The Book of the Prophet Isaiah is named for a great prophet who lived and worked in Jerusalem in the last part of the eighth century b.c. (c. 742–698). This book is the longest of all the prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible (66 chapters) and it features highly skilled Hebrew poetry and words of consolation and hope that continue to resonate to this day. The book of Isaiah has three sections. The first section comprises chapters 1–39, and comes from the time when the Assyrian army was a rising menace to the kingdom of Judah in the latter part of the eighth century b.c. The break-away northern kingdom (Israel), in desperation, had formed an alliance with Syria to the northeast (735 b.c.) in hopes of withstanding the Assyrian onslaught, and tried to force Judah to join them willingly or be forced to by an invasion. Isaiah counseled King Ahaz to resist (7.13-17) because the threat would soon be gone. Indeed, as foreseen by Isaiah, the northern capital, Samaria, fell to Assyria in 722 b.c., and during the final two decades of the eighth century, Assyria gained control of most of the area surrounding Judah. In 701 b.c. the Assyrian armies laid siege to Jerusalem itself, but eventually had to abandon their campaign due to a palace coup back in Nineveh, Assyria's capital. It was during these tense years of ever-rising threat that Isaiah ministered and counseled King Hezekiah (Isa 36–39, which parallels 2 Kgs 18.13—20.19). His oracle gave warning to kings and people alike of judgment to come from God in the form of military invasion, as Isaiah says, brought upon themselves because of the rampant injustice and disregard for God's commandments, and the widespread exploitation of society's poorest. Isaiah urged restoration of policies that would lead to justice and fairness, and also foretold a time of peace and the coming of an ideal ruler like David of old (chapters 2, 9, 11).
The second section consists of chapters 40–55 which address the captives languishing in exile in Babylonia. The prophet proclaims the good news of their forthcoming release and announces that they will have the opportunity to rebuild Jerusalem and begin a new life in their homeland. God is here portrayed as the overarching Lord of History, who has chastised Judah, but now calls the people to renewal so they can be “a light to the Gentiles (nations)” (49.6). The four “Servant of the Lord” passages (42.1-4; 49.1-6; 50.4-9; 52.13—53.12) are among the best known in the book of Isaiah.
The third and final section of Isaiah includes chapters 56–66, and envisions a restoration of Jerusalem and Judah. Despite the grim reality of ruins, rubble, and land-grabbers that the returnees found when they came back, the oracles in this section foresee a bright future for God's people when the glory of the Lord God will shine on them, a time when justice, sharing, and righteousness will prevail (61.1-4; 65.17-25). Some of these later prophecies were probably written after the return from exile (after 538 b.c.), and may be best understood as having been written in the prophet's name by faithful students of the prophet's writings who sought to present the Isaianic message of God's justice, love, and mercy to a new generation.
After Psalms, Isaiah is the book in the Hebrew Bible that Jesus and the New Testament authors quoted most. Jesus' disciples saw direct links between Isaiah's “Servant of the Lord” oracles and the mission, fate, and destiny of their own Lord. Isaiah's importance to the Church Fathers is also well attested. The prophet's uncompromised proclamation of “good news” prompted Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible, to suggest Isaiah be called “evangelist” rather than “prophet.” Others in the Early Church dubbed Isaiah “the Fifth Gospel.”
Isaiah, Part I: Before the Babylonian Exile (1.1—39.8)
Warnings and Promises (1.1—12.6)
God's Judgment on the Nations (13.1—23.18)
God's Judgment of the World (24.1—27.13)
Further Warnings and Promises (28.1—35.10)
King Hezekiah and the Siege of Jerusalem (36.1—39.8)
Isaiah, Part II: Messages of Promise and Hope for the Exiles (40.1—55.13)
Isaiah, Part III: Warnings and Promises for the Returnees from Exile (56.1—66.24)
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