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OT Survey 113 Seminar 17 Isaiah

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Andrew Hodge                                                                                                  25th August 2006

Old Testament Survey OTE 113

Seminar 17


Jensen, Irving L. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament 1978, Moody Press, Chicago pp318-335; Isaiah; James E. Smith, The Major Prophets (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1992); John D. W. Watts, vol. 24, Word Biblical Commentary : Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002)




Discuss historical, political and religious reasons for the writing of the book of Isaiah:

            “The book touches virtually every important event from the eighth century to the fifth century, with one exception: the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Exile.”[1]

The man we know as the Prophet Isaiah is the only man so named in Scripture. His name means “Jehovah is salvation”; another Hebrew name, Joshua, has the same meaning, with the two Hebrew roots in reverse order.

            Scripture does not say where he was born, but tradition describes him as coming out of Judah; he certainly was a citizen of Jerusalem. He was married - he had at least two sons - but the name and origin of his wife is unknown (“the prophetess” 8:3).

            His first son is given the name Shearjashub (‘a remnant shall return’) and the second Mahershalalhashbaz - the longest recorded name in scripture - (‘swift is the booty, speedy is the prey’). Both names refer to their father’s message - the inevitability of captivity and their safety and the certainty of their return into the Land, although these events would not occur until more than 100 years into their future. His sons also assisted Isaiah in showing Ahaz, King of Judah that Assyria would quickly remove from threatening Judah and would destroy Damascus and Samaria (7:1-17; 8:1-4).

            Prior to his call as a prophet (ch 6), Isaiah was employed in the royal court as a recorder of history (for Uzziah 2 Chronicles 26:22; and for Hezekiah 32:32).

            Isaiah’s call was “in the year that King Uzziah died” (6:1) thought to be 739 BC.[2] It should be remembered that Uzziah, a generally good King for Judah, contracted leprosy and was confined to a special house within the Court (and was buried there), and about 11 years before his death he was forced to hand over government of the kingdom to his son Jotham. Isaiah’s ministry extends over about 60 years through the reigns of Jotham (generally good), Ahaz (bad) and Hezekiah (good), and he was still alive in the early part of the reign of Manasseh (bad) [Jensen Chart 45 p 188-189].

            Tradition has it that Isaiah was martyred by Manasseh  about 680 BC, early in the reign of this wicked King.(4) Legend has it that he was sawed asunder by this king (cf. Heb 11:37).[3]

The date of writing/compiling of the Book is unclear, but is tied in with the true readers that God was addressing through Isaiah. Although living in the latter part of the 8th C BC, Isaiah’s prophecies speak to the post-exilic Jews rebuilding Jerusalem (approx 435 BC [4]) as much as they do to the Jews of his own day (and for that matter, to all of God’s people since). “By 435 b.c. Judaism was just beginning to find a rallying point. There was no king. Jerusalem was still largely in ruins and the new temple had been a disappointment. Jews were scattered through the length and breadth of the Empire.”[5]

The issues facing the returning Jews were not just how to get the City and the Temple rebuilt, but what exactly was Judaism and where was it headed? What was the role of Jerusalem and the purposes of the dispersion and Captivities? Isaiah tells them. Isaiah may have written down the entirety of the Book attributed to him under God’s hand - he is likely to have not been aware of the significance of the details of the prophetic future of which he was writing. An alternative view is that the Book was compiled in the latter part of the 5th C BC by someone unknown, but equally under the hand of God.[6]

The relationship of Isaiah to the local and international political scene is shown in the following chart (Smith, Chart #1):


Isaiah in the 8th Century BC reveals Yahweh’s future decisions and strategy concerning Israel, Judah and the Empires. This role no longer included the Davidic vision of world rule; Israel and Judah were called to a passive political acceptance of imperial rule (from Assyrian to Persian). Any active attempt to reassert Davidic authority would be repelled by Yahweh. The Book further shows a servant role for the Jews of the Dispersion, and for Jerusalem and its inhabitants in the Millennium.[7]

            “Its witness to God’s sovereign decision to “change the game plan” in the mid-eighth century, to end the charade of a divided kingdom which purported to serve his purpose and to continue his covenant, coincides with the prophetic messages of Hosea and Amos. But the book’s presentation of God’s plan, “his strategy” that replaced the older one, is unique, and it needs to be heard again and again. There are strong reasons for its insistence that the change of political climate in Palestine which brought the entire area under the more or less consistent imperial rule of Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians (and eventually Hellenists and Romans) was Yahweh’s doing; that he intended not only to punish his people but to accomplish his own historical goals in which Israel had failed; and that he had a vital but very different continuing role for his people, a role more in keeping with their Abrahamic election than its Mosaic formulation.”[8]

In other words, the change of game plan was to force the Chosen People back onto the Chosen Path so that they and the rest of the world could have the blessings chosen for everyone by God. No longer could they reduce their religion to rules (ie Mosaic Laws) that they could change or disregard, they were now required to return to the basis of their selection as Chosen - recognise Unconditional Covenants for what they were, and receive the blessing of Conditional Covenants by agreed obedience.

            Isaiah was in direct confrontation with the ministers of Uzziah, Jotham and Hezekiah when he recommended that Assyrian vassalage should not be resisted, for Syria and the Northern Kingdom will be taken away by the Assyrians, and would all come to a sticky end (7:1-8; Ch 20) in the precise time of 65 years (7:8. I found it difficult to fit these 65 years into the chronology given in Jensen. Neither the Assyrian nor Babylonian captivities could have happened in this time interval. So what was Isaiah referring to?).

            It is interesting that both Assyria and Babylonia march to God’s tune but Israel does not. Isaiah says this is on account of Israel’s refusal to obey Jehovah’s call to be a servant to other peoples - a reflection of the NT concept that to be master (which is what God has planned and will ultimately implement for Israel in the Millennium), one has to become a servant in the same sense that Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.

Israel is too proud to do this (probably because she is insisting on continuing to do things the way Joshua and David did it) and brings on herself the righteous judgment of God in spite of forewarning (2:5-22) and twelve generations of pleading. In the end, God calls the Gentiles, and the Jews are rejected (65:1-16). This is still consistent with God’s plan: “But God’s promises and the goals that they presuppose are as unchanging as God’s own character. They include God’s search for a people capable of blessing humanity (Abraham), a covenant people committed to the worship of God and to holy life (Moses; cf. Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), a kingdom in which God is King (David; cf. 2 Sam 7; Ps 110).”[9]  I cannot help but be struck by how the Church is as good and as bad as Israel was in doing this.

Discuss some of the major prophetic themes in Isaiah and relate them to believers today:

            See above and below.

The failures of Israel are projected on to the people of today (Ch 65:1-7), and today’s situation clearly sees the fulfillment of that. Makes one wonder whether God puts some potential Christians ‘on the back burner’ as He has the Jews, awaiting a time when they will be ‘forced’ to consider Him eg during the troubles of the Tribulation.



Explain why the NT refers to specific passages from Isaiah:

            Specific NT references to the man or the Book that bears his name are anglicised Greek and Latin ie Esaias or Isaias.

            There are said to be over 400 allusions to the Book of Isaiah in the NT, making it second only to the Psalms which is the most cited Book. Fifty seven passages are quoted directly.

Fifty nine percent of the 1,292 verses in Isaiah are prophetic, referring to major events, for example:

1. The future temple which attracts Gentiles (2:2–4).

2. The glorious Branch (4:2–6).

3. The virgin birth of Immanuel (7:13–14).

4. The dawning of a new day in the birth of a child (9:1–7).

5. The Shoot of the stem of Jesse (11:1–10).

6. The conversion of Gentiles (19:18–25).

7. The new Jerusalem (54:9–13; 60:19–22).

8. The marriage supper of the Lamb (25:6–8; 26:19).

9. The ministry of the Messiah (42:1–4).

10. The Servant as a light to the Gentiles (49:1–13).

11. The willing obedience of the Servant (50:4–11).

12. The redemption achieved by the Servant (52:13–53:12).

13. The promises made to David to be fulfilled (55:1–5).

14. Converted heathen to become leaders in worship (66:19–23).[10]

            Many of these topics are of immediate importance to NT Christians in salvation, Christian living and God’s plan for the future.

It is clear on reading through the Book that Judah’s condition at that time, their immediate and long term future, the coming of the Messiah for both Jew and Gentile, the Tribulation, the Millennium and the New Heaven and Earth are all covered. The Church is omitted.

Sometimes the reference is muddy, sometimes convoluted and obtuse; the Book gives the impression that if one spent the whole of one’s lifetime in it alone, in context with the rest of the Scripture, there would be no end to the treasures of God that could be found (eg the very last verse 66:24. Could this imply that the “all flesh” of v 23 can view the suffering of those in hell? If it does not mean this, what does it mean?).


Give the basic themes of Isaiah:

            The simplest theme is that illustrated by the writer’s name - “YHWH is salvation”. The immediate purpose is to demonstrate that salvation is by grace alone; the long range purpose is to show that through the agency of Judah, the Messiah would be brought into the world (Smith).


From Jensen’s Chart 81 (p 334) there are several basic themes:

  1. Increasing Holiness and Glory of God toward the crux of the Book (beginning of Ch 40)
  2. Chh 1-39 Judgement of God; Chh 40-66 Comfort of God
  3. Chh 1-39 God’s Government; Chh 40-66 God’s Grace
  4. Chh 1-39 Holiness, Righteousness and Justice of God; Chh 40-66 Grace, Compassion and Glory of God
  5. Chh 1-12 Judah Prophecies; Chh 13-27 Foreign Prophecies; Chh 28-35 Warnings and Promises; Chh 36-39 Historical Section; Chh 40-48 Redemption Promised; Chh 49-57 Redemption Provided; Chh 58-66 Redemption Realised
  6. Jensen places the crux of the Book at 40:1 because “The Lamb … the midst of the throne” Revelation 7:17. Smith places it between Chh 37 and 38 because the judgments of Chh 1-35 find fulfillment in Chh 36-37, and Chh 38-39 lay the foundation for the predictions of Chh 40-66 (see Chart below).
  7. Smith draws parallels between Isaiah and the whole of Scripture eg Chh 1-39 are a mini version of the OT (39 books) speaking mainly of condemnation, and Chh 40-66 (ie 27 Chh) the NT (27 books) speaking mainly of redemption. This would only apply to the English system of grouping the Books, not the Hebrew (which for the OT is Law (5), Prophets (8) and the Writings (11) or 24 in all).

Threat of
Historical Connecting Link Promises of
Chaps. 1–35 Chaps. 36–37 Chaps. 38–39 Chaps. 40–66
Coming of
Coming of


Other authors produce alternative schemes:

     1.     Mingled Rebukes and Promises (Isa 1–6)

     2.     The Book of Immanuel (Isa 7–12)

     3.     The Book of Burdens (Isa 13–23)

     4.     The Books of General Judgment (Isa 24–27; 34–35)

     5.     The Book of Woes (Isa 28–33)

     6.     The Book of Hezekiah (Isa 36–39)

     7.     The Book of Cyrus (Isa 40–48)

     8.     The Book of the Servant (Isa 49–57)

     9.     The Book of Future Glory (Isa 58–66)[12]


Watts [13] gives an almost chronological approach, representing the twelve generations which the book covers, in a series of Acts (which are sub segmented into ‘Scenes’ and further into ‘Episodes’. Only the Act titles are given here):

Act 1. Like a booth in a vineyard Chh 1-6

Act 2. The gently flowing waters Chh 7-14

Act 3. Opportunity and disappointment Chh15-22

Act 4. The impact of Tyre’s fall Chh 23-27

Act 5. Requiem for the Kingdom of Judah Chh 28-33

Act 6. From curse to blessing Chh 34-39

Act 7. Good news for Jerusalem Chh 40-44:23

Act 8. Cyrus the Lord’s anointed Chh 44:24-48:22

Act 9. The servant of rulers Chh 49:1-52:12

Act 10. Restoration pains in Jerusalem Chh 52:13-57:21

Act 11. Zion’s light shines Chh 58-61

Act 12. For Zion’s sake: New Heavens and New Land Chh 62-66

A further excerpt from Watts is useful (see Appendix).

The structure of the Book is a series of discourses delivered (nearly all specifically by God through Isaiah) at different times and on different occasions. Each discourse follows a broad pattern of

a.      indictment or accusation

b.      threat

c.      exhortation or entreaty

d.      promise of purification and blessing (Jensen p 329).

This structure makes it difficult to stick to the much broader brush of the themes mentioned above for judgment then coexists with comfort, government with grace, holiness with compassion, etc to the point where the broad brush is completely artificial.

Isaiah’s style is perhaps best summarised by Valeton: ““Never perhaps has there been another prophet like Isaiah, who stood with his head in the clouds and his feet on the solid earth, with his heart in things of eternity and with mouth and hand in the things of time, with his spirit in the eternal counsel of God and his body in a very definite moment of history.” 5,[14]


Share the intertestament relationship of Isaiah:

            Isaiah is the Book par excellence that unites Jew and Christian. For the Jew, Isaiah stands with Moses and David as a symbolic representation of the work of God. The coming of the Jewish Messiah allows understanding of God’s plan for the ages to be had in Isaiah - if only the Jew was able to comprehend this, but as a nation they continue to stumble over 7:14 and Chapter 53.

            Isaiah prepares the fledgling Church of Acts to live as a Servant under a foreign dominating power, without having to strive for political independence or ascendancy.


The Twelve Acts of the Vision of Isaiah

Chaps. Generation/PAct Davidide Heirs Years Mesopotamian Kings Years

Part I The Former Times: Judgment, Curse

1–6 First #Uzziah/Jotham 750–735 b.c. Tiglath Pileser III 745–727 b.c.
7–14 Second *Ahaz 735–715 b.c. Shalmaneser V 727–722 b.c.
        Sargon II 722–705 b.c.
15–22 Third #Hezekiah 715–687 b.c. Sennacherib 705–681 b.c.
23–27 Fourth *Manasseh/Amon 687–642 b.c. Esarhaddon 681–669 b.c.
        Ashurbanipal 669–633 b.c.
28–33 Fifth #Josiah/ 640–605 b.c. Nabopolassar 633–625 b.c.
    Jehoiakim   (Necho, Egypt 609–593 b.c.)
34–39 Sixth *Jehoiakim/ 605–587 b.c. Nebuchadnezzer 605–562 b.c.

Part II The Latter Times: Salvation, Blessing

40–44:23 Seventh Jehoiachin Nabunaid 550–539 b.c.
44:24–48:22 Eighth Sheshbazzar Cyrus 539–530 b.c.
      Cambyses 530–522 b.c.
49:1–52:12 Ninth Zerubabbel Darius I 522–486 b.c.
52:13–57:21 Tenth Hananiah Xerxes I 485–465 b.c.
58–62 Eleventh Shecaniah/Ezra/Nehemiah Artaxerxes I 464– b.c.
63–66 Twelfth The Age to Come    


The generations are not distinguished so much by specific years or even by the reigns of kings as by policies followed. An asterisk (*) precedes generations of vassalage. A pound sign (#) precedes generations of active rebellion or of independence. The periods represented in the seventh to twelfth generations lack hard historical data to determine how submissive the leaders were. But there is little doubt that the issue was very much alive.

The dates mark the approximate beginning and end of the period portrayed. The list

of kings is neither complete nor exact, since only some of them are mentioned. The Vision makes no effort to be comprehensive or to connect the scenes into a history. Rather, it presents vignettes or illustrative scenes from each one.

In my view, this approach more accurately presents the tenor of how the Book is written.


[1]John D. W. Watts, vol. 24, Word Biblical Commentary : Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary, xxxii (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).

[2]James E. Smith, The Major Prophets (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1992).

(4) The last dated event in the book of Isaiah was the fourteenth year of Hezekiah (701 b.c.). The Assyrian King Esarhaddon (681–669 b.c.) is, how ever, mentioned in 37:38.

[3]James E. Smith, The Major Prophets (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1992).

[4]John D. W. Watts, vol. 24, Word Biblical Commentary : Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary, xxx (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).

[5]ibid xxx

[6]ibid xxxii

[7]John D. W. Watts, vol. 24, Word Biblical Commentary : Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary, xxiv (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).

[8]ibid xxv

[9]ibid xxix

[10]James E. Smith, The Major Prophets (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1992).

[11]James E. Smith, The Major Prophets (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1992).


[13]John D. W. Watts, vol. 24, Word Biblical Commentary : Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary, xi (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).

5 Yaleton cited by G.L. Robinson, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1954), p. 22.

[14]James E. Smith, The Major Prophets (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1992).

[15]John D. W. Watts, vol. 24, Word Biblical Commentary : Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary, li (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).

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