113-101 Isaiah Introduction & Chapter 1
Author and Date
The title of this book comes from its author, Isaiah. Isaiah’s name means “The Lord is Salvation.” His name has a similarity to Joshua, Elisha, and Jesus. Joshua means Jehovah saves, Elisha means God is salvation, and Jesus means Jehovah saved.
Isaiah was the son of Amoz and his ministry was in and around Jerusalem and was a prophet in Judah during the reigns of four kings, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah between the years of 739 and 686 B. C. Isaiah was probably from a family that has connection as he had easy access to the king. Isaiah was married and had two sons who were named symbolically, Shear-jashub, which means a remnant shall return. The other son was named Maher-shalal-hash-baz whose name meant hasting to the spoil, hurrying to the prey. Isaiah was called to be a prophet by God in the year of King Uzziah’s death in 739 B. C. Isaiah was receptive of the call even though he knew that his ministry would be a fruitless warning and exhortation as a counselor to the Judah nation.
Isaiah was a prophet in time along with Hosea and Micah. Isaiah was an exceptional writer and had versatility in his style. His writing has great expression, the brilliance of imagery, and a richness to his vocabulary. Isaiah lived until 681 B. C. when he wrote the account of Sennacherib’s death. Isaiah died under King Manasseh by being sawed in two with a wooden saw. (Hebrews 11:37)
In the time of King Uzziah, who reigned for 53 years in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. (790 – 739) It was a time when Judah was a strong commercial and military state and had a port of commerce on the Red Sea. It was also a time when Judah suffered a decline in their spiritual status. This downturn may have been caused by Uzziah assuming the privileges of the priest by burning incense on the Altar. (2 Kings 15:3-4; 2 Chronicles 26:16-19) As a result, God judged him with leprosy and he never recovered. (2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 26:20-21)
King Uzziah’s son Jotham assumed the duties of the king before his father’s death. (750 – 731) It was a time when Assyria was becoming a growing international power under their leader Tiglath-Pileser. (2 Kings 15:19) Also, Judah was experiencing opposition from the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Syria. Jotham was a builder and also a fighter like his father but the spiritual corruption continued in the land of Judah. (2 Kings 15:34-35; 2 Chronicles 27:1-2)
When Ahaz was 25 he became the King of Judah. King Ahaz reigned until the age of 41. (2 Chronicles 28:1, 8) During his reign Israel and Syria formed an alliance to combat the Assyrians but Ahaz refused to join them. This caused contention with his northern neighbors and war broke out between them. In a panic, Ahaz asked the Assyrians to help him with this new threat. (2 Kings 16:7) The King in Assyria gladly accepted and sacked Gaza, and took all of Galilee and Gilead into captivity and captured the city of Damascus. Through Ahaz’s partnership with Assyria heathen altars were built in Judah, and Ahaz set one up in Solomon’s Temple. (2 Kings 16:10-16; 2Chronicles 28:3) Assyria also captured Samaria which was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and carried many of the most capable into captivity. (2 Kings 17:6, 24)
Hezekiah reigned in Judah for 29 years. (2 Kings 18:1-2) His priority was reformation. As a result of the Assyrian threat, Judah was forced to pay a heavy tribute to the empire. Hezekiah became ill with a disease that was life-threatening. Hezekiah prayed to God and He graciously gave Hezekiah fifteen years extra life. As Assyria began to weaken through internal strive Hezekiah refused to pay them any further tribute. (2 Kings 18:7) In 701 B. C., the King of Assyria King Sennacherib invaded the coastal area of Israel marching towards Egypt in the southern flank of Israel. During this march he overran many Judean towns, looting and carrying many people back to Assyria. King Sennacherib also sent a contingent force to lay siege to Jerusalem. (2 Kings 17-19:8; Isaiah 36:2-37:8) The siege of Jerusalem failed and messengers were sent to Jerusalem demanding an immediate surrender of the city. (2 Kings 19:9) Isaiah advised Hezekiah to not surrender, and Sennacherib’s army fell to a sudden disaster. Sennacherib then returned to Nineveh and never threatened Judah again.
Theological Theme and Message
Isaiah unveiled the full dimension of God’s judgment and salvation. The judgment that was unleashed upon Israel and all who defied the deity of God is called, “The Day of the Lord.” The Kingdom of God on earth, with its Righteous Ruler and righteous people, is the goal the book of Isaiah moves towards. When the earth and the people are restored they will conform to the divine ideal of God’s purpose. This will result in the praise and glory of the Holy One of Israel.
The residence of Isaiah was in the Southern Kingdom of Judea and he makes it clear in his opening verse that the vision given to him by the Lord was primarily for them. In the first chapters of Isaiah’s book, he is giving an indictment to the Judeans for their abandonment of their worship of God and their worship of idols. Prior to this writing of Isaiah the Kingdom of Israel split into two Kingdoms. Ten tribes became the Northern Kingdom of Israel and two remained to become the Southern Kingdom of Judah. In the lifetime of Isaiah the main event which had an effect upon him was the loss of the ten tribes in the Northern Kingdom. This was caused by the rise of the Assyrian Empire and this plays a central part in the first part of this book.
Of this, the most important event in Isaiah’s future was the three stages of deportations of the Northern Kingdom. (Chapter 7-12) Israel was annihilated as a state. This is viewed by Isaiah from a complete Judean point of view the interaction of Assyria and Israel. As a result of this event the visions of Isiah concern Judah and Jerusalem. Therefore Isiah delivered his prophecies to the House of David in Jerusalem and gives a graphic description.
In Chapter eight Isaiah notes that the events of a few years will be marked and recorded by witnesses. In Chapter 13 Isaiah begins to give his prophecy in regards to the punishment of Judah and it is the same reason that God allowed the Assyrians to punish Israel. Isaiah gives the reason for the fall of Babylon prior to God’s use of the Babylonians to take the Judeans into captivity. The theme remains that even with the use of the Assyrians and the Babylonians to work God’s plan of chastisement will not remove the restored Zion from a faithful remnant.
We see that Assyria is an agent of Immanuel to purify the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Babylon is an agent to purify Judah. Once these two nations have served God’s purpose they will disappear from the pages of history. But, Israel and Judah will be restored to fulfill God’s purpose for them and their histories will continue. This final great result is given to us in Chapter two that every nation will learn of God from a restored Israel and Judah. (2:2)
From Chapter 2:2 Isaiah gives the reasons for punishment and exile through Chapter 5. Isaiah then follows in Chapter 6 with his call to the office of Prophet. He then follows that with the details of the Assyrian and Babylonian punishments. Entwined in these messages are messianic references that assure that the whole house of Israel has a glorious future beyond the tribulations that lay just ahead of them.
This continues until chapter forty there we see the physical details of the restoration of the nation. It is during this time that the Messiah will appear and establish Zion. In this section the details of the messianic period very clear about the person of the Messiah and His Kingdom.
These verses are an introduction to the conditions that will be the punishments on both Israel and Judah. Isaiah goes into greater detail in Chapter two and points to their chief sin idolatry.
This verse is a positive statement of what will happen and is not a may happen. Already at the writing of this prophecy, some of what Isiah was saying had already happened. This could be an introduction to the main theme in Chapter seven, which is the imminent destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians. It is probable that the tribes east of the Jordan were already in captivity at the time Isiah wrote this. In Chapters seven through twelve we will see that some of the cities of Judah will be overthrown by the Assyrians but Jerusalem was not captured. Neither were the cities desolated.
This was not so in the Northern Kingdom of Israel as some of their cities were desolated and remained in that condition for over two hundred years. The desolation of Judah was not caused by the Assyrians but by the Babylonians one hundred twenty years later.
Isaiah gives attention to the destruction of Israel first in chapters 7-12 and then speaks of the future destruction of Judah in chapter 13. Throughout these two events in Isaiah, the intermingling of messianic prophecies are given to produce contrast to what the Assyrians and the Babylonians will do to Israel. The contrast is what the Messiah will do to restore the whole of Israel as a nation.
“The daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard.” Understanding this line is important to the meaning of this verse. It is not that the daughter of Zion is left behind but that the daughter remains behind. “The Daughter of Zion” are those who believe and are the Zion of God. They are a minority and are earthbound but of the real physical nation of God’s people. It is also interesting that the Septuagint translation reads, “The daughter of Zion shall have been abandoned.” Could this mean that the abandonment of the true Zion was in the future to them? This may be so as the translators knew the same future abandonment of Zion of the natural nation joining the enemy as predicted by the Prophet Zechariah. (Zechariah 12:2) In Zachariah 11:14 we read that the covenant between Judah and Israel is broken. Judah the natural nation will be cut off from Israel. (Zion) This verse is a prediction that the true Zion will be rejected by its inhabitants as of lesser importance. It may be thought of as a Nazarene or Christian city. It is not really Jewish.
God Has Had Enough
“Unless the LORD of hosts Had left us a few survivors, We would be like Sodom, We would be like Gomorrah. Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah. “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.”
The empty religious observance of the people has become a burden to the Lord God. Does an offer to God without sacrifice show truth trust and faith in God? God had become bored with their meaningless rituals and festivals.
Isaiah preached to what seemed to be a very religious people. They fasted, said prayers, celebrated holy days, and brought their sacrifices to Jerusalem. Yet God rejected these practices. Why? These acts had value – the Lord Himself had prescribed them! Yet the people’s worship was not from the heart, and it was not accompanied by the personal holiness and social; justice that God requires. (Leviticus 19:13-17) The people of Judah had fallen into the trap of religious hypocrisy.
Religious hypocrisy can result from selective obedience, from lip service to God’s law without changes of heart and life to back it up. People who paraded their piety for others to see often have little desire to truly obey God. Many years after Isaiah, Jesus confronted this kind of hypocrisy in the Pharisees. He challenged them to be better doers of God’s whole revelation rather than just the parts that brought them acclaim. (Matthew 23:1-36) The Apostles Paul and James also distinguished between mere religiosity and true spirituality. (1 Corinthians 3:1-23; James 1:21 – 2:13) Instead, Jesus calls us to be authentic before God and with others, to obey His entire word, and to go beyond mere formalism and appearance in our devotion to God.
“So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”
Let Us Reason
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. “If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; “But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Zion Corrupted, to Be Redeemed
“How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers. Your silver has become dross, Your drink diluted with water. Your rulers are rebels And companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe And chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow’s plea come before them. Therefore the Lord GOD of hosts, The Mighty One of Israel, declares, “Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries And avenge Myself on My foes.”
The leaders and people of Judah through their rebellious living had become as adversaries of the Lord. Their actions we as if they were His enemies. This behavior was placing them in the path for God’s judgment. Instead of the Lord’s hand fighting for them, they would find the hand of the Lord against them. The Lord would take away the dross and alloy from them. As dross and alloy are impurities in metal God would take away the impurities in their lives. The picture is that God would turn up the heat and refine Judah taking away their impurities. The Lord’s goal is not to destroy Judah but to restore. God would purify Jerusalem to the point that they would be known as a righteous city and faithful city.
God will restore the judges as God’s redemption and restoration are done by Justice and righteousness. Zion is a word like Israel and can have different meanings depending upon the context that they are used in. Israel may mean the name of a man or a label for Jacob’s sons, and Israel can mean the whole of Israel the nation of twelve tribes or just the ten northern tribes. Zion has different meanings as well as a place in Jerusalem or the physical Jerusalem itself. Zion could mean the remnant nation of Israel or the perfected condition to what God’s people will come under the Messiah. Isaiah uses all of these meanings and the context he uses them in will determine which meaning he is using.
The oak trees are the sites if pagan worship which idol loving Judah had kept among them. When Zion is redeemed that will become ashamed of their former idol worship. It is good when one becomes ashamed of their former sinful ways. There is something wrong with one who is not ashamed by his sinful behavior. God has promised Judah He will give them shame and embarrassment over their sinful ways.
These trees played an important part in the Canaanite fertility cults. The oak and the terebinth trees may symbolize the death and rebirth of their gods. The gardens mentioned in these verses may be groves of trees and placed of sacred springs. The fading leaves and gardens of no water areas the spiritual dryness of Judah. Even as they practiced their religious activity they were spiritually dry. As the dry trees and the dry gardens so are the unrepentant, as they are ready for the fire of God’s refining judgment.