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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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ISAIAH . Of the four prophets of the 8th cent. b.c., some of whose prophecies are preserved in the OT, Isaiah appeared third in the order of time some twenty years after Amos preached at Bethel, and a few years after Hosea had begun, but before he had ceased, to prophesy. Isaiah’s prophetic career apparently began before, but closed after, that of Micah. Hosea was a native of the Northern Kingdom, and addressed himself mainly, if not exclusively, to his own people. Amos was a native of Judah, but prophesied in and to Israel; and thus Isaiah is the earliest of these four prophets who addressed himself primarily to Judah, and even he in his earlier years, like his fellow-countryman Amos, prophesied also against Israel (see Isaiah 9:7 to Isaiah 10:4; Isaiah 5:26-30; Isaiah 17:1-11 ).

Our knowledge of the life and teaching of Isaiah rests on the book that bears his name, which, however, is not a book compiled by him, but one containing, together with other matter, such of his prophecies as have been preserved, and narratives relating to him; see, in detail, next article.

Isaiah received the call to be a prophet ‘in the year that king Uzziah (or Azariah) died’ (Isaiah 6:1 ). The year is not quite certain. If Azariah king of Judah and the Azriau king of Jaudi mentioned in Tiglath-pileser’s annals of the year 738 be identical, Isaiah’s call cannot be placed earlier than 738. But if the identification be not admitted, and it is by no means certain, his call may with more probability be placed a few years earlier. His activity extended at least down to the invasion of Sennacherib in 701, and some years later, if the theory be correct that chs. 36 39 refer to two invasions of Sennacherib, of which that in 701 was the first. In any case Isaiah’s public career covered at the least close on forty years, whence we may infer that, like Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 1:6 ), he became a prophet in early life. Unlike his contemporary Micah, his life, so far as we can trace it, was spent in Jerusalem. Not improbably he was a man of rank, at least he had easy access to the king ( Isaiah 7:1 ff.), and was on terms of intimacy with persons of high position ( Isaiah 8:2 ). His father’s name, Amoz , has in Hebrew no resemblance to that of the prophet Amos . Isaiah was married, and his wife is termed the prophetess ( Isaiah 8:3 ). Like Hosea, he gave to his children, Shear-jashub ( Isaiah 7:3 ) and Maher-shalai-hash-baz ( Isaiah 8:3 ), names which briefly stated characteristic elements in his teaching; his own name, though of a normal and frequent Hebrew type, also happened to have a significance (‘help of Jahweh’ or ‘Jahweh helps’) of which he could have made use; that he actually did so we may perhaps infer from Isaiah 8:18 , if we do not rather interpret that statement, so far as Isaiah himself is concerned, of such symbolic conduct as that which he pursued when he went ‘half-clad and barefoot’ (ch. 20).

It is impossible either to construct a complete biography of the prophet or to trace with any elaboration developments in his thought and teaching. His prophecies have obviously not come down to us in chronological order, and many are without any clear indication of the date when they were delivered; any attempt to date accurately much of the material must therefore be exceedingly uncertain, and the numerous attempts that have been made naturally differ widely in their results. But there are four periods at which we can clearly trace the prophet and his thought or teaching: these are the time of his call, about b.c. 740 (ch. 6); of the Syro-Ephraimitish War (b.c. 735 734: Isaiah 7:1 to Isaiah 8:18 ); of the siege of Ashdod in b.c. 711 (ch. 20); and of the invasion of Sennacherib in b.c. 701 (chs. 36 39). The last-mentioned narratives are, however, of a later age than that of Isaiah, and require to be carefully used.

At the time of his call Isaiah became conscious that he was to be a teacher whose primary task was to warn his people of judgment to come, of judgment which was to issue in the extermination of his nation (Isaiah 6:10-13 the last clause is absent from the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , and probably not original). This judgment of Jahweh on His people was to be executed by means of Assyria, which, since the accession of Tiglath-pileser in 745, had entered on a course of conquest, and, as early as 740, had achieved marked success in Northern Syria. The causes of this coming judgment, Isaiah, like Amos before him, and not improbably in part owing to the influence on him of the teaching of Amos, found in the prevalent social and moral disorder (see e.g. Isaiah 2:6 to Isaiah 4:1 , Isaiah 5:8-24 for the kind of offences which he denounced), in the ingratitude ( e.g. Isaiah 1:8 , Isaiah 5:1-7 ) of the people to Jahweh, and in their failure to trust Him or to understand that what He required was not sacrifice, which was offered by the people in wearisome abundance, but justice and humanity (cf. e.g. Isaiah 1:2-31 ). In this teaching, as in his lofty conception of God, Isaiah did not fundamentally advance beyond the already lofty moral and religious standpoint of Amos and Hosea, though there are naturally enough differences in the details of the presentation. But, so far as we can see, he exercised a more direct, immediate, and decisive influence, owing to the fact that over a long period of years he was able to apply this teaching to the changing political conditions, insisting, for example, at the several political crises mentioned above, that the duty of Jahweh’s people was to trust in Jahweh, and not in political ailiances, whether with Assyria, Egypt, or Ethiopia (cf. e.g. Isaiah 7:4-9; Isaiah 7:20 , and [in b.c. 701] Isaiah 30:1-6; Isaiah 30:15 , Isaiah 31:1-3 ); and to the fact that from the first he set about the creation of a society of disciples who were to perpetuate his teaching (cf. Isaiah 8:16 ).

Although judgment to come was the fundamental note of Isaiah’s teaching, there was another note that marked it from the outset: Israel-Judah was to perish, but a remnant was to survive. This at least seems to be the significance of the name of Shear-jashub , who must have been born very shortly after the call, since in 735 he was old enough to accompany his father on his visit to Ahaz ( Isaiah 7:3 ). Beyond the judgment, moreover, he looked forward to a new Jerusalem, righteous and faithful ( Isaiah 1:26 ). How much further was Isaiah’s doctrine of the future developed? Was he the creator of those ideas more particularly summed up in the term ‘Messianic,’ which exercised so powerful an influence in the later periods of Judaism, and which are doubtless among those most intimately connected with the prophet in the minds of the majority of students of the Bible? In particular, was the vision ( Isaiah 9:1-6 ) of the Prince of Peace with world-wide dominion his? Or, to take another detail, did he hold that Zion itself was invincible, even though hostile hosts should approach it? These are questions that have been raised and have not yet received a decisive answer. On the one hand, it is exceedingly probable that in the several collections of the ancient prophecies later passages of promise have in some instances been added to earlier prophecies of judgment; that later prophecy in general is fuller than the earlier of promises; and that several of the Messianic passages, in particular, in the Book of Isaiah, stand isolated and disconnected from passages which bear unmistakably the impress of Isaiah or his age. On the other hand, Isaiah’s belief in a remnant, which seems secured (apart from individual and perhaps doubtful passages) by the name of his son, forms a certain and perhaps a sufficient basis for the more elaborate details of the future. Further, from the very fact that they deal with the future, the passages in question, even if they were by Isaiah, might naturally bear less unmistakable evidence of their age than those which deal with the social and political conditions of his own time. And again, had Isaiah prophesied exclusively of judgment and destruction, we might have expected to find his name coupled with Micah’s in Jeremiah 26:18 f.

G. B. Gray.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Isaiah'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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