Isaiah (about 740-690 BC) is the author of the book that bears his name. Some, however, think that the last twenty seven chapters were written by someone other than Isaiah. Other prophets prophesied during the same times, but we will consider Isaiah first because of the major role he played in the times of which the others wrote. Isaiah was called to be a prophet in Judah "in the year that king Uzziah died." He lived to see the brief glory of the reign of Jereboam II of Israel give way to chaos as Assyria increasingly interfered in Israel's affairs after the death of Jereboam II. He lived through those dark days when, in the northern kingdom, Samaria was being besieged and sacked, and the tribes of Israel carried away captive by the Assyrians. He watched and warned as Judah, too, began to feel the dreaded power of Assyria. Amos, Hosea, and Micah were also lifting up their voices during this period, confirming the truth of God of the impending doom of an unrepentant people.
Despite the pleadings of Isaiah, Ahaz deliberately followed a course of political suicide by seeking Assyrian aid against a threatened attack on Judah by Israel and Syria. Warnings against an alliance with Assyria are covered in chapters 7-9. Once alliance was made, Ahaz drifted further into apostasy.
When Ahaz died he was succeeded on the throne of Judah by his son Hezekiah, who turned out to be one of the godliest of the Judean kings. Being considerably influenced by Isaiah, he introduced sweeping reforms, abolishing idolatry, and restoring the pure worship of Jehovah. He cast off the burden, in the form of tribute, of Assyria and put his trust in the Lord to keep Jerusalem safe. It wasn't long until his faith was to be tested, for the Assyrian horde was soon at the gates of Jerusalem. Isaiah was a tower of strength to Hezekiah in those days, and being encouraged by Isaiah, Hezekiah held out against the military might of Assyria and saw Jerusalem supernaturally delivered by a direct act of God (chap. 36 and 37).
Isaiah prophesied concerning Babylon long before that nation came to prominence as a world power. The prophecy spelled a doom for Judah. When Hezekiah became ill with a fatal sickness, he was miraculously healed and had fifteen years added to his life. At this time the Babylonians sent an envoy to Jerusalem, purportedly to show their goodwill at the king's recovery. This made Hezekiah feel really good and in return showed the envoy all the treasures of Judah. Isaiah clearly foresaw that this gesture would certainly excite the Babylonians, and did not hesitate to soundly reprimand his king for such an exhibition of pride and folly.
Isaiah lived on into the reign of Manasseh, who was born to Hezekiah during the fifteen years extension of his life. Manasseh reigned the longest of all the kings and was also one of the very worst to sit on the throne of David. Tradition's claim is that Manasseh murdered Isaiah by having him "sawn asunder."
Isaiah's visions reached far beyond the borders of Judah, embracing, indeed the world. At one instance the book appears to be heavy with warnings and threats of an approaching storm. In the next instance, the rainbow shines through, and the reader is transported on into the glorious appearance of the hope of Israel, the Messiah. Isaiah speaks with equal conviction of the Messiah as a Savior, and the Messiah as a Sovereign, bringing the cross and the crown together in perfect harmony. Christ is as much the Lamb of God to Isaiah as He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
As far as messianic prophecy is concerned, Isaiah was not the first to proclaim this fact. Isaiah's vocation was to render the knowledge of the Messiah clearer and more definite, and to render it more effective upon the souls of the elect by giving it a greater personality. The person of the redeemer is mentioned in Genesis 49:10 with a reference to " the scepter shall not part from Judah, nor a lawgiver from beneath his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be." The idea is also expressed in certain of the Psalms: Chapters 2, 45, 72, and 110.
It is an interesting coincidence that there are as many chapters in Isaiah as there are books in the Bible. Furthermore, these (as some scholars think) divide into 39 and 27 chapters as do the books of the Old Testament and of the New Testament. The first 39 tell of troubling times for Judah, and the last 27 tell of consolation, or hope in those troubling times. The first 39 treat of the state of morality, the state of social conditions, and the political situations of Judah, whereas the last 27 carry with them the idea of consolation - restoration from Cyrus, the Messianic predictions, and the future state of Israel in renewed glory. The center chapter of the last 27 (Chapter 53) gives us one of the clearest views of Calvary to be found anywhere in the Bible. At the very heart of Isaiah's messianic message is the cross. It seems appropriate that Isaiah's name means "Salvation of Jehovah."
As long as the message of the gospel is preached on earth, as long as there remains a soul to be saved, the book of Isaiah will be remembered. People are caught up in its themes and led with directness and conviction to a consideration of the person and work of God's beloved Son.
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