SLOWLY he rose, and the crowd fell silent. Those at the back leaned forward, straining to hear. The atmosphere was electric. He spoke, and his carefully chosen words flew like swift arrows and found their mark. The great man, a spokesman for God, was warning …and condemning. The crowd became restless – – shifting positions, clenching fists, and murmuring. Some agreed with his message, nodding their heads and weeping softly. But most were angry, and they began to shout back insults and threats.
Such was the life of a prophet.
The “office” of prophet was instituted during the days of Samuel, the last of the judges. Prophets stood with the priests as God’s special representatives. The prophet’s role was to speak for God, confronting the people and their leaders with God’s commands and promises. Because of this confrontational stance and the continuing tendency of people to disobey God, true prophets were not usually very popular. But though their message often went unheeded, they faithfully and forcefully proclaimed the truth.
The book of Isaiah is the first of the writings of the Prophets in the Bible; and Isaiah, the author, is generally considered to be the greatest prophet. He was probably brought up in an aristocratic home and was married to a prophetess. In the beginning of his ministry he was well-liked. But, like most prophets, he soon became unpopular because his messages were so difficult to hear. He called the people to turn from their lives of sin and arned them of God’s judgment and punishment. Isaiah had an active ministry for 60 years before he was executed during Manasseh’s reign (according to tradition). As God’s special messenger to Judah, Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of several of its rulers. Many of those messages are recorded in his book: Uzziah and Jotham, chapters 1 — 6; Ahaz, chapters 7 — 14; and Hezekiah, chapters 15 — 39.
The first half of the book of Isaiah (chapters 1 – – 39) contains scathing denunciations and pronouncements as he calls Judah, Israel, and the surrounding nations to repent of their sins. However, the last 27 chapters (40 – – 66) are filled with consolation and hope as Isaiah unfolds God’s promise of future blessings through his Messiah.
As you read Isaiah, imagine this strong and courageous man of God, fearlessly proclaiming God’s word, and listen to his message in relation to your own life – – return, repent, and be renewed. Then trust in God’s redemption through Christ and rejoice. Your Saviour has come, and he’s coming again!
Purpose: To call the nation of Judah back to God and to tell of God’s salvation through the Messiah
Author: The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz
Date Written: The events of chapter 1 – 39 occurred during Isaiah’s ministry, so they were probably written about 700 B.C. Chapters 40 – – 66, however, may have been written near the end of his life, about 681 B.C.
Setting: Isaiah is speaking and writing mainly in Jerusalem
Key Verse: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (53:5).
Key People: Isaiah, his two sons Shear-Jashub and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz
Special Features: The book of Isaiah contains both prose and poetry and uses personification (attributing personal qualities to divine beings or inanimate objects). Also, many of the prophecies in Isaiah contain predictions that foretell a soon-to-occur event and a distant future event at the same time.
- WORDS OF JUDGMENT
(1:1 – – 39:8)
The 39 chapters in the first half of Isaiah generally carry the message of judgment for sin. Isaiah brings the message of judgment to Judah, Israel, and the surrounding pagan nations. Judah had a form of godliness, but in their hearts they were corrupt. Isaiah’s warnings were intended to purify the people by helping them to understand God’s true nature and message. However, they ignored the repeated warnings that Isaiah brought. We need not repeat their error; rather, we should heed the prophetic voice.
The sins of Israel and Judah
Judgement against pagan nations
God’s purpose in judgment
Jerusalem’s true and false hopes
Events during the reign of Hezekiah
- WORDS OF COMFORT (40:1 – – 66:24) The 27 chapters in the second half of Isaiah generally bring a message of forgiveness, comfort, and hope. This message of hope looks forward to the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah speaks more about the Messiah than does any other Old Testament prophet. He describes the Messiah as both a suffering servant and a sovereign Lord. The fact that the Messiah was to be both a suffering servant and a sovereign Lord could not be understood clearly until New Testament times. Based on what Jesus Christ has done, God freely offers forgiveness to all who turn to him in faith. This is God’s message of comfort to us because those who heed it find eternal peace and fellowship with him.
Explanation: God is highly exalted above all his creatures. His moral perfection stands in contrast to evil people and nations. God is perfect and sinless in all his motives and actions, so he is in perfect control of his power, judgment, love, and mercy. His holy nature is our yardstick for morality.
Importance: Because God is without sin, he alone can help us with our sin. It is only right that we regard him as supreme in power and moral perfection. We must never treat God as common or ordinary. He alone deserves our devotion and praise. He is always truthful, fair, and just.
Explanation: Because God is holy, he requires his people to treat others justly. He promised to punish Israel, Judah, and other nations for faithless immorality and idolatry. True faith had degenerated into national pride and empty religious rituals.
Importance: We must trust in God alone and fulfil his commands. We cannot forsake justice nor give in to selfishness. If we harden our hearts against his message, punishment will surely come to us.
Explanation: Because God’s judgment is coming, we need a Saviour. No man or nation can be saved without God’s help. Christ’s perfect sacrifice for our sins is foretold and portrayed in Isaiah. All who trust God can be freed from their sin and restored to him.
Importance: Christ died to save us from our sin. We cannot save ourselves. He is willing to save all those who turn from their sin and come to him. Salvation is from God alone. No amount of good works can earn it.
Explanation: God will send the Messiah to save his people. He will set up his own kingdom as the faithful Prince of Peace who rules with righteousness. He will come as sovereign Lord, but he will do so as a servant who will die to take away sins.
Importance: Our trust must be in the Messiah, not in ourselves or in any nation or power. There is no hope unless we believe in him. Trust Christ fully and let him rule in your life as your sovereign Lord.
Explanation: God promises comfort, deliverance, and restoration in his future kingdom. The Messiah will rule over his faithful followers in the age to come. Hope is possible because Christ is coming.
Importance: We can be refreshed because there is compassion for those who repent. No matter how bleak our situation or how evil the world is, we must continue to be God’s faithful people who hope for his return.