Introduction to Isaiah

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I’ve recently completed a study of Isaiah using the devotional, Search The Scriptures, by Alan M. Stibbs. I like it because it gets you to interact directly with Scripture. You learn to study the Bible without having to rely on commentaries, study guides, or other intermediate materials. Even with the proliferation of books that help people study the Bible people are as biblically illiterate as they have ever been, including Christians.

I wanted to share the introduction from this devotional for the book of Isaiah. There is an intro written for every book and I find it helpful to get an idea of the big picture of the book.

Isaiah, the ‘evangelical prophet’, began his ministry at the end of Uzziah’s reign, and continued through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. A Jewish tradition, to which allusion is perhaps made in Hebrews 11:37, states that he was slain in the reign of Manasseh by being sawn asunder. He was a man of outstanding faith in God, and came to exercise a large influence upon his fellow-countrymen. He had to contend with many difficulties, for the moral and spiritual condition of the people was corrupt. The rich oppressed the poor, and reveled in wanton luxury; justice was shamelessly bought and sold. When in distress, men turned to idols; and when in danger, they sought alliances with heathen powers. Isaiah urged a quiet trust in Jehovah, as the only sure path of safety; and when, in the supreme crisis of the Assyrian invasion, his counsel was followed, it was triumphantly vindicated in the destruction of the Assyrian army.

Isaiah spoke much of impending judgment; but he foresaw also the coming of the Messiah, and the establishment of His kingdom. His interest was not confined to his own nation of Judah only. He prophesied also concerning the northern kingdom of Israel (whose overthrow he witnessed), and the heathen nations surrounding Palestine.

The last twenty-seven chapters (40-66) contain a very remarkable group of prophecies, spoken primarily for the comfort and warning of those who lived in the period of the Jewish captivity in Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar about 150 years after Isaiah’s time. It is not possible here to discuss the modern contention that chapters 40-66 are not the work of Isaiah, but of one or more prophets who lived in the period of exile, or later. The problem is dealt with in the Introduction to Isaiah in The New Bible Commentary Revised, where the arguments adduced in favour of and against the unity of the book are carefully set down and analysed. Suffice it to say here that these studies are based upon the view, not lightly held, and supported by ancient Jewish tradition, and by the writers of the New Testament, that Isaiah was the author of the whole book. He had already foreseen in the vision of 13:1-14:23 (to which his name is attached; see 13:1) and in other visions (e.g., 21:1-10; 35; 39:6) the rise of Babylon to power and glory, and then her downfall, and the release of her Jewish captives. But in these later prophecies the glad message of redemption is revealed to him in far greater fullness. He takes his stand in prophetic vision in that later age, and declares the messages which God puts into his heart and upon his lips.

The chapters fall into three main sections, each ending with a statement of the doom of the wicked (48:22; 57:20, 21; 66:24). Embedded in these chapters are four prophecies, usually known as the ‘Servant’ passages, in which the prophet describes God’s ideal Servant, and, in so doing, draws a perfect picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is an illustration of a notable feature of the prophecies of these chapters, that they look far beyond the period of the return under Cyrus to the coming of Jesus Christ, and the final events of this present age. While spoken primarily to and of Israel, they have a message to all who belong to Christ. The triumphant faith in God, the revelation of God’s character, and of the principles of His working, the insight into the human heart in its sin and weakness, the ‘exceeding great and precious promises’, with which these chapters abound, these and other features make this part of Scripture a veritable mine of wealth to the Christian reader.

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