We come now to books of prophecy, but it must be remembered that
"prophecy" denotes not simply a foretelling of future
events but also a declaration of God's ways with mankind and His
purposes for them, read in the light of history past, present
Many scholarly tomes have been written on the authorship, style and interpretation of the writings known as "Isaiah", but for our purposes it will suffice simply to distinguish between the prophet Isaiah of the earlier pre-Exilic period and the writing of Isaiah chapters 40 onwards, the prophet of the return from Exile and the subsequent period.
The book finds its unity in the concepts of Ethical Monotheism, of the creative majesty, dominion and inspired word of God, the God of all nations.
The prophet describes the sorry state of a rebellious nation and calls for repentance.
In chapter 2 we read of God's sovereignty extending not only over
Israel but also over Gentile (non-Jewish) people.
In chapter 5 the prophet continues the theme of exile and destruction
for a sinful nation.
The call and willing acceptance of the prophet contrasts sharply
with the reluctance so often shown by those whom God calls to
It has been customary for Christians to associate the "sign
to Ahaz" with the birth of a Saviour "Immanuel"
("God with us").
The "Christmas theme" recurs again in chapter 9.
Isaiah 9.v.2, vv.6-7
The prophet regards Assyria as a scourge in the hand of God to
punish His rebellious people.
The prophet foresees destruction coming upon his people, but he
also introduces the theme of hope - the idea of a "saved
remnant" of his people in whom the future of the nation is
Chapter 11 begins with another passage in which Christians see
prefigured the Christ who saves His people, one who brings universal
peace and restores the exiles.
This section of Isaiah ends appropriately with a joyful song of
praise to God for His goodness.
We now have oracles (not always in chronological order) describing
the fate of Israel's neighbours and enemies at God's hands, culminating
in a harrowing picture of the "Day of the Lord" when
He brings wholesale destruction upon the earth. The final judgement
Isaiah 24.vv.1-11, and vv.21-23
After the "Day of Judgement" God is represented as reigning
over the world from Jerusalem. For this the prophet raises a
joyful song of praise and thanksgiving, extolling the might and
majesty of God and exulting in the favours bestowed upon the remnant
of His people.
Scarcely, however, have the shouts of joy at Israel's deliverance
died away, when we find the prophet foretelling another visitation
in wrath - the siege of Jerusalem (Ariel) the city of a rebellious
Isaiah 29.vv.1-4, and vv.13-14
Disaster will surely come; yet, says the prophet, the Lord is
a God of mercy and forgiveness if you turn to Him.
After the impending horrors of the siege of the city, says the
prophet, a new age will dawn. In beautiful and memorable language
the prophet describes this bliss.
There follows a detailed and interesting account of the taking
of the cities of Judah and of threats to Jerusalem from the Assyrian
King Sennacherib. Isaiah advises King Hezekiah of Jerusalem to
stand firm, for God would save His own city.
Isaiah 36.vv.1-10, vv.13-21 and 37.vv.1-7, vv.15-35
The city was saved at least for a while but eventually it was
besieged by the Babylonians who succeeded the Assyrians as the
dominant power in the Middle East. Great was the fall of the
city, and the inhabitants were taken into exile.
At chapter 40 in this "Isaianic collection" of writings we have a sudden change of mood. Some of the finest writing in the Old Testament is contained in this and the following chapters.
The exile in Babylon, which was not of long duration, is drawing to a close, and the Jews are about to return to rebuild Jerusalem and to resume their life in Judah - and great is their joy.
The prophet sees the hand of the Almighty in the events of the
day. God is Sovereign Lord, the Holy One, Creator, Redeemer,
The prophet ascribes to God's action the fall of Babylon and the
rise of Cyrus the Persian who is to permit the return from exile.
He is God's "agent".
Isaiah 41.vv.1-4, vv.8-20
We come now to a series of "Servant Songs", lovely passages
about which many commentators have written. Some regret that
they cannot with certainty identify the "Suffering Servant",
but this should not cause undue concern, since Christian piety
has ascribed many of the facets of these complex figures to Jesus
Christ, whose role and characteristics defy neat categorisation.
The theme of joy at God's deliverance and His ever-watchful care
of His people is continued. Nature itself shares in Israel's
blessings and God's forgiveness.
In chapter 44 the "Servant Song" theme is again taken
up with a call to confidence in the Lord the Redeemer.
Isaiah 44.vv.1-6, vv.21-28
In a very fine passage God's sovereignty is set forth and Cyrus
is described as the "Anointed" (Messiah, Christ) who
unwittingly fulfils God's redemptive purpose for His people.
Isaiah 45.vv.1-25 and 48.vv.17-20
God's Servant has suffered, says the prophet, but now he has a
mission not only to Israel but also to the ends of the earth.
Isaiah 49.vv.1-13, and 51
The prophet describes the coming of the messenger with good news.
One of the greatest "suffering servant" passages has
also been seen by Christian piety as prefiguring the redemptive
suffering of Jesus Christ.
This section of the immediate post-Exilic prophecies ends with
a lovely invitation to all mankind to share in the joy of Zion
and the gift of life abundant.
It is difficult to believe that the chapters which follow come
from the pen of the prophet responsible for chapters 40 - 55.
Again we have a change of emphasis and subject matter in the
Isaianic prophecies. Instead of the paeans of praise, we have
a legalistic strain, a concern for Sabbath keeping and ritual.
It is difficult to date these prophecies accurately, but probably
they come from a period when religious practices are being re-established
(and also corrupted). The writer looks beyond the narrow confines
of Judaism (the post-Exilic religion).
The denunciations of disobedience and licentiousness contained
in these chapters would suggest that either the material is pre-Exilic
or that there has been a rapid deterioration in the religious
life of the newly established Judaism.
Isaiah 58.vv.1-14 and 59.vv.1-21
Again we have a change of mood. A happier and more optimistic
note is sounded. Israel is to be the source of light to the world
because she is God's own people, the "beloved bride"
of God. Zion is to be truly blessed.
Isaiah 60.vv.1-22, 61.vv.1-11, 62.vv.1-12 and 63.vv.7-9