Old Testament and Tanakh
Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox
Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox
Russian and Oriental Orthodox
Oriental Orthodox

Books of Nevi'im
First Prophets
1. Book of Joshua
2. Book of Judges
3. Books of Samuel
4. Books of Kings
Later Prophets
5. Book of Isaiah
6. Book of Jeremiah
7. Book of Ezekiel
8. Minor prophets

The Book of Isaiah (Hebrew: Sefer Y'sha'yah ספר ישעיה) is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, written by Isaiah[1].

Content Edit

The first 39 chapters of Isaiah consist primarily of prophecies of the judgments awaiting nations that are persecuting Judah. These nations include Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Israel (the northern kingdom), Ethiopia, Egypt, Arabia, and Phoenicia. The prophecies concerning them can be summarized as saying that God is the God of the whole earth, and that nations which think of themselves as secure in their own power and might will be conquered by other nations, at God's command.

The judgments, however, are not only against those who persecute Isaiah's country, Judah. Chapters 1-5 and 28-29 prophesy judgment against Judah itself. Judah thinks itself safe because of its covenant relationship with God. However, God tells Judah (through Isaiah) that the covenant cannot protect them when they have broken it by idolatry, the worship of other gods, and by acts of injustice and cruelty, which oppose God's law.

Some exceptions to this overall foretelling of doom do occur, throughout the early chapters of the book. Chapter 6 describes Isaiah's call to be a prophet of God. Chapters 35-39 provide historical material about King Hezekiah and his triumph of faith in God.

Chapters 24-34, while too complex to characterize easily, are primarily concerned with prophecies of a "Messiah," a person anointed or given power by God, and of the Messiah's kingdom, where justice and righteousness will reign. This section is seen by Jews as describing an actual king, a descendant of their great king, David, who will make Judah a great kingdom and Jerusalem a truly holy city. It is traditionally seen by Christians as describing Jesus, who was descended from David, and who began a non-political kingdom of justice which will one day encompass the whole earth. A number of modern scholars believe that it describes, in somewhat idealized terms, King Hezekiah, who was a descendant of David, and who tried to make Jerusalem into a holy city.

The prophecy continues with what some have called “The Book of Comfort” which begins in chapter 40 and completes the writing. In the first eight chapters of this book of comfort, Isaiah prophesies the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of the Babylonians and restoration of Israel as a unified nation in the land promised to them by God. Isaiah reaffirms that the Jews are indeed the chosen people of God in chapter 44 and that Hashem is the only God for the Jews (and only the God of the Jews) as he will show his power over the gods of Babylon in due time in chapter 46. It is of much interest to note that in chapter 45:1, the Persian ruler Cyrus is named as the person of power who will overthrow the Babylonians and allow the return of Israel to their original land.

The remaining chapters of the book contain prophecies of the future glory of Zion under the rule of a righteous servant (52 & 54). There is a very complex prophecy about this servant, that is written in a very poetic language. Although there is still the mention of judgment of false worshippers and idolaters (65 & 66), the book ends with a message of hope of a righteous ruler who extends salvation to his righteous subjects living in the Lord’s kingdom on earth.

Historical setting for IsaiahEdit

Isaiah lived during the late eighth and early seventh centuries BCE, which was a difficult period in the history of Jerusalem. He was part of the upper class but urged care of the downtrodden. At the end, he was loyal to King Hezekiah, but disagreed with the King's attempts to forge alliances with Egypt and Babylon in response to the Assyrian threat.

Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of four kings -- Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Legend has it that he was martyred during the reign of Manasseh, who came to the throne in 687 BCE. That he is described as having ready access to the kings would suggest an aristocratic origin.

This was the time of the divided kingdom, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. There was prosperity for both kingdoms during Isaiah’s youth with little foreign interference. Jeroboam II ruled in the north and Uzziah in the south. The small kingdoms of Palestine, as well as Syria, were under the influence of Egypt. However, in 745 BCE, Tiglath-pileser III came to the throne of Assyria. He was interested in Assyrian expansionism, especially to the west. Tiglath-pileser took Samaria and a lot of Galilee in 732. Shalmenezer V (727-722) and then, Sargon II (722-705) attacked Samaria. Samaria fell in 722, this marking the end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel forever, as its population was taken into exile and dispersed amongst Assyrian provinces. It is as a result of this exile that reference is made to Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Egypt recovered to a degree around the end of the century and Babylon exerted some independence as well. Because of this, Judah and other states rebelled against Assyria, only to have Sennacherib (705-681) invade and capture 46 Judean towns. Isaiah reports that Jerusalem was spared when God miraculously struck down the Assyrian army plundering it.

The Syro-Ephraimite WarEdit

Because of the threat from Tiglath-pileser, the leaders of Syria and Israel tried to force [Judah to ally with them around 734 BCE. Ahaz was on the throne of Judah then. He was advised by Isaiah to trust in the Lord, but, instead, he called to Assyria for help. Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria attacked Judah and inflicted damage on it before Assyria came to its aid, but there would be more serious religious consequences of Ahaz’s refusal to accept the Lord’s guidance through Isaiah.

Full Book of Isaiah 2006-06-06

The Book of Isaiah

Fall of Syria and SamariaEdit

Damascus, capital of Syria, was taken by the Assyrians in 732. Tiglath –pileser died in 727, raising false hopes for the Palestinian countries. Ahaz died a year later. Isaiah warned Philistia and the other countries not to revolt against Assyria. Hoshea, then king of Samaria, withheld tribute to Assyria. Consequently, Shalmenezer V laid siege to Samaria for 3 years, and his successor, Sargon II, took the city and deported 27,000 Israelites to northern parts of the Assyrian empire. There was peace in the area for 10 years or so , but then, Sargon returned in 711 to crush a coalition of Egypt and the Philistines. Judah had stayed out of this conflict, Hezekiah wisely listening to Isaiah’s advice.

Hezekiah and Sennacherib: Sennacherib came to the throne of Assyria in 705. He had trouble immediately – with Ethiopian monarchs in Egypt and with the Babylonian leader, Merodach-Baladan. Despite Isaiah’s warnings, Hezekiah became involved as well. The Assyrians invaded the area, taking 46 towns before putting Jerusalem under siege. Isaiah persuaded Hezekiah to trust in the Lord and Jerusalem was spared.

Babylon: Merodach-Baladan took power in Babylon in 721. Sargon entered Babylon without a fight in 711, but after Sargon’s death, Merodach-Baladan rebelled against Sennacherib. Babylon was defeated this time but would revive in another century to defeat Assyria and subjugate the Jews and destroy Jerusalem.


William Strutt Peace 1896

Peace, 1896 etching by William Strutt, based upon Isaiah 11:6,7

Isaiah is concerned with the connection between worship and ethical behavior. One of his major themes is God's refusal to accept the ritual worship of those who are treating others with cruelty and injustice.

Isaiah speaks also of idolatry, which was common at the time. The Canaanite worship, which involved fertility rites, including sexual practices forbidden by Jewish law, had become popular among the Jewish people. Isaiah picks up on a theme used by other prophets and tells Judah that the nation of Israel is like a wife who is committing adultery, having run away from her true husband, God.

An important theme is that God is the God of the whole earth. Many gods of the time were believed to be local gods or national gods who could participate in warfare and be defeated by each other. The concern of these gods was the protection of their own particular nations. Isaiah's God is a conceived as the only true god, and the god of all humankind, not just the Israelite nation.

No one can defeat God; if God's people suffer defeat in battle, it is only because God chooses for that to happen. Furthermore, God is concerned with more than the Jewish people. God has called Judah and Israel His covenant people for the specific purpose of teaching the world about Him.

A unifying theme found throughout the Book of Isaiah is the use of the expression of "the Holy One of Israel". This is a title for God that is found 12 times in chapters 1-39 and 14 times in chapters 40-66. This expression is unique within the Old Testament to the book of Isaiah which suggests that, although scholars believe that the book of Isaiah was written in various sections by different authors (on which, more below), the work was intended to be a unified body evidenced with the attention to literary consistency.

A final thematic goal that Isaiah constantly leans toward throughout the writing is the establishment of God's kingdom on earth, with rulers and subjects to who strive to live by the will of God.

Authorship issuesEdit

Critical positionsEdit

One of the most critically debated issues in Isaiah is the proposal that it is the work of more than a single author. Different proposals suggest that there have been two or three main authors, while alternative views suggest an additional number of minor authors or editors.

Almost all scholars who accept that there are multiple authors recognise some sort of division at the end of chapter 39. Supporters of the three author proposal see a further division at the end of chapter 55. For most of the twentieth century the three-author position was the most widely held; in the 1990s, more complex and carefully nuanced positions (such as that from Williamson, 1994) started to appear.

The typical objections to single authorship of the book of Isaiah are as follows:

  1. Anonymity→ That is to say that Isaiah’s name is suddenly not used from chapter 40-66.
  2. Style → There is a sudden change in the mood of the book from Isaiah after chapter 40.
  3. Historical Situation → If this were one man, then he would have to have intimate knowledge of a time 150 years after his life.

These and other considerations have led most modern critical scholars to conclude that the book of Isaiah, in its present form, is the result of an extensive editing process, in which the promises of God's salvation are re-interpreted and claimed for the Judean people through the history of their exile and return to the land of Judah. Since it is probably useless to try to reconstruct a precise account of the history of the book's composition (though many have tried), biblical scholars such as Brevard Childs have argued for reading the book as a literary unity. In fact, the most notable change in the scholarly climate has been a recognition that even if the book is the work of many editors, it has been bequeathed to us as a unity, and should be studied as such. Current research is exploring the book's intertextuality, the allusions and references later editors made to connect the different layers of the book.

Note: the name given to the probable second Isaiah is Deutero-Isaiah

Christianity's positionEdit

Until the latter part of the 18th century, Isaiah had been accepted by both Jews and Christians as having one author, who was named Isaiah. While critical scholars are united in a multiple author theory, there are writers, especially in the Fundamentalist Protestant and traditionalist Catholic traditions, who maintain the unity of Isaiah. An example of the approach is illustrated by the words of John in John 12:38-40.

38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40 "He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes,nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them."

The linking passage, verse 39, between the two passages says that the same Isaiah wrote them both. Since verse 38 comes from Isaiah 53:1 and verse 40 comes from Isaiah 6:10, there cannot be two books of Isaiah, or two separate people who contributed to the one book. Other references would appeal to Josephus, who attributes both sections of the book of Isaiah to a single author, and would point to the distinctive use of the title "the Holy One of Israel" for God as a unifying theme.

Songs of the Suffering ServantEdit

Songs of the Suffering Servant or Servant poems are four poems taken from the Book of Isaiah written about a certain "servant of Yahweh". The first poem describes God's selection for the Servant who will bring justice to earth. The second poem, written from the Servant's point of view, is an account of having been called by God to lead the nations. The third poem has a darker tone than the others, with a first-person description of how the Servant was beaten and abused. The last and longest Servant poem, Isaiah 53, which is also the most famous, is a declaration that the Servant has "lifted our affirmities" and was "crushed for our iniquities", which many Christians believe to be a Messianic prophecy of the coming of Jesus. Another interpretation is that the Servant is a metaphor for the Hebrew people.

The first songEdit

Isaiah 42:1-5

The second songEdit

Isaiah 49:1-6

The third songEdit

Isaiah 50:4-9

The fourth songEdit

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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