Book of Isaiah Intro
Recommend Commentary – New International Commentary on the OT by John Oswalt
One of the most important books of the Bible, definitely most theological book of OT.
Theological book. Themes – many contrasts – divine glory vs human degradation, judgment vs redemption, God’s wisdom vs the stupidity of idols, abundance vs barrenness, arrogance vs humility.
Context – Assyrian crisis
Israel is the northern kingdom and Judah the southern. To the West, you have the Great Sea and Egypt. And to the Northeast and East, you hae Assyria, Babylon and Persia.
Isaiah is Interconnected
Isaiah is a book that connects much of the other books of the OT. For example, 2 Kings 18 mentions King Hezekiah and Asyrian Sennacherib.
Ezekiel and Jeremiah lament the future destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent Babylonian captivity and the prophesies continue during the early exile period
And the following books of the Bible came to us from this time — Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Malachi.
- Isaiah lived from 740-681 BC (Micah lived from 735-700 BC; Hosea lived from 750-715 BC)
- Chapters 1-39 – these can be tied to historical events – Assyrian captivity, Babylon and Persia are prophesied about
- Chapters 40-66 – these chapters are not tied to historical events
- 735-715 BC – Ahaz – wicked king of Judah. His reign lasted from 735 – 715 BC. He took the throne at the age of twenty (2 Kings 16:2). He is said to have given himself up to a life of wickedness, introducing many pagan and idolatrous customs (Isa. 8:19; 38:8; 2 Kings 23:12). Perhaps his wickedest deed was sacrificing his own son, likely to Rimmon; he also added an idolatrous altar into the Temple (II Kings 16). He ignored the remonstrances and warnings of the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah, and appealed to Tiglath-Pileser III, the king of Assyria, for help against Rezin, king of Aram, and Pekah, Prince of Israel, who threatened Jerusalem.
- 720 BC – The Assyrians under Sargon II completed the defeat of the Kingdom of Israel (Northern Kingdom), capturing Samaria after a siege of three years and exiling the inhabitants (Israel never was restored). Hezekiah was king of Judah at the time. His reign has been dated from 715 – 687 BC or 716 – 687 BC. Whereas Ahaz had been firmly pro-Assyrian, Hezekiah was firmly anti-Assyrian. The Bible depicts Hezekiah as a good king, one who sought to purge the land of idolatry and the temple of paganized worship.
- 701 BC – Hezekiah ruled during the invasion and siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib of Assyria. Between the death of Sargon, and the succession of his son Sennacherib, Hezekiah sought to throw off his subservience to the Assyrian kings. He paid tribute to Assyrian king, Sennacherib, so that they would not destroy Judah and to maintain the peace. Later, he switched alliance from Assyria to Egpyt. He ceased to pay the tribute imposed on his father, and “rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not,” but entered into a league with Egypt (Isaiah 30-31; 36:6-9). Despite this new alliance, Egypt did not come to Judah’s aid as Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah (2 Kings 18:13-16 -701 BC).
- 609 BC – Babylon/Persia defeated Assyria
- 586 BC – destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon (Southern Kingdom). The Babylonian captivity, or Babylonian exile, is the name typically given to the deportation and exile of the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BCE.
- 537 BC – Persia under Cyrus overthrew Babylon. The reign of Cyrus lasted twenty nine to thirty years. Cyrus built his empire by fighting and conquering first the Median Empire then Lydian Empire and the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Edict of Cyrus allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem and even contributed imperial funds for this undertaking. More than 40,000 returned, as noted in the Biblical accounts of Ezra, and Nehemiah. After the death of Cyrus in 530 BC, Darius consolidated power and took office in 522 BC. His system divided the different colonies of the empire into easily manageable districts overseen by governors.
- Zerubbabel became governor of Judah under Darius. He led the first band of Jews, numbering 42,360, who returned from the Babylonian Captivity (Ezra); Zerubbabel was probably born about 20 years into the captivity. Zerubbabel means “Son of Babylon” so Zerubbabel’s name is more evidence that Zerubbabel was born in Babylon during the captivity of Judah. Unlike the Assyrians/Babylonians, the Persian Empire went to great lengths to keep “cordial relations” between vassal and lord. The rebuilding of the temple was encouraged by the leaders of the empire in hopes that it would strengthen the authorities in local contexts. This policy was good politics on the part of the Persians, and the Jews viewed it as a blessing from God. Efforts to rebuild the temple ceased due to Samaritan influence.
- 520 BC – 20 years later – Haggai and Zechariah restarted the work. Haggai – Scarcely anything is known of his personal history. He may have been one of the captives taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. He began his ministry about sixteen years after the return of the Jews to Judah (ca. 520 BCE). After having been suspended for eighteen years, the work was resumed through the efforts of Haggai and Zechariah. They exhorted the people to take advantage of the change in the policy of the Persian government under Darius the Great.
- Zechariah – Zechariah is specific about dating his writing (520-518 BC). Rebuilding of the temple during Zechariah’s ministry took place during the reign of Darius the Great (Zechariah 1:1). He was contemporary with Haggai in a post-exilic world after the fall of Jerusalem in 586/7 BC. Ezekiel and Jeremiah wrote prior to the fall of Jerusalem, while continuing to prophecy in the earlier exile period. Scholars believe Ezekiel, with his blending of ceremony and vision, heavily influenced the visionary works of Zechariah 1-8. During the Exile many Jews were taken to Babylon, where the prophets told them to make their homes (Jeremiah 29), suggesting they would spend a long period of time there.
- 516 BC – work was finally completed, but it was no match for Solomon’s temple and it never captured the imagination of the Hebrew people as the former had done. The people of God were teetering on the brink of extinction because the Persian assimilation tactics had been so successful. Into that context, Ezra and Nehemiah came upon the scene 75 years later and that is when the people regained a sense of national identity as the people of God.
- 459 BC – Ezra was a Jewish priestly scribe who led about 5,000 Israelite exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem.
- Ezra and Nehemiah succeeded in establishing the post-exilic Jewish community.
- 445 BC – Nehemiah – He arrived in Jerusalem in and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem
- The date at which the book was written was probably about 431 – 430 BC. Nehemiah lived during the period when Judah was a province of the Persian Empire having been appointed royal cup-bearer at the palace of Shushan. Primarily by means of his brother Hanani, (Neh. 1:2; 2:3) Nehemiah heard of the mournful and desolate condition of Jerusalem, and was filled with sadness of heart. The king, Artaxerxes I (Artaxerxes Longimanus), appears to have been on good terms with his attendant, as evidenced by the extended leave of absence granted him for the restoration of Jerusalem. Since the initial attempt to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem had stopped, this was the second attempt and this time it was successful. (Indicating the close tie with Ezra, Nehemiah is sometimes called the Second Book of Ezra.)
- 445 – Malachi – 400+ years of silence before the coming Messiah
Although the prophets urged the people of Judah and Israel to see their exile as punishment for failing to uphold their covenant with Yahweh, it was not long after they had been restored to the land and to Temple worship that the people’s commitment to their God began, once again, to wane. The book of Malachi was written to correct the lax religious and social behavior of the Israelites – particularly the priests – in post-exilic Jerusalem.
The Kingdom of Judah (also known as the “Southern Kingdom”) was created in c. 930 BCE on the split up of the United Monarchy. David was made king over the tribe of Judah as early as 1007 BCE, and the Davidic line was followed by Judah for over 420 years, until the Kingdom fell in 586 BCE to the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar.
Prior to the return, the northern Israelite tribes had been taken captive by Assyria and never returned, leaving the survivors of the Babylonian exile as the majority of the remaining Children of Israel.
When the Israelites returned home, they found a mixture of peoples, the Samaritans, practicing a religion very similar, but not identical, to their own.
Although there are many other conflicting theories about the Samaritans’ origins, many of them may have simply been Israelites who remained behind and thus had no part in the sweeping changes of the Israelite religion brought about among the captives. Alternatively, perhaps the fierce purity of the Jewish religion and cultural identity of the Babylonian Jews returning from exile, seventy years after their deportation, completely eclipsed the partial fate of the mixed group of Israelite survivors, who had practised paganism for hundreds of years in Israel (including the worship of a golden bull), and who had inter-married with the peoples sent into the territory by the Assyrians (a practice strictly forbidden by Mosaic laws, and punished by Nehemiah).
This explains the Jewish hatred of the Samaritans. Imagine the clash of these jealous exiles returning home and these Samaritans.
Group of zealous Jews led by Zerubbabel and the high priest Jeshua (Ezra 2-3) returned to Jerusalem – 50,000 in total.
They were fueled by idealistic vision of “the promised land” and an intention to purge their religion of those errors which had landed them in exile in the first place.
Returnees begain work on the second temple in Jerusalem but they abandoned the work because of a loss of interest and people ended up just trying to survive.
Blamed Samaritans – intermarriage and syncretism.
20 years later – Haggai and Zechariah restarted the work.
516 BC – work was finally completed, but it was no match for Solomon’s temple and it never captured the imagination of the Hebrew people as the former had done.
The people of God were teetering on the brink of extinction because the Persian assimilation tactics had been so successful. Into that context, Ezra and Nehemiah came upon the scene 75 years later and thats when the people regained a sense of national identity as the people of God.
More than one author – Ch 1-39, ch 40-66, seems like it is written by 2 different authors
4 voices, 3 Isaiahs – First, Second and Third Isaiah
One author – not enough evidence to conclude that more than one author was involved
Collection of sermons, reflections – no need to assume materials are laid out in chronological order.
Different styles are evoked by different subject matters (new revelations), different periods of life.
Same thing in Rev, Eze 37-48, Dan 7-11, Zech 8-13
The Assyrians were a ruthless people and typically when they conquered another nation, they would scatter the leaders of each conquered nation, so that it would be harder to revolt.
And to keep the peace, Assyria would bribe the soldiers of the conquered nations to become traitors. Ironically, the conquered nations like Israel had to pay money regularly to their Assyrian oppressors to fund this army of traitors. Just imagine your good friend and neighbor who you just had over for dinner is now being employed by the Assyrians to be a soldier to oppress you. And you have to pay him out of your own pocket.
Babylon continued the Assyrian policy of deportation in which the leadership of a conquered nation was exiled to some distant land where they would be less inclined to foment rebellion
For Persians, when they conquered a nation, their goal was assimilation. The king of Persia, Cyrus thought, why should I cause the people I conquer to hate me so he instituted a new foreign policy?
– granted exiles the right to return home
– offered imperial funds for the rebuilding of national shrines
Problem is obvious – Israelites began looking favorably upon their oppressors which led to syncretism, or the the combining of various faith traditions, which was a trend already present in the ancient Near East.
3 groups: 1) cared deeply about God and the relationship of Judah to him, 2) those who cared about religion, 3) didn’t care. This last group were the ones who were interrymarrying and who encouraged a relaxation of ceremonial laws.
PART ONE: CH 1-12
Quote by John Oswalt, p. 60
“Perhaps better than any other single biblical book, this one reveals the name and the nature of the God who invites us to be his servants. He is holy, he is just, he is steadfast love. He is glorious, he is terrible, he dwells with the lowly and contrite. He is faithful, he is forgiving, he demands perfection. He is passionate, both in loving right and hating evil. He calls us to lay aside our independence and trust in him, for he has chosen us and redeemed us in Christ and will empower us to be like himself.”
Central theme – nature and destiny of the people of God
Theme/summation of Isaiah’s theology – God alone is truly glorious, to seek significance elsewhere is to invite destruction
What does the Messiah look like?
“Servant of the Lord” – ch 40-55 – appears 20 times. Isaiah 53 – does it refer to Jesus? Yes, it does. But we shouldn’t forget that we too have a role to be a servant that suffers for the sake of the nations. To pin everything on Jesus is to take the easy way out. When we fail, we can excuse ourselves and say, well, we are not the true servant of God. That is true, Jesus is the Servant with a capital “S.” Isaiah 53 speaks both about Jesus and the nation of Israel/people of God.
Jesus is the Suffering Servant. But also Israel must suffer to become a godly servant of God.
How can Israel be servants of God to the nations? Through the Servant Jesus — 54:7-8 – Israel can become light to the nations – 55:4-5
Overarching theme – servanthood. God of impossibilities – to transform us into servants
And we are to live out this presence of God on the stage of human history – church
Why does this seem like and impossible task?
Tendency to trust nations instead of God. Recurring emphasis upon trust. Trust in human power as exemplified in the nations is foolish whereas trusting in God is wise. God’s triumph over Assyria is the culminating proof of that power.
Through inspired revelation by God, Isaiah already knows that the kind of trust he is calling for will not be realized until the fires of the Exile has purged the idolatrous Israelite heart.
Quick Overview by Section
- PART ONE – Ch 1-12
- Ch 1-5 – set forth the problem
- Ch 1 – this people became destroyed and corrupted
- Ch 2 – the people of God are called to be a manifestation of the glory of the only God in the universe; its calling can be summed up in one word – servanthood
- Ch 6 – solution of the problem – vision of the Holy One
- Ch 9-11 – Messiah
- Ch 11-12 – God will redeem
The book answers the question – how can a sinful, corrupt people become servants of God?
Ch 49-55 – Israel’s servanthood is achieved through the Servant (Jesus is the ideal Servant).
Climax – revelation of God’s glory through his people in ch 66.
Detailed Study and Personal Application Ch 1-12
Huge contrast between God and his people but remember his impossible task of making us true servants reflecting the character of Jesus, our model Servant
How God is described
- 6:1 – God is high and lifted up
- 6:3 – Holy One and the whole earth is full of his glory
- 45:1-5 – Assyria is only a tool and Cyrus is an errand boy
- Nations of the earth are but a drop in the bucket – 14:22-23; 40:15, 21-23; 47:1-4
- 2:6-22 – “I AM” before whom idols fade to nothingness
- Greatness – not only in his power but also in his ability to stoop – 9:5-6; 11:1-9; 40:10-11; 57:14-15
Our problem – inability to glimpse the true picture of God’s glory
Holy One – portrait of ethical and moral perfection
Not finite ones before the Infinite God, but a better description is the morally filthy before the Morally Perfect God.
References to moral failings of the people — lying, stealing, oppression, murder (1:4, 21-23; 5:20; 9:16-17; 10:4, 30:12).
This is how Isaiah frames this first section — this huge gap between God and his people but his vision to close that gap.
So I have one thing that we can know about God and one methodology that he uses to accomplish his goal of making us servants of God.
First Lesson about God: The justice of God
Chapter 1 begins with God’s anger with empty religion. 1:11. What is wrong with their version of religion? 1:16-17. Absence of justice.
1:17 – justice – connotation of helping those who are suffering. God cares for strangers, outcast, helpless. And his people must be like this, too.
Not only justice, but Isaiah pairs justice and righteousness in 5:7 – justice and righteousness not found. Again in 9:7 justice and righteousness – political and economic connotation.
Righteousness – we typically think of it in terms of having a right relationship with God, but in Isaiah, righteousness refers more to morality and ethics.
The phrase Holy One of Israel and Isaiah’s call shows not the awesome holiness or awesome of God but the emphasis is on the uncleanliness of Isaiah and his people (6:5-6). Isaiah is not crushed my his finitude, but by his uncleanliness.
Uncleanness of lips – refers to the expression of their lives. Clean lips would utter constant praise to God. His lips nor the people’s lips belong to God. And if lips are the expression, the heart and will which drive the lips do not belong to him.
A firey coal is used. Fire can destroy but if used temporarily, fire can cleanse.
So Isaiah and his people need to be cleansed from lips that praise but theses are empty rituals because there is no justice and no righteousness. The lack of righteousness means they need to be cleansed ethically or morally.
But a big part of their lack of moral righteousness and their need for cleaning is the absence of justice toward others.
That is why justice and righteousness are paired.
Isaiah is making the point that to God personal worship and devotion to God is insufficient. After all, the point of forming a people of God separate from the other nations is so that they can become a servant for the nations, that all would have a chance to believe.
Personal righteousness results in just action toward others as a witness to God’s character.
Justice – 2 extremes
1) Christian church – personal sin is all that matters, turn a blind eye on actual physical oppression
2) Liberation theology – only sin is the sin of political oppression
Absence of shalom between God and humans is sin. Platonic distribution – “real” spiritual world and the “unreal” physical world. Revelation – Second Coming – heaven coming down on earth smashes that artificial distinction that we create.
Goal – living in a way that points to or reflects what this new heaven and earth, new kingdom of God will be like.
Application: first, consider if our faith in God translates into righteousness (morally upright) and justice (outward acts of concern for those who are oppressed and impoverished).
Second, what is God’s methodology? This may be the hardest part to swallow.
What is judgment? Withdrawal of God’s protection and gracious influence.
Assyrians – instruments of punishment to accomplish God’s sovereign will.
- God was behind Cyrus the Persian declaring all exiles of the former Babylon empire free to return – 44:21-45:7
- Cyrus – instrument of redemption – 45:1-7
- Judgment is a vehicle for redemption – **4:2-6
- Judgment takes many forms – natural disaster, military defat, disease, all these are from the hand of God – 43:27-28
God is active in history. God’s purpose – much larger than short-term victory or defeat – God’s sovereignty extends even to pagan nations. In addition, judgment comes to us individually but also as a group of believers, or the church.
Application: when bad things happen to you personally, what is your thought process?
Are you angry with God? Do you say, oh well, that’s some bad luck? Or maybe you have some theology worked out that God would never want bad things to happen to his people so that event or that person is just a product of a fallen world.
I think God makes it clear that he often judges us to get our attention, that we may inquire of him and repent.
What about when bad things happen at your church or to a member of your church, do you receive it as God’s message for you? What about when God judges your community or its leadership, what is your reaction?
God does punish individuals, esp those in spiritual leadership because they are supposed to set the standard. But more often, the pattern in Scripture is that he judges a community. For us, each church is like a modern day Israel. We shouldn’t be surprised that churches have problems and that God often judges His church to get us straightened out.
We must remember, God is merciful. His judgment will not last forever. We must continue to trust. And have faith. And we must never lose sight of the goal — to be a servant for the nations. Judgment is like a firey coal that God uses. It’s painful. But it can cleanse us.