This week Rabbi Glenn began his study of Isaiah. Each week will be divided into two sessions. The first part will be a study of Isaiah and the second session will be an ongoing study of various Messianic prophecies. Below is Rabbi Glenn’s introductory notes.
An Introduction to the Book and Prophecies of Isaiah
Congregation Shema Yisrael Bible Study (start date: October 4, 2018)
If you could only have one friend, and the choice was either someone highly encouraging of the things you do well, or someone highly critical of what you do poorly, who would you choose? As unpleasant as it might seem, the friend who is critical when you err is the wiser choice. Ideally, a good friend does both things and, ideally, we have more than one wise and conscientious friend in our lives.
Proverbs 27:5-6 says, Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed; faithful are the wounds of a friend; but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
Isaiah was an Israeli prophet, but he was also a patriot. He loved his people and he loved his country; so, it must have disturbed him deeply to see how far his people had sunk spiritually and morally. Israel was mired in deep depravity at this time. Isaiah was an obedient servant of Adonai, and must have been a man of courage, since many of his oracles warned of judgment, and nobody wants to hear that.
Isaiah has long been regarded by scholars as ‘the prince of the prophets.’ He wasn’t the first of the writing prophets, but the book bearing his name is one of the longest in the Bible; containing more prophecies than any other Old Testament book about the coming of the Messiah, the End of the Age, and even the New Heavens and New Earth.
Tonight, we embark on what will likely be a year-long study of the prophecies of Isaiah. The intent is for this study to be comprehensive; designed to help us learn the historical circumstances in Israel during his ministry, understand the reasons for his often-stinging rebukes, become well-familiar with the messianic prophecies, and take to heart the moral and ethical lessons God has for us in these pages.
I encourage each one of you to purchase three-ring binders, dividers, lined paper for note-taking and anything else you think might help you to put together your own Isaiah notebook, to which you can refer, and from which you will be able to teach others. And you should plan to teach; we are called to make disciples, not just believers. Furthermore, a Jewish person who might be reluctant to study the Gospel with you, may very well be open to a study of the Jewish prophet Isaiah.
Biographical information on Isaiah
Isaiah’s name in Hebrew is Yeshayahu, meaning “salvation of the Lord” from the root word for deliverance, rescue, or salvation. He was the son of Amoz (“strength”) – not to be confused with the name of the prophet Amos. The Bible doesn’t give us much biographical detail about the prophet. What we do have is a specific time period during which he prophesied; namely, during the reigns of the Judean kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. That would put his ministry between the years 750-700 BC.
Though we cannot be certain, the wording of passages such as 7:1-3 and 37:2 as well as 2 Chronicles 32:20 suggest that Isaiah may have resided in Jerusalem.
He was married, though we are not given his wife’s name. She is simply referred to as ‘the prophetess’ (8:3), which could either mean she herself had the gift of prophecy, or simply that she was the wife of the prophet. Together they bore at least two sons (possibly a third if you consider 7:14 to have been a reference to a child of theirs, though the wording of the passage makes that unlikely). The names of Isaiah’s sons were Maher-shalal-hashbaz (“swift to the plunder, speedy to the prey”) and Shear Yashuv (“a remnant will return”).
Historical backdrop to the book
We are given an historical time frame in the opening verse of the book:
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. That would put Isaiah’s ministry somewhere between the years 791 and 687 BC.
Isaiah lived during the Divided Monarchy in Israel. The Southern Kingdom was known as Judea/Judah, with its capital being Jerusalem. The Northern Kingdom was known as Israel (also referred to as ‘Ephraim’), with its capital being Samaria. Idolatry took hold in Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, after the death of Solomon. But it didn’t take long for the Southern Kingdom to follow suit. And while there were notable exceptions (i.e., Uzziah, Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat and Josiah) most of Judea’s kings were as bad as those in Israel.
Though Isaiah lived and prophesied in Judah, and most of his oracles were directed there, he did prophecy concerning situations elsewhere, including Israel, Syria, Philistia, Assyria and Babylon.
Date / Authorship
Assuming the genuine authorship of Isaiah, the prophecies in the book would date from approximately 740-690 BC.
Arguments against the genuine authorship of Isaiah originated with the German seminaries and the ‘school of higher criticism’ in the mid-late 1800’s. This was a time of considerable skepticism about the existence of God and the possibility of miracles. For example, the notion that a prophet could declare the name of a king (Cyrus – [44:28-45:1]) not even born yet, struck liberal theologians as impossible. Consequently, they determined that various sections of Isaiah were authored by men who lived later, and that Isaiah’s name was attached to them by committee at a much later date.
Another argument made by ‘deutero-Isaiah’ or ‘trito-Isaiah’ proponents against singular authorship of Isaiah concerns differences in vocabulary and literary style between the first 39 chapters and the last 27. True, the vocabulary and style are different; but one would expect that to be the case, since the themes in the two sections are very different. Furthermore, there are also many similarities.
It is worth mentioning the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947. Those scrolls were written between 150 BC and 70 AD. Among the many scrolls found in the collection was a complete scroll of the Book of Isaiah – all 66 chapters. There was no hint of multiple authors or of any kind of patchwork of oracles. The Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which predates even the Dead Sea Scrolls (translated c. 250 BC) likewise treats the Book of Isaiah as a unity, with a single author.
Furthermore, Yeshua and the Apostles quoted frequently from Isaiah, including both early and later sections, and they all cite ‘the prophet Isaiah.’ So, both by manuscript evidence and citation by New Covenant writers, the Book of Isaiah ought to be considered a unity. Insistence on multiple authorship is unwarranted and betrays an anti-supernatural bias.
The major themes of the Book of Isaiah are that of repentance from sin, of trusting in the Lord for deliverance (versus trusting in political alliances); and of course the most significant theme appearing throughout the book is the coming of Messiah, and the glorious future for Israel which He will inaugurate.
- The Assyrian Period (chapters 1 – 39)
- Oracles directed at Judah/Jerusalem (1-12)
- Oracles directed at the nations (13-27)
- Trust in the Lord, not in political alliances (28-35)
- Historical interlude (36-39)
- The Babylonian Period (chapters 40-66)
- One true God versus false gods (idols) (40-48)
- The true Servant of the Lord who saves (49-57)
- Israel’s future glory/New Heavens and Earth (58-66)
- Isaiah is called “the little Bible” – 66 chapters (there are 66 books in the Bible; 39 in the OT, 27 in the NT; and like the Bible Isaiah’s first 39 chapters are different in theme than the last 27!)
- Isaiah’s vision of the infinitely holy God in His Temple (ch. 6)
- Promises of the Millennium (chapters 2, 11)
- Promises of the Messiah (chapters 7, 9, 42, 49, 53)
- The names of God (“Lord of Hosts” 62x, “Holy One of Israel” 25x)
- New Heavens and a New Earth! (chapters 65-66)
Isaiah – J. Alec Motyer, © 1999 Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Intervarsity Press
The Holy One of Israel: Studies in the Book of Isaiah – John N. Oswalt, © 2014 Cascade Books, Eugene OR
Exposition of Isaiah – H. C. Leupold, © 1968 Baker Book House, Grand Rapids