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Introduction to the Book of Isaiah

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

Interpreting OT Prophets How prophets see their future
Syria / Aram The Assyrian empire
The Babylonian empire Syro-Ephraimite war
Assyrian invasion - 701 BC Dates of kings of Judah and Israel
The fall of Satan? Introduction to Isaiah


I: Corruption of Judah (1:1-31) II: Sins of Judah (2:1 - 5:30)
III: Isaiah's Vision and Call (6:1-13) IV: Book of Immanuel (7:1 - 12:6)
V: Prophecies to the Nations (13:1 - 23:18) VI: The Day of the Lord (24:1 - 27:13)
VII: Folly of Trusting Egypt (28:1 - 33:24) VIII: The Choice: Desert or Garden (34:1 - 35:10)
IX: Historical Section - Assyria/Babylon (36:1 - 39:8) X: Book of Comfort - Introduction (40:1 - 66:24)
XI: Deliverance from Babylon by Cyrus (40:1 - 48:22) XII: Salvation through God's Servant (49:1 - 55:13)
XIII: Glorious Restoration of Zion (56:1 - 66:24)

Isaiah the prophet

Isaiah's name means 'Yahweh is Salvation', which is the most appropriate name to fit the overall message of the book.

He was raised up by God to be a prophet to Judah and Jerusalem, during the reigns of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah (1:1). He had a long ministry lasting at least thirty-nine years, from the death of Uzziah (740 BC), until at least 701, the year of Sennacherib's invasion of Judah. The fall of Samaria and exile of the northern kingdom of Israel (722/1 BC) occurred during the period of Isaiah's ministry. The last historical event in the book is Sennacherib's murder in 681 BC (37:38), so Isaiah may have lived into his eighties, and was a prophet for at least sixty years, but we have very few details of his life. Isaiah was a contemporary prophet with Micah, who also prophesied to Judah.

Isaiah was the son of Amoz (this is not the prophet Amos). Jewish tradition indicates that Amoz was the brother of king Amaziah, father of Uzziah, making Isaiah the cousin of Uzziah, and therefore part of the royal family. This would explain how Isaiah was able to have such easy access to King Ahaz and King Hezekiah. "Rabbi Levi said: This matter is a tradition that we received from our ancestors: Amoz, father of Isaiah, and Amaziah, king of Judea, were brothers." (Megilla 10b:13). "This matter is a tradition that we received from our ancestors: Amoz, father of Isaiah, and Amaziah, king of Judea, were brothers. This indicates that Isaiah was also from the house of David and therefore a descendant of Tamar." (Sota 10b:3).

He was married, and his wife is referred to as the prophetess (8:3), she may have had a prophetic ministry herself. They had at least two children, possibly three, who were signs and portents in Israel (8:18):
Shear-Jashub (7:3), meaning 'A remnant returns' - a prophetic sign of judgement and hope to the people.
Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:1), meaning 'Speed - Plunder - Haste - Booty', or 'the spoil speeds, the prey hastes' - a prophetic sign of God's judgement on the northern kingdom. Israel and Syria together had plundered Judah during the Syro-Ephraimite war, they in turn will soon be plundered by Assyria.

He was probably raised near Jerusalem and was certainly an educated man. Spending most of his life in Jerusalem, he had access to high priests (8:2) and to kings (37:1), including king Ahaz, who knew both Isaiah and his son, Shear-Jashub, and even knew the meaning and significance of the son's name. He was very aware of international and diplomatic events.

Jewish tradition from the 'Ascension of Isaiah' claims that Isaiah was martyred during the reign of the wicked king Manasseh, by being sawn in half with a wooden saw (Heb 11:37 may refer to this). The tradition says that he was hiding in a hollow tree, and the tree was sawn down with Isaiah hiding in it. This tradition was well-respected by some of the early Christian writers.

"On account of these visions, therefore, Beliar was wroth with Isaiah, and he dwelt in the heart of Manasseh and he sawed him in sunder with a wooden saw. And when Isaiah was being sawn in sunder, Belchira stood up, accusing him, and all the false prophets stood up, laughing and rejoicing because of Isaiah. And Belchira, with the aid of Mechembechus, stood up before Isaiah, [laughing] deriding; And Belchira said to Isaiah: 'Say, "I have lied in all that I have spoken, and likewise the ways of Manasseh are good and right. And the ways also of Belchira and of his associates are good." And this he said to him when he began to be sawn in sunder. But Isaiah was (absorbed) in a vision of the Lord, and though his eyes were open, he saw them (not). And Belchira spake thus to Isaiah: "Say what I say unto thee and I will turn their hearts, and I will compel Manasseh and the princes of Judah and the people and all Jerusalem to reverence thee. And Isaiah answered and said: "So far as I have utterance (I say): Damned and accused be thou and all they powers and all thy house. For thou canst not take (from me) aught save the skin of my body." And they seized and sawed in sunder Isaiah, the son of Amoz, with a wooden saw. And Manasseh and Belchira and the false prophets and the princes and the people [and] all stood looking on. And to the prophets who were with him he said before he had been sawn in sunder: "Go ye to the region of Tyre and Sidon; for me only hath God mingled the cup." And when Isaiah was being sawn in sunder, he neither cried aloud nor wept, but his lips spake with the Holy Spirit until he was sawn in twain. This, Beliar did to Isaiah through Belchira and Manasseh; for Sammael was very wrathful against Isaiah from the days of Hezekiah, king of Judah, on account of the things which he had seen regarding the Beloved. And on account of the destruction of Sammael, which he had seen through the Lord, while Hezekiah his father was still king. And he did according to the will of Satan." (Ascension of Isaiah 5:1-16)

Authorship of book

Traditionally, the book was written by Isaiah the prophet, son of Amoz. Some of the book is written in the first person (ch 6), other narratives are in the third person (ch 7). Some prophecies also involve the prophet himself (eg. 16:9, 21:3-4). The Jews, the New Testament authors and the early church without question always attributed the whole book to Isaiah. However, the authorship of Isaiah is one of the most controversial issues in Biblical scholarship, even among evangelicals.

It is very easy to notice the distinct changes in tone and themes from chapter forty, and again following chapter fifty-six. Each of the three sections also has some unique vocabulary and theological concepts.

Critics say that chapters 40-66 were written later, after the exile to Babylon. One of their main objections to the traditional view is that Cyrus, King of Persia is mentioned by name (44:28 and 45:1), 150 years before he lived, and that the exile is spoken of as a past event. They would date the second half after 539 BC.

Many scholars (probably the majority) suggest a division into two. This was first suggested by Döderlein in 1775:
First Isaiah (Chapters 1-39), otherwise called Proto-Isaiah, or Isaiah of Jerusalem
Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-66), otherwise called Deutero-Isaiah, or Isaiah of Babylon

Some scholars suggest a division into three. This was first suggested by Duhm in 1892:
Proto-Isaiah (chapters 1-39) (740 - 701 BC), known as Isaiah of Jerusalem
Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55), written during during the Babylonian exile, around 550 BC, also referred to Isaiah of Babylon
Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56-66), written after the return from exile, around 500 BC, also referred to another Isaiah of Jerusalem, a disciple of Deutero-Isaiah.

Both views would claim that only chapters 1 to 39 are by Isaiah the prophet, living in Jerusalem in the eighth century BC (700's). Some claim that only parts of chapters 1 to 39 are by Isaiah, particularly excluding the apocalyptic section (ch 24-27).

In both views chapters 40 to 66 are pseudonymous, written by some unnamed prophet (or group of prophets) who was a disciple of Isaiah, living in Babylon during the exile in sixth century (500's), and who could see Cyrus coming. Many scholars suggest there was a school of Isaiah, who continued to think and write in the style of Isaiah. However, there is no evidence for any such school existing. There is great disagreement between scholars, and the theories of authorship become more and more complex.

The presupposition of many scholars is that God cannot predict the future, they deny the supernatural, so they say the prophetic passages must have been written after the event.

Facts used to question single authorship

Chapters 40 to 66 are set in a completely different historical situation from chapters 1 to 39. Chapters 1 to 39 are set in the eighth century BC, with Israel and Judah still existing as independent nations, ruled by a Davidic king, but under threat from Assyria. Chapters 40 to 66 are set in the sixth century BC, towards the end of the Babylonian exile. Assyria no longer exists, and has been replaced by Babylon as world power. It is written from the perspective of seeing the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile as a past event. Jerusalem is in ruins (44:26), her people are far from home (eg. 43:14). The exiles are complaining about their situation (eg. 40:27). A new world power is rising - Persia, led by Cyrus (eg. 44:28).

Other prophets predict the future, but do not normally address their words to people who are living 150 to 200 years into the future, as chapters 40 to 66 do.

There are significant literary differences: chapters 1-39 are condemning and pessimistic, and this changes in chapters 40-66 to consolation and hope, where the language is more lyrical and exalted. There are also biographical differences: chapters 1-39 contain many biographical references to Isaiah personally, but he is not ever mentioned by name in chapters 40-66.

People have commented that if the two parts of the book were not placed together in the OT, probably no one would ever think they were written by the same author.

Problems with multiple authorship view

There is absolutely no evidence that any part of the book ever existed on its own. All manuscripts are of the complete book as we have it. The copy of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls contains the complete book. The passage we now call chapter forty continues without the slightest hint of a break from the passage we now call the end of chapter thirty-nine, two lines from the bottom of a column.

The book of Isaiah is quoted in the NT more than any other OT book. These quotations are from both parts of the book without any differentiation. John quoted from both parts of Isaiah (Jn 12:37-41), quoting Is 53:1 and 6:9-10 and attributing both to Isaiah. Mark quoted the prophet Isaiah (Is 40:3) in Mk 1:2-3. When Jesus read from Isaiah chapter 61 in the synagogue in Nazareth, Luke refers to the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, "He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him." (Lk 4:17).

Late dating cannot explain away the predictions of Jesus, five hundred years later (ch 7, 11, 53 etc), even though they may attempt to explain away predictions of Cyrus.

There are significant similarities in language, style and content in both halves of the book. The phrase 'The Holy One of Israel' is characteristic of Isaiah, found twelve times in chapters 1-39 and fourteen times in chapters 40-66, and only seven times in the whole of the rest of the Bible.

We are also left with the question of how would it be possible for what is normally considered to be the greatest of the OT prophets to be written by an unnamed person, unknown by the Jewish people descended from those he preached to?

Conservative scholars would say that to question the unity of Isaiah questions the accuracy and inerrancy of scripture, especially because of the quotation in John's Gospel referred to above.

Evidence for the unity of the Book of Isaiah

In response to the question about the difference in historical setting, if chapters 40-66 were written during the exile, it would defeat the whole purpose of the setting of the book. The change of viewpoint is precisely because the book is prophetic. Isaiah projected himself into the future, describing future events as if they had already taken place. The exile was predicted to show that God is superior to the other gods and is able to predict the future. Also, to prove to Israel that he is causing the exile, and that he is God. In chapter 41, there is a law-court scene. God challenges the nations to present their case, can they predict the future? "Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, so that we may consider them, and that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter; that we may know that you are gods ..." (41:21-23). Throughout the second section of the book, God repeats that he, and he alone, can predict the future, in complete contrast to the idols (45:20, 46:9-10, 48:3).

It is also significant to note that the description of idol worship in chapter 57 is that of pre-exilic Canaanite religion. This does not fit the situation in Israel after the exile, when idolatry was not a major issue any more.

In the Apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), the hymn in honour of our ancestors includes a description of Hezekiah and Isaiah: "Hezekiah fortified the city and brought water into its midst; he tunneled the rock with iron tools, and built cisterns for the water. In his days Sennacherib invaded the country; he sent his commander and departed; he shook his fist against Zion, and made great boasts in his arrogance. Then their hearts were shaken and their hands trembled, and they were in anguish, like women in labour. But they called on the Lord who is merciful, spreading out their hands toward him. The Holy One quickly heard them from heaven, and delivered them through Isaiah. The Lord struck down the Assyrians, and his angel wiped them out. For Hezekiah did what was pleasing to the Lord, and he kept firmly to the ways of his ancestor David, as he was commanded by the prophet Isaiah, who was great and trustworthy in his visions. In Isaiah's days the sun went backward, and he prolonged the life of the king. By his dauntless spirit he saw the future and comforted the mourners in Zion. He revealed what was to occur to the end of time, and the hidden things before they happened" (Ecclesiasticus 48:17-25). The author refers to passages in both parts of the Book of Isaiah, making no suggestion that it was a different Isaiah comforting his people, from the Isaiah who encouraged Hezekiah to trust God.

Historical background

Isaiah prophesied to Judah and Jerusalem during the reigns of (1:1):
Uzziah / Azariah (781-740) - a good king (2 Kg 15:1-7, 2 Chr 26)
Jotham (740-735) - a good king (2 Kg 15:32-38, 2 Chr 27)
Ahaz (735-715) - a very evil king (2 Kg 16:1-20, 2 Chr 28) and
Hezekiah (715-687) - a very good king (2 Kg 18 - 20, 2 Chr 29 - 32).

Isaiah was called to be a prophet (Is 6) in the year king Uzziah died (740 BC). Uzziah's reign had brought a period of stability and prosperity for Judah. During this time Samaria was deep in sin and rebellion in its final years as a nation. Also, Tiglath-pileser III rose to make Assyria the dominant world power from 745 BC. The time of Isaiah was the beginning of the period of world powers ruling the then known world, which continued until the birth of Jesus: Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome.

During Isaiah's ministry, Assyria was expanding westwards, conquering Syria and Israel and threatening the existence of Judah. Chapters 1-39 of Isaiah are set under Assyrian domination. Chapters 40-66 have a viewpoint of Judah already exiled in Babylon and looking forward into the future from then.

Events in Assyria

The period of Isaiah's ministry covered the years from 740 - 701 BC. This was the final period of Assyria's greatness, which was finished by the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC, and the final destruction of Assyria by the Medes and Babylonians in 609 BC.

Preceding this period of greatness, the Assyrian empire had been weak for seventy-five years (823-745), ruled by weak rulers. During this time, the neighbouring nations were relieved from Assyrian expansion and had a time of prosperity. Judah (under Uzziah) and Israel (under Jeroboam II) were strong and prosperous, living in peace (810-750) during a 'golden age'. However they were complacent, believing that they were living in God's blessings. The prophets, Amos and Hosea, challenged their religious apostasy, describing their idolatry as prostitution and adultery.

Kings of Assyria

Tiglath-pileser III (745-727)
His real name was Pul, but he took the throne name Tiglath-pileser, after one of the most powerful and warrior kings from the earlier part of Assyrian history. He usurped the throne and re-started Assyrian expansion and domination. He built his capital and palace in Calah outside Nineveh.

Shalmaneser V (727-722)
Conquered Syria, and invaded Israel, but died during the siege of Samaria

Sargon II (722-705)
Most barbarous and vicious, even hated by the Assyrians. Completed the siege of Samaria, and took the northern kingdom of Israel into exile.

Sennacherib (705-681)
Forty-six cities of Judah and 200,000 people were taken. He besieged Jerusalem in 701 BC, but failed to take it.

Significant dates

745 Accession of Tiglath-pileser III, Assyria again rises as world power
740 Death of Uzziah (Judah). Jotham becomes king. Isaiah's vision and call (ch 6)
739/8 Hamath subdued by Assyria
735 Ahaz becomes king of Judah. Syro-Ephraimite War: Israel (Pekah) allied with Syria (Rezin) against Judah (Ahaz). Ahaz called on Assyria for help. This is the setting for Is 7-12.
734 Tiglath-pileser III (Assyria) invaded Gilead & Galilee. Pekah (Israel) dethroned. Hoshea made king as Assyrian puppet. Judah becomes vassal of Assyria.
732 Fall of Damascus (Syria) to Assyria. Transjordan tribes: Reuben, Gad, and eastern half of Manasseh deported
727 Shalmaneser V becomes king of Assyria
727-722 Shalmaneser V blockaded Tyre
722 Siege of Samaria. Accession of Sargon II (Assyria)
721 Fall of Samaria (Israel) to Assyria, under Sargon II.
715 Hezekiah becomes king of Judah
711 Sargon II (Assyria) invaded Syria. Ashdod captured
709 Babylon captured by Assyria, Merodach-Baladan expelled
705 Sargon II (Assyria) murdered. Accession of Sennacherib
703 Sennacherib (Assyria) defeated Merodach-Baladan (Babylon)
701 Assyrian invasion Sennacherib (Assyria) invaded Phoenicia, Philistia and Judah (taking 200,000 people and 46 towns), Jerusalem miraculously delivered. The setting for Is 27-38.
687 Accession of Manasseh
681 Sennacherib (Assyria) assassinated (Is 37:38)

Invasions of Judah and Israel

734 First invasion of Judah by Tiglath-pileser III
732 Transjordan tribes: Reuben, Gad and eastern half of Manasseh deported by Tiglath-pileser III
722 Capture of Samaria and deportation of north and half of Benjamin, land repopulated with mixed races. Started by Shalmaneser, and finished by Sargon
701 Invasion of Judah - Sennacherib

The Theology of Isaiah

The book of Isaiah probably contains the most profound theology found in the OT, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the fifth gospel. The unity of its theological thought is powerful evidence for the unity of the book.

Isaiah is a book of contrasts, in which total opposites are brought together and seen in opposition to each other. He shows the great contrast between the greatness of God and the corruption of humanity. These include divine glory being contrasted with human degradation and sin, judgement and redemption, height and depth, and God’s wisdom contrasted with the stupidity of idols. Fertility, prosperity and abundance are contrasted with barrenness and desolation, a garden contrasted with a desert. Pride and arrogance are contrasted with humility.

These contrasts show the paradox that if humanity would lay aside its pretensions to deity, God will raise us to fellowship with himself. “For thus says the high and lofty one, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in Spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Is 57:15).

I. Isaiah’s portrayal of God

Many important aspects of Isaiah’s presentation of God are first seen in his initial vision of God and call to be a prophet (ch 6). This experience certainly shaped his ministry and message.

Isaiah gives a magnificent portrayal of the wonder, grandeur, power and majesty of God.

Isaiah first saw God ‘high and lifted up’, and ‘the whole earth is full of his glory’ (6:1,3). The powerful empire of Assyria is merely a tool in God’s hand, ‘the rod of his anger’ (10:5). Even without his knowledge, Cyrus the Great of Persia is fulfilling God’s instructions and his conquests are only for the sake of his servant Israel (45:1-5). For God, the nations are like a drop from a bucket (40:15). Compared with God, mighty Babylon has to sit in the dust (47:1f). Heaven is God’s throne, and the earth is his footstool (66:1).

God is the all-powerful Creator, and therefore the Lord

One of the strong themes of Isaiah is that the God of Israel is the Creator of the universe. Isaiah has more references to God the Creator than any other book in the OT. They are found particularly in the second part of the book. If he is the Creator, then he is all-powerful, and he is the Lord of the earth, the supreme ruler, sovereign over all the nations. Because he is the Creator, he is superior to any world ruler, and in a totally different category from them. Because he is in control of creation, he also has the power and authority to act in judgement and destruction.

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create a chaos he formed it to be inhabited)” (45:18). In this one verse, Isaiah uses all three Hebrew words for creation. The first is bara - to create. In the OT only God creates, no one else is able to create out of nothing. The other two are yatsar - to form, and asah - to make.

He brings out the host (stars) and numbers them, none are missing because of his strength (40:26). Because he is the everlasting creator, he gives strength to the weary, so those who wait on him will rise up like eagles (40:28-31). He created the heavens, spread out the earth, gives breath to those who walk on it (42:5). He is the creator of Israel, as well as their king and their redeemer (43:1,15). God is the maker of the skies, and of Israel so earthen vessels should not strive with their potter.

God also reveals himself as the Creator to Cyrus, the heathen Persian king. He says this to Cyrus: "I form light, and create darkness ... I the Lord do these things" (45:7). "I made the earth, and created humankind on it, it was my hands that stretched out the heavens and I commanded all their host" (45:12). As Creator, he has roused Cyrus to set his exiles free (45:13).

He reminds Israel that he is the Creator, who laid the foundation of the earth, and spread out the heavens (48:12-13). He comforts Israel, urging them not to fear a mere human being, and not to forget their maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth (51:12- 13). Israel’s maker is their husband, and their redeemer (54:5).

Isaiah’s message is that if we humans could catch a glimpse of God’s true greatness and glory as the Creator, the human problem would begin to be solved, which is a timeless message for all generations.

Because God is the Creator, he has the power to make predictions come to pass. He is in control of the whole world, and will bring all things to a conclusion. “For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth ... Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating, for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy” (65:17-18).

God is holy

Isaiah’s most frequently used description of God is ‘The Holy One of Israel’ (used 29 times through the book). Again in his call to be a prophet, Isaiah realised the total otherness of God. God is of a completely different order from his creatures, described by him being high, or removed from the world. God was “high and lofty” (6:1). He calls his people to let God be their dread and fear (8:12-13). Assyria haughtily lifted their eyes against the Holy One of Israel (37:23). God asks, “Who is my equal? ... Lift your eyes on high and see” (40:25-26). “As the heavens are higher than the earth, my ways are higher than your ways” (55:8-9).

No one else has the right to be called Holy, except the Lord, the Creator of the earth. The seraphim call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts ...” (6:3). People will look to their maker, the Holy One of Israel, not to idols (17:7). He asks, “Who is my equal?” and “Lift up your eyes, who created the stars?” (40:25-26). “I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (43:15). “The Holy One of Israel, and its maker” (45:11). “Your maker is your husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called". (54:5).

God is holy ‘otherness’, being set apart from creation by his moral and ethical perfection. Before a holy God, Isaiah saw he was unclean, defiled and corrupt, like the rest of his people. They were morally filthy before the morally pure (6:5). “The Lord of hosts is exalted by justice and the Holy God shows himself holy by righteousness” (5:16).

God’s holiness, perfection and purity is seen in contrast to the corruption of his people. Their sins and corruption are an insult against the nature and holiness of God: The sinful nation had forsaken the Lord, and despised the Holy One of Israel (1:4). The adulterous and impure city, full of injustice will face the wrath of the Sovereign, Lord of hosts, Mighty One of Israel (1:21-24). The anger of Lord is against those who call good evil, and evil good (5:20), and those who reject the word of the Holy One, trusting in oppression and deceit (30:12).

Because God is majestic and all-powerful, he is infinitely superior to any idols. Hence worshipping idols is an offense to God. Trusting in religious activity is also an offense against God’s holiness. Participating in both of these effectively bring God down to the level of any other god. God hates and is offended by empty religiosity (1:11-15). Ritualistic hypocritical fasting is also rejected by God (58:1-5).

When people fail to trust in God and turn to religiosity, the result is arrogance and faithlessness. Pride is one of the main themes of Isaiah, and one of the major sins that the prophet speaks out against. The pride of everyone will be brought low, Lord alone will be exalted (2:11,17). There is a great contrast drawn between the faithlessness of Shebna, and the faithfulness of Eliakim (22:15-25). It is fools that speak error concerning the Lord and oppress the poor (32:5-7).

Because God is faithful, and he alone is their maker, and he will always do what is right, he can be trusted to redeem. Isaiah brings together the Creator, the Holy One of Israel and their redeemer. His redemption is an expression of his holiness. “Israel will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel” (10:20). “Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel” (41:14). The Lord who created you, and has redeemed you has also called you by name (43:1). God introduces his words describing himself as, “Your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator of Israel” (43:14).

The Lord will redeem those who are humble, not those who are proud. “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (29:19). The nations will bow down in the city of the Holy One of Israel (60:14).

Refusing to trust God is a denial of his holiness. His rebellious children are rebuked for rejecting the word of the Holy One (30:11) and trusting in Egypt rather than looking to the Holy One of Israel (31:1).

God is contrasted with idols

Because God is great, and he alone is holy, the worship of idols is the uttermost stupidity. Isaiah uses great sarcasm in his description of idol worship. How foolish is it to use half of a tree to burn to cook food, while worshipping the other half (44:9-20). Worshipping idols is described as bowing down to the work of their hands, which they have made themselves to worship (2:8,20).

The worship of idols is linked with a desire to magnify human beings (pride), but in reality only show the helplessness of humanity before God (2:6-22). Idols cannot explain the past (41:22), and cannot predict the future (41:23, 47:12-15), or affect the present (45:20-21). Only God can do all three of these. Idols did not create the world, so they do not control the world. They do not transcend the world, but are merely part of it. Therefore they cannot control destiny, but are helpless in the flow of events. In contrast, God is separate from his creation and not controlled by it. Therefore God is qualified to be its maker, sustainer, director and judge. God can explain the past and foretell the future (41:26-29, 44:7-8, 45:21, 46:10, 48:3-6).

Because idols are part of creation, they are powerless to do anything, like delivering Israel from exile. They are bound by natural cycles, and therefore merely repeat them. In contrast, God is free to do anything, including new things, which achieve his sovereign purposes (42:8-9, 43:18, 46:11, 48:6-8).

Much of this criticism of pagan idols is made in chapters 40-66. There is implicit comparison with idols in chapters 1-39, which becomes more explicit in chapters 40-66, where it becomes a major theme. In a world full of idolatrous worship, any statement of the sovereignty of God is an implicit criticism of idols. Brief criticisms of idols can be found in chapters 1-39 (eg: 2:8,20, 17:7-8, 30:22, 31:7, 37:19).

God is the sovereign ruler of history

Again in contrast to the idols, God has plans and purposes for humanity, centred around his people Israel. God has plans to break the power of Assyria in the land (14:24-27). God also has plans to act against Egypt (19:12), and plans to defile the pride of Tyre (23:8-9). God is praised for the plans he formed of old (25:1). God planned the Assyrian invasion from days of old (37:26). God as the potter, making clay vessels (45:9-11). The Lord created the earth and formed it to be inhabited (45:18). God also plans to call a bird of prey from the east, Cyrus (46:10-11).

God’s plan for history will come to a climax as all the nations come to a purified, redeemed and glorified Zion, where they can share in the divine character. The mountain of the Lord’s house will be raised up so all nations will come to it (2:1-5). The whole earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord (11:9). The Lord will swallow up death forever, wipe away tears, and the disgrace of his people (25:7-8). He declares that your light has come, the glory of Lord has risen, and nations come to the light (60:1-3).

However, the historical events of Isaiah’s time seem to contradict the idea of God’s sovereign control of history, as first Israel and then Judah are overrun by pagan armies, and become part of an idolatrous empire, firstly of Assyria, and then of Babylon. Isaiah’s message is that even these pagan empires are under the control of Israel’s God, even if they do not acknowledge him. Mighty Assyria is merely a tool in the hand of Yahweh (10:5). Cyrus is the unknowing instrument of redemption (45:1-7). Pagan nations are accountable to Yahweh, and will come under his judgement (ch 13-23).

In contrast to the popular understanding that battles between nations were a contest between their gods, Isaiah sees that God is the Only God, transcendent from the world, who directs all things. So therefore, the issue is not conflicts between different gods, but human rebellion against a sovereign God. God is the Only God, there is no other God besides him (26:13, 44:8, 45:14,22) God is transcendent from the world. He calls people to hide from the terror of the Lord, and glory of his majesty (2:19). Isaiah sees God as high and lifted up (6:1-3). The Egyptians and their horses are flesh, while God is spirit (31:3). God asks who is my equal, and who created the stars? (40:25-26).

Isaiah’s message to Israel and Judah, is that their God is no regional god, but the Creator God, sovereign over all nations. Their nation is not the not the only place where God is working, but Zion is the place of God’s throne, and the nations will stand before him.

Isaiah’s understanding of humanity and the world

Isaiah brings the correct balance in the understanding of humanity, where the world tends to go to one of two extremes. Either humanity is seen as the ultimate reality, the measure of all things, or otherwise humanity is nothing, with no meaning. Similarly the world is either made god, the spring of life, the mother of all, or otherwise is merely a collection of random forces.

Isaiah makes a connection between these two contradictory viewpoints. If we assume the universe and humanity is ultimate, experience proves the opposite. Instead of being the ultimate, humanity experiences death and its transitory life. Values which are admired the most, such as love, justice and peace, are those which are the most denied in actual practice. The pride, wealth and strength of Jacob which they trust in, will be brought low (2:6-22). The pride of Babylon will be brought low (14:4-21). The boasting of Chaldea in their security comes to nothing (47:5-15). God breaks down all pretensions, boasting and pride. If people or nations try to build themselves up while ignoring God, then their attempts are doomed to failure. The harder we try to make ourselves special, the more like nothing we become. God is too real to be excluded.

Only as God is given his true significance, will humanity and the world find any significance. The result of ignoring God is to reduce man and the world to insignificance. Isaiah consistently gives humanity and the world great significance. Only when the Lord, the Creator is exalted as the Holy Lord does the universe become a place of value and significance. Humans have value because God chooses to make them reflections of his glory and to share his holy character. All failures and atrocities are the results of a refusal to let God be Lord. When we give God his proper place, then we receive redemption, exaltation and glory.

Humans claim to achieve things, but their works are destructive (eg 1:2-8). When we admit our helplessness before God, we are able to achieve great things in his strength.

Related articles

Interpreting OT Prophets How prophets see their future
Syria / Aram The Assyrian empire
The Babylonian empire Syro-Ephraimite war
Assyrian invasion - 701 BC Dates of kings of Judah and Israel
The fall of Satan? Introduction to Isaiah


I: Corruption of Judah (1:1-31) II: Sins of Judah (2:1 - 5:30)
III: Isaiah's Vision and Call (6:1-13) IV: Book of Immanuel (7:1 - 12:6)
V: Prophecies to the Nations (13:1 - 23:18) VI: The Day of the Lord (24:1 - 27:13)
VII: Folly of Trusting Egypt (28:1 - 33:24) VIII: The Choice: Desert or Garden (34:1 - 35:10)
IX: Historical Section - Assyria/Babylon (36:1 - 39:8) X: Book of Comfort - Introduction (40:1 - 66:24)
XI: Deliverance from Babylon by Cyrus (40:1 - 48:22) XII: Salvation through God's Servant (49:1 - 55:13)
XIII: Glorious Restoration of Zion (56:1 - 66:24)

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John


Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?
Paul and the Greek Games

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS