Author and His Times
Isaiah prophesied 740-687 B.C. primarily to Judah, yet also in part to Israel. Isaiah was in the royal court of Judah, or at least had access to it. Some believe Isaiah to be King Uzziah’s cousin; C. Hassell Bullock thinks he was a scribe. Isaiah’s ministry probably concluded with King Manasseh sawing him in two.
Israel falls to Assyria during the first third of his ministry. Judah’s challenge is to learn from Israel’s destruction before theirs comes at the hands of Babylon. Presenting problems include 1) not trusting YHWH, 2) idolatry, 3) social injustice. See Micah for more contemporary information.
Authorship Debate: Chapters 1-39 prophecies during the dominance of Assyrian rule (before Ezekiel and Jeremiah). Chapters 40-66 delivers prophecies to the later portion of Judah’s 70 year exile under Babylon (events after Ezekiel and Jeremiah). Persia is emerging as the world power during this time.
Isaiah’s prophecy covers 240 yeas, a time span too great for one person to live within. Differences in literary style, tone, vocabulary, and theological emphasis may indicate a second author. The fact that Cyrus, King of Persia, is mentioned by name suggests a second author at a latter time, or a very detailed revelation to the original author. The repeat use of the expression “Holy One of Israel” (12 times in 1-39, 14 times in 40-66, only 6 times in the rest of the OT), and 25 other Hebrew word/word forms uniquely expressed in both sections of Isaiah suggests unified authorship. Unified themes point to unified authorship. Perspective changes between the two are justified by the varying circumstances: oncoming judgment vs. oncoming restoration from the judgment.
Theories in favor of unified authorship:
- Prophets had the ability to see future events with such certainty that they could present them in the past tense.
- Although noticeably distinct, there is no basis for limiting an author to one writing style.
Theories in favor of dual authorship:
- Isaiah had a young apprentice who penned second Isaiah under his name.
- Someone studied first Isaiah well enough to make a continuation of his work.
The simple version is to divide (1-39), (40-54), (55-66). The more detailed version is…
I. (1-39) Trust vs. Exile
a. (1-6) YHWH’s Complaint Against Judah & Isaiah’s Call (Idolatry and injustice are introduced. Isaiah has a vision in the temple where he falls before YWHW as though dead, yet is touch and commissioned to prophesy to a blind and deaf people)
b. (7-12) Ahaz Trust Crisis (King Ahaz turns to Syria/Ephraim Coalition for protection against Assyria instead of YHWH. The lack of trust from Ahaz and Hezekiah kingship becomes Isaiah’s lead in to introducing the True King). Key passages on the coming King: 7.10-16, 9.1-7, 11.1-10)
c. (13-27) YHWH’s Complaint Against the Nations
d. (28-39) Hezekiah Trust Crisis (Hezekiah listens to Isaiah by trusting YHWH and receiving deliverance from Assyria, yet fails by later giving his trust to Babylon)
II. (40-66) Restoration
a. (40-48) Consolation and Exhortation toward Exile Restoration (Israel is reluctant to leave Babylonian captivity)
b. (49-55) Suffering Servant bringing Salvation (some texts point to Jesus as the suffering servant, others leave room for a corporate interpretation of Judah playing this role). Key sections on the Suffering Servant: 42.1-9, 49.1-7, 50.4-11, 52.13-53.12.
c. (56-66) Present Failure & Zion’s Future Glory (Condemns corrupt leaders, idolatry, and injustice, yet also inserts a message of salvation to the humble and the glorious rallying of all nations at Zion).
Isaiah’s prophecies have noteworthy theological comprehensiveness – God as creator, sovereign, redeemer, and holy (other than all else). Isaiah contains more material on the incarnation and sacrifice of the Messiah than any other Prophetic book. Only the Psalms receive more New Testament quotations than Isaiah.
How to Read It
Look for the theology (what we can learn about God). In the midst of condemning Judah and the nations, also look for the message of Judah’s restoration, and the inclusion of all nations in salvation. Be ready for poetical styles. Be ready for the historical and stylistic leap after chapter 39.