Book of Isaiah


Authorship, date, and background The author of this book was Isaiah (whose name means "Yahweh is salvation"), the son of Amoz. He lived in Jerusalem, was a student of international affairs, was well educated, and was on familiar terms with the royal court. He prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and, according to tradition, was sawn in pieces during the kingship of Manasseh. His ministry extended over a period of more than fifty years (ca. 740-681 B.C.) and concerned itself largely with Judah, although references are made to Samaria. He lived through the days when Assyria under either Shalmanasser V or Sargon II conquered Samaria and brought an end to the Northern Kingdom comprising ten of the tribes of Israel.

The authorship of Isaiah has been questioned by rationalist scholars since the late eighteenth century. Chapters 40-66 have been thought by these scholars to have been written by someone other than Isaiah, a Deutro-Isaiah or second Isaiah. Underlying this viewpoint is the opinion that future events cannot be predicted in advance of their happening. Conservative have always agreed that under the aegis of the Holy Spirit the Bible does contain predictive prophecy so that in principle the authorship of the second half of Isaiah cannot be questioned on this basis. A strong case can be made for Isaiahic authorship on the grounds of the book's unity, style, use of words, and internal evidences for a pre-exilic date, and for its composition in Palestine rather than Babylon. The New Testament consistently witnesses to the authorship of the latter part of the book by Isaiah the prophet and not someone else. The strongest affirmation is found in John 12:38-41. Indeed if Isaiah did not write chapters 40-66, the testimony of the New Testament is untrue and the biblical doctrine of scriptural infallibility or inerrancy fall to the ground. Bible-believing Christians have always assented to Isaiahic authorship.

Characteristics and content Isaiah has been and still is the most universally cherished prophetical book in the Old Testament. The New Testament alludes to it more than 250 times and portions of the book are quoted expressly at least fifty times. It is, perhaps, the richest book of the Old Testament in theological matters concerning God, creation and providence, man, sin, redemption, resurrection, judgement, and the coming Messiah. It is panoramic in its sweep, carrying the reader to the end of the age, when history will be consummated. The immediate message of Isaiah is to show that salvation is based upon the doctrine of grace originating in the power of God the Redeemer, not in man, or his good works. God is holy and will not put up with unholiness in his covenant people. The person and work of Jesus the Messiah is detailed more fully here than any other Old Testament book. Isaiah speaks of the Messiah as the virgin-born child of God, of Jesus as the suffering Messiah, who by his substitutionary atonement makes salvation possible, and of Jesus as the eternal God who is the Prince of Peace.

Among the prophecies in the book are: the pronouncement of the doom of Samaria (the Northern Kingdom), the fall of Assyria (the nation which brings Samaria to its knees), and the judgment of God on the surrounding nations of Babylon, Philistia, Moab, Ethiopia, Edo, Arabia, Tyre, and Jerusalem (which is to go into captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, spelled Nebu-chadrezzar in this version, and be returned to the land after the seventy-year period has elapsed).

From chapter 40 to the end of the book Isaiah speaks a word of comfort. He looks to the Messiah to bring Israel back to the land and to bring light to the Gentiles. God is the God of the whole earth, and salvation includes Jew and Gentile. He distinguishes between true and false worship and paints a sweet picture of the restoration of peace of Zion when the people of God will worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness and in obedience to the divine will. These latter chapters maybe divided into three segments: the purpose of peace, the Prince of Peace, and the program of peace. Isaiah distinguishes national Israel from the Church with the promise that this nation will someday be brought into being again in the land where its people will worship the living God.

Isaiah closes his prophecy on a solemn note once he depicts the glory of Zion. Just as God saves so God also judges the wicked and dispenses divine punishment upon them. The faithful word is spoken: "For by fire and by his sword will the Lord will plead with all flesh, and the slain of the Lord shall be many" (66:16). Let all who do not now know God be warned of their end if they do not repent and receive salvation through the blood of the Lamb.