Isaiah (Prophetic Profiles, Part 6)

Isaiah6.1 The Date (of the prophet’s ministry and work)

Isaiah dates his ministry during the same period as that of Hosea, although he does not mention King Jeroboam II of Israel because Isaiah was a prophet to the house of David in Judah.  Isaiah 1:1 lists the reigning kings of Judah during his lengthy ministry: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.  In light of the description of Isaiah’s calling in chapter six, his prophetic work probably did not begin until the end (perhaps the last year) of Uzziah’s tenure.  Although Hezekiah ruled until 686 B.C., Isaiah 37:38 refers to the death of the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib, which occurred in 681.  This would place the dates of his ministry from 740 to about 680 B.C., bridging the eighth and seventh centuries.  Wood writes, “as to a chronological comparison with Hosea, Isaiah began approximately twenty years after this contemporary and continued about thirty years longer.  Isaiah’s ministry was probably the longest of any of Israel’s prophets.”[68]

6.2 Background History (historical setting of the prophet)

Isaiah lived and ministered to a wicked king (Ahaz) and three God-fearing kings (Uzziah, Jotham, and Hezekiah).  During the sixty-year period of Isaiah’s work, much in Judah changed regarding the religious and political climate.  The Assyrian empire grew in power and size throughout Isaiah’s lifetime, culminating in the exile of Judah’s northern neighbor Israel by Assyria (722 B.C.) and the (unsuccessful) siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib (circa 701 B.C.).  Despite the godliness of Uzziah and Jotham, the people were corrupt and apostate in the midst of material blessings.  After the righteous reigns of Uzziah and Jotham, Ahaz rejected the godly examples of his father and grandfather to pursue idolatry.

Ahaz made images of Baal, observed infant sacrifices in the Valley of Hinnom, and worshiped in the high places.  While visiting in Damascus, he saw an altar he admired and had one like it reproduced in Jerusalem, establishing it as his official place of sacrifice at the temple.  Besides this, he intentionally damaged several of the sacred vessels of the temple and even closed the temple doors, thus forcing people to worship where and as he desired.[69]

In contrast to Ahaz, his son Hezekiah observed the Mosaic Law by restoring true worship to the temple and purging the land of pagan influence.  He even destroyed the brazen serpent pole that Moses had crafted because it had become a venerated object to the people and had turned their worship from their Creator-Redeemer God to an inanimate object.  It was a time of renewal and religious reform according to the ancient religion of Yahweh.

From a literary perspective, the period of Isaiah’s ministry may be divided as follows.

Isaiah’s ministry falls into four periods: (1) the period of social criticism (chaps. 2-5), ca. 740-734 B.C.; (2) the Syro-Ephraimite war (chaps. 7-9), 734-732 B.C.; (3) the anti-Assyrian rebellion (chaps. 10-23), 713-711 B.C.; and (4) the anti-Assyrian rebellion and Jerusalem’s siege (chaps. 28-32; 36-39), 705-701 B.C.[70]

6.3 Work and Person (character and ministry of the prophet)

Van Gemeren provides biographical data and a glimpse into the heart of Isaiah the prophet.

Isaiah loved the old Jerusalem but at the same time looked forward to a New Jerusalem.  He was probably born and educated in Jerusalem.  He was married [to a prophetess] (8:3), had at least two sons, Shear-Jashub and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, and ministered to God’s people during an era of great political turmoil (740-700 B.C.).[71]

Besides the Scriptural details provided about Isaiah son of Amoz, the “apocryphal book Assumption of Isaiah preserves the tradition that he was sawn in two during the reign of Manasseh (cf. Heb. 11:37)”[72]  and “the Talmud also reports that he was related to the royal house, a cousin of Uzziah (Meg 10b).”[73]   Wood’s study of the character of Isaiah reveals the man to be spiritually mature and full of humility, at ease appearing and prophesying at the royal court, of an unusual intellectual capacity as shown in his masterful poetic style and broad knowledge of world affairs, and courageous in his delivery of less than desirable oracles.  Isaiah must have deserved the title given to him in modern times: “the prince of prophets.”[74]

As stated previously, Isaiah’s call was to prophesy in the royal court to the kings of Judah, and this he did whether the kings he served heeded his words or not.  “Besides this, Isaiah would have been active in preaching to people on street corners, at the gates of the city, or wherever they might be assembled.”[75]   Isaiah’s ministry was probably most significant to his contemporaries in Judah as a dire warning in light of the destruction of Israel.

Certainly God wanted Judah to take notice of the punishment Israel experienced, in order that Judah might profit and turn in repentance to God.  But if she was to have the forceful lesson driven home, there needed to be a great prophet like Isaiah…to do this.[76]

For this very purpose God must have raised up Isaiah as a prophet.

6.4 The Book (abbreviated outline[77]  and brief summary)

I. Superscription (1:1)
II. Isaiah’s Message of Judgment and Restoration (1:2-6:13)
      A. Judgment and Restoration to Righteousness and Justice (1:2-2:5)
      B. Judgment and Restoration on That Day (2:6-4:6)
      C. Judgment Leading to Restoration (5:1-6:13)
III. Isaiah’s Response to the Assyrian Judgment (7:1-39:8)
      A. The Syrian-Israelite Coalition (7:1-12:6)
      B. International Upheaval During the Assyrian Judgment (13:1-27:13)
      C. Sennacherib’s Invasion (28:1-39:8)
IV. Isaiah and the Babylonian Judgment (40:1-66:24)
      A. Isaiah’s Call to Proclaim Restoration (40:1-11)
      B. God’s Power to Restore His People (40:12-44:23)
      C. God’s Instruments of His Sure Salvation (44:24-55:13)
      D. Israel’s Sin, Repentance and Restoration (56:1-66:24)

The prophecy of Isaiah is the most far reaching and encompassing book in the Old Testament prophetic corpus.  Its key themes[78]  include (1) judgment and hope; (2) the uniqueness [holiness] of God; (3) trust; (4) creation; (5) salvation; and (6) the Messiah-servant.  One commentator unifies the sub-themes under the overarching theme of the king who reigns in Zion—“sometimes the king is the Lord himself, sometimes he is the current king of the house of David, and sometimes he is the king who is yet to come.”[79]   Isaiah ties these major lines together in a mature redemptive-historical framework that serves as an excellent biblical theology in miniature.

Although it is surely a coincidence that the number of chapters in the book of Isaiah corresponds exactly to the number of books in the Christian Bible, there is no other book in either Testament which comprehends the whole of biblical theology so completely as does Isaiah.  Here the terrifying holiness of God is depicted as clearly as it is anywhere in the [Old Testament], but also the unchanging grace of God is depicted as clearly as it is anywhere in the [New Testament].  Thus in many ways the book of Isaiah offers a summary of biblical theology.[80]

Robertson offers a compelling case that the key elements in Isaiah’s call to the prophetic ministry as recorded in chapter six provide a complete thematic outline for the rest of the book. He identifies six main ideas in this brief chapter: (1) the exaltation of the Lord as king; (2) holiness as a defining characteristic of Isaiah’s Lord; (3) the universal character of the Lord’s domain; (4) the sinfulness of God’s own people; (5) the inability of the people to hear the word of the Lord; and (6) the exile of the people and their restoration to the land.[81]

From a covenantal perspective, Isaiah is structured around the blessings and curses of God’s covenants with Israel.  Isaiah brings both charges against the nation for its flagrant violation of the Law, and hope for the nation through the message of future restoration.  “The prophet spoke of many different curses that would come, the most serious of which would be destruction and exile.”[82]   These harbingers of woe are balanced with soothing words of hope for the godly remnant.

He spoke of many different kinds of blessings, but for the most part his positive words focused on the principle blessing of restoration after exile.  As a result, Isaiah called the godly to persevere in seeking the Lord, in cultivating hope for God’s kingdom, in experiencing God’s peace within themselves during times of trouble and in responding to God’s new acts of redemption in faith.[83]


68.  Wood, Prophets of Israel, p. 298.
69.  Ibid., p. 299.
70.  Van Gemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word, p. 248.  Note that these historical periods also correspond to the kings listed in Isaiah’s superscription.
71.  Ibid.
72.  Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 275-76.
73.  Ibid.
74.  Wood, Prophets of Israel, pp. 303-305.
75.  Ibid., p. 303.
76.  Ibid.
77.  “Isaiah,” in Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, pp. 1070-1073.  The outline as it appears in the source is much more detailed.
78.  J. N. Oswalt, “Isaiah,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), pp. 219-22.
79.  John Yeo, Isaiah, unpublished handout presented at Isaiah-Malachi class at Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, p. 1.  Yeo cites J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), pp. 37-39, and relies heavily on his analysis of Isaiah.
80.  Oswalt, “Isaiah,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 217.
81.  Robertson, Christ of the Prophets, pp. 212-227.  With his unifying thesis firmly established, Robertson proceeds to tackle the critical reconstructions of the book of Isaiah, demonstrating that the necessary assumptions for reconstruction are flawed and unjustified.  See pp. 227-40 for this excellent analysis.  Evangelicals would do well to examine his conservative and faithful responses carefully in light of recent concessions to a deutero-Isaiah.
82.  “Isaiah,” in Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, p. 1069.
83.  Ibid.

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4 Responses to Isaiah (Prophetic Profiles, Part 6)

  1. janie jernigan says:

    Be encouraged. This is very informational and interesting.
    June 25, 2008, 4:33 AM

  2. Solomon. says:

    Very nice explanation . Good to understand Book of Isaiah

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