 65:3-7) and looking to other deliverers (Isaiah 57:9-14); proclaims judgment on Edom (Isaiah 63:1-6); promises restoration to the contrite (Isaiah 57:15-21; Isaiah 65:8-11; Isaiah 66:1-2) and judgment on the unrighteous (Isaiah 65:11-15; Isaiah 66:3-4; Isaiah 66:15-17; portrays their intercessions (Isaiah 63:7 to Isaiah 64:12) and the re-establishment of His people (Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:4 to Isaiah 62:12; Isaiah 65:15-25; Isaiah 66:10-14; Isaiah 66:18-24), and promises the return of the exiles (Isaiah 56:8; Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 60:9; Isaiah 66:20) and the establishment of the new Jerusalem (Isaiah 60:10-11; Isaiah 62:1-5; Isaiah 62:11-12; Isaiah 65:18-19; Isaiah 66:20).
What is clear from this analysis is that central in Isaiah all through is the sinfulness of Israel, and God’s purpose to deliver a remnant of them, the promise of a Deliverer under different guises (the coming an Anointed King , an Anointed Servant, A Mighty Warrior, and an Anointed Prophet) the return of exiles from all parts of the world, a promise of the re-establishment of His people and His final aim to establish a new Jerusalem with heavenly connections.
The Main Themes of Isaiah.
We now come down to the question as to what the main themes of Isaiah are. His book is so many faceted that it is a bold person who is dogmatic on such a question, but we can certainly select certain main themes. And the first answer must be that he reveals Yahweh’s power in judgment and deliverance. Indeed that is the idea that binds the whole book together.
The Majority View.
The majority would see Isaish as basically divided into two main sections, Isaiah 1-39, and Isaiah 40-66, although there are many variations when it comes down to detail, and many would sub-divide 40-66.
On this basis we have in the first 39 chapters a stress laid on the need of His people to trust in Yahweh, to look to Him and depend on Him alone, and to reject dependence on other nations. In the background is Assyria, while it especially centres on the failure of two kings of the house of David, that house which had been promised that it would survive for ever, Ahaz and Hezekiah. And these kings are both seen to fail in their different ways. Both were faced up with the question of whether they would trust wholly in Yahweh, and both let Him down, one through fear and the other through pride. And they represented the attitude of almost the whole people. For the attitude of the people is also revealed as one of disobedience and sin. They too on the whole are seen as having rejected Yahweh as the One Whom they would trust and totally obey. Thus judgment is declared as necessarily coming on all, for all have sinned. But God makes clear that He will keep His promise to David by raising up a child uniquely born (so as not to be seen as a son of Ahaz or Hezekiah), and yet seen as being connected with the house of David (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4). Furthermore final deliverance for a purified remnant is also guaranteed and chapter 35, which ends the section prior to the historical interlude of 36-39, closes with a picture of Paradise restored. 36-39 is then seen as providing a connecting history between the two parts.
The second part of the book from chapter 40 onwards then stresses that God as Creator and Sovereign will act, in spite of Israel’s undeserving and clearly revealed failure, to make Jerusalem free (Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:27; Isaiah 62:11-12; Isaiah 60:14; Isaiah 62:1-5; Isaiah 65:19-25); to raise up His Servant (41-53; compare Isaiah 61:1-3); to save and redeem a purified remnant of His people (Isaiah 49:6); to be revenged on Egypt and Assyria (Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 45:14; Isaiah 52:4-6); to destroy the great anti-God, the city of Babylon (Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 46:1-2; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:20); to be the Saviour and Redeemer of His people (Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 44:21-23; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 59:20-21; Isaiah 60:16); and through them to bless the world (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6-7; Isaiah 60:3; Isaiah 60:6-7). This will include the bringing back of His people from all around the world (Isaiah 41:9; Isaiah 42:15-16; Isaiah 43:5-6; Isaiah 49:22-23; Isaiah 60:9-10; Isaiah 66:20). Following this will come the restoration portrayed in the final chapters of Isaiah.
Central to both sections right from the beginning is the fact of God’s activity to bring this about, a theme which recurs again and again. Indeed one of the striking things about the book is the way in which, in the midst of gloom and judgment, Isaiah suddenly reiterates the promise and certainty of God’s future deliverance.
A Growing Minority View.
The discovery at Qumran of a large Isaianic scroll (Isaiah a), far predating any that we have previously had, has revealed an interesting situation, and that is that in that scroll the division into two halves does not occur at the end of chapter 39, but at the end of chapter 33. At the end of chapter 33 there is a deliberate short break of three lines, prior to chapter 34, while there is no break between chapters 39 and 40, even though the opening of Isaiah 40:1 is on the last line of a column.
This is of especial interest because the appeal in Isaiah 34:1, ‘Come near you nations to hear and hearken, let the earth hear, and its fullness, the world and all things that come forth from it’, (speaking about the nations), can easily be seen as paralleled with the appeal in Isaiah 1:2, ‘Hear O heavens, and give ear O earth, for Yahweh has spoken’, (speaking concerning the situation of Israel/Judah). Thus it might appear from this that Isaiah’s prophecy was not only divided here in order to split it into two at this point for convenience, so as to fit onto two equal scrolls, but was designed in this way, with each section intended to have its own emphasis. This would then tend to confirm that Isaiah 1:1 was to be seen as opening the whole prophecy in its two sections.
This suggestion might be seen as supported by interesting parallels between the two sections which are then revealed. For example:
1) Both open with an appeal, the first to heaven and earth because it is dealing with God’s intended holy people (Isaiah 1:2), and the second with an appeal to the earth and the world because it is dealing with the nations. This comparison is somewhat weakened by the fact that we have what we might see as similar appeals in the heart of the narrative (e.g. Isaiah 49:1; Isaiah 51:4; etc.), although none appeal to the whole earth.
2) In both cases the appeal is followed by an announcement of God’s anger on the parties in question. Isaiah 1-5 analyses God’s judgment on Israel/Judah, Isaiah 34:0 analyses God’s judgment on the sinfulness of Edom and the nations.
3) At the same time both look forward to the coming of God’s everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 2:1-2; Isaiah 4:2-6), with which compareIsaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 35:1-10.
4) Each is then followed by the offer of a miraculous sign to the house of David (Isaiah 7:1-11; Isaiah 38:7-8; Isaiah 38:22) which in both cases is followed by an indication that because of their failure to respond to it correctly their house will be rejected (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 39:7).
5) The result of this rejection is in both cases the promise of a replacement Messianic figure who will arise in order to bring about God’s purposes (the coming David - 7-11, compared with the coming Servant -41-53, and see also the coming Anointed One - Isaiah 61:1-3, and the coming Warrior (Isaiah 59:16-21; Isaiah 63:1-6).
6) Connected with this is God’s judgment on Assyria (Isaiah 10:24-27; Isaiah 14:24-27) which compares with 36-37, and see also Isaiah 52:4. And His judgment on the surrounding nations (13-23) which compares with Isaiah 34:1-17; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 45:14), including Babylon (13-14; Isaiah 21:1-10), which compares with Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 46:1-2; Isaiah 47:1-15.
7) In both sections God would raise up a pagan king to act on His behalf (Isaiah 10:5-11; compareIsaiah 44:28; Isaiah 44:28 to Isaiah 45:7).
8) An outstanding revelation of God is manifested (Isaiah 6:1-13, compareIsaiah 40:1-29; Isaiah 40:1-29; Isaiah 52:7).
9) The whole of scattered Israel is to be gathered in (Isaiah 11:12-16; compare Isa 42:29-33; Isaiah 43:5-7; Isaiah 49:12).
10) Salvation will be given to the nations (Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 19:18-24; Isaiah 23:18; compareIsaiah 42:6; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 42:10-13; Isaiah 45:14-15; Isaiah 49:6).
11) The Spirit will be poured forth from above (Isaiah 32:15; compareIsaiah 44:1-5; Isaiah 44:1-5).
12) All this is followed by an analysis of Israel/Judah which will result in the establishment of God’s perfect kingdom (28-33, compare 56-66).
The first section 1-33 might then be seen as very much describing Yahweh’s appeal concerning Israel and Judah, resulting in the coming of their everlasting King (7-11) and judgment on the nations who have failed her, including Babylon as a city (13-23), and ending in the picture of final fulfilment in chapter 33, with the everlasting Tabernacle of Jerusalem being established in a place of broad rivers and streams (Isaiah 33:20-21), and with the people healed and forgiven (Isaiah 33:24; contrast Isaiah 1:4-9). While the second section, commencing with chapter 34 onwards, might then be seen as Yahweh’s appeal concerning the nations, resulting in the coming of the Servant of Yahweh on behalf of the nations, and judgment on Babylon as a city (46-47) and Edom (Isaiah 63:1-4), (as representing all that is worst in the nations), and ending with the picture of final fulfilment described in 65-66, with the ideal Jerusalem being established (Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 66:10) in a place where peace is extended to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an ever-flowing stream (Isaiah 66:12), with all nations restored and worshipping Yahweh. If that is so then chapter 34 can be seen as introductory to all that follow it, in the same way as chapters 1-2 (or 1-5) were introductory to 3-33.
God as Creator, Redeemer, Saviour and Judge.
A number of titles and descriptions are used of Yahweh by Isaiah which bring out these emphases.
1) God as Judge and Sovereign Lord. The whole book contains references to God acting as Judge, but the first part especially so. See Isaiah 1:2-3; Isaiah 2:3-4; Isaiah 3:13-14; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 5:11-30; Isaiah 10:1-6; Isaiah 10:23; Isaiah 10:33; Isaiah 13-23; Isaiah 24:21-22; Isaiah 26:21; Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:18; Isaiah 33:22; Isaiah 40:1-2; Isaiah 41:1-3; Isaiah 41:21-23; Isaiah 42:13-15; Isaiah 59:18; Isaiah 61:2; Isaiah 63:1-6; Isaiah 65:12; Isaiah 66:15-16 and all references to Yahweh as ‘the sovereign Lord’ (adonai).
2) God as Saviour and equivalents. See Isaiah 17:10; Isaiah 25:9; Isaiah 33:22; Isaiah 35:4; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 43:11-12; Isaiah 45:15; Isaiah 45:17; Isaiah 45:21-22; Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 62:11; Isaiah 63:8. As the stress on God’s saving work increases so do references to the God of salvation, the Saviour.
3) God as Redeemer and equivalents. See Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 29:22; Isaiah 35:9; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 43:4; Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 44:22-24; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:17; Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 50:2; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 52:3; Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 54:8; Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 62:12; Isaiah 63:4; Isaiah 63:9; Isaiah 63:16. See comment on 2). Included here is the idea that God is acting as their Kinsman Redeemer.
4) God as Creator and Maker. See Isaiah 4:5; Isaiah 17:7; Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 27:11; Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 40:26; Isaiah 40:28; Isaiah 41:20; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 43:15; Isaiah 45:7-9; Isaiah 45:11-12; Isaiah 45:18; Isaiah 51:13; Isaiah 54:4-5; Isaiah 54:16; Isaiah 64:8; Isaiah 65:17-18. This ties in with Sovereign Lord and stresses His overlordship.
5) God as Divine Warrior and Mighty One. See Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 30:32; Isaiah 31:4-5; Isaiah 42:13; Isaiah 42:25; Isaiah 59:17; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 63:1-6; Isaiah 66:15. These references depict God acting in power to bring about His purposes and defend His true people.
6) God as Yahweh of Hosts. See Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 2:12, Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 5:7; Isaiah 5:9; Isaiah 5:16; Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 6:3; Isaiah 6:5; Isaiah 8:13; Isaiah 8:18; Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 9:13; Isaiah 9:19; Isaiah 10:16; Isaiah 10:26; Isaiah 10:33; Isaiah 13:4; Isaiah 13:13; Isaiah 14:22-27; Isaiah 17:3; Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 19:4; Isaiah 19:12; Isaiah 19:16-20; Isaiah 19:25; Isaiah 21:10; Isaiah 22:14; Isaiah 22:25; Isaiah 23:9; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 28:5; Isaiah 28:29; Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 31:4-5; Isaiah 37:16; Isaiah 37:32; Isaiah 39:5; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 45:13; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:2; Isaiah 51:15; Isaiah 54:5. The idea behind this title is of Yahweh as Lord of heaven and earth, Lord of the heavenly hosts, Lord of the host of heavenly bodies, and Lord over the whole earth and its armies (hosts).
7) God as Yahweh the King. See Isaiah 6:1; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 33:22; Isaiah 41:21; Isaiah 43:15; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 51:4-8; Isaiah 52:7. The reign of God as king underlies the previous titles and is here clearly expressed. Yahweh reigns over all and that reign will finally be revealed and established over the whole earth (Isaiah 54:5) when the Kingly Rule of God is revealed.
8) God as Husband. See Isaiah 4:5; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 62:5. A term which brings out the closeness of God’s relationship with His true people and stresses their responsibility to obey Him in return for His great concern for them.
9) God as Father See Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 64:8 see also Isaiah 63:8. This title is closely associated with God as Creator and Maker and stresses His right to be obeyed, but also His people’s privilege as being His son. It is the handle that Isaiah uses in his argument that Yahweh should thus aid His erring children even though they did not deserve it.
10) God as The Holy One of Israel. This is the central binding title of God in Isaiah, brought vividly home to Isaiah in his inaugural call to be a prophet (chapter 6). See Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 5:19; Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 17:7; Isaiah 29:19; Isaiah 29:23; Isaiah 30:11-12; Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 37:23; Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 41:16; Isaiah 41:20; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 43:14-15; Isaiah 45:11; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 55:5; Isaiah 60:9; Isaiah 60:14. It will be noted from the references that this designation is closely linked with a number of the previous titles.
The People Of God.
The second main theme is that of the idea of God’s people (Jacob/Israel/Judah). They are continually seen as sinful, rejected, and facing judgment, as requiring to be refined (Isaiah 1:25; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 48:10), and destined to be cut back, and to be decimated, until only a purified remnant remains whom He will restore (Isaiah 6:13 and often; Isaiah 1:26-28; Isaiah 4:3-6; Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 27:6; Isaiah 29:17-19; Isaiah 32:1-8; Isaiah 32:15-20; Isaiah 33:20-22; Isaiah 35:0; Isaiah 40:1-5; Isaiah 40:9-11; Isaiah 44:1-5; Isaiah 49:5; Isaiah 49:22-23; Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 55:5; Isaiah 55:12-13; Isaiah 57:15-19; Isaiah 58:11-14; Isaiah 60:11-14; Isaiah 61:9; Isaiah 62:1-5; Isaiah 65:9-10; Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 66:10-13; Isaiah 66:22-23), who are then to be augmented by people from the whole world who will be blessed through them (Isaiah 2:3-4; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 19:18-25; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6-7; Isaiah 56:6-7; Isaiah 60:3-7; Isaiah 66:21; Isaiah 66:23). For he declares that God will act as Saviour and Redeemer to set apart to Himself the remnant of His people who are to be His servants, ministers and witnesses to the world (Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 61:6), and will call on men and women in that world to enjoy Him and His presence in the everlasting future (Isaiah 25:6-8, Isaiah 60:19-21) thus forming a new Israel out of the old.
The Coming Son Of David And Servant Of Yahweh.
A third theme arising from the above is the theme of the coming Son of David through Whom God will act in the fulfilment of His purposes. God had raised up David and had given him promises that his house would continue for ever as rulers over His people (2 Samuel 7:9-16). Isaiah now tell us that as the sons of David failed in this task, revealing their unwillingness to trust in and obey Yahweh alone, God set aside the natural line of the Davidic house (Isaiah 7:11-14; Isaiah 39:6) with the promise of One Who would be born of a virginal young woman (Isaiah 7:14), of the stock and roots of Jesse (David’s father) (Isaiah 11:1), Who would Himself be at the same time the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10), who would receive universal power and dominion (Isaiah 9:7), would be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), and would be endued by the Spirit of Yahweh (Isaiah 11:2), with the purpose of ruling the whole earth (Isaiah 11:4-9), for to Him all nations would seek (Isaiah 11:10). He was to reign in righteousness and be the defence and shelter of His people (Isaiah 32:1-3), established triumphantly in His beauty (Isaiah 33:17).
The theme of God’s promises to David underlies much of Isaiah’s thinking (Isaiah 16:5; Isaiah 22:9; Isaiah 29:1; Isaiah 37:35; Isaiah 38:5; Isaiah 55:3), including as it does the everlasting covenant and the sure mercies of David (Isaiah 55:3), both guarantees of God’s faithful working through that house. It is therefore an underlying assumption that affects the interpretation of many passages where his name is not mentioned. God calls him ‘My servant’ David (Isaiah 37:35), a title only given to few through history, but regularly used of David elsewhere, see especially Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24-25 where it refers to the coming greater David
This is then amplified in the second part of the book where the mysterious Servant must surely, in the light of Isaiah 9:7 and Isaiah 11:1-10, include connection with the Davidic house and the everlasting covenant. For as with the David to come He is to be ‘My servant’ (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 49:3; Isaiah 52:13), He is to have the Spirit on Him (Isaiah 42:1 compare Isaiah 11:2), He is to bring justice to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:1 compare Isaiah 11:10), He is to set justice in the earth (Isaiah 42:4 compare Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 16:5; Isaiah 32:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15), He is to be a covenant of the people for a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6 compare Isaiah 55:3; Isaiah 11:10), and He is to set free the prisoners held by the enemies of Israel (Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 61:1-2). He is chosen from the womb (Isaiah 49:1 compare Isaiah 7:14), represents in Himself the true Israel (Isaiah 49:3) as the king was always seen to do (see Lamentations 4:20), and is to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved of Israel, and to be for God’s deliverance to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6; compare Psalms 2:8-10), before Whom kings will kneel and bow (Isaiah 49:7; Psalms 89:27). He is to be exalted (compare Psalms 89:19) and lifted up and be very high, before Whom great kings will be dumb (Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 52:15 compare Psalms 89:27), but must first go through great humiliation on behalf of His people (Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 53:0). Thus King and Servant are closely connected.
But why does Isaiah then not clearly associate Him with the Davidic king? The probable answer is twofold. Firstly it lies in the fact that Isaiah had slowly come to recognise that the house of David as known to Israel at that time was unfitted for such a service. So in his later years he did not want the people to look to the reigning monarch and his heirs as a possible Messiah. That may well be why from chapter 41 onwards he speaks of Him as ‘the Servant of Yahweh’, a complete contrast with the then current Davidic house, with a unique task of restoration and humiliation to perform. It is emphasising that the present house of David cannot be described as His Servant, which is why the new king is to be born of a virgin. And secondly it is because the Servant is in fact more than the Davidic house. He is to be seen as having been active from, and is the fruit of, the call of Abraham (see in the commentary).
The Significance of Mount Zion.
A fourth theme is that of Mount Zion. This is to be differentiated from the theme of Jerusalem, although associated with it (Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 37:32). Mount Zion is specifically the dwellingplace of Yahweh (Isaiah 8:18), from where He reigns (Isaiah 24:23), the link between earth and heaven (Isaiah 2:2), contaminated by man and having to be purified (Isaiah 10:12), but to be raised above all the mountains of the earth that all nations might seek Him (Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 4:5; Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 27:13). While connected with Jerusalem, it is not in Isaiah to be seen as simply synonymous with it. It has a heavenly vista.
The Different Aspects Of Jerusalem and Zion.
A fifth and related theme is that of Jerusalem/Zion. This is seen from different aspects.
1) There is the mundane city of Jerusalem which is fallen and rejected, although enjoying a certain measure of protection ‘for David’s sake’ and which will be restored (Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 2:1; Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 3:8; Isaiah 3:16; Isaiah 7:1; Isaiah 10:12; Isaiah 10:24; Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 14:32; Isaiah 16:1; Isaiah 22:10; Isaiah 31:4-5; Isaiah 31:9; Isaiah 33:14; Isaiah 36:2; Isaiah 36:7; Isaiah 36:20; Isaiah 37:10; Isaiah 37:22; Isaiah 37:32; Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 41:27; Isaiah 49:14; Isaiah 52:7-9; Isaiah 64:10; Isaiah 66:8), as indeed it was.
2) There is the Jerusalem/Zion which is synonymous with the people (‘we’ Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 5:3; Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 10:10-12; Isaiah 22:21; Isaiah 28:14; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 52:2; Isaiah 65:18-19).
3) There is the Jerusalem/Zion from which will go God’s message to the world (Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 62:6-7).
4) There is the Jerusalem/Zion which is the city of God in contrast with ‘the world city’, the future glorious Jerusalem, which has eternal connections and will be part of the everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 4:3-5; Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 26:1-4; Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 33:5; Isaiah 33:20; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 51:16; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 60:14; Isaiah 61:3; Isaiah 62:1; Isaiah 62:11; Isaiah 65:18-19; Isaiah 66:10; Isaiah 66:13; Isaiah 66:20).
The point is that a restored Jerusalem in one way or another is seen as the focal point of Yahweh’s activity and future blessing because that alone was within the people’s conception. Isaiah knew that the old Jerusalem was rejected, but in a world where an afterlife in heaven was not even conceived of as a possibility, (it was a new idea which he was introducing as best he could), its centrality as a restored and glorified and much enlarged city was the only means available to indicate to the people God’s final triumph. And that is why it was depicted as lit by the presence of Yahweh (Isaiah 60:19-20), and was to be everlasting.
But we must appreciate how the people saw Jerusalem. To them it was the city of God, the holy city. To be there was to be as near to God as it was possible to be. It was their ideal, their dream, even when many were following idolatry. And it was the place where Yahweh dwelt on earth. Thus the prophets (apart from Ezekiel who went beyond it to a heavenly Temple and sidelined Jerusalem - Ezekiel 45:1-8) saw in Jerusalem, as glorified and transformed, the symbol of the culmination of their hopes, for it was where the dwellingplace of God would always be found. But the final list of references in Isaiah regularly use language that goes well beyond the idea of an earthly Jerusalem, and in chapter 2 Isaiah raises that dwelling place to a higher plain (Isaiah 2:2-3). They speak of what Jerusalem represents for the world in terms of God’s salvation, a Jerusalem beyond Jerusalem, and include within it all God’s blessings on the whole true people of God, both Jew and Gentile. The love of Jerusalem was used to point forward to a greater Jerusalem, a New Jerusalem which had attributes of Heaven, and which the New Testament would speak of as actually raised there (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22), together with a new Sanctuary where God could be met with (Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:7; Hebrews 9:11; Hebrews 9:24; Hebrews 10:19-22) .
Thus ‘Jerusalem’ will be the city of righteousness, where all are righteous (Isaiah 1:26-27), it will be the city where all without exception are holy (Isaiah 4:3), it will be a place where the full glory of God will be revealed in all its splendour and where God reigns (Isaiah 24:23), it will be a strong city with salvation as its wall and bulwarks (Isaiah 26:1), it will be a city with a secure foundation, founded in God (Isaiah 28:16), it will be a place of no more weeping (Isaiah 30:19), it will be a place where Yahweh is exalted and dwells on high, filling it with justice and righteousness (Isaiah 33:5), it will be immovable and indestructible, where Yahweh is with His own in majesty as Judge, Lawgiver and King (Isaiah 33:20), it will be a place of everlasting joy where His people obtain joy and gladness and where sorrow and sadness find no place (Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 51:11), it will be lit only by the light of Yahweh (Isaiah 60:19-20), it will be a newly created city (Isaiah 65:18), it will be in the newly created new heaven and the new earth (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:20-22). Thus Paul could refer us to the Jerusalem which is above (Galatians 4:26) and the write to the Hebrews to ‘mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ (Hebrews 12:22), while Revelation depicts it as the eternal state (Revelation 21-22).
There are some who, having no prophetic vision, literalise even these verses, and as a result debase them. However we must remember that prophecy had to be given in terms of the life-situation, background and understanding of those who heard it. When early missionaries went to the eskimos they spoke of seals instead of sheep, of the harpoon of God instead of the sword of the Lord and of the great igloo in the sky instead of Heaven, otherwise their message would have been meaningless. In the same way the prophets were prophesying to people who had no conception of Heaven. They thus spoke of it in terms of a glorified Jerusalem. Later John in Revelation would speak of it as a city of gold, with gates of pearl and forming a perfect cube with Apostles as its foundation. None of the descriptions, however, were to be taken literally. In our reading of them we must use discernment.
I am often asked what Heaven will be like. I have to speak in terms of joy and light and peace and fulfilment, but some want more detail than that, especially those who think in childlike simplicity. Some express disappointment that there will no pearly gates. Some want to live in the many mansions. That is the kind of description they want, and it is impossible to satisfy them in any other way. Should we rob them of this picture which means so much to them and gives them the right idea if not a strictly literal one? I am happy to use them as pictures. In the same way the Israelites were a farming and practical people. To describe the future glory to them in a meaningful way it was necessary to describe it in terms of fruitful fields, of plentiful rain, of glorious rivers, of plenteous cattle, of abundant trees and of a glorious land which was theirs. That was their idea of Heaven. And that is how God revealed it to them through the prophets. But that it is a picture comes out in Hebrews 11:0. The reality is greater far than that, as Hebrews 11:10-14 makes clear.
The World City.
A sixth theme is ‘the city’ which is seen as in contrast to Jerusalem. This is the world city which is doomed to destruction (Isaiah 24:10; Isaiah 24:12; Isaiah 25:2; Isaiah 26:5), the world in opposition to God. When Cain first rejected God he built a city (Genesis 4:17) and when man was scattered by God it was because he had built himself a city, Babel (Babylon) (Genesis 11:1-9). The idea of the city thus became that of something that was corrupted, a bastion of idolatry and in opposition to God and His ways, something that could be contrasted with the wilderness experience of Israel which was looked back on in an idealistic fashion (consider Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 2:14). This city is then seen by Isaiah as epitomised in Babylon. This is why when dealing with Babylon he seems to go over the top. On the one hand he is dealing with one of a number of countries who sought alliances with Israel/Judah, but on the other he sees Babylon alone as the great ogre, the great enemy of God, the great city that represents the world at its worst and most dangerous, the city for which there could be no mercy which must be permanently destroyed.
His Unique Treatment Of Babylon and Edom.
In stark contrast to the hope that is constantly found throughout the book, even for places like Egypt and Assyria (Isaiah 19:24-25), is the fate of Babylon and Edom. In the future that is coming there is hope for neither. Both are depicted as needing to be irretrievably destroyed by apocalyptic judgment (for Babylon see Isaiah 13:9-11; Isaiah 13:20-22; for Edom see Isaiah 34:8-10; Isaiah 63:1-6). One because it represents all that stands against God, the world city that seeks to exalt itself to heaven, the centre of all that sums up idolatry and licentious living. The other because it represents the brother who deserted the covenant community and rejected every offer of return to that covenant. Edom represents the brother who turned traitor to the people of God, and stands for those who from within for ever reject the covenant. Babylon was Pilate. Edom was Judas.
Isaiah’s treatment of Babylon is significant. The very name seemed to stir up his antagonism against it. He sets up Babylon as depicting the great enemy of all that is of God. It is possible (although not necessarily so) that this idea first arose for him when Babylon approached Judah with a view to an alliance resulting in Hezekiah showing the Babylonians all his treasures and military strength (39), thus bringing a cold chill in Isaiah’s heart as he thought on all that he knew about Babylon. But it went further than that, for this simply roused up his thoughts about Babylon as he knew of it from ancient times, Babylon the ever present threat to God’s purposes. To him it was the ever belligerent Babylon from centuries past, Babylon belligerent and arrogant through the ages, and it became to him a symbol of God’s battle against the rebellion of man. For whatever else aroused his concern there can be no doubt that Isaiah saw Babylon as different from anywhere else.
The name and thought of Babylon took his mind back to the traditions of his people. It was the building of a city that first indicated man’s rebellion against Yahweh (Genesis 4:17). This then expanded into Babel (Shinar) which was the beginnings of the first world empire (Genesis 10:10-11). It was Babel which was the place where man set himself up in opposition to God resulting in their scattering around the world (Genesis 11:1-9). As Shinar it was one of the places whoce kings invaded Canaan in the time of Abraham, and had to be defeated by Abraham (Genesis 14:1). So behind every ancient threat there had loomed Babylon. Thus he saw it as the ancient enemy, set up in opposition to God, and something to be avoided at all costs. Indeed contact with it could only bring disaster on God’s people (39). That is why in chapters 13-14 Babylon is emphatically seen as more than just another traducer, but is set up as a great and boastful city, and is depicted as arrogant in its claims and in its direct opposition to the Most High. And that is why its end is depicted in apocalyptic terms far exceeding the fate of any of the other nations, an end which is again stressed in Isaiah 21:1-10. Of all cities Babylon is seen as the only one which is ultimately doomed, the only city for which there is no hope. It had become to Isaiah a symbol of all that was evil in the world.
It is because of its constantly looming presence that this view is then taken up again in the second section. It had by this time gained further prominence by being the city from which Assyria was exercising its authority. (When Manasseh was taken away by Assyria it was to Babylon that he was taken). There it is seen as the antithesis of the Servant. God’s purpose is to work through the Servant. But Babylon is opposed to all that the Servant stands for. Thus, in Isaiah 43:14, while dealing with the question of the Servant, God promises that for His people’s sake He will destroy Babylon. It was true that Babylon, the ancient enemy, would at some stage be allowed to spoil Jerusalem and carry off the princes of the house of David (Isaiah 39:7), as a result of their own folly. But in the end it too would be spoiled and humiliated. This destruction of Babylon is then presaged in Isaiah 46:1-2 where the humiliation of Babylon’s gods (almost certainly by the Assyrians under Sennacherib) is seen as significantly preparatory to the final full expression of the destruction of Babylon in chapter 47, which is confirmed in Isaiah 48:14. In chapter 47 it is again made clear that it is being destroyed because of its extravagant claims. There is no mention anywhere of world empire, just of this great, looming, grotesquely vain city which is the champion of idolatry and the occult.
And finally all foreigners are told to flee from Babylon Isaiah 48:20, for Babylon represented all that men must flee from. Whether taken there by force (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 39:7) or going there by choice for trading purposes, or for the pleasures that it offered, they were not to cling to it but to flee from it. For Babylon was the home of decadent luxury and the headquarters of gods and of the occult, was to be shunned at all costs. It was doomed.
It is this concentration on Babylon as the arch-enemy of God that has made scholars read chapters 40-55 as referring to the Babylonian captivity. But that all has to be read in. That is not Isaiah’s emphasis. These chapters are not centred on what we know of as the Babylonian captivity, nor is the Babylonian captivity a central thought in them. Indeed there is no thought anywhere in those chapters of Babylon as the world ruler. The thought of that is remarkably absent. They are centred on the great spectre of ‘Babylon’ as the ancient enemy.
What Isaiah spoke of was a looming Babylon, a threatening Babylon, a predatory Babylon (as in Genesis 14:0), a Babylon that would hinder the work of the Servant. While Isaiah did recognise the harm that Babylon would do to Judah (Isaiah 14:3; Isaiah 39:7) there is no reason to think that he knew of its ‘world empire’, only of its pretensions to claim such a position. He knew what it essentially was. The fact that Babylon did become such a world empire for a time was a remarkable confirmation of all that Isaiah said, but there is no reason to think that it was in Isaiah’s mind. To him Babylon represented the arch-enemy of God, not the prime holder of exiles and ruler of the world.
Edom also is dealt with in an unusual way. They are the people of the curse (Isaiah 34:5). A brief offer was made to them to return to Yahweh (Isaiah 21:11-12), but it was clearly rejected for in the end they face apocalyptic judgment (34; Isaiah 63:1-6). For them there will be no return. Their end is final. There is no end day hope for them. They were the people descended from the line of promise through Isaac who had rejected their birthright. They are subject only to the Day of Vengeance (Isaiah 34:8; Isaiah 63:4). This can only be because they are seen as the supreme rejecters of the covenant, the brother tribe whose eponymous ancestor deserted the covenant people and which thereafter constantly turned traitor against Jacob/Israel. History, however, indicates that many Edomites were forced to submit to Israel and become Jews at the point of the sword. So although it was a judgment on them there was an element of mercy for them too (from God’s eternal standpoint) for they were now forcibly introduced to the covenant, and many no doubt genuinely responded to it, and the Gospel that arose from it.
The Use Of The Terms Israel, Jacob, Zion, Jerusalem In Isaiah.
Excluding genitival use connected with the name of God (e.g. ‘Holy One of Israel’, ‘God of Israel’, ‘Holy One of Jacob’, etc.) Israel occurs 48 times, Jacob occurs 37 times, Zion occurs 47 times and Jerusalem occurs 47 times. The uses tend to be spread over the whole book except that after Isaiah 49:1-6 ‘Israel’ occurs rarely and even then only genitivally (the only exception to this is in Isaiah 63:16 where it specifically refers to the patriarch).
‘Israel’ occurs three times in chapters 1-5, eleven times in 6-12, six times in 13-23, twice in 24-27, once in 28-35, sixteen times in parallel with Jacob and five times on its own (making twenty one in all) in Isaiah 40:1 to Isaiah 49:6, not at all in Isaiah 49:7-26, and after 55 it occurs three times genitivally (Isaiah 56:8; Isaiah 63:7; Isaiah 66:20). Included in the above are ‘house of Israel’ in Isaiah 5:7; Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 14:2; Isaiah 46:3 and Isaiah 63:7; ‘children of Israel’ in Isaiah 17:3; Isaiah 17:9; Isaiah 27:12; Isaiah 31:6; Isaiah 66:20; and ‘outcasts of Israel’ in Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 56:8. It can therefore be seen that, apart from in the chapters that follow the naming of the Servant as ‘Israel’ in Isaiah 49:3, it occurs fairly uniformly although with an increase in use in 40-49, where it very closely connects with their descent from Abraham and the idea of the Servant.
‘Jacob’ occurs three times (as ‘house of Jacob’) in 1-5, four times in 6-12, twice in 13-23, twice in 24-27, once in 28-35, twenty one times in Isaiah 40:1 to Isaiah 49:6 (sixteen in parallel with Israel), not at all in Isaiah 49:7-26, four times in 56-66. The picture is therefore to some extent similar to that of Israel except for its occurrence four times after Isaiah 49:6. It too in 40-49 has in mind the descent from Abraham. In these cases in 40-49 ‘Zion’ or ‘Jerusalem’ could not be used as they did not tie in with the necessity for the descent from Abraham as God’s Servant.
‘Zion’ occurs eight times in 1-5, five times in 7-12, three times in 13-23, once in 24-27, ten times in 28-35, twice in 36-39, four times in 40-49, seven times in 50-55 (all in 51-52), and seven times in 56-66. Here it is clear that it is spread fairly uniformly through the book, with twenty nine times in 1-39 and eighteen times in 40-66, which includes a cluster of seven in 51-52. It tends especially to be used in relationship to God as dwelling among His people, and does not in most cases simply mean the people of God (see section on Zion above).
‘Jerusalem’ occurs eight times in 1-5, six times in 6-12, twice in 13-23, twice in 24-27, five times in 28-35, six times in 36-39 (where we would expect it), five times in 40-49, four times in 50-55 (all in 51-52), nine times in 56-66. Here again we have twenty nine in 1-39 and eighteen in 40-66, with a cluster of four in 51-52. Its use is similar to that of ‘Zion’.
In so far as these comparisons can be used at all this would tend to support unity of authorship, taking into account the occasional difference in emphasis required.
Did Isaiah Have The Exile of Judah To Babylon Directly In Mind?
One of the strongest arguments put forward for dating the second part of Isaiah (40-66) to a date long after the death of Isaiah himself, is the supposition that this second part is dealing with the downfall of the later Babylonian Empire and the return from Babylon of the deportees of c.587 BC, which would have had no real interest for the prophet prophesying in the first half of the book as he never raises the question of a future exile for all God’s remaining people in Babylon (in chapter 39 only the sons of Hezekiah are in mind).
However, quite apart from the danger of seeking to declare what God could and could not do with relation to future prophecy, we should note that, contrary to the impression that has been given by many scholars, there are in fact no certain grounds in the second half of the book for suggesting that that part mainly has the Babylonian exile in mind. The truth is that a cursory reading of the section from 40 to 55 by someone not already imbued with the idea of the Babylonian exile would certainly not result in the reader thinking that it mainly referred to the return of such exiles. There is in fact not one clear reference to any return of such exiles. When exiles are expected to return, they are expected to return from all over the world.
Indeed the remarkable fact, given how so many commentaries interpret these chapters as referring to the Babylonian empire, is that Babylon is only mentioned four times in Isaiah from chapter 40 onwards, in Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 47:1; Isaiah 48:14; Isaiah 48:20, and we might perhaps include Isaiah 46:1 (compare five times in 13-22, and four times in 36-39). Let us then first consider those verses.
reads, ‘For your sake I have sent to Babylon and I will bring down all of them as fugitives, even the Chaldeans, in the ships of their rejoicing.’ Whatever else this means it is clearly referring to the Babylonians as becoming fugitives because of God’s judgment coming on Babylon, probably emphasising the fact that as the great anti-God they will be rendered powerless, so that they cannot prevent God’s triumphs which will result in the return of exiles to Judah from all parts of the world (Isaiah 43:5-6). Anything else has to be read into it. (In the light of Isaiah 46:1 where their gods also become fugitives this would seem to refer to a successful Assyrian invasion). Here Babylon, as it always had, stood for everything that was in opposition to God (compare Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:1-9).
reads, ‘Bel bows down, Nebo stoops, their idols are on the beasts, and on the cattle, the things that you carried about (in triumph at your festivals), are made a load, a burden to the weary. They stoop, they bow down together, they could not deliver the burden but themselves are gone into captivity.’ This almost certainly refers to the time when Sennacherib, having captured Babylon, took its gods back to Assyria, as we know he did. (Cyrus did the very opposite. He restored gods and Temples to their original state).
reads, ‘Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans.’ All that this and what follows requires is that at some stage Babylon invaded Judah and took captives to Babylon as already described in Isaiah 39:6-7 (see verse 6), and had possibly earlier received other exiles by Assyrian transportation (Isaiah 11:11 - Shinar), and was subsequently punished by God for its treatment of them. We know in fact that such an invasion from Babylon as the tool of Assyria resulted in Manasseh being taken to Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11), no doubt along with other important people, as prophesied by Isaiah in Isaiah 39:6-7, long before Babylon became established as a world empire, and it is probable that some were exiled there in earlier Assyrian invasions (just as Babylonians were transported to Samaria). None of this necessitates, or even suggests, a Babylonian ‘world’ empire. Had we not known of it from other sources no one would ever have guessed it from Isaiah’s prophecies.
reads, ‘Assemble yourselves all of you, and hear. Who among you has declared these things (that God has created everything and controls everything)? The Lord has loved him. He will perform his pleasure on Babylon and his arm will be on the Chaldeans.’ These words need only mean that whoever declares God to be what He is (probably referring either to Isaiah or the Servant) will see his pleasure performed by God on Babylon. To suggest that Cyrus truly believed that Yahweh as the first and the last was the creator of the world and its controller, and as a result of that belief would conquer Babylon, is to go to the extremes of interpretation. Cyrus honoured all gods, and as a result had no special belief in any of them except in a general kind of way. He had no special belief in Yahweh.
reads, ‘Go you forth from Babylon, flee you from the Chaldeans, with the voice of singing declare you, tell this, utter it even to the ends of the earth. Say you, the Lord has redeemed His servant Jacob.’ All this requires is that Israel/Jacob was subjugated at some stage by Babylon, and that therefore, because of the judgment that God would consequently bring on Babylon, many who are dwelling there are to flee and declare that the reason for the judgment is that God is delivering His people. But Babylon was ever a predator and this could refer to any time when it was being belligerent towards Judah (e.g. 2 Chronicles 32:11).
It should be apparent from the above that there is no requirement in any of them that Babylon become a world empire. All that is required is that they become powerful enough to act as bullies in the region, something that happened many times. And any indications of their subjugation is in terms of Assyria, not Persia.
It is true, of course, that the Babylonian exile did figure prominently in future thought, witness the genealogy of Matthew 1:1-17. But we should seek for details of that in Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah and Haggai, not in Isaiah. The emphasis on Babylon which is found in most commentaries on Isaiah, arises simply because the movement back of exiles of which we have the most knowledge did commence from Babylon with official sanction, and we are lacking in records of the return of exiles from elsewhere at any other time. So we read the return of the Babylonian exiles into Isaiah. But that should rather be seen as a reminder of how little information we have and that our point of view on history tends to be based on the records that were preserved, not as evidence that that is the only return of exiles that actually happened. Indeed we have no need to doubt that the re-establishing of Israel was in the end much more complicated than the records we have suggest, (important though they are because they are all that we have got), in line with Isaiah’s wider predictions. For it must be stressed that Isaiah’s concentration was on a universal return of exiles, not on a return from Babylon, on which he lays no emphasis at all.
Why then does Isaiah lay such stress on Babylon? The answer to that question is because he sees it as the ever-threatening arch-enemy of God, as it had been from the beginning of time (Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:1-9). It is the arche-type of all oppressors and boasters against God. It has nothing to do with people being exiled there, nor is there in Isaiah any reference to a ‘world’ empire. The return of exiles to which he did look forward was not specifically from Babylon, but from all parts of the world. He saw it as incorporating returnees from many places (Isaiah 11:11), with Assyria and Egypt being very prominent (Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 52:4). It is true, of course, that the term ‘the land of Assyria’ could include Babylonia at the time of their widest empire, for Assyria conquered Babylon, but only as a secondary consideration. In this regard it must be seen as significant that chapter 52, which is widely interpreted of the Babylonian return, only actually mentions Egypt and Assyria.
The fact is that our emphasis on returning exiles from Babylon in interpreting Isaiah does not come from the book itself, but from the subsequent history as known to us, which we then read back into Isaiah. It is not the emphasis of Isaiah’s prophecy. It is true that he does have a kind of emphasis on Babylon, mainly in the first half of his prophecy, but that is for a very different reason than the return from exile. That has to do with the massive impact that the image of Babylon continually made on the ancient world, and had done from the beginning (Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:1-9). However, as mentioned above, when Isaiah speaks of returning exiles, he sees the return as taking place from many parts, including especially Egypt and Assyria.
So as we have already emphasised, there is neither a stress on Babylonian exiles in the book, nor is there anywhere any firm suggestion of Babylonian supremacy over the world. Indeed, with one possible, but by no means certain, exception, whenever returning from exile is mentioned it is in general terms, as in the first part of Isaiah (see Isaiah 11:11-12; Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 43:5-7; Isaiah 45:13; Isaiah 49:22-26; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 52:11-12 taken with Isaiah 52:4 where Assyria is in mind, and with Isaiah 30:22 and Isaiah 66:20; Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 62:10; Isaiah 66:20) without any mention of Babylon (except in Isaiah 11:11 as Shinar). It thus has in mind the exiles taken from Galilee and Samaria, and those Israelites scattered as refugees to different countries, and not the later Babylonian exile.
It is true that in Isaiah 48:20 reference is made to a ‘fleeing’ from Babylon, but that would be an unusual way of speaking of returning exiles, especially exiles returning with the permission of their overlord (see Isaiah 52:12). Indeed if it was such a reference it would be unique. And it is in total contrast to the picture given of returning exiles elsewhere. The idea of ‘fleeing’ could equally apply to Jews who had taken up residence in Babylon for trading and other purposes who were fleeing from its coming judgment, or indeed to any foreign inhabitants of Babylon (Isaiah 47:15; compare Isaiah 13:14 where such will flee from Babylon), of whom there would be many. For we should note that many took up residence in such cities, not because they had been exiled, but because of their attractions to the sensual and because they were bold-hearted and looked for advancement, or beause they had lucrative business in mind. And even if we were to assume that a return of some exiles from there may possibly be included in the general references to returning exiles, the main thought in Isaiah 48:20 is unquestionably rather that of men fleeing from all that Babylon stood for (see chapters 13-14 and especially Isaiah 13:14), and from its devastating destruction, than of a return from exile.
The truth is that Babylon (Shinar) as such is only seen by Isaiah as one minor place among many from which exiles were to return (Isaiah 11:11-12), something which does not require the later Babylonian exile. For we must keep in mind the fact that some of the earlier exiles from the northern kingdom may well have also been placed in Babylonia, as they were in Media. It is true that after the Galilean conquest Assyria is said to have transferred the exiles ‘to Assyria’ (2 Kings 15:29). But 2 Kings 17:0 makes it apparent that that means the Assyrian Empire as a whole, for while in verse 23 all the exiles from Israel are again referred to as being exiled ‘to Assyria’, we also know from there that that included Media (2 Kings 17:6). Thus ‘to Assyria’ clearly meant to the Assyrian Empire. And as Babylonians were transferred to Israel by the Assyrians in 2 Kings 17:24, it seems equally probable that the reverse happened, with exiles from the northern kingdom being transferred to Babylonia (to say nothing of later Judean exiles under Sennacherib). And this could further be seen as supported by the fact that later Manasseh was transferred to Babylon by the Assyrians (2 Chronicles 33:11) who were operating from Babylon, which serves to confirm this suggestion. That being so any hint of Babylonian exiles in Isaiah (of which there are almost none apart from Isaiah 11:11-12) could have in mind mainly exiles from the northern kingdom, and thus not have Judah in mind at all.
The truth as we have already seen is that almost nothing is said about Babylon in 40-66 with regard to exiles, and little actually as regards Babylon at all, apart from two prominent chapters. In Isaiah 46:1-2 the taking of the Babylonian gods into captivity, which is mentioned in humiliating terms for the gods, was almost certainly by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. It was Sennacherib who infamously removed Marduk (Bel) from Babylon. Cyrus rather encouraged the worship and return of local gods and sought the support of the priests of Marduk not their enmity. It is true that in Isaiah 47:1-5 the humiliation of Babylon itself is described, but that could equally refer to the same situation under Sennacherib as Isaiah 46:1-2 (we would actually expect it to in view of the context), for her boast to be ‘the lady of kingdoms’ (Isaiah 47:5) ties in with the false claims of Isaiah 13:19 that she is ‘the glory of kingdoms’. But this high status, which she claimed throughout history, was originally humbled by ‘the kingdoms of the nations’ (Isaiah 13:4), which probably refers, at least in the first instance, to the Assyria confederacy. Neither necessarily has in mind overall supremacy for Babylon. Babylon’s claim to be the glory of the kingdoms was rather of long standing and was simply based on their view of their own ancient glory and of their long time huge reputation, rather than on world conquest. And neither refers to exiles.
It is true that in Isaiah 48:14 we are told of one whom Yahweh loves in a context of God performing His pleasure on Babylon without a name being given. This is often interpreted as referring to a conqueror of Babylon, although it does not say so, but even if it does mean that, it could be referring to any conqueror of Babylon who was thought of in terms of being God’s instrument. In our view, however, it actually applies to Isaiah and/or the Servant of Yahweh, and not to a conqueror at all (see above and on those verses), and rather has in mind the toppling of Babylon as the great ANTI-GOD.
So the only reference to Babylon which can be at all connected with the idea of exiles after chapter 39 is found in Isaiah 48:20 where the command comes to flee from Babylon. But as we have seen even this is by no means definite. Those who are told to flee could have arrived in Babylon in any number of ways as we have suggested above, and as Isaiah 13:14 confirms. And this was just the kind of terminology that we would expect from one who saw Babylon as the great enemy of God, had just prophesied its destruction (47; Isaiah 48:14), and knew that there were Israelites and many foreigners in Babylon, without it necessarily signifying that they were a main source of exiles. It is true that in later times exiles would return from Babylon, but in that case there was no question of them fleeing. They came sedately with the approval of the reigning monarch, as do all returning exiles throughout the remainder of the book. Rather than ‘fleeing’, they are ‘assembled’ and ‘gathered’ (Isaiah 11:11-12; Isaiah 56:8). They are given every assistance from the peoples (Isaiah 14:2; Isaiah 49:22-23; Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 66:20)
On the other hand we do know from Isaiah 39:6 that Isaiah expected at least the princes to be exiled to Babylon, and probably others. What then might seem more surprising in the light of this would not be that he refers to them, but that he does not specifically refer to them, if they had already been exiled when he gave his prophecies. If he does in Isaiah 48:20 (which as we have seen is doubtful) then he only refers to them indirectly, and that at the most once, and even then in a unique way, whereas elsewhere exiles are seen as returning triumphantly from all parts, as triumphantly as the Babylonian exiles would also do in practise. That can only be because their situation was to him very much secondary. He had no fixation about exiles in Babylon. If there were any, he saw them as merely part of the great worldwide exile. And in fact we never gain from Isaiah the impression of a Babylonian ‘world empire’, only of a powerful and arrogant city.
All this then may be seen as suggesting an earlier date for chapter 40 onwards rather than a later one, one well before the time of Nebuchadnezzar. It suggests that the whole Book of Isaiah knew nothing of the great Babylonian empire, even though he recognised the danger that Babylon, the enemy of the nations and of God from as far back as Genesis 10-11, would always pose because of its pride and its belligerency.
Certainly we do have good grounds for knowing that Isaiah did have divinely revealed forebodings about what Babylon would do to Judah in the future (Isaiah 39:6-7; 2 Kings 20:17-18). Indeed he had cause to have them in view of Genesis 10-11, and Babylon’s continuing reputation. And he was equally certainly shrewdly aware, as Hezekiah with his inflated ideas of his own importance failed to be, that such a powerful nation only sought for assistance to a small state like Judah as a temporary expediency, and that if the rebellion was successful it would swallow Judah whole. Furthermore he had the example of what Assyria had previously done to Israel to enable him to appreciate the consequences that would follow, and would be deeply aware of the religious implications of being too closely connected with Babylon. But that is not to see it as a world empire, only as a dangerous threat.
Thus his foreseeing that Judah would be spoiled by Babylon, with some of the nobility of the nation, including the king’s sons, taken into exile, did not need a Nebuchadnezzar to bring it about. Once he had the foreboding that Babylon was bad news for Judah, he could really only come to one conclusion, and that was that at some stage there would be exiles in Babylon, as in other parts of the world. For in his experience that was what such conquerors did, and it was what Deuteronomy 28:63-67 had warned of. The only question in his mind would be, what then? What would follow?
We must remember that even in Isaiah’s day Babylon was not always in subjection to Assyria. When they were they were a reluctant vassal and broke free a number of times. And when they were free they were a powerful force in their own right (otherwise they could not have broken free). Thus there was every reason why he could see them as acting independently of Assyria against Judah without seeing them as a world empire.
So the truth is that in Isaiah 40-66 his emphasis is not on the defeat of a Babylonian world empire and a specific return of exiles from Babylon but on God’s activity in the spiritual restoration of His people, in the course of which he describes exiles and refugees returning to the land of Israel from all parts of the world and the destruction of the great anti-God, Babylon, (representing all who opposed Yahweh), necessary if Yahweh was to be supreme. For he was confident that God would fulfil His everlasting covenant and that God’s people would be brought back to the land with the future secure, regardless of what Assyria, Egypt or Babylon or anyone else did. If he did see Babylonian exiles as among them, it was only as one group among many. But it was not primary. This is not strange as written by Isaiah, looking out with a world view, but it would be passing strange of someone to whom the return from Babylon had become of supreme importance.
It is true that someone who was influenced by the subsequent history, and the later Old Testament books, which can result in our putting an overemphasis on the Babylonian exiles, and looking at it from that background, might see it as referring mainly to the Babylonian captivity. It appears to add meat to the bones. But this partly arises because we have no records of the return of other exiles, (for the re-establishing of Israel was undoubtedly much more complicated than these books make it appear). And it is not the impression that Isaiah really gives. It is ‘read in’.
So they would not then be basing that position on what is actually written in the book, but on the fact that events similar to what Isaiah describes did occur at that time. They would be basing their suggestion on what happened historically and was later recorded, with a reading back of it into Isaiah. But it must again be stressed that there are no emphatic grounds in the text of Isaiah for doing so. It is always something that has to be read in. For nowhere in Isaiah is the final Babylonian captivity ever referred to directly, and Babylon is not even prominent in it except as the supreme enemy of God.
One further point to be considered, however, is the reference to Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1. This is often seen to be the clinching point in the argument. But we must recognise here that it is more than a possibility that Isaiah already knew of the young Cyrus who would shortly become Cyrus I of Persia, (grandfather to Cyrus the Great), and may well have visited the Persian court. Thus the fact that God revealed to him that from the house of ‘Cyrus’ would later come restoration for Jerusalem and the temple (Isaiah 44:28 to Isaiah 45:1), while remarkable in view of later history, is not necessarily an example of simply receiving a name out of the blue (although compare 1 Kings 13:2 for a precedent), nor is it necessarily an indication of the Babylonian world empire (Babylon is not mentioned in the context). He may well have had the house of Cyrus I in mind in these verses. And it is significant that in Isaiah the defeat of Babylon is never connected with Cyrus.
It must also be recognised that during the lifetime of Isaiah a new situation did face Israel, Judah and Jerusalem. They had never before faced such powerful enemies from the north as Assyria proved to be, invaders who came and stayed, and who carried people into captivity, and demanded tribute from afar. They had, of course experienced it from Egypt, but Egypt had always been a neighbour. And yet soon they were to experience such adversaries with a vengeance. We can understand therefore why Isaiah should see a continual threat of impending doom and look further afield for a possible deliverer who was on friendly terms with Judah. For Isaiah himself in fact points out that this need arose from their own lack of obedience and trust by which they demonstrated their unfitness to be their own saviours with God’s help, and as a consequence drew attention to themselves and brought down on themselves these great marauding nations which were greedy for power and wealth (in Ahaz’s case, Assyria, in Hezekiah’s, Babylon). Thus the need for God Himself to call in a foreign shepherd.
On the other hand the suggestion has been put forward that ‘Coresh’ (translated Cyrus) is not referring to a name, but is a description (e.g. ‘the crushed one’), referring either to Jerusalem, or the Servant, or the house of David. In this regard note in Isaiah 44:28 the parallelism:
‘That says of Koresh, “my shepherd
And will perform all my pleasure”,
Even saying of Jerusalem, “she shall be built”,
And to the Temple, “you will be established” (or “your foundation will be laid”)”.’
It will be noticed that Isaiah 44:28 does not necessarily require the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, only the fact of their being damaged by invading forces when, say, Babylon took Jerusalem, which could refer to its capture in the days of Manasseh. Nor does it say that the ‘rebuilding’ of Jerusalem and re-establishing of the Temple (which would come into disrepute once Jerusalem was captured) was the work of Koresh. ‘That says’ could parallel ‘even saying’ referring in both cases to Yahweh (see also verses 26-27 where similar statements are described as made by Yahweh). Nowhere in the whole passage is there any thought of Babylon. Assuming it to refer to the house of Cyrus the thought is rather of the rise of Persia as an instrument of God’s will. For we should note that Coresh does appear as the name of Cyrus in Ezra 1:1 and regularly.
Some have suggested that Cyrus’ name was inserted as an explanation by a later scribe, but without evidence such suggestions are always to be looked on suspiciously, especially as it is also included in LXX. It must, however, be admitted that it is a possibility.
However, when during his lifetime Isaiah actually saw what happened to the northern state of Israel as its important people were carried off into exile, something that previously would undoubtedly have seemed unbelievable, and later no doubt saw Judeans suffering the same fate when Assyria invaded Judah, (they captured many cities including Lachish even if they did not capture Jerusalem), he may well have taken this as a warning of what could also finally be the fate of an unrepentant Judah and Jerusalem, even though it might be by another hand whose activity was brought to his mind by Hezekiah’s folly (Isaiah 39:6-7). Burdened by all this we might expect that he would then, under God’s inspiration, seek and enunciate a solution for the restoration of Jerusalem and the return of all these exiles. And having had friendly relations with the court of Persia he may well have seen ‘the house of Cyrus’ as Israel’s future hope. Thus there is no reason why his prophecies, which were to lay the foundation on which other prophets would build, for all prophesied in the light of these events, may not have included reference to that house in a general way.
Background History To The Book Of Isaiah.
In order to understand parts of Isaiah better, and indeed all the 8th century BC prophets (Hosea, Amos, Micah), it is helpful to appreciate some of the history that lies behind it.
a). Religion in Israel/Judah.
On first arrival in Canaan from the wilderness the Central Sanctuary, the Tabernacle, was the one place to which the tribes looked as the place that united the tribes in worship (Deuteronomy 12:5). It was the one permanent sanctuary, first at Gilgal (Joshua 4:19-20; Joshua 5:8-9; Joshua 10:43), then, at least temporarily, at Shechem, where the people were probably related to the Israelites and not Canaanites (Joshua 8:30-35; Joshua 24:1), and then later at Shiloh (Joshua 18:1). It was the place where the covenant was constantly renewed, and where the tribes were intended to meet together to reaffirm their unity within that covenant. We must remember that the Tabernacle was transportable, and may thus have moved between different sites until it eventually settled more permanently at Shiloh.
But provision had also been made for altars to be erected at places where God revealed His name (Exodus 20:24-26), and it would appear that, as the tribes spread, Exodus 20:24-26 was appealed to as allowing for a simple form of local worship on temporary altars. Thus we have, for example the legitimate altar of Elijah - 1 Kings 18:30-32 - built on a site on Mount Carmel where ‘the altar of Yahweh had been thrown down’. Note also Gideon’s action in Judges 6:26, where he built an altar replacing at the same time the altar of Baal. We must remember in this regard the difficulties that many would have had for various reasons such as distance, hostile environment, etc. in reaching Shiloh.
But there are a number of indications that, up to the time of Samuel, apart from in times of apostasy, Israel’s religious history was firmly, if spasmodically, centralised around the Central Sanctuary, the Tabernacle, at least theoretically. That is not to say that the whole of Israel, or even a good part of it, were continually faithful to the covenant that God had made with them through Moses. We know only too well that it was not. There were ups and downs, and they needed constant rebukes. But at least the covenant was periodically acknowledged and recognised at that Sanctuary, when they could get there (both apathy and oppressors might well have inhibited such gatherings), at least by the faithful.
However, the Bible itself in fact makes clear that all was not straightforward. From not long after the time of Joshua the rot had already begun to set in (Judges 2:7). All kinds of religious practises were being observed in different parts of ‘Israel’, with the result that allegiance to the Central Sanctuary and the Law of Moses was being diminished. But one thing that the periodic invasions by neighbouring enemies regularly did was bring them back to some kind of allegiance to the Central Sanctuary, and therefore to the Law of Moses, something revealed by their response to the call to arms (Judges 3:27; Judges 5:9-18; Judges 6:34-35 with Isaiah 7:24; compare Isaiah 12:1-2; Isaiah 20:1). This is one lesson learned from the Book of Judges (see Judges 2:11-23). Thus it would appear that at the time of Eli the Central Sanctuary was operating successfully (1 Samuel 1-4).
Then came the capture of the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh by the powerful Philistines, who as one of the Sea Peoples had arrived from overseas, and had established themselves on the Coastal Plain, (after the original Israeli conquest of large parts of Canaan). This was seemingly followed later by the destruction, presumably by them, of the Central Sanctuary at Shiloh (Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 26:9). At one blow this threw the whole position of the Central Sanctuary in Israel’s religion into a chaos. The official Tabernacle had presumably been destroyed, although priests may well have escaped taking with them some of the sacred accoutrements, including possibly the bronze altar, while the Ark itself remained in a private house, although carefully watched over, and was no longer used as a central focus of worship (1 Samuel 7:1), a situation which continued up to the time of David (2 Samuel 6:2), probably partly because the Central Sanctuary was seen as in abeyance (1 Kings 3:2).
It was the powerful presence of Samuel, the child of the Central Sanctuary (1 Samuel 3:0), that seemingly came to the rescue, for he now became the one to whom the people who were faithful to Yahwism looked. It may well be that he set up a new temporary Tabernacle, which he sent before him to prepare for his coming at different selected sites as he himself went around acting as judge of Israel (1 Samuel 7:16). It may well have been erected at times at Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:5; 1 Samuel 10:17), at Ramah, which was also referred to as a high place (1 Samuel 7:17; 1 Samuel 9:25), and at Gilgal ( 1Sa 10:8 ; 1 Samuel 11:15; 1 Samuel 13:4), and even therefore possibly at Bethel (1 Samuel 7:16). 1 Kings 3:2 explains that different high places were in use because of the uncertainty arising from the destruction of the Central Sanctuary. These may have resulted from the destruction of the original Central Sanctuary. They were emergency times.
Once Saul became king a Central Sanctuary appears to have been in use at Nob. See 1 Samuel 21:1-6; 1 Samuel 22:11-22. But although the Ark had been returned to Israel, it was not in use for worship, nor had it been united with whatever Tabernacle was in use, which would therefore undoubtedly have been seen as diminishing the significance of the new Tabernacle.
It would appear from all this that both Samuel and then Saul, still cooperated with the activities of some kind of Central Sanctuary, until Saul himself destroyed it (1 Samuel 22:17-21). But even so he probably replaced it with a new one with Zadok as Priest, for it would have been required by the people. Zadok was in a different line of descent from Aaron as compared with Ahimelech and Abiathar. But we can see why the people would be becoming disillusioned by it and might have had more confidence in the high places set up at revered sites.
After Saul had died and David had become King of Judah in Hebron he probably also established a Tabernacle with Abiathar, who had escaped from Nob with the official ephod (1 Samuel 23:6), as Priest, first at Hebron (2 Samuel 2:4; 2 Samuel 2:11) and then at Gibeon. This would be apart from the Central Sanctuary maintained by Ishbosheth. He would hardly have wanted Judah to look to the Central Sanctuary in Israel. This would explain why for the first time there were two Chief Priests (2 Samuel 15:24; 2 Samuel 15:29; 2Sa 15:35 ; 2 Samuel 17:15; 2 Samuel 19:11; 2 Samuel 20:25; 1 Kings 4:4). In 2 Samuel 8:17 Zadok and Abiathar’s son Ahimelech are named as priests. Presumably at this time Abiathar had become semi-permanently unclean, possibly through some skin disease, with his son therefore acting in his place. It would seem that under David the Tabernacle continued as the Central Sanctuary (moved at some stage from Hebron to Gibeon) while once Israel was again united another sacred tent held the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh in Jerusalem.
In fact, the Ark and the Tabernacle would not again be reunited until Solomon brought both within the orbit of his new (and from the point of view of many Israelites his unacceptably newfangled) Temple. As we have seen 1 Kings 3:2 tells us that it was as a result of confusion with regard to which was the Central Sanctuary that local ‘high places’ had arisen. As we know there had been long before been an illegitimate one at Dan (Judges 18:27-31), a high place which had rivalled Shiloh (Judges 18:31), had seemingly ceased along with it, and was revived again after the death of Solomon (1 Kings 12:29). Other high places may, for example, have been at Mizpah, Ramah, Gilgal, Hebron and Bethel (see above), and places like Shechem, noted as holy sites where Yahweh had revealed His Name.
These high places probably in general followed the patterns of Tabernacle worship (there would be plenty of unemployed priests around, who had escaped the devastation at Shiloh and had not been at Nob). The sanctuaries would differ from one another in regard to orthodoxy, for we only have to read the Book of Judges to recognise that in certain areas religious practise no longer followed a strict Mosaic pattern, and often became ‘Canaanised’ (Judges 2:11-13). This had been almost inevitable once the tribes had split up and were separated from each other by Canaanite conclaves (Judges 1:27-36), with whom they cohabited and became friendly, while at the same time different areas were being subjected to various invasions by neighbouring enemies (as illustrated in Judges where different invasions affected different groups of tribes). Practises would have crept in which then over time established themselves as ‘orthodox’. Furthermore Yahweh was almost certainly being worshipped as ‘Baal-i’ (my Lord - see Hosea 2:16), which would add to the confusion and result in Canaanite tendencies thus creeping in even among some of the faithful. The describing of God as Baali would explain why Saul named his son ‘Eshbaal’ (man of Baal - 1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39), changed by later writers to Ishbosheth (man of shame). Compare also Merib-baal (hero of Baal - 1 Chronicles 8:34; 1 Chronicles 9:40 a - which became Mephibosheth).
The idea behind building the Temple was to re-establish the one Central Sanctuary and legitimise Jerusalem, thus replacing the prominent ‘great high place’ at Gibeon which was seemingly at that stage the place where the new Tabernacle was erected (1 Kings 3:4; 1 Kings 8:1-11), and also aiming to replace the high places. But opposition to the idea of the Temple continued throughout its history, and it was continually rivalled by the ever popular ‘high places’ (bamoth, a term which came to mean local shrines whether on hills or not), which were seen by many as more legitimate than one established in ‘Jebusite’ Jerusalem (religious custom is very tenacious), despite the efforts, firstly of Solomon, and then of a few later kings, and especially of Hezekiah and Josiah, to eradicate them. They varied in orthodoxy, with many becoming openly syncretistic and containing Canaanite additions. The Song of Solomon may well have been written partly with the aim of trying to win the people over to the Temple, with the love between Yahweh and His people in the countryside (expressed in the high places), becoming worship on the mountains of spices - the mountains of Jerusalem where incense was again being offered).
The division of the kingdoms posed a further problem for the northern kingdom, because clearly its rulers did not want the people to continue looking towards Jerusalem. This was why the sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan, two recognised ‘holy places’, were officially set up (1 Kings 12:29-33) to replace Jerusalem. Bethel was where Jacob had had his vision (Genesis 31:13; Genesis 35:1; Genesis 35:7; and compare Judges 20:26), and had probably been a high place under Samuel (see above), and Dan had been a local sanctuary for many years in the time of the judges (Judges 18:29-31). Both therefore had past religious associations which were probably revered. (The need to set them up demonstrates the felt need for there to be a Central Sanctuary). It may well be that each golden calf was intended to represent the bearer of the invisible Yahweh (gods were sometimes pictured on the backs of bulls), but it was all too easy to link them with Baal, who was worshipped in the form of a bull, and many worshippers probable saw them in that way. This was why the prophets inveighed against them.
We must probably distinguish with regard to ‘high places’ those which were built at what were at least recognised as sacred sites to Israel, and were basically Yahwist, even if sometimes tinged with Canaanite ideas, and were therefore allowed to continue even under ‘good’ kings for the purpose of offering incense and sacrifices (1 Kings 15:12-14; 1 Kings 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 2 Kings 15:4), and those built on every high mountain and under every green tree where they were blatantly Canaanite (1 Kings 14:23-24; 2 Kings 16:4; compare also 2 Kings 11:18).
The Temple, however, received a huge boost to its being conceived of as uniquely ‘holy’ by the seemingly miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem under Hezekiah (37-38; 2 Kings 18:13 to 2 Kings 19:37), so that its inviolability as the only Sanctuary that had remained untouched by the invaders, became a byword (the idea grew that Yahweh would never allow His Temple to be destroyed - Jeremiah 7:4; Jeremiah 7:14), until its final destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. However, it still did not permanently oust the high places. These were, however, always seen as dangerous by true prophets because they encouraged syncretism, and watered down the covenant (as with church groupings today they were no doubt a mixed bag, with some being conservative and some liberal). This was why allowing the high places to continue was seen by the prophets as the equivalent of allowing unorthodoxy to flourish, and of watering down Yahwism. Of course, once the Temple itself became affected with idolatry as a result of the activities of Ahaz, that became the first place that had to be ‘purified’, which could only fully happen once Judah was ready to establish its independence (having the altar of the overlord in the Temple was compulsory, and to remove it an act of open rebellion).
The Rise Of Assyrian Influence in Palestine.
From the time of Joshua, apart from the invading Philistines who settled as a hierarchy on the Coastal Plains towards the end of Joshua’s life (Joshua 13:2-3; Judges 3:3), and the Mesopotamian Cushan-Rishathaim (Judges 3:7-11), who enforced tribute for a short period, Palestine and its surrounds were largely free from distant outside interference, with Palestine only being affected by neighbouring irritants, the most powerful of whom were Egypt and Syria, the latter constantly seeking to dominate it once David and Solomon were out of the way. All appear to have been unaffected by the thought of distant, more powerful enemies, and were blissfully unaware of the gradual growth in the already formidable power of Assyria and Babylon north of the Euphrates.
Egypt, which when it was strong saw the city states of Canaan as very much their vassal states (as revealed in the Amarna letters in 14th century BC), was on the whole going through a weak period, and having had to cope with the Hittite empire, then had to deal with the invading Sea peoples, to say nothing of pressure from the Sudan. So apart from an incursion by Merenptah in the time of the Joshua/Judges, when there was a clash with Israel, (the incursion is mentioned in ‘the Israel stele’ set up in Thebes, where Israel is cited, and in an inscription at Amada in Egypt, but not by the Israelite records that we have, probably because its effects were too brief and relatively minor), they appear to have left Israeli-occupied Canaan alone, while under David and Solomon Israel had a powerful empire in its own right, with Egypt being seen as an ally, and relations with Palestine being friendly. Egypt were content with this situation, as it safeguarded their own frontiers. The situation changed after Solomon’s death and Egypt, having provoked disorder by returning the Egyptian trained and ambitious Jeroboam to Israel (1 Kings 11:40; 1 Kings 12:2-3), reasserted its claims with an invasion in 5th year of Rehoboam’s reign (1 Kings 14:25), which encompassed both Judah and Israel, although how far this was more than a raid in order to obtain substantial booty is not known. A later attempt by Egypt to exercise its overlordship failed miserably (2 Chronicles 14:9-15; 2 Chronicles 16:8). Egyptian influence had waned and would in fact in the future only be a burden to Israel as it made promises that it could not fulfil. It was only sustained by its reputation.
Meanwhile, following the end of the Hittite empire, which had been kept in check as a result of its rivalry with Egypt, the threats of Assyria and Babylon were at this stage nowhere apparent. They were too busy elsewhere to bother about Syria and its neighbours. To Israel and Judah they did not appear to be a threat worth worrying about, a distant people about whom little was known. Thus none quite realised the power of the nations beyond the Euphrates who were engaged in battling with each other. The greatest worry for Israel and Judah at this time, therefore, was the ever belligerent Syria, the dominant power in the area.
That situation changed, however, when first Ashur-nasir-pal II (883-859 BC), who invaded the coastal cities of Phoenicia and Philistia, and then Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC), who having subdued threats from elsewhere, took an interest in Hamath, Syria and Israel’s other northern neighbours, became recognised as a danger. The result was that Ahab of Israel joined a coalition against this Assyrian threat which at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BC seemingly, in their view, neutralised it, although somewhat indecisively They no doubt hoped rather optimistically that that was the end of the matter.
Failing to recognise that there was a permanent threat the coalition then at some stage split up (local interest prevented it from surviving for too long) and the result was that Syria, now vulnerable and on its own, and exhibiting its usual belligerence towards its neighbours, again came under counter-threat from Assyria’s growing power, and while Shalmaneser did not succeed in capturing Damascus he did devastate much of Syria, and records that he also received tribute from Tyre, Sidon and ‘Jehu the son of Omri’, now ruling over a very much weakened Israel.
Still not realising the ever growing threat that Assyria presented, because it was still establishing itself in its own region, the one time allies, and especially Syria, were now continually at each other’s throats, with Syria regularly dominant, and when the Assyrian threat failed to materialise further (they were busy defending their position elsewhere) it seemed as though there was nothing else to fear. They could now continue squabbling among themselves, making themselves weaker and weaker. The result was that fifty years after the Battle of Qarqar Israel’s ‘2,000 chariots’ (as recorded in Assyrian annals) had become 10 (2 Kings 13:7) and they were under the dominance of Syria. The peoples of the area were slowly undermining their own power base.
The forays of Adad-nirari III (811-782 BC) and Shalmaneser IV (782-773 BC) against Syria, bringing it under total subjection, only assisted Israel, and were probably seen as a blessing, for, with Syria weakened, Israel under Jeroboam II, and Judah under Uzziah (Azariah) regained their strength. Assyria was probably seen by them more as useful than as a threat, another power that could help to neutralise the power of Syria, but with its own power undreamed of. And in the following period there was again a period of quiet as Assyria were kept busy elsewhere, and Syria were busy squabbling somewhat unsuccessfully with Hamath. At this stage Assyria was fighting for its life against the kingdom of Urartu. But none were really aware of just how powerful it was, or how powerful it was becoming. It was just seen as a distant land which occasionally came into the area seeking booty and tribute, conveniently weakening Syria.
Meanwhile Israel and Judah, at peace with one another were enjoying a period of prosperity, expansion and success not known since the time of Solomon. However, on the death of Jeroboam II (753 BC) Israel appears to have slipped into a period of anarchy, while the succession was being determined (2 Kings 15:8-16; vividly portrayed in Hosea 5:13; Hosea 7:1-7; Hosea 7:11; Hosea 8:4; Hosea 10:3 ff; Hosea 12:1), but all appeared rosy for Judah, until Uzziah died around 740 BC, the year in which Isaiah had his inaugural vision (Isaiah 6:0), although as usually occurs in periods of prosperity, they were accompanied by the moral decay against which Hosea and Amos constantly spoke out.
But with the death of Uzziah the dark clouds were gathering. Under Tiglath Pileser III (744-727 BC), who had at last gained substantial Assyrian ascendancy over Bablylon and Urartu, interference in the region became even more marked. It appears in fact that in his last years Uzziah had led a coalition which had driven Tiglath Pileser back (if the Azriau of Yaudi of Assyrian texts is to be identified with him), but with his death resistance appears to have evaporated, and the result was that Rezin of Damascus had to pay tribute along with others, including Menahem of Israel (2 Kings 15:19-20) and Hiram of Tyre. All were now part of the growing Assyrian empire.
For although no one had as yet realised it, Assyrian policy had now altered. They no longer saw their conquests as mere tributaries, but as part of the growing Assyrian empire, and thus when there was rebellion it would be punished, not simply by means of a punitive expedition, but either by incorporating the area as an Assyrian province, or by the removal of its aristocracy elsewhere, to be replaced by foreigners.
Unaware of this changing situation, and with a view to withholding tribute, Rezin of Damascus, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah (who had assassinated Menahem’s successor Pekahiah, probably because he was pro-Assyrian) sought to force Ahaz into an alliance with them and with others (Isaiah 7:0; 2 Kings 16:5-6) against Assyria for the purpose of withholding tribute. As a result Judah was subjected to invasion on all sides (2 Kings 16:5-6; 2 Chronicles 28:17-18). Ahaz, who was probably totally unaware of the real power of Assyria (as they all were apart from people like Isaiah), and only knew that in the past they had mainly been helpful in restraining Syria, then determined to look to Assyria for assistance. This was very much against Isaiah’s advice (Isaiah 7:1-12), who assured him that if he would trust in Yahweh, Yahweh would deliver Judah and keep it free. Ahaz ignored Isaiah’s warnings and thus becoming tributary to Assyria for what he probably fondly hoped at the time (going by previous precedent) would not be too long a period (2 Kings 16:7). He was not to know that Assyrian policy had changed so that their aim was now empire-building. The result was that he drew Assyria’s attention to Judah. From now on they also would be incorporated as part of the Assyrian empire.
Tiglath-Pileser (Pulu) obliged, and in around 734 BC his invasion reached down as far as Gaza. Following this both Israel, and then Syria were overcome (2 Kings 16:9). In the course of this Rezin was slain, and Israel was being decimated until Pekah was assassinated by Hoshea who immediately sued for peace and paid ruinous tribute (2 Kings 15:30). He was allowed to rule over what remained of Israel, but a large part of Israel in the region of ‘Galilee and all the land of Naphtali’ and in ‘Gilead’ had its aristocracy removed into exile and they were now incorporated into the empire as Assyrian provinces (2 Kings 15:29). Damascus was also taken and its aristocracy exiled, and Syria was divided up into Assyrian provinces. Ahaz and Judah meanwhile became totally subject to Assyria, and an Assyrian altar was introduced into the Temple.
Ahaz seemingly sought to take his revenge on God, Whom he no doubt blamed for his troubles. Not only were Assyrian gods worshipped in the Temple alongside Yahwism, but he encouraged a multiplicity of altars and high places of the worst kind (2 Kings 16:4; 2 Kings 16:10-18; 2 Chronicles 28:23-26) and even sacrificed his son to Molech (2 Kings 16:3). Ahaz subsequently died in 716/715 BC and was replaced by Hezekiah, who had for a number of years been co-regent with his father.
Meanwhile when Tiglath-Pileser died, Israel under Hoshea, encouraged by promises of help from Egypt (2 Kings 17:4), and in association with Hamath, saw their opportunity to withhold tribute. Even now they did not appreciate quite how powerful Assyria was, or how the empire was now seen, and the result was that what remained of Israel was subdued with many being carried into exile, while Samaria was besieged by the forces of Shalmaneser V and his son Sargon II, and finally taken in around 722 BC (2 Kings 17:5-6; 2 Kings 18:9-10). It was the end of Israel. The aristocracy was deported (2 Kings 17:6) and replaced by an aristocracy introduced from elsewhere (2 Kings 17:24). Gaza had also sought to regain independence from Assyria with the support of Egypt, and Sargon then moved down and defeated the Egyptian army which had come to support Gaza. All this was being observed closely by the prophet Isaiah, who, having been spurned by Ahaz, was biding his time.
The result of all this was large numbers of exiles from first Galilee and Naphtali, and then from the whole of Israel and Samaria, being carried far away, a situation of which Isaiah was well aware (Isaiah 11:11), and could not be happy with.
Meanwhile, with the advent of Hezekiah Isaiah came into his own, for Hezekiah regularly looked to him for advice (without necessarily taking it), and there was no doubt reaction by loyal Yahwists against the innovations of Ahaz. This was also accompanied by the fact that Sargon’s attentions were being called on elsewhere. Babylon under Merodach-baladan, together with the Elamites, had broken free from his yoke, and had defeated the forces sent against them, thus gaining independence, and there was trouble in Phrygia and rebellion in Carchemish in Syria, while Urartu were also stirring up trouble. The Assyrian empire was only held together by force of arms and Sargon could not be everywhere at once. If vigilance relaxed rebellion ensued. He first of all destroyed Carchemish and sent its population into exile, then proceeded against Urartu and broke its power completely (leaving an opening for the Cimmerians, an Indo-aryan barbarian people from the Caucasus, to obtain a foothold). Then he proceeded against the Medes.
It was probably as a result of the lack of Assyrian pressure that, against the advice of Isaiah, Hezekiah took the opportunity presented to enter into negotiations with Ashdod and Gath and other neighbours with a view to withholding tribute, and this with the encouragement of Egypt (an influence Isaiah constantly warned against). Fortunately he appears not to have become too involved because when in 713 BC Sargon moved against Ashdod and Gath and sacked them (Isaiah 20:1-3), he spoke only of ‘subjugating Judah’ and there were apparently no reprisals. That probably simply indicated that tribute was duly paid. Ashdod became an Assyrian province, and when the leader of the rebellion fled to Egypt, the noble Egyptians promptly handed him over to Sargon.
Meanwhile Hezekiah was re-establishing Yahwism and seeking to close down the high places and remove anything that savoured of idolatry (2 Kings 18:3-5; 2 Chronicles 29:3), something of which Sargon was aware and of which he later sought to take advantage (2 Kings 18:22), although as long as the Assyrian altar was left untouched he was not concerned with local religious affairs. That these reforms did not meet with wholehearted approval comes out in the ease with which the high places could later be restored (2 Kings 21:3). Temple versus local shrines was still an issue, as it had been since at least the time of Solomon. But Hezekiah could do nothing about the Assyrian altar in the Temple, for to do so would have been to bring the wrath of Sargon down on him. We cannot doubt, however, that both he and loyal Yahwists felt its presence deeply.
Then in 705 BC Sargon of Assyria was killed. The death of a powerful king very often resulted in civil unrest as rivals vied for the throne, and was thus seen as a good time for subject nations to rebel. And this time was no exception. Marduk-apal-idinna (Merodach Baladan) of Babylon combined with the Elamites in a bid for freedom, and persuaded other nations to join in (this may be the time described in Isaiah 39:0). Egypt, now under a more powerful Pharaoh, offered support, and along with Babylon encouraged their northern neighbours, including Judah under Hezekiah, to join the rebellion (Isaiah 30:1-7; Isaiah 31:1-3). The ringleader of the coalition that resulted was the king of Tyre, along with Ashkelon and Ekron, and probably promises from Moab, Edom and Ammon. Against the advice of Isaiah, who described it as rebellion against Yahweh, Hezekiah became prominent in the coalition, and agreed that the king of Ekron, who had wanted to remain loyal to Assyria, should be imprisoned in Jerusalem.
Eventual retaliation was to be expected, and Sennacherib, having defeated Babylon, moved down on the rebellious coalition. Tyre was first crushed, and never really recovered, and the result was that the coalition began to fall apart. Many (including Moab, Ammon and Edom) raced to pay tribute. However, Ashkelon, Ekron and Judah stood firm, hoping for Egyptian aid. First Ashkelon was dealt with, and then Ekron, while an Egyptian army coming to the aid of Ekron was defeated. There were wholesale executions and deportations. Then Sennacherib turned his attention on Judah. In his own words, ‘forty six cities of Judah I besieged and took, and shut up Hezekiah like a caged bird in Jerusalem’ (see Isaiah 1:2-9). Hezekiah, advised by Isaiah (Isaiah 1:5), recognised the hopelessness of his position and sued for terms (2 Kings 18:13-16). Sennacherib probably agreed because he recognised how difficult Jerusalem would be to take (it was not easily accessible) and had pressing engagements elsewhere. As a result Hezekiah had to release the king of Ekron and pay a heavy price. Parts of Judah were confiscated and handed over to others, and huge tribute was required, including some of his daughters and concubines.
What follows this is not quite clear. The only thing that is sure is that it was a lot more complicated than the Bible narrative suggests, mainly because the Bible narrative was more concerned with Yahweh’s triumph than with historical details. Some consider that having made the treaty Sennacherib changed his mind as a result of news of the gathering of another Egyptian army which he would shortly have to face (which he may well have blamed on Hezekiah’s duplicity) and then hoped to deal with Jerusalem once and for all before it arrived. Others consider that what is described in 2 Kings 18:17 ff; Isaiah 36-37 occurred some time later. But either way he advanced on Jerusalem and besieged it hoping to make it surrender by a show of strength (2 Kings 18:17 ff). Meanwhile the Egyptian army arrived and was unable to defeat Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9) And it was then that as a result of Yahweh’s intervention Jerusalem was miraculously delivered, partly as a result of bad news from home (2 Kings 19:7; Isaiah 37:7), and partly as a result of a plague caused by the angel of Yahweh (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36).
The final result was Isaiah’s vindication and the growing up of the doctrine of Jerusalem’s inviolability.
The Prophetic Future.
It is often said that what some call ‘the church age’ is never referred to by the prophets but was a great unknown mystery. It is said that they saw only the future of the nation of Israel. But more than anyone else Isaiah reveals the falsity of such a position. Isaiah clearly indicates that many of the nations will join themselves with Israel becoming priests of Yahweh (Isaiah 66:21), that ‘strangers’ who join themselves with Yahweh will be put on equal terms with the people of the land (Isaiah 56:3-8), and that nations will join themselves with Israel. The hope he offers is a hope for the world. The Servant of the Lord will be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6).
Prophecy in the Bible is a declaration of what is to come. The different strands are not necessarily distinguished. It is all seen as one future. It is we who must draw out the different strands and see them in the light of the whole picture. As we shall see in the commentary, they were not prophesying so that we could write a book on the second coming or on the church age as clearly differentiated by them, but were writing of the whole of God’s future plans as one. One sentence could depict events separated by centuries, and even millenniums (e.g. Isaiah 61:2 as confirmed by Jesus Himself). For Scripture is not a cold doctrinal statement, it is a revealing of doctrine in the everyday course of life, thus maintaining it as living doctrine. (Even Romans is a letter with a practical purpose).
The whole of salvation history from beginning to end has behind it the same basis, God reaching out through His grace to man who is to respond in faith on the basis of the shedding of blood. Adam was ‘saved’ in this way, as were the patriarchs, and as were all who were saved through the ages. God at different times took different initiatives; the calling of Abraham, the deliverance of Israel and His making of a covenant with them so that they could become a kingdom of priests, and supremely the coming of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, but God’s way of salvation never changed even though it was expressed in differing ways.
God chose Abraham and the patriarchs to be His special witnesses to the world, and they blossomed into ‘Israel’ (which was made up of many nations - Exodus 12:38). And Israel blossomed into the true church which is the Israel of God. The New Testament makes quite clear that the true church is to be seen, not as replacing God’s Israel or as being separate from God’s Israel, but as being God’s Israel. Those who become true Christians are true sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:0, especially verse 29), are the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), are fellow-citizens with God’s true people (Ephesians 2:11-22), have entered into the covenant of promise, and are branches of the true vine (John 15:1-6) and have been grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:0). They are the true ‘dispersion’ (James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1).
So when Isaiah and the other prophets speak of the true remnant of Israel they are including the church whether they were fully aware of the fact or not. It was, of course, in a certain sense ‘a mystery’. It was not something openly enunciated in great detail and clarified in doctrinal precision, but it was an intrinsic part of all that they taught. They spoke better than they knew.
Time References In Isaiah.
Finally we must consider time references in Isaiah. These are extremely important. Some have depicted Isaiah as having two times in view, his own times and the end times, with a great gap in between. And in a sense that is true as long as we do not put a limitation on the length of the end times (which have lasted for at least two thousand years). For Isaiah’s range was far greater than that. It is true that he saw things in terms of now and the future, but he saw that future as containing many elements of God’s activity. It was a future of many strands, all of which must be fulfilled because of what God had promised and because of Who and What He was. ‘In that day’ referred to the future ‘day’, the time of God’s restoration from beginning to end, and that day covered all that future, and was inclusive of both the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. It spoke of the times when God would act in the fulfilment of His purposes whenever that might be. We must not restrict it because of our limited view of prophecy and our pedantic ideas as to what we call ‘the end times’. God revealed to him the whole of the future stretching out before him in a great panorama in terms of ‘His day’. And we must ever remember that in New Testament days they saw themselves as being, and spoke of themselves as being, in ‘the end times’.
The New Testament view is that ‘the end times’ began at the resurrection ‘He was revealed at the end of the times for your sake’, says Peter (1 Peter 1:20), so that he can then warn his readers ‘ the end of all things is at hand’ (1 Peter 4:7). So to Peter the first coming of Christ had begun the end times. Likewise Paul says to his contemporaries ‘for our admonition, on whom the end of the ages has come’ (1 Corinthians 10:11). What could be clearer? The first coming of Christ was the end of the ages, not the beginning of a new age. The writer to the Hebrews tells us ‘He has in these last days spoken to us by His Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2), and adds ‘once in the end of the ages has He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Hebrews 9:26-28). So those early writers saw their days as ‘the last days’ spoken of by the prophets. And Jesus Himself drew attention to the fact that the acceptable year of Yahweh in Isaiah 61:2 was separated from ‘the day of vengeance of our God’ (Luke 4:17-19).