Three major sections:
· Proto-Isaiah (chapters 1-39), containing the words of the 8th century BCE prophet and 7th century BCE expansions. Ahaz, against Isaiah’s advice, asked the Assyrians to protect Judah against the combined forced of Israel and Syria, who were in revolt against Assyria. Hezekiah’s battles with the Assyrians are also recounted, revisiting material from 2 Kings. John Goldingay’s Isaiah (2001) argues that the poetic sections of proto-Isaiah represent the prophecies of the original Isaiah, while the prose sections were sermons composed at the court of Josiah in the seventh century BCE. Chapters 24-27, known as the ‘Isaiah apocalypse’, are thought to be the work of an author who lived long after Isaiah.
· Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55), a 6th century BCE work by an author who wrote under the Babylonian captivity
· Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56-66), composed probably by multiple authors in Jerusalem shortly after the exile
There is a different notion of kingship in the different sections – while Isaiah entertains the idea of a Davidic king (see, eg, 9:2-7, and the start of chapter 11), deutero- and trito-Isaiah sees God alone as king. This implied sequence of pre-exilic, exilic and post-exilic material is somewhat misleading, however, as significant editing has clearly taken place in all three parts. For example, passages in chapters 1-12 (eg chapter 2) about the redemption of Jerusalem recall the language and themes of chapters 40-55. The picture in 1:27-31 makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked even in the redeemed Zion – this too in echoed in chapters 56-66. Compare also 1:10-17 and chapter 48, both of which condemn merely religious observance without sincerity.
Further division of the books can be made thus:
· 1-12 – Jerusalem judged and redeemed
· 13-27 – God’s righteousness established among the nations. 13-23 features largely burdens and judgments, though there are some words of comfort, eg, in the image of the key of David at the end of chapter 22. 24-27, sometimes called the ‘mini-apocalypse’ sees God’s righteous judgment more broadly in terms of His His victory over death, and the rising of the dead.
· 28-35 – the coming of a righteous king in Jerusalem
· 36-39 – Jerusalem saved (from Sennacherib), but the shadow of Babylon looms (after Hezekiah shows the treasury to Babylonian ambassadors)
· 40-55 – the return to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity
· 56-66 – new heavens and a new earth. Even in the new Zion, however, there are suggestions that there will be some backsliding and merely perfunctory worship (eg chapter 48; 65:11-12).
There are in addition four ‘suffering servant’ songs – first identified by Bernhard Duhm in his 1892 commentary.
Candidates for the identity of the servant have included Zerubbabel, Jehoiachin, Moses and Cyrus the Great. Christians see the suffering servant as Jesus Christ.
Isaiah counselled against Ahaz becoming a vassal state of Assyria when threatened by Israel and Syria. See 2 Kings 16:10-20 – Ahaz not only made Judah an Assyrian vassal state, but also introduced aspects of Assyrian worship, removing the bronze altar from the temple in Jerusalem and replacing it with a model of a Damascan one.
The burden against Egypt in chapter 19 comes comes from when Hezekiah, along with other small states (Ashdod, Edom, Moab) looked to Egypt for assistance. Isaiah seems consistent in his opposition to appealing to one foreign power for help against another, rather than simply trusting to the Lord. Conversely, when faith in the Lord is demonstrated by Hezekiah, it leads to the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the forces of Sennacherib (See Isaiah 36-38). Is there an idea that political alliances compromise the holy separateness of God’s people? Yahweh is called ‘the Holy One of Israel’ over twenty times in Isaiah.
Despite the diverse political situations described by Isaiah, there is a moral unity and coherence. Assyria and Babylon are morally one; they served God’s purpose in their turn, but each fell in the end because of its pride. Some passages (eg chapter 26) could refer to either Assyria or Babylon: prophecy often demonstrates the ability to recontextualise itself, and possess a kind of immanence.
Isaiah prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. The Lord vituperates a people laden with iniquity- no soundness from foot to head. Your cities are overthrown by strangers. We have been left a very small remnant. What good is ritual observance when you do evil? Do well – care for the needy. The faithful city has become a harlot. It will be purged to what it was before, and become the city of righteousness once more.
In the last days, the Lord’s house shall be established on Zion, and all nations shall flow unto it. The Lord shall judge the nations, and rebuke many. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. The land of the house of Jacob is full of gold, silver and idols. The Lord shall level the land, including the mountains, the towers, and the proud.
The Lord will take away all people of status from Jerusalem and Judah, and give babes to rule over them. The Lord will punish pride, including that of the daughters of Zion, who are wanton and mincing, and wear all manner of finery. The Lord will smite them with scabs and other afflictions. The men and the mighty shall fall in war.
The calamities of war will be so great that seven women shall be left to one man. Purged of filth, the Lord will bless the remnant, and the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night will be created in every dwelling place, and in all the assemblies.
Israel is like a vineyard, which will be abandoned because it produced only wild grapes. Woes are promised for a variety of sins, including drinking, feasting, pride, and calling evil good. Kindled in wrath against his people, the Lord will allow a foreign nation to devastate the land. Its roaring shall be like a lion.
A vision in the year that king Uzziah died: the Lord on his throne, and above it the seraphims. Each one had six wings – with two they cover their faces, with two they cover their feet, and with two they fly. Isaiah fears he is undone because he is a man of unclean lips. One of the seraphims lays a lump of burning coal in his mouth, and tells him his sins are burnt away. Isaiah receives his prophetic commission – strangely, it is to ensure that the people do not understand, and are not healed. The Lord will remove men far away, but a tenth shall return.
In the days when Israel and Syria joined in league against Judah in the days of Ahaz. Via Isaiah, and in the presence of his son Shear-Jashub (meaning, ‘a remnant shall return’) the Lord tells Ahaz not to fear, for the attack will not succeed, and Israel will no longer be a nation in 65 years’ time. The Lord will give a sign: a virgin will conceive, called Immanuel, God with us. (Actually, the Hebrew word alma could mean ‘young woman’, though the Septuagint translated parthenos, which does mean ‘virgin’.) Before the child can distinguish good from evil (ie within a couple of years), he will be eating curds and honey (ie the land will be back to producing plenteous food), and both Israel and Syria will be defeated. (A prophecy of Hezekiah?) However, the Assyrians (whom Judah called upon for help) will inflict heavy calamities upon Judah. Isaiah counsels against an Judah-Assyria alliance to counter the threat from the Israel-Syria one.
Isaiah has a son, whom the Lord tells him to name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, which means ‘speed to the spoil, hurry to the plunder’. Before the children can call his mother and father, the riches of Damascus and Israel will be taken away by Assyria. However, the Assyrian army, compared to water, will overflow its banks and flood Judah with violence and destruction. Judah can prepare for the invasion by fearing God rather than Assyria. Seek the Lord’s light and word, not the darkness of the occult.
Judah will not suffer as greatly as Israel. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. ‘You’ will deliver the land, ‘for unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Because of their unholy pride, Israel will be defeated by her enemies: its head (elder and honourable) and tail (false prophet) will be cut off. The people of Israel will also attack each other. Exile and slaughter will be a punishment for social injustice.
Woe to Assyria, the unintentional instrument in the hand of the Lord – it will be punished for its arrogant superiority. Shall an axe boast against him who chops with it? Do not be afraid of the Assyrians – the Lord will preserve a remnant of the house of Jacob. Isaiah prophesies attacks on a number of specific Juhan cities. The proud of Judah will be humbled.
A shoot shall come forth from the rod of Jesse, possessing the seven spirits of God:
He will judge the poor with equity, and slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb. The gentiles shall seek him. The Lord will gather together scattered Israel. Peace will reign, and neighbouring nations be subdued.
Praise will be offered to the Lord when his anger has passed away. ‘Yah, the Lord, is my strength and salvation’. You will draw water from the well of salvation. Praise sung – great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!
The burden against Babylon. (‘Burden’ = an important message causing sorrow.) An army comes against Bablyon. A day of the Lord is promised – great slaughter shall occur, and mortals be more rare than gold. The Medes will be stirred up against Babylon. Babylon will be laid waste, and populated only by wild beasts.
Israel will be settled in its own land, and rule over strangers. The whole earth will rejoice at the fall of the king of Babylon. The pomp of Babylon shall come to nothing, and be received in hell. How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! The fall is a punishment for aspiring to be like the Most High. The nations will be amazed at the complete reversal of fortune. Unlike other kings who sleep in glory, the king of Babylon will be cast out of his grave. Assyria and Philistia will also be crushed.
The burden against Moab. The cities and soldiers of Moab fall under a night attack. Refugees will flee from Moab. Refugees and the remnant of Moab will be attacked by lions.
Moab shall send the lamb as tribute to Jerusalem. Judah is to be a place of refuge and protection for the Moabites. Moab is then counselled to be a refuge for Israel. Moab shall wail at the judgment of God against it. Judgment will come in three years.
The burden against Damascus. Damascus will become a ruinous heap, and Israel (the northern kingdom, referred to as Ephraim, its dominant tribe) will wane. God’s judgment will bring man’s work to nothing. Many nations will rush against Syria and Israel like the rush of many waters. These nations will also be rebuked, however.
Ethiopian help is not required to deal with Assyria. The Lord will cut off Assyria’s sprigs with pruning hooks. Ethiopians will come to Zion to worship God.
The burden against Egypt. The Lord strikes Egypt by giving them over to civil war and submission to a cruel master. The Nile will be dried, and the Egyptian economy thereby ruined. Foolish counsel has caused Egypt to stagger like a drunk man in his vomit. Judah will be a terror to Egypt. The Egyptians will turn to the Lord, and a savior shall deliver them. There will be a peace between the three former enemies of Egypt, Assyria and Israel.
In the year of the fall of the Philistine king Ashdod at the hands of the Assyrians (711 BC). The Lord commands Isaiah to go naked – as he is naked, so shall the Egyptians and Ethopians be led away naked as captives by Assyria. On this day, Judah will be ashamed that it once trusted to these nations.
The burden against the Wilderness of the Sea (ie Babylon). A army from Elam (Persia) marches against it. A report will come to the watchman: Babylon is fallen, is fallen! The (brief) burden against Dumah (Edom): the watchman will report that the morning comes, and also the night. The burden against Arabia: within a year, all the glory of Kedar will fall.
The burden against the Valley of Vision (Jerusalem). An army is coming, against which there is no deliverance. Instead of turning their hearts in humble repentance to the Lord, the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’ Shebna, Hezekiah’s chief steward, is denounced. Shebna will be replaced by Eliakim. He will be given the key of the house of David.
The burden against Tyre. The sailors will agonise when they hear about the destruction of their home port. The pride of Tyre will be dishonoured. Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years. God will allow Tyre, symbolized by a prostitute, to continue her gross materialism with all the kingdoms of the world, but her gain and her pay will be set apart for the Lord.
The land will be emptied and laid waste. The earth will mourn and fade away, because people have transgressed laws and broken the everlasting covenant. All rejoicing shall cease. The glory of God is contrasted with the woe of man. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard. After judgment and punishment, the Lord will reign on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem.
God is praised for his righteous judgment, and for assisting the needy. A feast will be prepared on Zion. Death will be swallowed up forever, and all tears wiped away. People will proclaim a God they have waited for, and who has saved them. The pride of Moab will be brought down, as the Lord spreads out his hands like a swimmer reaches out to swim.
The strength of the city will be celebrated. The Lord is the source of the city’s strength. The Lord will bring down those who dwell on high. The upright will desire the Lord, and the wicked shall remain unaware as the fire of enemies devours them. All masters other than the Lord are dead. We have been in pain, as if in labour. The dead shall rise. The day of the Lord’s judgment will come.
Leviathan will be defeated. Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit. In the Kingdom of the Lord, the city of man lies desolate. The Lord will be worshipped at the holy mount in Jerusalem.
The drunkards of Ephraim will be trampled underfoot. The beauty of the Lord will replace the faded beauty of Ephraim. Judah also suffers from the corruption of drunkenness. The reply of the drunkards is imagined – this message is fit only for those just weaned from milk. Scornful men have made a covenant with death. God will lay in Zion a stone for a foundation. The bed is too short to stretch out on, and the covering so narrow that one cannot wrap himself in it. The timing of a farmer is compared to the timing of the Lord.
Woe to Ariel (Jerusalem) – its pride shall be humbled. However, the humbled Jerusalem will be protected from its enemies. Jerusalem suffers from spiritual drunkenness and illiteracy. However, the spiritually blind will see, and justice for the wicked be administered.
Woe to the rebellious children who look to Egypt to protect them from Assyria. The people do not want seers to see, and want prophets to prophesy deceits rather than right things. Judah will be broken like a potter’s vessel. Blessed are those who wait for the Lord. He shall respond to his people, who cry to him from Jerusalem. The Lord’s people will throw away their graven images of gold and silver. Nature will bring forth abundance. There is a place in Tophet (the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem) for the Assyrian king. The breath of the Lord shall kindle it.
Woe to those who look to Egypt rather than the Lord. The Lord is mightier than the Egyptians. The Lord will defend Jerusalem. The children of Israel are invited to repent.
Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule with justice. People will see, hear and understand. The foolish man will be exposed as foolish. Women at ease are called upon to repent. The Spirit will be poured out upon a humbled people, who will enjoy peace and security.
The plundering Assyria will itself be plundered. Zion will be filled with wisdom and righteousness. The earth will mourn and lie waste. The breath of the Lord will devour like fire. Sinners shall be afraid, but the righteous will see the king in his beauty. Zion, the city of appointed feasts, will be blessed and delivered.
The indignation of the Lord is against all nations. The sword of the Lord will make a great slaughter in Edom. The land will be inhabited only by animals of the wilderness.
Lands will be restored, and the desert blossom. The weak will be strengthened, the sick and diseased healed. Abundance shall replace lack. There shall be a Way of Holiness – a road leading to Zion.
See 2 Kings 18:13-27. Officials from King Hezekiah’s government meet Rabshakeh, general of the armies of Assyria. Rabshakeh speaks against Judah’s trust in an alliance with Egypt, and says the Lord will not save them. Rabshakeh speaks directly to the people of Jerusalem in Hebrew, seeking to demoralize them.
Hezekiah tears his clothes and covers himself with sackcloth. Isaiah speaks words of assurance to Hezekiah, and tells him that Rabshakeh’s blasphemy will be repaid. The Ethiopians move against Assyria. Hezekiah prays, and Isaiah further prophesies against Assyria and gives assurances that the Lord will protect Jerusalem. The angel of the Lord strikes 185,000 Assyrian soldiers dead. Sennacherib is killed by his sons back in Assyria.
The sick Hezekiah is given an assurance by Isaiah that he will not die, but live a further fifteen years. The shadow on a sundial goes backwards, as a sign to confirm the promise. Hezekiah thanks the Lord for his deliverance.
Hezekiah entertains the envoys from the king of Babylon, showing them all his treasures. Isaiah repoves him, saying that all treasures will be taken to Babylon at a future date. Hezekiah is relieved that he himself will not see this happen.
Comfort ye, my people. A voice in the wilderness cries, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’ Every valley shall be exalted, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. Zion and Jerusalem, who bring good tidings, are invited to tell the cities of Judah to behold their God. The Lord will feed his flock like a shepherd. God’s greatness surpasses all nations, and all idols. He brings the princes and the judges of the earth to nothing. The weak shall be strengthened.
The people from the coastlands are invited to approach for judgment. Along with everybody else. Who raised up one from the East? (Abraham? Cyrus?) The Lord did. The people of the coastlands approach with fear. Israel has been chosen, and gathered from the ends of the earth. Fear not – you will be strengthened, and your enemies ashamed. You will thresh and winnow the mountains. God will supply water and other resources. One will come from the north (Cyrus?) who shall conquer. The Lord judges idols and deems them worthless.
The Lord’s servant will bring justice to the gentiles, and establish justice on earth. A light to the gentiles. Psalm-like invitation to sing to the Lord a new song. The Lord will unleash his devastating power against idolatrers. The deaf and the blind come to the servant. The Lord’s people have been robbed, plundered and punished because they have not walked in the ways of the Lord.
The Lord has redeemed his people from slavery – he will protect them from waters and from fire. The Lord has chosen his servant, and commissioned Israel as his witnesses. ‘Before the day was, I am He.’ The Lord will judge Babylon, and supply roads and water for his people in the wilderness. Jacob (ie Israel) has not offered sacrifices, and has been full of iniquity – nonetheless, the Lord will forgive previous sins.
The Lord’s spirit will be poured onto the descendants of Jacob, and they will spring up like grass. ‘I am the first and the last; besides me, there is no God.’ Idols and idol makers achieve nothing. Israel’s transgressions have been blotted out, as with a thick cloud. Jacob has been redeemed. Cyrus is the Lord’s shepherd, who will help to rebuild Judah and Jerusalem.
The Lord calls upon Cyrus to subdue nations. Cyrus and Israel will know the Lord, who formed the light and created darkness. The skies are commanded to rain down righteousness, and the earth to bring forth salvation. Resisting the creator is foolish. God’s role as the creator of heaven and earth is emphasised alongside the deliverance of Israel via Cyrus. When the Lord is revealed as the true God, idolaters will submit and God’s people will be saved. The Lord has not concealed Himself, but let Himself be known. ‘Look to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth.’
False gods are carried away on carriages. The Lord will carry His people into old age. Golden idols are mute and incapable of offering help. The Lord knew the end from the beginning. A bird of prey shall be called from the East. Salvation will be placed in Zion, and glory in Israel.
Babylon is depicted as a degraded woman, naked and uncovered. The pride and arrogance of Babylon is rebuked. The stargazers and sorcerers of Babylon will be unable to help.
The Lord rebukes Israel for perfunctory religious observance. The Lord made sure that he was revealed rather than concealed, but Israel did not see or hear. The Lord defers his anger for His name’s sake – he is the first and the last. The Lord wishes that his people had obeyed Him in the past. Exodus from Babylon conflated with that from Egypt – the rock in the wilderness flowed with water.
The servant speaks in his own voice – he has been called from the womb. His mouth has been made like a sharp sword. He will be a light to the gentiles. He will release prisoners, and those in darkness. The Lord cannot forget Israel, as a nurse cannot forget her nursing child. The Lord will protect Israel from her enemies, who will be humbled and defeated.
Israel has brought its misfortunes on itself. The servant is obedient, and has been given a wise tongue. ‘I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard.’ He has faith that the Lord will justify him, however, and that his adversaries will grow old like a garment, and be eaten up by moths. People will be kindled by fire from his hand.
The Lord will comfort – the wilderness shall become an Eden. The Lord’s salvation and righteousness are forever. Fear God, not man. God defeated Rahab (sea monster), and parted the seas (again, the exodus from Babylon and Egypt are conflated). The cup of the Lord’s fury will be taken from Israel, and given to its enemies.
Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! You shall be redeemed for no money. Israel’s oppressors will wail. All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. When departing, the Lord will be the rear guard. The Lord’s servant will be both exalted and humiliated. Nations will be cleansed and astonished by him.
He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was bruised for our iniquities…and by his stripes we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. The Lord made his soul an offering for sin. The righteous servant shall justify many. He bore the sins of many.
Israel will be restored like a barren woman who bears many children. Israel will be restored like a widow who is rescued from her reproach. The Lord has shown temporary wrath, and will now show everlasting kindness. Covenant with Noah cited as a precedent. The city shall be build with precious stones. Peace, and protection are promised.
The Lord invites those who are thirsty to come and be richly fed. The everlasting covenant is talked about in terms of the sure mercies of David. The wicked will be forgiven if they forsake their ways. The Lord’s thoughts are higher than men’s thoughts. The Lord’s word shall make the earth fertile. Psalm-like image of the mountains and hills breaking forth in singing.
A call is made to be righteous, and not defile the Sabbath. The foreigner and the eunuch will not be separated from the Lord. The Lord will judge the blind watchmen who live hedonistically, however.
The righteous are persecuted. God’s people have committed spiritual adultery. He who puts his trust in the Lord shall possess the land and inherit His holy mountain – in contrast to those who trust in idols. The stumbling block shall be removed. The Lord will restrore – but there is no rest for the wicked.
God’s people ask why their prayers go unanswered. In fact, their ritual observance was shallow and did not proceed from the heart. God is more pleased to see people help the oppressed and poor. The light of the true worshipper shall break forth like the morning; he shall be as a watered garden. Those who keep the Sabbath will ride on the high hills of the earth.
The problem is not that the Lord’s hand is shortened, so it cannot save. The problem is the sins of the people – lies, iniquity and injustice. Darkness comes, and the people growl like bears, and moan sadly like doves. In the absence of righteousness, the Lord Himself became a righteous warrior, and lifted up his standard before the enemy. The Redeemer shall come to Zion.
Arise, shine, for your light has come. The gentiles shall come to your light. Great treasures will come to Israel from many lands. The sons of those who afflicted Israel shall come bowing. The walls shall be called Salvation, and the gates Praise. The Lord will be an everlasting light to replace the sun and the moon. The days of mourning shall be ended.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He (the servant? Isaiah himself?) will preach good tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives, comfort those who mourn. Ruined cities will be rebuilt. Shame will replace honour. The covenant will endure for future generations, and be famous among the gentiles. He is clothed in the garment of salvation, and the robe of righteousness. Righteousness and praise will spring forth.
Zion’s righteousness shall go forth as brightness. The gentiles shall witness its glory. The Lord loves Zion as a bridegroom loves a bride, and will protect it against enemies. Build the highway for the Lord! Zion shall be peopled with the redeemed of the Lord.
Who is this who comes from Edom with dyed red garments? He has trodden the winepress furiously. Nobody was by to help him. A saviour redeemed his people, though afflicted. His people rebelled and grieved his holy spirit, so he turned against them. A exile’s plea for restoration – where is the God of Moses, who redeemed his people?
A prayer for God to intervene, shaking the mountains and making His name known to his adversaries. Sinfulness is confessed, and acknowledged as an obstacle. A plea is made to forget iniquity. God is asked to act in light of the fact that Zion is a wilderness, and Jerusalem a desolation.
‘I was sought by those who did not ask for me.’ These people (presumably gentiles) are contrasted with God’s rebellious people. Blessings are promised for the true servants of the Lord, and a chastisement for false or shallow servants. God will create a new heaven, and a new earth, and there shall be no more weeping. People will live so long that if someone dies being one hundred years old, people will consider that one accursed. They shall provide for themselves. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together.
Heaven is the Lord’s throne, and the earth His footstool. The Lord will look on one who is poor and of a contrite spirit. Empty religious rituals are rejected. The Lord repays his enemies. After labour pains, Zion experiences the joy of birth. The Lord will come in judgment, to judge all flesh. Gentiles will come to know of the Lord, and some of them will even become priests and Levites. All flesh shall worship before the Lord. For those who transgress, their corpses will be looked upon – their worm shall not die, nor their fire quenched.
· the Spirit of the Lord
· the Spirit of wisdom
· the Spirit of understanding
· the Spirit of counsel
· the Spirit of might
· the Spirit of knowledge
· the Spirit of the fear of the Lord