Introduction to Isaiah

By James M. Rochford

Picture6The book of Isaiah is the third longest book in the entire Bible (third only to Jeremiah and the Psalms).[1] It is also the book most quoted OT by the NT authors. In fact, 194 NT passages quote from Isaiah, citing or alluding to 54 of the 66 chapters of the book.[2] Some scholars have referred to it as the “fifth gospel,” because it gives us such unique information about the person of Christ.

Who was Isaiah?

Isaiah may have been an aristocrat, because it was easy for him to speak and have access to the kings of Israel (Isa. 7:3; 37:21–22). At the same time that Isaiah was serving as a prophet, Amos and Hosea prophesied in the North, and Micah prophesied in Judah. Isaiah prophesied almost exclusively in Jerusalem, over at least a 34 year span.

He served through the reign of King Uzziah (~740 BC) until the reign of King Hezekiah (~716-687 BC). Uzziah’s reign was peaceful, because the Assyrians were dormant at this time. Yet three kings (e.g. Shalmaneser, Sargon II, and Sennacherib) were more ambitious in attacking Judah. The Jewish kings had to deal with these military forces, and Isaiah served as a spiritual counselor to multiple kings throughout this turbulent period in Israel’s history. Because of Isaiah’s influence, the southern kingdom (Judah) lasted a full 100 years longer than the northern kingdom (Israel).

Audience

Isaiah’s audience was primarily Judah and Jerusalem (1:1). However, he also addresses the surrounding Pagan nations (see chapters 13-23, 46-48). During the time that Isaiah wrote this book, Assyria was in power, reigning from 900 to 609 BC. As you read about Assyria picture the Nazi’s of World War II, looming over the horizon. John Oswalt writes, “The nation of Assyria was the single most prominent force, both politically and militarily, in the ancient Near East.”[3] It’s easy for the reader to trust in God when reading the book, but picture yourself there at the time. It would have been frightening to trust God through this era of history, as the fiercest army known to man was ready to invade borders of Israel.

Isaiah 1-35. In 745 BC, Tiglath-Pileser II rises to power in Assyria, destroying Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel (722 BC—an important date to commit to memory). To live in the southern kingdom at this time would be comparable to sitting in Great Britain in World War II just after Hitler invaded France. You would know that war was coming, and it would only be a matter of time before the enemy soldiers were at your borders.

Isaiah 36-39. These chapters form an “interlude” to the book between God’s judgment on his people and his later rescue.

Isaiah 40-55. These chapters describe the great lengths God will go to reach his people. His solution? God decides to raise up the Babylonian Empire to punish Assyria (ch. 45), and his Servant to rescue Israel and all people (chs. 42, 49, 50, 53).

Isaiah 56-66. These chapters focus on the blessings of God. Amillennials believe this section is entirely about eternity in heaven, while premillennials are split on how to interpret it: Portions may refer to heaven or the future millennial kingdom (cf. Rev. 20).

Important kings during this period

As you read the book of Isaiah, you should already have read 1 and 2 Kings, which are a parallel account to the history here. For readers familiar with the NT, the book of Acts is a long history of the early church, while Paul’s epistles are letters mentioned in that historical book. Similarly, the prophets unpack parallel accounts and “behind the scenes” events not explicitly mentioned in the historical account of 1 and 2 Kings. Three kings are notable in the book of Isaiah:

Uzziah (Isa. 6). He reigned for a long time until (740 BC). His reign is described in 2 Kings 15:1-6 and 2 Chronicles 26. He was threatened by Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria (a powerhouse, military nation).

Ahaz (Isa. 7). Ahaz’s reign is difficult to date, but it is somewhere around 740 BC. Ahaz needed to fight against Damascus and Syria. These nations wanted to dethrone Ahaz and put a puppet emperor on the throne. Ahaz was thinking, “I should go to Assyria for help with fighting Syria!” But this would be similar to the men of Rohan asking Mordor for help in fighting the orcs. While Sauron could definitely help, he’s even worse than the orcs. Assyrians impaled people, left decapitated heads on spikes, and hooked rings in the noses of their prisoners, leading them around by the nose. Isaiah defends the thought of turning to Yahweh for help instead.

Hezekiah (Isa. 36-39). He is a good king. Read 2 Kings 15-21 and 2 Chronicles 26-33 for a good background of the history at the time.

Themes in Isaiah

There are many themes throughout the book of Isaiah. Oswalt describes Isaiah as “a modern symphony, with themes appearing and reappearing in fascinating harmony.”[4] While we enjoy this book for its diffuse spectrum of themes, this also leads to the difficulty in interpreting it. Here are a number of themes that are important to note:

God is HOLY. Isaiah stresses the holiness of God, his judgment for sin, but also his forgiveness. The term for holiness (qāḏôš) is “used of God more frequently than in all the rest of the Old Testament taken together.”[5] In fact, it is used twenty-five times in Isaiah compared with only seven in the rest of the entire OT.[6]

God knows THE FUTURE. Avraham Gileadi writes, “What distinguishes this and every major literary structure of the Book of Isaiah is that the end is foreseen from the beginning. One cannot, therefore, treat separately the parts from the whole, as scholars have done, or the message is lost from view.”[7]

God is greater than the NATIONS and IDOLS. In particular, chapters 40-48 explain the futility of turning to idols. Ahaz’s failure to trust God, and Hezekiah’s success in trusting God serve as object-lessons of this fact.

God’s PLAN is eventually spiritual in nature. The book of Isaiah shows the inability for Israel to save herself from her physical enemies, because they were faithless. This leads to two object lessons on how kings will (e.g. Hezekiah) or won’t (e.g. Ahaz) follow Yahweh. God tells us that the nation (and the world) will eventually be saved after the Exile (ch.40) through the work of his Servant (chs.42, 49, 50, 53). This shifts into God’s rescue for all people in a spiritual sense (chs.55-66). Of course, these chapters are debated (does it refer to the millennium or heaven?), but we think these best fit with the millennium, but the point is that the rescue of the nation of Israel results in worldwide spiritual salvation through God’s servant: Jesus Christ.

Suggested teaching outline

Read “Introduction to Isaiah” and “Authorship of Isaiah”

Read “Understanding the Prophets” and “Understanding Hebrew Poetry.” Use this material to interpret Isaiah 1-2 (Israel is NOT God’s Servant)

Isaiah 6 (Isaiah’s Calling)

Isaiah 7-8 (Ahaz’s Failure)

Isaiah 9-11 (God’s Plan of Redemption)

Isaiah 13, 24-27 (Judgment and God’s Kingdom)

Isaiah 37-39 (Hezekiah’s Success—Make sure to compare Hezekiah with Ahaz)

Isaiah 40-48 (Pick important passages—The theme is “The Great Deliverance of Israel”—Emphasize how God is going to rescue his people through King Cyrus)

“The Servant Songs” (Read these passages and ask: “What can we learn about the Servant from these passages?”) Read “The Servant Songs” for yourself if you want commentary on these passages for yourself as the teacher.

Isaiah 55-66 (“The Greater Deliverance” This explains God’s complete spiritual deliverance through Christ, to all people in the future millennium and New Heaven and New Earth)

Isaiah 1-5 (Israel is NOT God’s Servant)

Chapters 1-5 were placed here to show that Israel is not God’s Servant. Despite God’s work in the Exodus, they have been calloused and hardened by sin and unbelief.

Isaiah 1

(1:1) Isaiah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah. This is during the divided kingdom period in Israel’s history.

(1:3) This is a case of intensification. It moves from “knowing” to “understanding.” The first implies ignorance. The second implies an action of the will.

(1:5) This is bad because it hurts us (Prov. 8:36).

(1:7) There is intensification from “country” to “cities.” There is repetition of “foreigners” devouring the city.

(1:8) The symbolism of the “booth in the vineyard” could be (1) that a tent in the middle of a field is lonely or (2) that a tent in the middle of a field is temporary. In both ways, Israel represents both during the exile.

(1:9-10) The Jewish people are being compared to Sodom and Gomorrah! This would really drive home the point that they are utterly depraved and worthy of judgment.

(Isa. 1:11) Do we need Temple sacrifices or not?

(1:11-13) The people continue to bring sacrifices before the Temple, but God is disgusted because they refuse to change. He hates their religious observances (v.13) without heart change. Leviticus uses the term “abominations” often to refer to immorality and impure worship.

(1:14) He hates these things from the bottom of his soul.

(Isa. 1:15) Will God answer prayers or not?

(1:16) One of the false-beliefs of sin is that we believe God isn’t looking.

(Isa. 1:17) Could Israel clean up their act, or did they need divine aid?

(1:22) Metallurgists purify silver and gold by heating it intensely. When heated, dross floats to the top, and they skim it off. The “dross” is the impure portion of the metal (cf. v.25).

(1:29) Motyer comments, “Oaks and gardens are the symbols of the life of ‘nature’ and of the fertility gods. Ashamed and disgraced convey more the thought of disappointment than of mere embarrassment, hence ‘reaping shame’ rather than just ‘feeling ashamed’.”[8]

Isaiah 2

(Isa. 2:1-22) Does this passage refer to the millennium or not?

(2:1) Isaiah repeats his name in this passage probably to connect his authority over the contemporary predictions in chapter 1 with his future predictions in chapter 2.

(2:2) The mountain of the Lord is Zion (Jerusalem). All of the nations flock to Jerusalem (v.3). This section of Isaiah is almost exactly word for word with Micah 4:1-4. Since they both ministered at the same time, it’s difficult to see who was copying from whom. Most likely, Isaiah wrote this first (according to Motyer), because he was ministering under the earlier attack of Assyria (ch. 1-37).

(2:4) There will be world peace during this time.

(2:6-8) Isaiah gives the reasons why God is sending Israel into the Exile.

(Isa. 2:9) Should we forgive others or not?

(2:10) The people will hide in the rocks to escape judgment (cf. v.19; Rev. 6:16-17).

(2:14-15) Intensification.

(2:19) God is the true king who deserves to reign in Israel (and on Earth).

(2:20) Their idols, their gold, and their silver are worth and will burn.

Isaiah 3

(3:1) God is starving out their supplies by using the enemy nations to siege them.

(3:2-3) He seems to be lumping diviners and magicians (who deserve death via Deuteronomy 18) with normal professions and people. The point is that all the people are guilty.

(3:4) The top level people will be ruled by the most incompetent people (infants). This is role reversal.

(3:6) Everyone and anyone should be competent enough in life to own a cloak. This is the person who gets to lead, but they’re leading a pile of burning buildings.

(3:10) With all of this fighting and judgment, the righteous probably wonder if they are going to suffer judgment, too. This really contrasts well with the justice against the wicked.

(Isa. 3:12) Why is it wrong for women to rule over the nation of Israel?

(3:13) God isn’t just the judge of Israel, but all “nations” (plural).

(3:14) The leaders are more responsible than the people.

(Isa. 3:18) Does this mean that women should not wear makeup and jewelry?

(3:25) Even the John Rambo and Navy Seals of Israel will be taken down.

Isaiah 4

(4:1) During this warfare, men will be scarce, because they all died in battle. Since there are so few men left, women will withstand polygamy just to have the support of a husband.

(4:2) The branch of the Lord is mentioned again in 11:1.

(4:3) A remnant will still persist in Israel.

(4:5-6) This is Exodus imagery. God is saying that he is going to be present with them just like in the old days. The Jews traveled in tents (or “booths”).

Isaiah 5

(5:1) God is singing over Israel. Remember: Jesus used the imagery of a vineyard owner and a vineyard as well (Mt. 20). In his parable, Jesus says that the people rejected the prophets of the vineyard and killed the owner’s son.

(5:5) The vineyard didn’t produce fruit (similar to Jn. 15).

(Isa. 5:11) Is it right or wrong to drink alcohol?

(5:12) One of the reasons people feel the need to turn to carnality is because they don’t reflect on God’s love and goodness toward them.

(Isa. 5:14) What is Sheol?

(5:26) God is going to use the nations to perform his judgment.

Isaiah 6: Isaiah’s Calling

(Isa. 6:1) Why does Isaiah’s calling occur in the sixth chapter?

(6:1) Uzziah reigned for a long time until (740 BC). His reign is described in 2 Kings 15:1-6 and 2 Chronicles 26. Thus Isaiah became a prophet as this king died. But who did he see? John tells us that he saw Jesus (Jn. 12:41). Motyer notes that Isaiah sees many characteristics of a kingly throne room “but the Lord is not described.” This is interested to note, because other Pagan prophets would go into great detail to describe their deities—but not Isaiah.

The expression “high and exalted” is used of the Servant (Jesus) in 52:13 and God himself in 57:15. Also John writes that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory in this setting (see John 12:38:41), after quoting from Isaiah 53:1 and Isaiah 6:9. Some commentators also see God’s use of the plural first person pronoun (“Us” v.8) to refer to the Trinity.

Isaiah’s mention of the “temple” is interesting in light of the fact that the Temple was going to be destroyed shortly. God was still meeting with Isaiah—even though he was abandoning the nation.

(6:2) There are many different types of angels recorded in the Bible. Seraphim (from the Hebrew word “to burn”) are only mentioned in this passage.

Why are they covering their faces? The context (verse 1 and verse 3) they are emphasizing God’s holiness and transcendence. But why are they covering their feet?

(6:3) The Hebrews would repeat something in order to express how important it was. For instance, Jesus commonly said, “Truly, truly, I say to you…” We might say, “I’m really, really angry with him!” Similarly, Genesis 14:10 literally says “pits, pits” but is translated “full of pits,” and 2 Kings 25:15 literally says “gold, gold” but it is rendered “pure gold.”

His glory fills the whole Earth.

(Isa. 6:5) Why does Isaiah emphasize his unclean lips?

(6:5) Isaiah realizes his brokenness and sinfulness. The context of this chapter is given in light of the five chapters of judgment that the nation of Israel deserves. Isaiah realizes that he is part of the nation! So he realizes that he too deserves judgment—just like them (“I live among a people of unclean lips”). He can’t praise God like the angels, because he’s too sinful.

Peter, Job, and John all had this reaction to God’s calling.

(6:6-7) What is the symbolism of the burning coal and the altar? In the Levitical law, God commanded that a constant fire should burn on the altar (Lev. 6:12-13). This was the place where God would forgive the people’s sins (Lev. 17:10-11). This makes sense of verse 7, which states, “Your sin is forgiven.” Isaiah’s confession and need for grace comes before this act (v.5).

The very thing that Isaiah thought was most sinful about himself (his lips) is the very thing he uses to speak for God. He puts his sin up on the altar (actually, God took the coal of his altar to his lips), and then God transforms it and uses it.

(6:8) What a powerful verse on the balance between the indicatives and imperatives! Isaiah is forgiven big time, and now, he wants to serve big time!

God doesn’t force us to do his work. He calls and we have the decision to choose and respond to it.

Isaiah doesn’t make any conditions on his service. He just volunteers to serve without conditions.

(6:9-10) What a commission! God tells him to speak to people—even though they knew they weren’t going to respond. Later in the book, we discover that God told Isaiah to walk around completely naked, so that the people would see this as an object lesson for how God was going to deport the Egyptians completely naked (Isa. 20:2-4).

(Isa. 6:9-10) Did God not want them to repent?

(6:11-13) When would his commission be over? When the city of Jerusalem is in ruins (v.11), the people are deported (v.12), and everything is burned to the ground (v.13). This occurred under the Assyrians (2 Kin. 17) and finished by the Babylonians (2 Kin. 24-25).

(6:13) Even though this looks gloomy, God had a plan of restoration in order. Like a tree stump that grows a sprout, the nation would come back alive after being chopped down. This is unpacked in Isaiah 11:1 (“Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit”). This could also be a reference to the remnant of people who will return with him (Isa. 41:8; 43:5; 45:25; 53:10; 59:21; 65:9, 23; 66:22). Isaiah had already predicted that the people of Israel would all be called “holy” (Isa. 4:3).

Application

Isaiah didn’t feel like he needed to have success in his ministry. Because of the grace of God, he could serve without conditions.

It’s interesting to see how personal God is with Isaiah. Even though he’s vastly transcendent, he also stoops down to Isaiah’s level and works with him. We feel times like this when God is asking us this question: Whom shall I send?

We have a choice. God won’t force us to serve. He asks us. Will you step forward to lead for God?

Am I willing to follow God regardless of results?

Isaiah 7-8 (Ahaz’s Failure)

 

Isaiah 7

(7:1) Rezin is the king of Aram. Pekah is the king of Israel in the North. They have teamed up against Ahaz the king of Judah in the South. Judah is terrified at this!

Ahaz’s reign is difficult to date, but it is somewhere around 740 BC. Ahaz needs to fight against Damascus and Syria. These nations want to dethrone Ahaz and put a puppet emperor on the throne. Ahaz thinks, “I should go to Assyria for help me with fighting Syria!” But this would be similar to the men of Rohan asking Mordor for help in fighting the orcs. While Sauron could definitely help, he’s even worse than the orcs. Assyrians impaled people, left decapitated heads on spikes, and hooked rings in the noses of their prisoners, leading them around by the nose. Isaiah defends the thought of turning to Yahweh for help instead.

Why does Isaiah mention that these kings “could not yet mount an attack against it”? He is giving us the divine perspective for this narrative, so we know who to root for from the beginning. It’s kind of like using DVR to record a football game, but a friend already told you that your team won. When you watch the game, it’s hard to be worried for your team when you know the outcome.

Ahaz was a wicked, evil, and godless king! 2 Kings 16:2-4 states, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his father David had done. 3 But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out from before the sons of Israel. 4 He sacrificed and burned incense on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.”

(7:2) Syria and Ephraim teamed up to take down Israel. The imagery of trees shaking is evocative. Ahaz was shaking in his boots!—we might say. Isaiah notes that this was a direct attack on the “house of David.” Remember: the messianic promise had to come through one of David’s descendants, so this was an attack on God’s promise.

(7:3) God sends Isaiah and Shear-jashub in to counsel Ahaz, and remind him that God would protect him. The Hebrew names were like Native American names today; they had meaning. Shear-jashub means “a remnant will return.”

(7:4) What does Isaiah mean by “these two smoldering stumps of firebrands”? He is saying that these two “powerful” nations are really like burned up stumps. They make a lot of smoke, but their fire is out! No need to panic. They are all bark, and no bite.

(7:6) Who is the son of Tabeel? We’re not certain. Grogan writes, “‘Tabeel’ may be Aramean, the LXX spelling, (ṭābeʾal, lending support to this. In this case he was probably the nominee of Rezin.”[9]

(7:8) Isaiah predicts that these nations will be taken down in 65 years. God is demonstrating that he has this battle under control, because he knows the future.

(7:9) In the Hebrew this is a play on words. These two words are the same in Hebrew (aman).

(7:10) Isaiah’s prophecy is so authoritative that it is considered God speaking.

(7:11) God is asking Ahaz to ask for a sign to boost his faith. We are not always permitted to do this, but if God commands us to, we should. But look at Ahaz’s response… Motyer writes, “Pious though his words sound, Ahaz is doing the devil’s work of quoting Scripture for his own purposes and thereby displaying himself as the dogmatic unbeliever. This was his moment of decision, his point of no return.”[10]

(Isa. 7:11-12) Was Isaiah encouraging Ahaz to test God?

(7:12) Ahaz is too “humble” to ask for a sign. In reality, he is hardened in his unbelief.

(7:13) Notice that Isaiah switches from “your God” in verse 11 to “my God” here. The implication? Ahaz is no longer able to call God his God.

(Isa. 7:14) Does this passage predict a virgin birth?

(7:14-17) Isaiah gives Ahaz a sign anyhow. Matthew compares this to the supernatural sign of Jesus’ supernatural virgin birth.

(7:18) Isaiah later calls these nations “nothing” (Isa. 40:17) and like insects compared to God (Isa. 40:22).

(7:19-25) These weak insects will take over Israel, because of their unbelief. Because Ahaz failed to follow God, he was handed over to his greatest fear: Capture by Syria! 2 Chronicles 28:5 tells us his fate: “Wherefore, the Lord his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Aram; and they defeated him and carried away from him a great number of captives and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who inflicted him with heavy casualties.”

Application

God wants to give us revelation and speak to us. Ahaz’s great sin was that he was using the Bible against God!

Will we turn to God as our protection and our shield? Or to worldly resources and help?

We think that we need to protect ourselves, but the imperative here is to stand firm in our faith. God just wants us to trust him and not try and fix problems that are beyond on our control.

As Ahaz was thinking of geo-politics, Isaiah brings it back to faith in God. He was probably thinking, “What does that have to do with anything?! Get out of here, Isaiah! The adults are talking!” Yet Isaiah was in the right. Is God in control or not? Will we trust God or not?

Isaiah 8

(8:1) Maher’s name means: “Swift is the booty and speedy is the prey.”

(8:2) He might be gathering witnesses to fulfill the requirement to have “two or three witnesses” in a capital punishment case (Deut. 17:6). He is showing that God is going to judge Damascus and Samaria. He is looking back to the burning stumps of chapter 7.

(8:3) The prophetess is probably Isaiah’s wife.

(8:4) He predicts the doom of Damascus and Samaria.

(8:5-6) The rivers were God’s provision, which was rejected.

(8:7-8) Now, God is going to turn his provision into an act of judgment. The “river” will be the armies of Assyria that will destroy them. Isaiah is predicting Judah’s destruction.

(8:9-10) The people can prepare for battle, wear armor, and seek counsel… but it results in defeat no matter what, because God is against them.

(8:11) The people shouldn’t be like the Pagan nations, because they are ultimately going down in judgment. This is really similar to John’s thinking about how Christians shouldn’t love the world, because it is temporary (1 Jn. 2:15-17).

(8:12-13) The people shouldn’t worry about what the Pagans worry about. Instead, they should keep their focus on God.

(8:14-15) The people should accept God’s provision during this time. If they don’t, they will be destroyed. Peter cites this as referring to Christ (1 Pet. 2:8), because the stumbling block is personified with a “he.” Early Targums believed that this was messianic, too.

(8:16) Isaiah wants his book to be given to his disciples. He won’t be there when all of this occurs.

(Isa. 8:16) Did Isaiah’s disciples write “Second” Isaiah?

(8:17) This is the lesson of faith. Isaiah models how to trust God during this time.

(8:18) Could the rescued remnant be a type of future believers being rescued from the world-system? These people who trusted in God serve as a symbol for future generations.

(8:19) He is arguing that only God knows the future, contra false teachers or mediums (Deut. 18:9ff).

(8:20) If they do not listen to Isaiah’s teaching (i.e. the word of God), they will be in darkness (i.e. “no dawn”). See also verse 22.

(8:21) Those who do not trust God will turn to grumbling (“This is all His fault!”).

Application

Isaiah and his family serve as a prototype for faith and trust in God (v.18).

If you trust in Yahweh, he is a sanctuary. But if you don’t trust in Him, he will be a snare (vv.12-15).

Isaiah didn’t just believe that God was real for himself, but also for his family. This takes faith to the next level. As the Assyrians were ready to slaughter Israel, Isaiah was willing to lead his loved ones through a life of faith.

Isaiah 9-11 (God’s Rescue Plan)

 

Isaiah 9

Isaiah writes about the future of God’s rescue in the past tense, because of its certainty in the future. God knows the future, and if he says something will happen, it is a certainty (cf. Eph. 1:3-14).

(Isa. 9:1-2) Why does Matthew cite this passage in Isaiah?

(9:1) Zebulun and Naphtali “were the first to fall to Assyria.”[11] He mentions that these provinces will be rescued by God.

(9:6-7) God’s rescue of the people flashes forward to the reign of the God-man (Jesus).

(Isa. 9:6-7) Does this passage predict Jesus?

(9:8-10) Ephraim and Samaria think that they will be able to rebuild this destruction. They still aren’t getting the lesson: Turn to God!

(9:12) God is still willing to forgive Israel.

(9:13) If they had only turned to him, rather than diviners, they would have been rescued. This is going to connect with God’s claim to know the future in chapters 42-48.

(9:15-16) The leaders of Israel are compared to a wild beast, leading Israel away from trusting in God.

(9:17) God will still forgive them, if they turn to him.

(9:19-20) This is very stark imagery for God’s judgment.

(9:21) God still loves these people.

Isaiah 10

In this chapter, God explains the destruction of Israel by Assyria. He does promise that he will repay Assyria for their sins after he uses them to destroy Israel (v.25).

(10:15) God is using Assyria like an axe to carry out his judgment.

(10:20) God will use this to correct Israel in trusting him.

(10:25) God will pay back the Assyrians for overdoing the judgment.

(10:27) In this culture, being fat was a sign of blessing and wealth. The picture here is that Israel will become so rich (and fat) that the yoke or neck brace can’t hold them anymore.

Application

When we’re going through suffering, don’t turn to the spiritual shortcuts (e.g. mediums and mystics). Trust in God.

Isaiah 11

(11:1) Even though God is going to destroy Israel, there is hope. The line of David is not permanently destroyed. Jesse was David’s father. Jesse wasn’t a powerful king—just an ordinary man. Is Isaiah referring to Jesse here to show the Messiah’s lowly origins?

(Isa. 11:1) Why the stump of Jesse and not the stump of David?

(11:2) The figure who will rescue the nation will have the Holy Spirit.

(11:3) He is going to rule the nation and judge based on God’s direction—not his own.

(11:4) He is going to judge the Earth. A gap must have occurred here. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 states, “That lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming.” Revelation 19:15 states, “His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron.”

(11:6-8) Something about the reign of this person will bring harmony to nature.

(11:9) There will be worldwide knowledge and respect for God.

(11:11) Israel will be regathered at this time.

(Isa. 11:11-12) Does this refer to the modern regathering of Israel?

(Isa. 11:12) Did the biblical authors believe in a flat Earth?

(11:13) Israel will be totally protected from enemies at this time.

(11:15) Revelation 16:12 also states that God will dry up the Euphrates River.

Isaiah 12

In this chapter, the people praise God for his rescue of Israel from the surrounding nations.

Isaiah 13

The key to interpreting this chapter is to discover when it occurs. This chapter is about Babylon. It begins by describing the destruction of Israel by Babylon, but it quickly transitions to the destruction of the entire “world” (v.11). To find a bar of gold in the dirt than to find a human being (v.12). The entire Earth will shake (v.13). Then the vision flashes back to the contemporary times, explaining the permanent destruction of Babylon (vv.19-22).

(Isa. 13:19-22) Did Isaiah correctly predict the desolation of Babylon?

Isaiah 14

God is going to get back with the nation of Israel, and they will rule over their oppressors.

(Isa. 14:12-14) Does this passage describe Satan or someone else?

Isaiah 15-16

Isaiah predicts the destruction of Moab.

Isaiah 17

Isaiah predicts the destruction of Damascus.

Isaiah 18

Isaiah predicts the destruction of Cush.

Isaiah 19

Isaiah predicts the destruction of Egypt. Egypt was really an archetype for oppressors over Israel. The Exodus served as an archetype for God’s rescue. This chapter is interesting because it states that God will rescue the Egyptians! He will send a savior to rescue them (v.20). They will worship God (v.21). He will heal them (v.22). God places Israel alongside Egypt and Assyria (two of the worst Pagan nations that there were!). This is a scandalous passage on God’s grace.

Isaiah 20

God commands Isaiah to walk around naked for three years, as an object lesson on how he is going to deport the Egyptians completely naked.

Isaiah 21

Babylon is destroyed (v.9).

Isaiah 22

The people were trusting in their resources, rather than God.

Isaiah 23

Isaiah predicts the doom of Tyre.

(Isa. 23:1) Did Isaiah correctly predict the destruction of Tyre?

Isaiah 24

God will destroy the world. It’s among the nations—not just Israel (v.13). Even the islands of the sea are affected, and the ends of the Earth (vv.15-16). Even angels will be judged and kings (v.21).

Isaiah 25

This refers to heaven or the millennial kingdom.

Isaiah 26

The nations are welcomed if they have faith. God will bring about the resurrection of the dead (v.19).

(Isa. 26:14) Did the ancient Jews believe in the afterlife?

Isaiah 27

God is willing to make peace (v.5). Idolatry is removed (v.9).

Isaiah 28

The priests are drunk and puking. Isaiah predicts that the people will be captured by foreigners. God promises to give them a cornerstone to take care of them and rescue them. God doesn’t enjoy judgment (v.21).

(Isa. 28:11) Why does Paul cite this passage in 1 Corinthians 14:21?

Isaiah 29

Isaiah predicts Ariel’s judgment. God predicts that they will not turn to him, because they are not connected with him from the heart (v.13).

(Isa. 29:4) Does this passage predict the discovery of the Book of Mormon?

Isaiah 30

They didn’t want to hear what the prophets were telling them (vv.10-11). He would respond to them, if they were repentant (v.19).

Isaiah 31

The people shouldn’t turn to Egypt for help (v.1). God’s rescue will be like the Passover (v.5). God predicts the destruction of Assyria (vv.8-9).

Isaiah 32

Isaiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem.

Isaiah 33

God will protect Jerusalem permanently.

(Isa. 33-34) Why is there a break in the Isaiah manuscript at this point?

Isaiah 34

God will destroy the nations. He will have a day of vengeance (v.8). God will destroy Edom.

Isaiah 35

The context for rescue is judgment.

(Isa. 35:4-6) Did Jesus fulfill this passage?

Isaiah 36-39 (Hezekiah’s Success)

 

Isaiah 36 (The threat of Sennacherib—king of Assyria)

(36:1) Who is Sennacherib? He was king of Assyria from 705-681 BC, and the son of Sargon II. You can read about his campaign in 2 Kings 18-19. To summarize, Hezekiah formed a coalition against Assyria: Phoenician, Philistine, and the south Syrian states. He also had a pool dug under the city so that they would have water in case of a siege (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:3-4).

As this chapter opens, we discover that Sennacherib has sieged all of the cities of Judah. Now he’s ready to march on the capital of Israel! Sennacherib send his Field Commander out to terrorize the Jewish people (Rabshakeh; 2 Kings 18:17, 22). The Field Commander makes a frightful argument to Hezekiah’s cabinet (e.g. palace administrator, the secretary, and the recorder).

For discussion, read through this entire chapter and see if you can pull out how the Field Commander argues with these men. What are the arguments that he’s making with them?

(36:5) All the strategy in the world won’t stop Sennacherib!

(36:6) Egypt? Are you kidding? They are a “splintered reed of a staff.”

(36:7) Yahweh? Didn’t Hezekiah remove all of the altars to Yahweh? (This is a confused argument. Hezekiah removed false altars to false gods, but it makes for good rhetoric)

(36:8) Years ago, a high tech stealth drone was shot down by the Iranians. A commander in the Air Force told the Press that this was bad, but they probably don’t even know what to do with it. He was saying this to showing just how far in advance the United States was. The same taunt is happening here.

(36:10) Is he distorting Isaiah’s prophecy about how God would use Assyria to carry out his wrath? (cf. Isa. 10:5-6)

(36:11) Hezekiah’s cabinet buckles in fear. He asks Rabshakeh to not speak in Hebrew, because it’s scaring their soldiers.

(36:12) Rabshakeh refuses. He tells them that they’ll need to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine by the time this siege is finished.

(36:14-15) This is a direct assault on Hezekiah’s faith and leadership.

(36:16-17) The people will be rewarded if they just surrender. Who will they listen to? Sennacherib or Hezekiah? Who will Hezekiah listen to? Assyria or God?

(36:18-20) Rabshakeh’s argument is this: “The other nations trusted in their gods… and look where that got them! They’ve all been conquered. What makes your local deity (Yahweh) so special?”

Isaiah 37 (Isaiah’s rebuttal)

Imagine being in this circumstance! The greatest army you’ve ever seen is gathering outside of your city walls. They’ve destroyed each nation in their path—including Egypt (the greatest nation you had ever seen before).

For discussion, read this chapter and answer: What promises and predictions does Isaiah make to Hezekiah during this time? Read verses 36-38 for their fulfillment.

(37:1-4) Hezekiah is greatly distressed. This is the complete opposite reaction from Ahaz. With Ahaz, God needed to send Isaiah to talk to him. Here, Hezekiah seeks out Isaiah instead. Hezekiah is saying that they’ve come a long way, but they just need to push a little bit farther (v.3).

(37:6) Isaiah comforts and assures Hezekiah’s faith.

(37:7-8) As it turns out, Assyria couldn’t attack Israel, because they were busy fighting Lachish.

(37:9) The king of Cush moves against Israel. Just when Hezekiah believes he’s out of the frying pan, he gets thrown into the fire.

(37:10-11) Will Hezekiah stand firm, or will he falter? It would be difficult to persevere after hearing all of the reports of the fallen lands. This would be like sitting in France in World War II, as you have been reading the newspapers on what was happening to Poland.

(37:12) Satan repeatedly attacks God’s character.

(37:13) This is a rhetorical question: They’re all dead!

Hezekiah’s prayer (vv.14-20)

(37:14) This passage shows Hezekiah’s faith. He immediately goes to God with his problem—not people.

(37:16) He begins by acknowledging God for who he is.

(37:18) He doesn’t ignore the facts. Biblical faith is realistic—not blindly optimistic.

(37:20) He wants God to act based on his agenda (reaching the nations), rather than his own agenda (being spared).

(37:22) Consider this imagery: Either that this is a bride of God or God’s little girl—a virgin. It connotes the affection that God would have for his children.

(37:23) Do you know who you’re messing with?

(37:26) None of this was beyond God’s foreknowledge and plan.

(37:30) He is telling them that they need to wait on his plan.

(37:31) The people will be deeply rooted by God.

(37:32) God will only rescue the faithful remnant.

(37:33) He is communicating God’s complete protection over his people.

(37:35) David refers to the messianic line—not David the person (2 Sam. 7:11-16).

(37:36-38) Watts writes, “This account of Sennacherib’s death is partially supported by Assyrian sources. Esarhaddon was Sennacherib’s designated heir and did succeed to his father’s throne in 681 b.c.e. He was the youngest son. His brothers conspired against him earlier, forcing him into exile. There he received word of his father’s murder. Later sources agree with v 38 in blaming it on the other sons, although these are not named (ANET, 289). Ashurbanipal, who succeeded Esarhaddon, reported that he avenged the murder of his grandfather by striking them with the same statues with which they had killed his grandfather (ANET 2, 288b). This supports the account of murder in a sanctuary.”[12]

An inscription of Hezekiah was recently discovered (2015) which stated:

לחזקיהו [בן] אחז מלך יהדה”

“Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah”

Picture3 Picture4Other inscriptions and documents confirm Sennacherib’s death. Regarding 2 Kings 19:37 and Isaiah 37:38, K.A. Kitchen writes,

This is so; the Assyrian sources (including from Esarhaddon himself) and the Babylonian Chronicle plus later sources confirm the putsch. They mention murder by a son (Babylonian Chronicle) and by sons in the plural (Esarhaddon, Nineveh records)… In one form or another, this sad affair became all too well known in various streams of tradition.[13]

Hezekiah is said to have had to produce 30 talents of gold and 300 talents of silver in the Hebrew account (2 Kings 18:14), but an identical talents of gold and heavier 8oo talents of silver in Sennacherib’s account; if graphic or transmission errors be not responsible, it may be that Sennacherib at some point demanded more than his first ‘price’ (perhaps in return for not pressing an assault on Jerusalem?). The siege and capture of Lachish (cf. 2 Kings 18:14, 17; 19:8) is not mentioned in Sennacherib’s annals—curiously!—but it is the centerpiece to a splendid set of scenes showing the Assyrian forces attacking, then actively pressing their siege to break into Lachish, capture the town, and lead out captives to Sennacherib seated in triumph on his high throne. The mound of Tell ed-Duweir shrouds the remains of ancient Lachish, where excavations have revealed the battered bulk of the Assyrian siege ramp (as shown on the reliefs) up to the walls, plus a Hebrew counterramp within the walls. This city, destroyed by the Assyrians, is Lachish level III archaeologically. Later rebuilt, it became the diggers’ Lachish level II, which-again-crashed in flames at the onset of the Babylonians barely 120 years later.[14]

 

Isaiah 38 (Hezekiah would die soon)

(38:1) Isaiah predicted that Hezekiah would die soon.

(38:3) Hezekiah weeps bitterly. He probably felt that God had abandoned him.

(38:5) God adds fifteen years to his life.

(38:6) God may have added time to his life in order to let him defend the city.

(Isa. 38:8) Did God turn back time?

(38:9) Isaiah let Hezekiah write this portion of the letter.

(Isa. 38:10-11) What is Sheol?

(38:12) He seems to think that God is sovereign over his life—one way or the other.

(38:15-16) This is a prayer before he is healed.

(38:21) God heals Hezekiah.

Isaiah 39 (Hezekiah lacks discernment)

(39:1) The king of Babylon comes to visit Hezekiah (Merodach-baladan).

(39:2) Hezekiah can’t help but show him the treasury of Israel.

(39:3) Hezekiah is a good man, but lacks discernment.

(39:6) Hezekiah was treating Babylon as an ally, but they end up looting all of Israel’s treasure. This would be similar to inviting a friend over and showing him your giant mansion. As it turns out, the man is a jewel thief, casing the place.

(39:8) Hezekiah went to his death trusting in God’s sovereignty.

Application on the life of Hezekiah

Hezekiah looks for counsel, believed the sign, and fought in faith. Ahaz didn’t (Isa. 7).

His first instinct was to turn to God in prayer.

He could see through Rabshakeh’s arguments. He was tempted to seek the easier life and surrender, but he took the harder path and saw God’s provision.

He could see that this waiting on God was tough (Isa. 38:10-14), but it was worth it (v.15-17).

He knew his sins, but he knew they were forgiven (Isa. 38:17).

The Enemy can twist Scripture against us. Don’t trade what you don’t know, for what you do know.

Isaiah 40-48 (The Great Deliverance)

(Isa. 40-55) How does Isaiah use the Exodus motif in this section?

Isaiah 40

When reading this chapter, you need to try and figure out what was happening for Isaiah to write all of this. If this is the answer to their problem, then what was the question? This is sort of like playing Jeopardy. See if you can figure out what Isaiah was responding to, when he wrote this.

(40:1) This contrasts with earlier statements about this people (Isa. 6:9-10). Here God calls them my people.

(40:2) Consider coaxing a dog or cat to come to you. You speak tenderly to it, in order for it to trust you. Similarly, God was speaking this way to gain the trust of the broken nation.

(Isa. 40:2) Why does God punish them “double” for their sins?

(40:3) In the NT, this passage is understood to predict how John the Baptist paves the way in the wilderness for Christ. In this context, Yahweh leads his people back from Exile.

(Isa. 40:3) Does Mark 1:2 correctly cite this passage?

(40:4) Up will be down, and down will be up.

(40:5) This hasn’t happened yet. We can still expect this passage to be fulfilled in the future.

(40:6) Humans are just as transitory and temporal as grass on the ground. This reminds us of Isaiah 15:6, which states, “Surely the grass is withered, the tender grass died out.”

(40:7) God created it through his word, and he can destroy it as well.

(40:8) God’s word outlasts the world.

(40:10) God will come to judge the Earth.

(40:11) He is comparing Israel to sheep and himself to a Shepherd.

The incomparable God

Isaiah shows how God is incomparable to anything on Earth. He does this to reassure his readers that God is going to deliver on his rescue of people. It isn’t like comparing the Indians with the Yankees. It’s comparing a tee ball team with the New England Patriots. It isn’t even the same weight class—not even the same sport.

(40:12) This is reminiscent of Job, where God shows his grandeur over creation.

(40:13) God cannot be measured, because he is an immaterial being—not a part of creation.

(40:14) God is the greatest conceivable being. He doesn’t need an instructor.

(40:15) The nations of the Earth seem important, until you compare them with God. Your middle school drama seems like the end of the world, until you become President of the United States, and you realize what real problems look like.

(40:19) All of this shows the utter ridiculousness of idolatry.

(40:21) The existence of God has been clear since the beginning of history (Rom. 1:20).

(40:27) The reason for sin (in this context) is having a low view of God’s omniscience (“God sees you”).

(40:28) This is surely rhetorical. Of course they’ve heard! The problem isn’t with hearing; it’s with understanding.

(40:29) He’s specifically emphasizing how even the weak can be built up by God. God can empower Israel, too, if they merely have faith in him.

(40:31) Here is the lesson of this chapter: Trust God.

Isaiah 41-44

This chapter begins Isaiah’s argument that God knows the future. God tells us the future in order to comfort us. God also attacks the use of idols, because they are man-made. He gives a rather funny apologetic against idolatry, where a man uses half of a block of wood to cook dinner and the other to worship (see Isa. 44)!

(Isa. 44:28-45:1) How could Isaiah predict King Cyrus?

Isaiah 45

God predicts Cyrus as the one who will reclaim Israel.

(Isa. 45:7) Does God create evil? (cf. Lam. 3:38; Jer. 18:8; Amos 3:6)

Isaiah 46

God hates idols because they cannot help people (v.7). God is going to bring salvation to Israel.

Isaiah 47

God is going to punish Babylon (v.5). He takes them down because they were trying to be God (v.8).

Isaiah 48

God is emphasizing the fact that he is predicting Babylon’s demise.

Application for Isaiah 40-48

God keeps repeating that he is the only God, and he is the only savior. All idols are false. As people, we have spiritual short-term memory loss.

The worship of idols is ultimately futile—whether it’s marriage, career, sex, money, family, New Age thinking, religion, etc. Any one of these things can be considered an idol. This isn’t just foolish, but it’s detestable to God.

Isaiah 49

This is the second servant song.

Isaiah 50

God isn’t too weak to save them (v.2). That wasn’t the problem. This is the third servant song.

Isaiah 51

God’s salvation is not going to be temporal—but eternal (v.6). God is going to turn on the enemies of Israel (v.23).

(Isa. 51:9) Does the Bible support the belief in mythical monsters?

Isaiah 52

This chapter explains the way that God will protect Israel, and show his salvation to the nations and restore Israel.

Isaiah 53 (The Great Deliverer)

 

Isaiah 53

The fourth and final servant song.

Isaiah 54

God will restore and protect Israel after the Exile.

Isaiah 55-66 (The Greater Deliverance)

This section is a literary chiasm, which makes it a unit:

(A) 56:1-8 Foreign Worshippers

(B) 56:9-59:15 Righteousness

(C) 59:16-21 Yahweh the Warrior

(D) 60-62 Eschatological Hope

(C) 63:1-6 Yahweh the Warrior

(B) 63:7-66:17 Righteousness

(A) 66:18-24 Foreign Worshippers

Isaiah 55 (God’s word)

The context for this very famous passage is God’s word about the end of human history (vv.10-11). We can certainly apply this to all of God’s word, but the context here is eschatology.

(55:1-2) God wants the people to turn to him, rather than idols. If they come to him, they don’t even need to pay.

(55:8-9) God’s mind and thoughts are far above human thoughts.

(55:10) Just like grass takes a long time to grow, so God’s word takes time to produce an effect in some cases.

Isaiah 56

God will welcome the foreigners (v.3, 7).

(Isa. 56) Does this chapter mark the beginning of “third” Isaiah?

Isaiah 57

God shows the plight of idol-worshippers. God is high and exalted, but he loves the humble and contrite (v.15).

Isaiah 58 (Meaningless fasting)

Here we see a diatribe between false religion and God. The people were fasting and wondering why God wasn’t noticing. God attacks this thinking: They were fasting, but they were neglecting the weightier portions of the law (Mt. 23:23).

Isaiah 59 (God: the warrior)

(59:1-2) God can save us, but our sin is in the way. God puts on the helmet of salvation and breastplate of righteousness (v.17; cf. 61:10). These are the weapons he gives to us (Eph. 6:10-18).

(59:3-15) The theme switches from the failure of humans over into God’s love and forgiveness. This seems similar to Romans 3 where Paul starts with the bad news (humans are sinful) and switches to the good news (we need a Savior).

(59:17) Because we’re in Christ, we can put on the armor of God. Yet God says that we that “Vengeance is Mine. I will repay.” So we don’t put on that part of the armor.

Isaiah 60 (The Millennium? The New Heavens and Earth?)

God will use Israel to be a light to the nations. This is reminiscent of Revelation 21 and 22 (v.19).

Isaiah 61

God’s Servant will come to Earth. All the people will be called priests (v.6).

Isaiah 62 (Salvation for Israel)

God is going to transform Israel as a message to the nations.

Isaiah 63

God is going to judge the nations (similar to Revelation 14).

Isaiah 64

Even though Israel is sinful, he prays that God would forgive them.

Isaiah 65

This is the millennial kingdom (v.20).

“He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken” (Isa. 25:8).

Isaiah 66

God’s temple will be removed. He will be directly in the presence of his people. All of the nations will come and worship God (vv.20-21).

[1] Grogan, G. W. Isaiah. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 3.

[2] Merrill, Eugene H.; Rooker, Mark; Grisanti, Michael A. The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing. 2011. 376.

[3] Oswalt, John N. Isaiah: The New Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003. 19.

[4] Oswalt, John N. Isaiah: The New Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003. 41.

[5] Motyer, J. A. The prophecy of Isaiah: An introduction & commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996. Introduction.

[6] Motyer, J. A. The prophecy of Isaiah: An introduction & commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996. Introduction.

[7] Gileadi, Avraham. The Apocalyptic Book of Isaiah: A New Translation with Interpretative Key. Provo, UT: Hebraeus, 1982. 174.

[8] Motyer, J. A. The prophecy of Isaiah: An introduction & commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996. Is 1:29.

[9] Grogan, G. W. (1986). Isaiah. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel (Vol. 6, p. 61). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[10] Motyer, J. A. (1999). Isaiah: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 20, p. 88). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[11] Motyer, J. A. The prophecy of Isaiah: An introduction & commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996. Isaiah 9:1.

[12] Watts, John. Isaiah 34–66 (Revised Edition., Vol. 25). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2005. 578.

[13] Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2003. 42.

[14] Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2003. 42.