By Rev. Mark Robinson
It is certainly not hyperbole when many commentators refer to Isaiah as the prince of prophets. His writings will take you from the depths of sin, hypocrisy, and political and religious degradation to the heights of righteousness, holiness, and Messianic grandeur. Isaiah is the prince of prophets!
The themes of this book include Messiah and His kingdom; God’s judgment on the nations; the call and uniqueness of the Jewish people and their nation Israel; the Tribulation period; the unsurpassed attributes of God of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence; salvation through faith alone in Messiah; as well as many other themes that are developed throughout the rest of Scripture.
Isaiah’s book will take us from the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom, Israel, to the Babylonian invasion and destruction of the southern kingdom, Judah, through the world-wide captivity of 70 A.D. at the hands of Rome. Ultimately we are shown the final re-gathering of the Jewish people back to their land, in a re-established nation of Israel, headed by the promised Messianic king sitting and ruling from Jerusalem.
The book was written around 740 B.C. to 690 B.C. It covers the reign of Judah’s kings, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Manasseh. The historical background of this book is found in 2 Kings 15 – 21. Isaiah’s ministry takes place primarily in Jerusalem (1:1; 2:1; 52:2; 62:1).
In the original manuscript the scroll of Isaiah had no chapter or verse divisions. With the addition of chapter and verse divisions about 800 years ago, in the providence of God, the division of Isaiah mimics the word of God. As there are 39 books in the “Old Testament” and 27 books in the “New Testament,” so the natural division of Isaiah is the first 39 chapters and the final 27 chapters. Isaiah 40 – 66 develops in great detail God’s promised goel, Redeemer, just as the 27 books of the “New Testament” develop in detail the Redeemer (Jesus).
The word Isaiah means “Jehovah is salvation.” The meaning of Isaiah’s name is captured better in this book than any of the other Old Testament books. God’s promise of blessing to all nations, both Jew and Gentile, in Genesis 12:3, is vividly demonstrated in this amazing book.
Along with Abraham, the patriarch, Moses, the lawgiver, and David, the king, Isaiah, the prophet, certainly stands as one of the towering figures of the Old Testament.
A Jaded Prophet – Chapters 1-5
The first five chapters of this book introduce us to a message of a disillusioned, jaded prophet. I say this because of the 115 verses that make up the first five chapters, no less than 104 of them could be considered “negative.” “Negative” in the sense that what is addressed is the sin and hypocrisy of the people and the coming judgment as a result. The condemnation culminates in the 6 “woes” of chapter five that Isaiah lists against the people.
Of the 11 verses I have identified as “positive,” a couple of them are just introductory facts, i.e. 1:1 and 2:1. In the first 115 verses there is very little in the way of a message of hope. That Isaiah has become jaded in his outlook is corroborated from the events of chapter 6.
What I believe are the two main themes of this book are mentioned in the first two chapters. In Isaiah 1:18 we have the challenge to listen/reason with Isaiah so they might find forgiveness of their sin, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” The second theme is the promise of a kingdom and the Messianic King ruling, which is mentioned in Isaiah 2:2-4.
A Changed Prophet – Chapter 6
This chapter brings an amazing change in the attitude of Isaiah. It is a pivotal point in the prophet’s ministry. “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple,” Isaiah 6:1. When the seraphim cry “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory,” God’s holiness and glory became a reality perhaps for the first time in many years to Isaiah.
The impact on Isaiah of the holiness and glory of God can be seen in his response. No longer is it “Woe is you,” but now it is “woe is me,” Isaiah 6:5. Isaiah confesses that he is unclean/sinful. Yes, “he dwells in the midst of a people of unclean lips,” but when his focus is on the LORD, “for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” he sees himself compared to the holy God of Israel.
When the seraphim take a coal from the altar and touch Isaiah’s lips, “And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged,” the only reasonable explanation is that Isaiah’s jaded imbalance of sin and judgment in his message needed to be changed. He needed an attitude adjustment so he could carry out the ministry God had called him to – reasoning with the people about the forgiveness of sin through Messiah. His confession was the equivalent of 1 John 1:9 in a believer’s life today. And, what was the result?
God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah had been going for years, but with a wrong attitude. When Isaiah answered God’s call in the affirmative, he is told that he is going to go to a people that have ears that can’t hear and a heart that can’t understand. And, as he preaches, they are going to become deafer and denser. Isaiah’s response was, “…Lord, how long?” God’s answer was, “your entire life.” Yet, this did not deter Isaiah as he faithfully carried out this calling emphasizing the grace found in Messiah. His attitude and message changed.
A Re-Focused Message – Chapters 7 – 12
In the 6 chapters following chapter 6 we see the change of emphasis in Isaiah’s message. Yes, he continued to address the sin of the people and the ultimate judgment coming. But, he had a much greater focus on “come let us reason together” in that their sins could be forgiven and there is a promise of a better kingdom.
In chapter 7 we have that great promise of the coming of Immanuel through a virgin birth. And this promise of hope was graciously offered initially to the wicked king Ahaz. What grace!
Chapter 8, verses 5-22, develops the hope of Israel which is “Immanuel,” vs. 8, 10. Any other alliance will lead to destruction – “God with us,” Immanuel – is the only hope.
In the 9th chapter we have that great promise of “a child born” and “a son given.” That He is man is seen in that He is a child born; that He is also God is seen in that He is a Son given. And He will rule the kingdom – “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
In the midst of a prophecy against Assyria in the 10th chapter there is a reference to the future end time deliverance of Israel, vs. 20-23, and the “mighty God” (see Isaiah 9:6), who is the Angel of the LORD. Isaiah again promises deliverance and hope.
Chapter 11 and 12 are a unit. Together they speak of the coming righteous reign of Messiah and His kingdom on earth. The LORD is said to be their only salvation, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” Isaiah 12:2-3.
Isaiah’s clear change of emphasis from the first five chapters is because his focus is on the LORD, not on the people.
The Nations – Chapter 13-39
This section of Isaiah is parenthetical to the flow of the book in one sense, but in another way it is logical, as well as needed, as it addresses the nations of the world. We shall see that the teachings of chapter 11 and 12 pick-up in chapter 40. But now, in light of the promised kingdom and reign of Messiah in chapters 11 and 12, God addresses the nations of the world. If Israel is going to be the lead nation of the world, ruled by Messiah in His world-wide kingdom, what happens with the nations?
It should be of no surprise that the first nation addressed is Babylon (chapters 13 and 14). Babylon is where Satan’s revolt against God’s order in the nations began (Genesis 11) and where it is ended (Revelation 17 and 18). The language of much of these chapters is apocalyptic – “Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty,” Isaiah 13:6. The introduction of Satan, the power behind the Babylonian king, in context, is his destruction, though we have information on his initial rebellion.
Chapters 13-23 primarily cover the nations surrounding Israel. Much of the material is their destruction at the end of days, prior to God establishing His kingdom on earth. Chapters 24-27 are a mini-apocalypse. Other than the book of Revelation there is no passage(s) that develops in such detail God’s coming destruction on all the nations of the world, His judgment on planet earth, and the promised deliverance of Israel through it all. Chapters 28-35 continue this theme of world-wide judgment, as well as dealing with Israel, her sin, judgment, and deliverance. Chapter 35 – 39 addresses the historical situation at the time leading to the transition of the command to “comfort” Israel.
Salvation through God’s Servant – Chapters 40 – 55
Chapter 12 began with “And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.” “That day” is the reign of Messiah in Jerusalem and the nation of Israel has peace and the individuals know the LORD.
The first couple of verses in chapter 40 pick up the theme of “comfort.”
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.”
The rest of this chapter, and through chapter 55, develop the “comfort” offered to the Jewish people, as well as Gentiles, in the person of their God and Messiah, 40:9-10! This develops and answers the challenge of Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Sins are forgiven through the Messiah (Jesus), not religion or good works.
Chapter 40:12 – 42 challenges Jew and Gentile to respond to the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God of Israel and reject all other (false) gods. His proof that He is the one true God is Israel, 40:8-23. Through pre-written history, prophecy, He proves He is God as He is the only one who knows the future, omniscience, has the power to defeat His enemies who try to destroy His plan, omnipotence, and is everywhere, omnipresence, so He can protect against all adversaries.
The Servant of God is introduced in chapters 42, 49, 50, and 53. In the first two passages we are told what the Servant will do – bring spiritual redemption to Jew and Gentile. In the last two Servant passages we are told how He will bring about redemption – through His physical and, most importantly, spiritual suffering for the sins of the world in His death, burial and resurrection, Isaiah 53:8-10.
The fifty-fifth chapter is an offering of that salvation to “everyone that thirsts.” This chapter is the offer of forgiveness of sins through Messiah by believing in Him and His work through faith. The entire chapter is a summation of the previous three chapters where we have the messenger of the gospel, Isaiah 52, the focus of the gospel which is Messiah Jesus, Isaiah 53, and the result of the gospel, Isaiah 54, in that Jew and Gentile will find forgiveness of sin through Him. This is the culmination of the challenge “come let us reason together… though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
Tribulation and Kingdom – Chapters 56-66
The final chapters of this great book speak of the coming Tribulation period followed by the kingdom of our God and Savior Jesus.
It starts with God’s promise to the righteous, Isaiah 56, God’s judgment on the wicked, Isaiah 57, and God’s call for the hypocrite to repent, Isaiah 58.
The last 8 chapters focus on Jehovah’s deliverance. The fifty-ninth chapter describes the sinful condition of the people in graphic detail. This wretched condition of the people is a reminder that the only hope they have is in their God, Isaiah 59:20-21. The following chapters emphasis this truth.
The light of the Lord and the New Jerusalem, Isaiah 60, is the hope of the redeemed. Messiah’s mission and Israel’s destiny is the subject of Isaiah 61. Jehovah’s vigilant concern for Israel and His not resting until Israel is redeemed is the focus of Isaiah 62. In chapter 63, Israel’s Avenger and Redeemer, Messiah Jesus, destroys Israel’s enemies and redeems Israel.
Isaiah has an emotional, heartfelt prayer to God in Isaiah 63:15 through all of chapter 64. His appeal to God to deliver and redeem Israel is based on the promises of a faithful God. It is one of the most moving and emotional prayers found in the Bible.
God’s answer to Isaiah’s prayer is found in the final two chapters of this book. God will establish the millennial kingdom where justice and peace reign, Isaiah 65, and God delivers Israel and His glory is seen in the nation of Israel, Isaiah 66.
So much more could be added to the above. Isaiah is a book that should be studied by all. For believers, it will remind us of the grace of our God in Messiah Jesus and our future home with Him in His kingdom. For unbelievers, it shows you that religion is bankrupt, good works are “filthy rags” when it comes to obtaining forgiveness of sin, and all hope is found in only one place, God’s Servant, Messiah Jesus, who died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the grave – that you might have your sins cleansed and forgiven.
As Isaiah began, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” If you respond not only will your sins be forgiven by a holy God, but you will also be in His kingdom when He returns!