Introduction to the Bible: Section 10 – Isaiah – A prophet to Judah
The French word for library is “bibliothèque”. Our “bible” is also a library – a collection of Holy books counting 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Like any good library, the books are organised into categories.
Old Testament organisation:
- Pentateuch/Torah – 5 books of the law (including Genesis* and Exodus*)
- History – 12 books (including Samuel*)
- Wisdom/Poetry – 5 books (including Psalms**)
- Prophets – 5 major books and 12 minor books
* Books we have studied in this introduction series.
** Bible study planned for 2015.
In our last chapter we studied the first kings of the united kingdom, King Saul, King David and little part of David’s son, King Solomon’s reign. Then the story continues in 1st and 2nd Kings with a split of the two kingdoms which ends with their defeat and captivity:
- Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC
- Southern Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BC along with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem
God had a series of prophets who would speak God’s word of judgement, encouragement and guidance to the kings and the people. While prophets speak God’s word to the people and kings of their own time and place, they also speak God’s word for the future. In this chapter we are looking at Isaiah – the first in the list of major prophets. The term ‘major’ refers to the length of the book and Isaiah is large with 66 chapters and some 25,000 words (6th largest book in the Bible). Isaiah is also the most quoted prophet in the New Testament. Isaiah spoke God’s words to the kings and people of Judah somewhere between 740 BCE and his death in 676 BCE.
“The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Isaiah 1:1
Modern biblical scholars agree that there was more than one “Isaiah”. This is based on the content of the later chapters (after chapter 39) that deals with the Babylonian captivity which happened in 586 BCE over a hundred year after his death. It would appear that there was a school of Isaiah prophets. Much of Isaiah is written in a poetic style with imagery (read 30:27–33), poetry (read 5:1-7 | The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard), sarcasm (read 44:9-20), personification (read 24:21-23 | sun & moon ; 55:12 | trees)
The main theme is that God is the “Holy one of Israel” who judges and punishes the people but then also comes to redeem them. There are many sub themes linked to this major theme:
- God will judge the people: read 1:2-14 , 5:-1-7 (Vineyard again)
- God will have compassion on his people: read 14: 1-2
- God will restore and put down the enemies of the people : read 14:3-32 and chapter 43 note the Exodus imagery
- Peace and safety as part of the new messianic age. Read 11:1-3 and we hear about this new messiah – as Christians, we hear Jesus. Continue reading the rest of chapter 11 and the restoration of Israel and Judah. Isaiah chapter 2 begins with a promise of peace in all nations (read 2:1-4). Note in your bible that most of these verses are typeset as poetry with line breaks instead of continuous prose.
As modern people (some 2,500 years after Isaiah) we read this prophet in two ways:
- remember that Isaiah was writing for his own time and for the people of Judah and Israel about God’s judgement and promise. Isaiah was considering their times in captivity and their hopes for restoration,
- but moving forward about 600 years to the time of Jesus, Isaiah was prophesying about a new messiah and the early Christians reinterpreted the scriptures and found connections and predictions about the realised new messiah – that is Jesus. These are the key verses from Isaiah:
- Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” This translation uses the original Hebrew scripture, but in Jesus’ time the Jewish scriptures were more commonly heard from the Greek translation (known as the Septuagint). The Greek version uses the word ‘virgin’ rather than ‘young woman’.
- Isaiah 9:1-2, “but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.” Jesus lived in Galilee as a child until the start of his ministry when he was about 30 years old. He was often referred to as the light of the world.
- Isaiah 9:6 “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. Jesus’ message about the kingdom of God differed from the earthly kingdoms with military victories and moreover, Jesus talked about peace … a lot!
- Isaiah 11:1-3 “A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesus was born in his (earthly) father Joseph’s home town of Bethlehem which was also the home town of Jesse and his son David – King David. Jesus was counted as a descendant of King David.
- Isaiah 53:5 “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” This is understood as part of Jesus sacrificial death when he was crucified and leads us to say – Jesus died and paid the price for our sins.
The book of Isaiah contains much much more about God, “the Holy One of Israel”, about the words of judgement, compassion and comfort for God’s exiles than we can cover in this small introduction, however the prophecies of Isaiah (or Isaiahs) are an important part of the story of God’s grace that starts in Genesis, continues through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and into the continuing church is us today.
Next month will be the final chapter of this Introduction to the Bible and we look at the Gospel of Matthew and how many prophecies are revealed in Jesus – the Christ – the Messiah.
Blessings in your studies.
References and further reading: