Isaiah – A Prophetic voice

God’s word for his world and ours!

Chapters 36-39 of the Book of Isaiah are a duplicate of 2 Kings 18-20 with a few omissions from chapter 18 and the addition of Hezekiah’s Prayer in Isaiah 38. They are the bulk of the facts we know (apart from those gleaned from the book that bears his name) about Isaiah.. He was a prophet who worked in the reigns of four kings of Judah (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah) that is from about 750-700 BC. He retired from active prophetic role after the events in chapters 7-8, reappearing in 714BC in the events recounted in the reign of Hezekiah (36-39).

The Book that bears his name however covers the prophecies spoken into 12 generations of God’s people from 750 BC to 438BC.

These generations cover the period before the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 721 BC, the saving of Jerusalem from Sennacherib in 701 BC, the continuance of Judah until the final Babylonian exile in 587BC when Jerusalem was destroyed.[1] It speaks into a people in exile, and a people returning and returned, and the people seeking to rebuild and discover the purpose and meaning of being Jews in Jerusalem who were not ever to know political independence again.[2]

The Book in the form we know it probably had its first audience around 435 BC.

The compiler or compilers are unknown – but they have skillfully woven the prophecies of Isaiah and his successors together showing that the themes of the purposes of God propounded by Isaiah himself in the earliest chapters are still the themes 12 generations later.

Isaiah[3] has  a clear and evangelical theme. It has been referred to as the ‘Gospel of the Old Testament’ since it anticipates so much of what Jesus will say and be – a Servant King Messsiah who acts on behalf of his people, who commands obedience, who saves his people and establishes not an earthly Kingdom but a Kingdom nonetheless whose ‘builder and maker’ is God himself.[4]

What unifies the book is its insistence of a ‘Vision’, God’s vision first announced in chapter 2 but repeated throughout the book.

God is looking for a people, a humble and contrite people who seek the Lord, wait on him and tremble at his word. This people are the mark of the new era of God which has begun, they rally around Jerusalem where the Lord dwells, they are a religious not a political community, and they avoid pagan cults, and their relationship with God is not sacrificially dependent but a covenant relationship of a loving seeking God – a suffering servant God who is yet their and the world’s judge.[5]

John Watts[6] sums it up thus: ‘ The Lord[7] continues to search for an attentive, responsive people, faithful to himself and obedient to his will. That people and that people only would share with the Lord the right to live in joy and peace and safety in Zion, the City of God.

If I am to add a further comment it would be to say that this people are a missionary people – a light to the nations, a sign of a Kingdom in which they will come from the North and the South, from the East and from the West to sit down in the Kingdom of God.[8]

Such a people God still seeks – obedient to God, knowing and confidently speaking his word into his world.

Together this year we hope to be that people.

 


[1] There were not one but several deportations to Babylon, until 587 there were left puppet kings in charge in Jerusalem until Babylonian patience ran out.

[2] The people returned to Jerusalem under Persian rule were subsequently, apart from a few short periods of ill-fated rebellion, under the control of the Greek, Seleucid and Roman Empires.

[3] Except where I clearly indicate that it is the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, that I mean, you may assume that Isaiah refers to the Book or more properly the prophecies of those that are recorded in the book of Isaiah.

[4] SeeHebrews 11.

[5] In this analysis I am deeply dependent on the relevant commentary by John Watts in the Word Biblical Commentary Series. You will also discover my debt to CR North, John Hamlin and Otto Kaiser at various points in my notes.

[6] See previous footnote Commentary p xxxii.

[7] Watts uses Yahweh to denote the tetragrammaton YHWH, I am following the RSV and NRSV by using the phrase ‘The Lord” .

[8] Luke 13:29

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