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A major prophetic book of the Old Testament, noted for its description of the coming Messiah as God's Suffering Servant. Because of its lofty portrayal of God and His purpose of salvation, the book is sometimes called "the fifth gospel," implying it is similar in theme to the gospels of the New Testament. The book is named for its author, the great prophet Isaiah, whose name means "God is salvation."

Structure of the Book. With its 66 chapters, Isaiah is the longest prophetic book of the Old Testament. Most scholars agree that the book falls naturally into two major sections, chapters 1-39 and chapters 40-Isa. One good way to remember the grand design of the book is to think of the sections as a parallel to the two main parts of the Bible. The first section of Isaiah contains the same number of chapters as the number of books in the Old Testament (39). The second part of the book parallels the New Testament in the same way-27 chapters for the 27 books of this section of the Bible.

The general theme of the first part of Isaiah's book is God's approaching judgment on the nation of Judah. In some of the most striking passages in all the Bible, the prophet announces that God will punish His people because of their sin, rebellion, and worship of false gods. But this message of stern judgment is also mixed with beautiful poems of comfort and promise. Although judgment is surely coming, better days for God's Covenant People lie just ahead. This section of Isaiah's book refers several times to the coming MESSIAH. His name will be called IMMANUEL (7:14). As a ruler on the throne of David, he will establish an everlasting kingdom (9:7).

Other significant events and prophecies covered in the first section of Isaiah's book include his call as a prophet (chap. 6), God's judgment against the nations surrounding Judah (chaps. 13-23), and a warning to Judah not to seek help through vain alliances with Egypt (chaps. 30-31).

During Isaiah's time, Judah's safety was threatened by the advancing Assyrian Empire. When the king of Judah sought to protect the nation's interests by forming an alliance with Egypt to turn back the Assyrians, Isaiah advised the nation to look to their God for deliverance-not to a pagan nation led by an earthly ruler. He also prophesied that the Assyrian army would be turned back by God before it succeeded in overthrowing the nation of Judah (30:27-33).

The second major section of Isaiah's book (chaps. 40-Isa) is filled with prophecies of comfort for the nation of Judah. Just as Isaiah warned of God's approaching judgment in the first part of his book, the 27 concluding chapters were written to comfort God's people in the midst of their suffering after His judgment had fallen. The theme of this entire section may be illustrated with Isaiah's famous hymn of comfort that God directed the prophet to address to the people: "Comfort, yes, comfort My people!" says your God. "Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins" (40:1-2).

Isaiah's message in this part of his book is that after their period of judgment has passed, God's Covenant People will be restored to their place of responsibility in God's plan for the salvation of the world. The great suffering through which they were passing was their period of captivity as exiles of the pagan nation of Babylon. This theme of suffering on the part of God's people is demonstrated dramatically by Isaiah's famous description of the Suffering Servant. The nation of Israel was God's suffering servant who would serve as God's instrument of blessing for the rest of the world after their release from captivity and restoration as His Chosen People (42:1-9).

But Isaiah's prophecy also points beyond the immediate future to the coming of Jesus Christ as the Messiah several centuries later. The heart of this stunning prophecy occurs in chapter 53, as Isaiah develops the description of God's Servant to its highest point. The Servant's suffering and death and the redemptive nature of His mission are clearly foretold. Although mankind deserved God's judgment because "we have turned, every one, to his own way" (53:6), God sent His Servant to take away our sins.

According to Isaiah, it is through His suffering that we are made right with God, since "the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (53:6).

Isaiah closes his book with a beautiful description of the glorious age to come (chaps. 60-Isa). In that day the city of Zion or Jerusalem, will be restored. God's people wili gather there to worship Him in all His majesty and glory. Peace and justice will reign, and God will make all things new.

Authorship and Date. The question of who wrote the Book of Isaiah is a matter of much disagreement and debate among Bible scholars. In one camp are those who insist the entire book was written by the famous prophet Isaiah who ministered in the southern kingdom of Judah for 40 years, from about 740-700 B.C. But other scholars are just as insistent that the entire book was not written by this prophet. They agree that chapters 1-39 of the book belong to Isaiah, but they refer to chapters 40-Isa as "Second Isaiah," insisting it was written by an unknown author long after the ministry of this famous prophet of Judah.

Those who assign chapters 40-Isa to a "Second Isaiah" point out that the two major sections of the book seem to be set in different times. Chapters 1-39 clearly belong to the eighth century B.C., a turbulent period in the history of Judah. But Isa, according to these scholars, seems to be addressed to the citizens of Judah who were being held as captives in Babylon about 550 B.C. This was two centuries after Isaiah lived and prophesied. In addition, these scholars point to the differences in tone, language, and style between these two major sections as proof that the book was written by two different authors.

But the traditional view cannot be dismissed so easily. Conservative scholars point out that the two sections of the book do have many similarities, although they are dramatically different in tone and theme. Many phrases and ideas that are peculiar to Isaiah appear in both sections of the book. A good example of this is Isaiah's unique reference to God as "the Holy One of Israel" (1:4; 17:7; 37:23; 45:11; 55:5; 60:14). The appearance of these words and phrases can be used to argue just as convincingly that the book was written by a single author.

Conservative scholars also are not convinced that the two major sections of the book were addressed to different audiences living in different times. In the second section of his book, they believe Isaiah looked into the future and predicted the years of the Captivity and the return of the Covenant People to their homeland after the Captivity ended. If the prophet could predict the coming of the Messiah over 700 years before that happened, he could certainly foresee this major event in the future of the nation of Judah.

After all the evidence is analyzed, there is no convincing reason to question the traditional view that the entire book was written by the prophet whose name it bears. The most likely time for its writing was about 700 B.C. or shortly thereafter.

Isaiah gives us few facts about himself, but we do know he was "the son of Amoz" (1:1). The quality of his writing indicates he was well educated and that he probably came from an upper-class family. Married, he had two children to whom he gave symbolic names to show that God was about to bring judgment against the nation of Judah. He was called to his prophetic ministry "in the year that King Uzziah [Azariah] died" (6:1) about 740 B.C.-through a stirring vision of God as he worshiped in the Temple. He prophesied for about 40 years to the nation of Judah, calling the people and their rulers to place their trust in the Holy One of Israel.

Historical Setting. Isaiah delivered his prophecies during a time of great moral and political upheaval. In the early part of his ministry, about 722 B.C., Judah's sister nation, the northern kingdom of Israel, fell to the invading Assyrians. For a while, it looked as if Judah would suffer the same fate. But Isaiah advised the rulers of Judah not to enter alliances with foreign nations against the Assyrian threat. Instead, he called the people to put their trust in God, who alone could bring real salvation and offer lasting protection for the perilous times.

Theological Contribution. The Book of Isaiah presents more insights into the nature of God than any other book of the Old Testament.

To Isaiah, God was first of all a holy God. His holiness was the first thing that impressed the prophet when he saw Him in all His glory in the Temple (6:1-8). But God's holiness also reminded Isaiah of his own sin and weakness. "Woe is me," he cried, "for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" (6:5). After this confession, Isaiah's lips were cleansed by a live coal from the altar, and he agreed to proclaim God's message of repentance and judgment to a wayward people.

Isaiah also tells us about a God who is interested in the salvation of His people. Even the prophet's name, "God is salvation," emphasizes this truth. He uses the word salvation 28 times in his book, while all the other Old Testament prophets combined mentioned this word only 10 times. In Isaiah's thought, salvation is of God, not man. God is the sovereign ruler of history and the only one who has the power to save.

The Book of Isaiah also reveals that God's ultimate purpose of salvation will be realized through the coming Messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. No other book of the Bible contains as many references to the coming Messiah as this magnificent book. Isaiah points us to a loving Savior who came to save His people from their sins. When Jesus began His public ministry in His hometown of Nazareth, He quoted from one of these beautiful messianic passages from Isaiah (61:1-2) to show that this prophecy was being fulfilled in His life and ministry. His purpose was "to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19).

Special Considerations. One unusual passage in the Book of Isaiah gives us a clue about how God views His work of judgment and salvation. The prophet describes God's judgment as "His unusual act" (28:21). If judgment is God's unusual act, does this not imply that salvation is the work more typical of Him as a loving God? It is an interesting question to think about as we express thanks to God for the marvelous insights of Isaiah and his important book.


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