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Isaiah—the man and his prophecy By Dean L Anderson Introduction During this session we will take a closer look at: The historical setting for Isaiah The content of Isaiah’s prophecy New Testament references to Isaiah The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah and its significance for us today Parts of Isaiah from our worship services The historical setting for Isaiah The first verse of Isaiah identifies the author and gives us the place and general time of his ministry: “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Isaiah’s ministry was limited to Judah and Jerusalem from about 760 to 680 BC. The prophet Micah was his contemporary. As God’s messenger to Judah, his focus was on the affairs of Judah, so he does not mention the Northern Kings of Israel. During the early part of Isaiah’s ministry, both the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel enjoyed peace and prosperity. Military success brought optimism, confidence, economic prosperity and luxury. It also led to disinterest in spiritual matters, formalistic worship, and a reliance on foreign alliances instead of the Lord, their God. Most of Isaiah’s biography is linked to his official duties in the royal court. We do know, however, that he was married and had two sons. His wife is referred to only as “the prophetess” (8:3), and little likewise is known about Isaiah’s father, Amoz (not to be confused with the prophet Amos). However, according to Jewish tradition, Amoz was the brother of King Amaziah which would make Isaiah a cousin to King Uzziah. This might explain why we find Isaiah present in the royal courts of Ahaz and Hezekiah. He’s even named as court historian for both Uzziah and Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles. Isaiah’s name means “the Lord is salvation,” and is certainly fitting given the content of his prophecy with its many Messianic passages. Since we do not know many details about Isaiah’s personal life, “Isaiah the man fades into the background in order to give the message the Lord revealed to him center stage.” The content of Isaiah’s prophecy Down through the centuries, Christians have found the message of Isaiah to be filled with hope and comfort, and have rejoiced in its many Messianic passages like 7:14: “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” or Isaiah 9:6,7: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” or Isaiah 52:7-10 which is often read for mission festivals: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” . . . “The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” And of course, who can forget Isaiah’s Messianic vision of our suffering Savior in 52:13 through 53, where we hear words like: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” For us the message of Isaiah is Christ, but for the people of his day, Isaiah’s message was given to confirm the Jewish people in their unbelief and their rejection of the Holy One of Israel. When God appears to Isaiah and commissions him for his ministry (chapter 6), he tells him in no uncertain terms: “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.” (verse 10) Isaiah’s work was to harden the hearts of God’s impenitent people since they had rejected the grace of God. Thus the beautiful promise of Immanuel, born of a virgin, did nothing at all for wicked King Ahaz. It only succeeded in making his stony heart even harder. Another good example of this can be seen in chapter 28 where Isaiah describes how the drunken priests and prophets mocked his message. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah proclaim God’s judgments upon Judah and Jerusalem and the surrounding nations, ending with the Assyrian invasion of Judah and Hezekiah’s prayer for deliverance, which was granted. However God then foretells the Babylonian captivity of the Jews from Judah and Jerusalem. The final section (40-66) is a message of comfort and consolation for God’s people, lest those who are still faithful to the Lord loose heart. We can outline the content of Isaiah as follows: I. Woes and Judgments (Chapters 1 thru 39) Prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem (1:1-12:6) Oracles announcing judgments on various nations (13:1-23:18) Prophecies of God’s judgment upon the earth (24:1-35:10) Transition: Isaiah closes the book on Assyria and introduces Babylon (36:1-39:8) II. Comfort and Consolation (40:1-66:24) The sovereign Lord will rescue his people from Babylon (40:1-48:22) The Lord’s Servant will redeem his people from sin (49:1-57:21) The Lord promises his new Zion (Jerusalem) eternal glory (58:1-66:24) “The outline seems to imply that the first part of the prophet’s message is only law and little gospel while the second part is gospel and little law. Yet even a casual reading of either section reveals that God announces both law and gospel in both parts of Isaiah. The division is only one of emphasis. “When Isaiah writes in the first chapter: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (verse 18), that is pure sweet gospel. “Isaiah begins the second portion of his book with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (40:1). But again and again the last portion of the book announces the Lord’s terrible judgment on the wicked—a message of harsh and terrifying law. The sovereign Lord stands behind both messages. Again and again, by inspiration of God, Isaiah says, “This is what the Lord says.” The prophecies are sure and certain because the Lord says them.”1 1From People’s Bible commentary on Isaiah 1-39, pp 13-14. While chapter and verse divisions are not inspired, it’s rather interesting to note that the chapters in Isaiah mirror the books of the Bible. There are 66 chapters in Isaiah, like the 66 books of the Bible. The first section covers 39 chapters, like the 39 Old Testament books, while the second section covers 27 chapters, like the 27 New Testament books. That being said, we now turn our attention to the New Testament references to Isaiah. New Testament references to Isaiah There are more than 60 New Testament references to Isaiah. Most of them occur in the Gospels (especially Matthew) and in Paul’s letter to the Romans (especially chapters 9 and 10). References from chapters 40 and 53 are cited most frequently, although there are also many references from 24 other chapters of Isaiah. Probably the most familiar New Testament references are the ones we often hear at Christmas like: Mt 1:23 reference to Is 7:14: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.” or The reference from Is 40:3 applied in Mt 3:3 to John the Baptist: “A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” In the Gospel of Matthew Reference Mt 1:23 Mt 3:3 Mt 4:14-16 Mt 8:17 Mt 12:17-21 Mt 13:13-15 Mt 15:7-9 Mt 21:13 Mt 24:29 Isaiah passage 7:14 40:3 9:1,2 53:4 42:1-4 6:9,10 29:13 56:7 13:10; 34:4 Comment "the prophet" "the prophet Isaiah" "the prophet Isaiah" "the prophet Isaiah" "the prophet Isaiah" "the prophecy of Isaiah" "Isaiah . . . Prophesied" "it is written" no introduction In the Gospel of Mark Reference Mk 1:2,3 Mk 4:12 Mk 7:6 Mk 9:48 Mk 11:17 Mk 13:24,25 Mk 15:28 Isaiah passage 40:3 6:9,10 29:13 66:24 56:7 13:10; 34:4 53:12 Comment "written in Isaiah the prophet" no introduction "Isaiah . . . prophesied" no introduction "is it not written" no introduction "the scripture . . . which says" In the Gospels of Luke & John Reference Lk 3:4-6 Lk 4:17-19 Lk 8:10 Lk 19:46 Lk 22:37 Jn 1:43 Jn 6:45 Jn 12:38 Jn 12:39-41 Isaiah passage 40:3-5 61:1-2 6:9 56:7 53:12 40:3 54:13 53:1 6:10 Comment "the words of Isaiah the prophet" "the place where it is written" no introduction "it is written" "it is written" "the words of Isaiah the prophet" "written in the Prophets" "the word of Isaiah the prophet" "as Isaiah says elsewhere" In the Book of Acts & Romans Acts 7:48-50 Acts 8:32,33 Acts 13:34 Acts 13:47 Acts 28:25-27 Ro 2:24 Ro 3:17 Ro 9:20 Ro 9:27,28 Ro 9:29 Ro 9:33 66:1,2 53:7,8 55:3 49:6 6:9,10 52:5 59:7,8 29:16; 45:9 10:22,23 1:9 8:14; 28:16 "as the prophet says" "this passage of Scripture" "stated in these words" "what the Lord has commanded" "Isaiah the prophet" "as it is written" "as it is written" no introduction "Isaiah cries out" "just as Isaiah said" "as it is written" Romans continued Ro 10:11 Ro 10:15 Ro 10:16 Ro 10:20 Ro 10:21 Ro 11:8 Ro 11:26,27 Ro 11:34 Ro 14:11 Ro 15:12 Ro 15:21 28:16 52:7 53:1 65:1 65:02:00 29:10 59:20-21; 27:9 40:13 49:18; 45:23 11:10 52:15 "as the Scriptures says" "as it is written" "for Isaiah says" "Isaiah boldly says" "he says" "as it is written" "as it is written" no introduction "it is written" "Isaiah says" "as it is written" Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrew, Peter 1 Co 1:19 1 Co 2:9 1 Co 2:16 1 Co 14:21 1 Co 15:32 1 Co 15:54 2 Co 6:2 2 Co 6:17 Ga 4:27 He 2:13 1 Pe 1:24,25 1 Pe 2:6 1 Pe 2:8 1 Pe 2:22 1 Pe 3:14 29:14 64:4 40:13 28:11,12 22:13 25:8 49:8 52:11 54:1 8:17,18 40:6-8 28:16 8:14 53:9 8:12 "For it is written" "as it is written" no introduction "In the law it is written" no introduction "the saying that is written" "for he (God) says" "as God has said" "For it is written" "He (Jesus) says . . And again" no introduction "for in Scripture it says" no introduction no introduction no introduction You may have noticed that there are no actual quotes from Revelation, but there are many allusions to Isaiah throughout St. John’s vision. For example: Revelation 19:13, 15b “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood. . . He treads the winepress of the wrath of God Almighty.” Isaiah 63:2-3 “Why are your garments red, like those treading the winepress? I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments.” Another example is the reference to the new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21: Revelation 21:1 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” Isaiah 65:17 “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Another good example occurs in the epistle lesson for Good Shepherd Sunday from Revelation 7:9-17. Revelation 7:16-17 “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them,nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.” Isaiah 49:10 “They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.” The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah & its significance for us today “Over the centuries, thousands of scribes were very careful in preserving the vision of Isaiah, as well as the words of other holy writers. The Dead Sea Scrolls testify to the message of Isaiah. Several copies of Isaiah’s prophecy were included among the ancient scrolls discovered in the Judean desert. These Hebrew copies are centuries older than the copies previously used by scholars. Yet those copies are remarkably the same as the text of Isaiah that generations of believers had read before their discovery.”2 2From People’s Bible commentary on Isaiah 1-39, page 24. Almost all modern English translations of the Old Testament are based on a single manuscript—the Leningrad Codex, copied in 1008 or 1009 AD. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, it was our earliest complete example of the traditional Hebrew Bible, or Masoretic Text. The Masoretes were a group of scholars from the eighth century onward who maintained traditions for copying the biblical text (the Masoretic Text) for scholarly use. Earlier scholars who had maintained these traditions and were concerned with preserving the correct form of the Biblical text were called scribes. The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah is a much earlier copy of the Biblical text. Most scholars agree that the scrolls found at Qumran were copied from about 250 BC to 68 AD, when the Romans destroyed the community’s settlement as they swept through Palestine on a campaign that included the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The text of the Isaiah Scroll is generally in agreement with the Masoretic text, although it contains many variants readings and corrections that are of great interest to scholars. Most of the variants are relatively minor, involving scribal copying errors, differences in spelling, the forms of names, the use of plural versus singular, and changes in word order, to name a few. However some of the major variants have helped to shed light on various passages from the Masoretic Text of Isaiah that have been difficult for us to understand. For example, in Is 53:11, the Masoretic Text reads: “He shall see the travail of his soul; he shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” (KJV) However, in three of the Dead Sea Scrolls of Isaiah, there is the additional word light, shedding light on the meaning of this passage, which the NIV translates: “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” Because of the notable change in tone and subject matter between Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah 40-66, “Many biblical scholars doubt that the same prophet wrote the entire prophecy. Some suggest that one prophet wrote the first 39 chapters and another the last 27. Others suggest that two writers wrote the second 27 chapters—one of hem writing chapters 40 to 55 and another writing chapters 56 to 66. The arguments these scholars marshal in defense of their position are not very persuasive. We believe that one writer wrote the entire prophecy. “The great Isaiah scroll, discovered among the other Dead Sea Scrolls, does not divide the scroll as if two authors wrote the text. Chapter 39 ends one line from the bottom of a column. Chapter 40 begins on the last line of that column without any indication of a break. Clearly the religious community that copied the manuscript did not consider Isaiah to be the product of two writers but one.”3 3From People’s Bible commentary on Isaiah 40-66, page 5. Parts of Isaiah from our worship services Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we sing the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) which is based upon the song of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:3. In addition, many of our hymns are also based upon various portions of Isaiah, especially during Advent and Christmas. For example: Comfort,Comfort All My People (Hymn 11) is based upon Isaiah 40:1-8. Hark the Glad Sound, the Savior Comes (Hymn 66) is based upon Isaiah 61:1,2. Arise, Shine in Splendor (Hymn 81) reflects many of the thoughts and images from Isaiah 60:1-4. The People that in Darkness Sat (Hymn 90) is based upon Isaiah 9:2, 6. Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted (Hymn 127) is based upon Isaiah 53:4. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty (Hymn 195) is based upon Isaiah 6:3. Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old (Hymn 267) is based upon Isaiah 6:1-4. There are also many hymns that allude to certain words or phrases from Isaiah like: Hymn 325 (How Blest Are They Who Hear God’s Word) where one stanza reads: “They have the oil of gladness to soothe their pain and sadness”—a direct reference to the “oil of gladness” that is mentioned in Isaiah 61:3. Another beloved hymn that reflects imagery from Isaiah is On Eagles Wings (Hymn 440). The refrain “And he will raise you up on eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand” is based upon Isaiah 40:31: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” “Prepare the way before him, prepare for him the best. . . Make straight, make plain the way; the lowly valleys raising, the heights of pride abasing, his path all even lay.” from verse two of Arise, O Christian People (Hymn 14) reflects the imagery of Isaiah 40:3: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord . . . Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Every hymn where “Immanuel” is mentioned, especially Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel, likewise brings to mind Isaiah’s words in 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” In conclusion Isaiah certainly has found a special place in the hearts of New Testament Christians. Not only does Matthew quote Isaiah in connection with the virgin birth of Jesus, but the writers of the New Testament quote this book more often than any other single Old Testament book, not to mention the many allusions to Isaiah in the Book of Revelation. What’s more, Isaiah gives us one of the most detailed descriptions of our Savior’s vicarious suffering and death in Is 52:13 through 53:12, which is the standard Old Testament reading for Good Friday. As Christians, how can we not thank and praise the Lord for preserving the rich comfort and beauty of Isaiah’s message down through the ages for the strengthening of our faith today.