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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Isai´ah (help of Jehovah). The heading of this book places the prophet under the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah; and an examination of the prophecies themselves, independently of the heading, leads us to the same chronological results. Isaiah 6, in which is related the call of Isaiah, not to his prophetic office, but to a higher degree of it, is thus headed: 'In the year in which king Uzziah died I saw the Lord,' etc. The collection of prophecies is chronologically arranged, and the utterances in the preceding chapters (Isaiah 1-6) belong to an earlier period, preceding the last year of the reign of Uzziah. These two prophecies contain the sum and substance of what Isaiah taught during twenty years of his life.
The continuation of prophetic authorship, or the writing down of uttered prophecies, depended upon the commencement of new historical developments, such as took place under the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah. Several prophecies in the seventh and following chapters belong to the reign of Ahaz; and most of the subsequent prophecies to the reign of Hezekiah. The prophetic ministry of Isaiah under Hezekiah is also described in an historical section contained in Isaiah 36-39. The data which are contained in this section come down to the fifteenth year of the reign of Hezekiah; consequently we are in the possession of historical documents proving that the prophetic ministry of Isaiah was in operation during about forty-seven or fifty years, commencing in the year B.C. 763 or 759, and extending to the year B.C. 713. Of this period, from one to four years belong to the reign of Uzziah, sixteen to the reign of Jotham, sixteen to the reign of Ahaz, and fourteen to the reign of Hezekiah.
Some writers have advanced the opinion that Isaiah lived to a much later period, and that his life extended to the reign of Manasseh, the successor of Hezekiah. But their arguments will not stand a strict scrutiny. While, on the other hand, the inscription of the book itself shows that all the prophecies of Isaiah in our collection are included within the period from Uzziah to Hezekiah. Not one of the prophecies which are headed by an inscription of their own is placed after the fifteenth year of Hezekiah; and the internal evidence leads us in none beyond this period. Hence we infer that the prophetic ministry of Isaiah terminated soon after its fullest development, to which it attained during the period of the Assyrian invasion, in the reign of Hezekiah.
According to these statements, Isaiah belongs to the cycle of the most ancient prophets whose predictions have been preserved in writing. He was a contemporary of Hosea, Amos, and Jonah, although younger than those prophets, who belonged to the kingdom of Israel. He was likewise a contemporary and co-worker of the prophet Micah in the kingdom of Judah. We infer also from the circumstance that the prophecies of Joel are inserted among the books of the Minor Prophets before those of Micah, that Isaiah must have been a contemporary of Joel, since the Minor Prophets are chronologically arranged.
Little is known respecting the circumstances of Isaiah's life. His father's name was Amoz. The fathers of the church confound him with the prophet Amos, because they were unacquainted with Hebrew, and in Greek the two names are spelled alike. The opinion of the Rabbins, that Isaiah was a brother of King Amaziah, rests also on a mere etymological combination. Isaiah resided at Jerusalem, not far from the temple. We learn from Isaiah 7, 8 that he was married. Two of his sons are mentioned, Shear-Jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz [See the words]. Isaiah calls his wife a prophetess. This indicates that his marriage-life was not in opposition to his vocation, and also that it not only went along with his vocation, but that it was intimately interwoven with it. This name cannot mean the wife of a prophet, but indicates that the prophetess of Isaiah had a prophetic gift, like Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah. The appellation here given denotes the genuineness of their conjugal relation.
Even the dress of the prophet was subservient to his vocation. According to , he wore a garment of hair-cloth or sackcloth. This seems also to have been the costume of Elijah, according to; and it was the dress of John the Baptist. Hairy sackcloth is in the Bible the symbol of repentance (compare , and ). This costume of the prophets was a prophetic preaching by fact. The prophetic preacher comes forward in the form of personified repentance. What he does exhibits to the people what they should do. Before he has opened his lips his external appearance proclaims, Repent.
Besides the collection of prophecies which has been preserved to us, Isaiah also wrote two historical works, which did not originate from prophets.
The first of these was a biography of King Uzziah (comp. ): 'Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, first and last, did Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, write.' The second historical work of Isaiah, was a biography of King Hezekiah, which was subsequently inserted in the annals of Judah and Israel. These annals consisted of a series of prophetic monographies, which were received partly entire, partly in abstracts, and are the chief source from which the information contained in the Chronicles is derived. In this work of Isaiah, although its contents were chiefly historical, numerous prophecies were inserted. Hence it is called in , The Vision of Isaiah. In a similar manner the biography of Solomon by Ahijah is called, in , 'the prophecy of Ahijah.' The two historical works of Isaiah were lost, together with the annals of Judah and Israel, into which they were embodied. Whatever these annals contained that was of importance for all ages, has been preserved to us by being received into the historical books of the Old Testament, and the predictions of the most distinguished prophets have been formed into separate collections. After this was effected, less care was taken to preserve the more diffuse annals, which also comprehended many statements, of value only for particular times and places.
The Jewish synagogue, and the Christian church during all ages, have considered it as an undoubted fact that the prophecies which bear the name of Isaiah really originated from that prophet. But in the last quarter of the eighteenth century this prevailing conviction appeared to some divines to be inconvenient. In the theology of the natural man it passed as certain, that nature was complete in itself, and that prophecies, as well as miracles, never had occurred, and were even impossible. The assumption of the impossibility of miracles necessarily demanded that the genuineness of the Pentateuch should be rejected; and, in a similar manner, the assumption of the impossibility of prophecy demanded that a great portion of the prophecies of Isaiah should be rejected likewise. Here also the wish was father to the thought, and interest led to the decision of critical questions, the arguments for which were subsequently discovered. All those who attack the integral authenticity of Isaiah agree in considering the book to be an anthology, or gleanings of prophecies, collected after the Babylonian exile, although they differ in their opinions respecting the origin of this collection. Koppe gave gentle hints of this view, which was first explicitly supported by Eichhorn in his Introduction. Eichhorn advances the hypothesis that a collection of Isaiah prophecies (which might have been augmented, even before the Babylonian exile, by several not genuine additions) formed the basis of the present anthology, and that the collectors, after the Babylonian Exile, considering that the scroll on which they were written did not form a volume proportionate to the size of the three other prophetic scrolls, containing Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the minor prophets, annexed to the Isaian collection all other oracles at hand whose authors were not known to the editors. Gesenius, on the contrary, maintained, in his introduction to Isaiah, that all the non-Isaian prophecies extant in that book originated from one author and were of the same date. Umbreit and Koster on the main point follow Gesenius. considering Isaiah 40-66 to be a continuous whole, written by a pseudo-Isaiah who lived about the termination of the Babylonian exile. In reference to other portions of the book of Isaiah, the authenticity of which has been questioned, Umbreit expresses himself doubtingly, and Koster assigns them to Isaiah. Gesenius declines to answer the question, how it happened that these portions were ascribed to Isaiah, but Hitzig felt that an answer to it might be expected. He accordingly attempts to explain why such additions were made to Isaiah and not to any of the other prophetical books, by the extraordinary veneration in which Isaiah was held. He says that the great authority of Isaiah occasioned important and distinguished prophecies to be placed in connection with his name. But he himself soon after destroys the force of this assertion by observing, that the great authority of Isaiah was especially owing to those prophecies which were falsely ascribed to him. A considerable degree of suspicion must, however, attach to the boasted certainty of such critical investigations, if we notice how widely these learned men differ in defining what is of Isaian origin and what is not, although they are all linked together by the same fundamental tendency and interest. There are very few portions in the whole collection whose authenticity has not been called in question by someone or other of the various impugners. The only portions left to Isaiah are;;;;; . All the other chapters are defended by some and rejected by others; they are also referred to widely different dates. In the most modern criticism, however, we observe an inclination again to extend the sphere of Isaiah authenticity as much as the dogmatic principle and system of the critics will allow. Modern criticism is inclined to admit the genuineness of Isaiah 1-23, with the only exception of the two prophecies against Babylon in Isaiah 13, 14, and in . Isaiah 28-33 are allowed to be Isaian by Ewald, Umbreit, and others.
After this survey of the present state of the inquiry, we proceed to furnish, first, the external arguments for the integral authenticity of Isaiah.
1. The most ancient testimony in favor of Isaiah's being the author of all the portions of the collection which bears his name, is contained in the heading of the whole (), 'The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, kings of Judah.' It is here clearly stated that Isaiah was the author of the following prophecies, uttered during the reign of four successive kings. This inscription is of great importance, even if it originated not from Isaiah, but from a later compiler. If we adopt the latest date at which this compilation could have been made, we must fix it at the time of its reception into the canon in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Consequently the compiler could not be separated by many years from the pseudo-Isaiah who is said to have prophesied just before Babylon was conquered, or who, according to most critics, wrote even after the fall of Babylon. It is not credible that a compiler living so near the times of the author, should have erroneously ascribed these prophecies to Isaiah, who lived so much earlier, especially if we bear in mind that this so-called pseudo-Isaiah must have been a very remarkable person in an age so devoid of the prophetic spirit as that in which he is said to have lived.
It is still less credible that a pseudo-Isaiah should himself have fraudulently ascribed his prophecies to Isaiah. None of the adversaries of the authenticity of the book make such an assertion.
If the compiler lived before the Exile, the inscription appears to be of still greater importance. That the collection was made so early is very likely, from the circumstance that Jeremiah and other prophets apparently made use of the prophecies of Isaiah. This fact indicates that the prophecies of Isaiah early excited a lively interest, and that the compiler must have lived at a period earlier than that which is ascribed to the pseudo-Isaiah himself. From all this we infer that the compiler lived before the Exile. The adversaries themselves felt the weight of this argument. They, therefore, attempted to remove it by various hypotheses, which received a semblance of probability from the circumstance that even the considerate Vitringa had called in question the authenticity of the heading. Vitringa conjectured that this heading belonged originally to the first chapter alone. He further conjectured that it originally contained only the words, prophecy of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. The following words, he says, were added by the compiler, who enlarged the particular inscription of the first chapter to a general one of the whole collection. According to Vitringa the inscription does not suit the whole book, the contents of which are not confined to Judah and Jerusalem alone. But Judah and Jerusalem are always the chief subject, and, in a certain sense, the only subject of these prophecies; and there is no prophecy concerning other nations without a bearing upon the covenant-people. No prophet against foreign nations prophesied concerning them with the view to spread his predictions among them, because the mission of all prophets was to Israel. The predictions against foreign nations are intended to preserve the covenant-people from despair, and to strengthen their faith in the omnipotence and justice of their God. It is their object to annihilate all reliance upon political combinations and human confederacies. They are intended to lead Israel to the question, 'If they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?' But they are also designed to indicate the future conversion of the heathen, and to open to the view of the faithful the future glory of the kingdom of God, and its final victory over the kingdoms of this world; and thus to extirpate all narrow-minded nationality. God shall be revealed not only as Jehovah, but also as Elohim. His relation to Israel is misunderstood, if that relation is exclusively kept in view without any regard to the universe. Therefore the whole collection is justly entitled Prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem. No matter whether this inscription originated from Isaiah himself or from an ancient compiler.
The inscription in Isaiah 1 has a general bearing upon the whole collection. Then follows the first portion, which contains, as it were, the general prophetic program. Thereupon follows a series of prophecies directly bearing upon Judah and Jerusalem, commencing again with a particular heading (). To this succeeds a series of prophecies indirectly bearing upon Judah and Jerusalem, but directly upon foreign nations. The first of this series has again its own heading ().
Gesenius, advancing in the direction to which Vitringa had pointed, although he grants the integral authenticity of , nevertheless maintains that this heading belonged originally only to Isaiah 1-12, in which were contained genuine prophecies of Isaiah. To this collection, he asserts, were afterwards subjoined the anthologies contained in the following chapters, and the heading was then misunderstood as applying to the whole volume. This opinion is more in consistent than that of Vitringa, since there occur in the first twelve chapters two prophecies against foreign nations; one against the Assyrians, in Isaiah 10, and another against Ephraim, in Isaiah 9.
Vitringa, Gesenius, and their followers, are also refuted by the parallel passage in the heading of Amos, 'The words of Amos, which he saw concerning Israel.' The prophecies of Amos in general are here said to be concerning Israel, although there are, as in Isaiah, several against foreign nations, a series of which stands even at the commencement of the book. To this we may add the similarity of the headings of other prophetical books. For instance, the commencement of Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah, and Zephaniah.
2. It cannot be proved that there ever existed any so-called prophetic anthology as has been supposed to exist, in the book of Isaiah. We find nothing analogous in the whole range of prophetic literature. It is generally granted that the collections bearing the names of Jeremiah and Ezekiel contain only productions of those authors whose name they bear. In the book of the Minor Prophets, the property of each is strictly distinguished from the rest by headings. The authenticity of only the second portion of Zechariah has been attacked; and this with very feeble arguments, which have been refuted.
But even if it could be proved that the prophecies of Zechariah belonged to two different authors, namely, as Bertholdt and Gesenius suppose, to the two Zechariahs, each of whom happened to be the son of a Berechiah, this identity of names might be considered an inducement for uniting the productions of the two authors in one collection: still this case would not be analogous to what is asserted to be the fact in Isaiah. In Isaiah it is alleged not only that a series of chapters belonging to a different author were subjoined, commencing about Isaiah 34; but it is affirmed that, even in the first thirty-three chapters, the genuine and spurious portions are intermixed. Before we admit that the compilers proceeded here in a manner so unreasonable and so contrary to their usual custom, we must expect some cogent proof to be adduced, but instead of this, nothing but bald conjecture and feeble illustrations have been offered.
3. According to the opinion of several critics, all the spurious portions of Isaiah belong to one and the same author. But it so happens that the portion which is most emphatically declared to be spurious, namely, Isaiah 13, 14, bear an inscription which expressly ascribes them to Isaiah. Now, as the internal arguments against the authenticity of all the portions which are said to be spurious are nearly identical, if the opposition to Isaiah 13, 14 is given up, it cannot with consistency be maintained against the other portions. This argument serves also as an answer to those who ascribe the portions which they consider spurious to several authors. The contents of these portions are similar. They contain predictions of the fall of Babylon, and of the redemption of Israel from captivity. Whatever proves the genuineness of one of these portions, indirectly proves the others also to be genuine.
4. According to Josephus (Antiq. xi. 1, 1-2), Cyrus was induced by the prophecies of Isaiah respecting him to allow the return of the Jews, and to aid them in rebuilding the temple. The credibility of Josephus, who in regard to facts of ancient history is not always to be relied upon, is here supported by two circumstances. First, the favor shown by Cyrus to the Jews, which remains inexplicable except by the fact mentioned, in combination with the influence of Daniel. In modern times, the favor of Cyrus to the Jews has been called a prudential measure; but it does not appear what he could either hope or fear from a people so enfeebled as the Jews were at that period. It has been added that Cyrus was favorable to the Jews on account of the similarity between the Persian and the Jewish religion; but there is no historical proof that the Persians, on any other occasion, favored the Jews on account of their religion. The favors shown to Nehemiah on behalf of Israel were only personal favors, owing to his position at the Persian court. We allow that all this would be insufficient to prove the correctness of the above statement in Josephus, but it must render us inclined to admit its truth.
The second argument is much stronger: it is, that the statement of Josephus is supported by the edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1). This edict presupposes the fact related by Josephus, so that Jahn calls the passage in Josephus a commentary on the first chapter of Ezra, in which we read that Cyrus announces in his edict that he was commanded by Jehovah to build him a temple in Jerusalem, and that he received all the conquered kingdoms of the earth as a gift from Jehovah. This cannot refer to any other predictions of the prophet, but only to what are called the spurious portions of Isaiah, in which the Lord grants to Cyrus all his future conquests, and appoints him to be the restorer of his temple (comp.;;;; ). The edict adopts almost the words of these passages. In reply to this, our adversaries assert that Cyrus was deceived by pseudo-prophecies forged in the name of Isaiah; but if Cyrus could be deceived in so clumsy a manner, he was not the man that history represents him; and to have committed forgery is so contrary to what was to be expected from the author of Isaiah 40-66, that even the feelings of our opponents revolt at the supposition that the pseudo-Isaiah should have forged prophecies after the event in the name of the prophets.
5. Again, the most ancient production of Jewish literature after the completion of the canon, furnishes proof of the integral authenticity of Isaiah. The book of Jesus Sirach, commonly called Ecclesiasticus, was written as early as the third century before Christ, as Hug has clearly demonstrated, in opposition to those who place it in the second century before Christ. In , Isaiah is thus praised: 'For Hezekiah had done the thing that pleased the Lord, and was strong in the ways of David his father, as Isaiah the prophet, who was great and faithful in his vision, had commanded him. In his time the sun went backward, and he lengthened the king's life. He saw by an excellent spirit what should come to pass at the last, and he comforted them that mourned in Sion. He showed what should come to pass forever, and secret things or ever they came.'
This commendation especially refers, as even Gesenius grants, to the disputed portions of the prophet, in which we find predictions of the most distant futurity. The comfort for Zion is found more particularly in the second part of Isaiah, which begins with the words 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.' The author of this second part himself says (), 'I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them.' Thus we perceive that Jesus Sirach, the learned scribe, confidently attributes the debated passages to Isaiah in such a manner as plainly indicates that there was no doubt in his days respecting the integral authenticity of that book, which has the testimony of historical tradition in its favor. Jesus Sirach declares his intention (Sirach 44-50) to praise the most celebrated men of his nation. The whole tenor of these chapters shows that he does not confine himself to celebrated authors. We therefore say that the praise which he bestows upon Isaiah is not intended for the book personified, but for the person of the prophet. If Jesus Sirach had entertained doubts respecting the genuineness of those prophecies on which, in particular, he bases his praise, he could not have so lauded the prophet.
In the Jewish synagogue the integral authenticity of Isaiah has always been recognized. This general recognition cannot be accounted for except by the power of tradition based upon truth; and it is supported as well by the New Testament, in which Isaiah is quoted as the author of the whole collection which bears his name, as also by the express testimony of Josephus, especially in his Antiquities (x. 2, 2 and xi. 1, 1). After such confirmation it would be superfluous to mention the Talmudists.
Thus we have seen that we possess a series of external arguments in favor of the integral authenticity of Isaiah. Each of these arguments is of importance, and, in their combination, they have a weight which could only be counterbalanced by insurmountable difficulties in the contents of these prophecies; and it has been clearly shown that there are no such difficulties, and that the internal arguments unite with the external in demonstrating the authenticity of Isaiah as a whole.
No definite account respecting the method pursued in collecting into books the utterances of the Prophets has been handed down to us. Concerning Isaiah, as well as the rest, these accounts are wanting. We do not even know whether he collected his prophecies himself. But we have no decisive argument against this opinion. The argument of Kleinert, in his above-mentioned work (p. 112), is of slight importance. He says, If Isaiah himself had collected his prophecies, there would not be wanting some which are not to be found in the existing book. To this we reply that it can by no means be proved, with any degree of probability, that a single prophecy of Isaiah has been lost, the preservation of which would have been of importance to posterity, and which Isaiah himself would have deemed it necessary to preserve. Kleinert appeals to the fact that there is no prophecy in our collection which can with certainty: be ascribed to the days of Jotham; and he thinks it incredible that the prophet, soon after having been consecrated to his office, should have passed full sixteen years without any revelation from God. This, certainly, is unlikely; but it is by no means unlikely that during this time he uttered no prophecy which he thought proper to preserve. Nay, it appears very probable, if we compare the rather general character of the chapters of Isaiah 1-5, the contents of which would apply to the days of Jotham also, since during his reign no considerable changes took place; consequently the prophetic utterances moved in the same sphere with those preserved to us from the reign of Uzziah. Hence it was natural that Isaiah should confine himself to the communication of some important prophetic addresses, which might as well represent the days of Jotham as those of the preceding reign. We must not too closely identify the utterances of the prophets with their writings. Many prophets have spoken much and written nothing. The Minor Prophets were generally content to write down the quintessence alone of their numerous utterances. Jeremiah likewise, of his numerous addresses under Josiah, gives us only what was most essential.
To us it seems impossible that Isaiah left it to others to collect his prophecies into a volume, because we know that he was the author of historical works; and it is not likely that a man accustomed to literary occupation would have left to others to do what he could do much better himself.
Hitzig has of late recognized Isaiah as the collector and arranger of his own prophecies. But he supposes that a number of pieces were inserted at a later period. The chronological arrangement of these prophecies is a strong argument in favor of the opinion that Isaiah himself formed them into a volume. There is no deviation from this arrangement, except in a few instances where prophecies of similar contents are placed together; but there is no interruption which might appear attributable to either accident or ignorance. There is not a single piece in this collection which can satisfactorily be shown to belong to another place. All the portions, the date of which can be ascertained either by external or internal reasons, stand in the right place. This is generally granted with respect to the first twelve chapters, although many persons erroneously maintain that Isaiah 6 should stand at the beginning.
Chapters of Isaiah 1-5 belong to the later years of Uzziah; Isaiah 6, to the year of his death. What follows next, up to chapter of , belongs to the reign of Ahaz. Isaiah 10-12 is the first portion appertaining to the reign of Hezekiah. Then follows a series of prophecies against foreign nations, in which, according to the opinions of many, the chronological arrangement has been departed from, and, instead of it, an arrangement according to contents has been adopted. But this is not the case. The predictions against foreign nations are also in their right chronological place. They all belong to the reign of Hezekiah, and are placed together because, according to their dates, they belong to the same period. In the days of Hezekiah the nations of Western Asia, dwelling on the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris, more and more resembled a threatening tempest. That the prophecies against foreign nations belong to this period is indicated by the home-prophecy in Isaiah 22, which stands among the foreign prophecies. The assertion that the first twelve chapters are a collection of home-prophecies is likewise refuted by the fact that there occur in these chapters two foreign prophecies. The prophetic gift of Isaiah was more fully unfolded in sight of the Assyrian invasion under the reign of Hezekiah. Isaiah, in a series of visions, describes what Assyria would do, as a chastising rod in the hand of the Lord, and what the successors of the Assyrians, the Chaldees, would perform, according to the decree of God, in order to realize divine justice on earth, as well among Israel as among the heathen. The prophet shows that mercy is hidden behind the clouds of wrath. There is no argument to prove that the great prophetic picture in Isaiah 24-27 was not depicted under Hezekiah. Isaiah 28-33 manifestly belong to the same reign, but somewhat later than the time in which Isaiah 10-12 were written. They were composed about the time when the result of the war against the Assyrians was decided. With the termination of this war terminated also the public life of Isaiah, who-added an historical section in Isaiah 36-39, in order to facilitate the right understanding of the prophecies uttered by him during the most fertile period of his prophetic ministry. Then follows the conclusion of his work on earth. The second part, which contains his prophetic legacy, is addressed to the small congregation of the faithful, strictly so called. This part is analogous to the last speeches of Moses in the fields of Moab, and to the last speeches of Christ in the circle of his disciples, related by John. Thus we have everywhere order, and such an order as could scarcely have proceeded from anyone but the author.
It was not the vocation of the prophets to change anything in the religious constitution of Moses, which had been introduced by divine authority; and they were not called upon to substitute anything new in its place. They had only to point out the new covenant to be introduced by the Redeemer, and to prepare the minds of men for the reception of it. They themselves in all their doings were subject to the law of Moses. They were destined to be extraordinary ambassadors of God, whose reign in Israel was not a mere name, not a mere shadow of earthly royalty, but rather its substance and essence. They were to maintain the government of God, by punishing all, both high and low, who manifested contempt of the Lawgiver by offending against his laws. It was especially their vocation to counteract the very ancient delusion, according to which an external observance of rites was deemed sufficient to satisfy God. This opinion is contrary to many passages of the law itself, which admonish men to circumcise the heart, and represent the sum of the entire law as consisting in loving God with the whole heart; which make salvation to depend upon being internally turned towards God, and which condemn not only the evil deed, but also the wicked desire. The law had, however, at the first assumed a form corresponding to the wants of the Israelites, and in accordance with the symbolical spirit of antiquity. But when this form, which was destined to be the living organ of the Spirit, was changed into a corpse by those who were themselves spiritually dead, it offered a point of coalescence for the error of those who contented themselves with external observances.
The prophets had also to oppose the delusion of those who looked upon the election of the people of God as a preservative against the divine judgments; who supposed that their descent from the patriarchs, with whom God had made a covenant, was an equivalent for the sanctification which they wanted. Even Moses had strongly opposed this delusion; for instance, in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 32. David also, in the Psalms, as in Psalms 15, 24, endeavors to counteract this error, which again and again sprang up. It was the vocation of the prophets to insist upon genuine piety, and to show that a true attachment to the Lord necessarily manifests itself by obedience to his precepts; that this obedience would lead to happiness, and disobedience to misfortune and distress. The prophets were appointed to comfort the faint-hearted, by announcing to them the succor of God, and to bring glad tidings to the faithful, in order to strengthen their fidelity. They were commissioned to invite the rebellious to return, by pointing out to them future salvation, and by teaching them that without conversion they could not be partakers of salvation; and in order that their admonitions and rebukes, their consolations and awakenings, might gain more attention, it was granted to them to behold futurity, and to foresee the blessings and judgments which would ultimately find their full accomplishment in the days of Messiah. In , where the Lord says, 'I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him,' we have a description of the prophetical calling, and also a statement of the contents of the prophecies of Isaiah. He refers expressly in many places to the basis of the ancient covenant, that is, to the law of Moses; for instance, in;; . In many other passages his utterance rests on the same basis, although he does not expressly state it. All his utterances are interwoven with references to the law. It is of importance to examine at least one chapter closely, in order to understand how prophecies are related to the law. Let us take as an example the first. The beginning, 'Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth,' is taken from Deuteronomy 32. Thus the prophet points out that his prophecies are a commentary upon the Magna Charta of prophetism contained in the books of Moses. During the prosperous condition of the state under Uzziah and Jotham, luxury and immorality had sprung up. The impiety of Ahaz had exercised the worst influence upon the whole people. Great part of the nation had forsaken the religion of their fathers and embraced gross idolatry; and a great number of those who worshipped God externally had forsaken Him in their hearts. The divine judgments were approaching. The rising power of Assyria was appointed to be the instrument of divine justice. Among the people of God internal demoralization was always the forerunner of outward calamity. This position of affairs demanded an energetic intervention of prophetism. Without prophetism the number of the elect would have been constantly decreasing, and even the judgments of the Lord, if prophetism had not furnished their interpretation, would have been mere facts, which would have missed their aim, and, in many instances, might have had an effect opposite to that which was intended, because punishment which is not recognized to be punishment, necessarily leads away from God. The prophet attacks the distress of his nation, not at the surface, but at the root, by rebuking, the prevailing corruption. Pride and arrogance, appear to him to be the chief roots of all sins.
He inculcates again and again not to rely upon the creature, but upon the Creator, from whom all temporal and spiritual help proceeds; that in order to attain salvation, we should despair of our own and all human power, and rely upon God. He opposes those who expected help through foreign alliances with powerful neighboring nations against foreign enemies of the state.
The people of God have only one enemy, and one ally, that is, God. It is foolish to seek for aid on earth against the power of heaven, and to fear man if God is our friend. The panacea against all distress and danger is true conversion. The politics of the prophets consist only in pointing out this remedy. The prophet connects with his rebuke and with his admonition, his threatenings of divine judgment upon the stiff-necked. These judgments are to be executed by the invasion of the Syrians, the oppression of the Assyrians, the Babylonian exile, and by the great final separation in the times of the Messiah. The idea which is the basis of all these threatenings, is pronounced even in the Pentateuch (), 'I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified;' and also in the words of Amos (), 'You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.' That is, if the people do not voluntarily glorify God, He glorifies Himself against them. Partly in order to recall the rebellious to obedience, partly to comfort the faithful, the prophet opens a prospect of those blessings which the faithful portion of the covenant people shall inherit. In almost all prophetic utterances, we find in regular succession three elements—rebuke, threatening, and promise. The prophecies concerning the destruction of powerful neighboring states, partly belong, as we have shown, to the promises, because they are intended to prevent despair, which, as well as false security, is a most dangerous hindrance to conversion.
In the direct promises of deliverance the purpose to comfort is still more evident. This deliverance refers either to burdens which pressed upon the people in the days of the prophet, or to burdens to come, which were already announced by the prophet; such, for instance, were the oppressions of the Syrians, the Assyrians, and finally, of the Chaldeans
The proclamation of the Messiah is the inexhaustible source of consolation among the prophets. In Isaiah this consolation is so clear that some fathers of the church were inclined to style him rather evangelist than prophet.
Isaiah, however, was not the first who attained to a knowledge of the personality of Messiah. Isaiah's vocation was to render the knowledge of this personality clearer and more definite, and to render it more efficacious upon the souls of the elect by giving it a greater individuality. The person of the Redeemer is mentioned even in , 'The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh (the tranquillizer) come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be' (i.e. Him shall the nations obey). The personality of Messiah occurs also in several psalms which were written before the times of Isaiah; for instance, in Psalms 2, 110, by David; in Psalms 45, by the sons of Korah; in Psalms 72, by Solomon. Isaiah has especially developed the perception of the prophetic and the priestly office of the Redeemer, while in the earlier annunciations of the Messiah the royal office is more prominent; although in Psalms 110 the priestly office also is pointed out. Of the two states of Christ, Isaiah has expressly described that of the exinanition of the suffering Christ, while, before him, his state of glory was made more prominent. In the Psalms the inseparable connection between justice and suffering, from which the doctrine of a suffering Messiah necessarily results, is not expressly applied to the Messiah. We must not say that Isaiah first perceived that the Messiah was to suffer, but we must grant that this knowledge was in him more vivid than in any earlier writer; and that this knowledge was first shown by Isaiah to be an integral portion of Old Testament doctrine.
The following are the outlines of Messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah:—A scion of David, springing from his family, after it has fallen into a very low estate, but being also of divine nature, shall, at first in lowliness, but as a prophet filled with the Spirit of God, proclaim the divine doctrine, develop the law in truth, and render it the animating principle of national life; he shall, as high-priest, by his vicarious suffering and his death, remove the guilt of his nation, and that of other nations, and finally rule as a mighty king, not only over the covenant-people, but over all nations of the earth who will subject themselves to his peaceful scepter, not by violent compulsion, but induced by love and gratitude. He will make both the moral and the physical consequences of sin to cease; the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and all enmity, hatred, and destruction shall be removed even from the brute creation. This is the survey of the Messianic preaching by Isaiah, of which he constantly renders prominent those portions which were most calculated to impress the people under the then existing circumstances. The first part of Isaiah is directed to the whole people, consequently the glory of the Messiah is here dwelt upon. The fear lest the kingdom of God should be overwhelmed by the power of heathen nations, is removed by pointing out the glorious king to come, who would elevate the now despised and apparently mean kingdom of God above all the kingdoms of this world. In the second part, which is more particularly addressed to the elect, than to the whole nation, the prophet exhibits the Messiah more as a divine teacher and high priest. The prophet here preaches righteousness through the blood of the servant of God, who will support the weakness of sinners and take upon Himself their sorrows.
We may show, by an example, in , that the views of futurity which were granted to Isaiah were great and comprehensive, and that the Spirit of God raised him above all narrow-minded nationality. It is there stated that a time should come when all the heathen, subdued by the judgments of the Lord, should be converted to Him, and being placed on an equality with Israel, with equal laws, would equally partake of the kingdom of God, and form a brotherly alliance for His worship. Not the whole mass of Israel is destined, according to Isaiah, to future salvation, but only the small number of the converted. This truth he announces most definitely in the sketch of his prophecies contained in Isaiah 6.
Isaiah describes with equal vivacity the divine justice which punishes the sins of the nation with inexorable severity. 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Sabaoth,' is the key-note of his prophecies. He describes also the divine mercy and covenant-fidelity, by which there is always preserved a remnant among the people: to them punishment itself is a means of salvation, so that life everywhere proceeds from death, and the congregation itself is led to full victory and glory.
Isaiah saw the moral and religious degradation of his people, and also its external distress, both then present and to come (Isaiah 6). But this did not break his courage; he confidently expected a better futurity, and raised himself in God above all that is visible. Isaiah is not afraid when the whole nation and its king tremble. Of this we see a remarkable instance in Isaiah 7, and another in the time of the Assyrian invasion under Hezekiah, during which the courage of his faith rendered him the savior of the commonwealth, and the originator of that great religious revival which followed the preservation of the state. The faith of the king and of the people was roused by that of Isaiah.
Isaiah stands pre-eminent above all other prophets, as well in the contents and spirit of his predictions, as also in their form and style. Simplicity, clearness, sublimity, and freshness, are the never-failing characters of his prophecies. Even Eichhorn mentions, among the first merits of Isaiah, the concinnity of his expressions, the beautiful outline of his images, and the fine execution of his speeches. In reference to richness of imagery he stands between Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Symbolic actions, which frequently occur in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, seldom occur in Isaiah. The same is the case with visions, strictly so called, of which there is only one, namely, that in Isaiah 6; and even it is distinguished by its simplicity and clearness above that of the later prophets. But one characteristic of Isaiah is, that he likes to give signs—that is, a fact then present, or near at hand—as a pledge for the more distant futurity; and that he thus supports the feebleness of man (comp.;; sqq.). The instances in Isaiah 7 and Isaiah 38 show how much he was convinced of his vocation, and in what intimacy he lived with the Lord, by whose assistance alone he could effect what He offers to do in the one passage, and what He grants in the other. The spiritual riches of the prophet are seen in the variety of his style, which always befits the subject. When he rebukes and threatens, it is like a storm, and when he comforts, his language is as tender and mild as (to use his own words) that of a mother comforting her son. With regard to style, Isaiah is comprehensive, and the other prophets divide his riches.
Isaiah enjoyed an authority proportionate to his gifts. We learn from history how great this authority was during his life, especially under the reign of Hezekiah. Several of his most definite prophecies were fulfilled while he was yet alive; for instance, the overthrow of the kingdoms of Syria and Israel; the invasion of the Assyrians, and the divine deliverance from it; the prolongation of life granted to Hezekiah; and several predictions against foreign nations. Isaiah is honorably mentioned in the historical books. The later prophets, especially Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, clearly prove that his book was diligently read, and that his prophecies were attentively studied.
The authority of the prophet greatly increased after the fulfillment of his prophecies by the Babylonian exile, the victories of Cyrus, and the deliverance of the covenant-people. Even Cyrus (according to the above-mentioned account in Josephus, Antiq. xi. 1, 1-2) was induced to set the Jews at liberty by the prophecies of Isaiah concerning himself. This prediction of Isaiah made so deep an impression upon him that he probably took from it the name by which he is generally known in history. Jesus Sirach () bestows splendid praise upon Isaiah, and both Philo and Josephus speak of him with great veneration. He attained the highest degree of authority after the times of the New Testament had proved the most important part of his prophecies, namely, the Messianic, to be divine. Christ and the Apostles quote no prophecies so frequently as those of Isaiah, in order to prove that He who had appeared was one and the same with Him who had been promised. The fathers of the church abound in praises of Isaiah.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Isaiah'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/i/isaiah.html.