Isaiah 1-39: The Sinful Nations
Isaiah 40-55: The Glory of God
Isaiah 56-66: The Glorious Future
Timeline (c. 740-680 B.C.)
2 Kings 15-21 (Jotham-Manasseh)
2 Chronicles 26-33 (Uzziah-Manasseh)
Introduction to Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is 66 chapters long, making it the second longest prophetic book in the Bible (Jeremiah’s 52 chapters are a bit longer). The first 39 chapters are set in Isaiah’s own lifetime, and primarily deal with the Assyrian threat to the northern kingdom of Israel. Chapters 40-55 declare a message of comfort and salvation for Israel, and foretell a suffering servant who will die for the sins of the nation. The famous servant song of Isaiah 52-53 is one of the most explicit portrayals of the death of Jesus, so explicit that it is no longer read in Jewish synagogues. The last section of the book, chapters 56-66 speak of a coming Conqueror who will be anointed with the fullness of the Spirit of the Lord. When Jesus begins his ministry right after his baptism, he reads from Isaiah 61 in a synagogue in Nazareth and declares that he is the fulfillment of this 700-year-old prophecy. He says,
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord…
Background & Context of Isaiah
Isaiah was called to the ministry around 740 BC, and he lived until at least 681 BC, which gives him a 50+ year ministry! We know from the book itself that Isaiah was a married man and had children. He was a husband and father in addition to being a prophet. His dad was Amoz (who was likely the brother of King Uzziah/Azariah), which would make Isaiah the King’s nephew. Isaiah’s 50-year ministry spanned the reign of 4 Judean kings: Uzziah/Azariah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. You can read more about what was going at the time by reading 2 Kings 15-21, and 2 Chronicles 26-33. These chapters contain the inspired history of Israel and Judah throughout Isaiah’s own lifetime. Isaiah prophesied and lived through the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. Samaria (the capital city) was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC (2 Kings 17).
Isaiah was not the only prophet of his day. The prophets Hosea (c. 753-687 BC), Amos (c. 793-739 BC), and Micah (c. 750-687 BC) were all contemporaries of Isaiah (c. 740-581 BC), and there’s good chance they knew each other and were familiar with one another’s preaching. For example, Micah 4 and Isaiah 2 both say the same thing, “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And peoples shall flow to it…etc.” Isaiah is quoted or alluded to by other Old Testament books at least 28 times, and he is referenced by NT authors at least 64 times. He is one of the most quoted and alluded to prophets in the Bible.
Isaiah’s name means YHWH is salvation, and as with many of the prophets, his name signifies the message he is preaching. Judgment is going to fall on Israel for their idolatry and rebellion, but YWHW will be their salvation. This is made more clear in chapters 7-9, as the birth of Immanuel (literally: God With Us) is prophesied. A child will be born, “and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace, There will be no end” (Is. 9:6-7). Isaiah foretells the incarnation of God and his eternal reign as king. God himself is going to be born as a human baby, and he will be the promised son of David, the seed of Abraham, and the offspring of Eve who will crush the serpent’s head. God Himself will come and be salvation!
Suggestions For Reading
#1. Look For All The Allusions
One of the things I would encourage you look for as you read Isaiah is those 64+ places that it is quoted or alluded to in the NT. For example, in the very first chapter (Isaiah 1:9) it says, “Unless the Lord of hosts Had left to us a very small remnant, We would have become like Sodom, We would have been made like Gomorrah.” The Apostle Paul quotes this verse in Romans 9:29 as a prooftext to explain the doctrine of election and sovereign grace.
Another example would be Isaiah 25:8, which says, “He will swallow up death forever, And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces: The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken.” This is picked up in 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21 and explained in more depth. One day God is going to raise everyone from the dead, he will cast death itself into the lake of fire and will wipe away every tear from the eyes of the righteous. So what Isaiah foretells in broad terms, the New Testament expounds and give greater detail about their fulfillment. And that’s just two examples of the many you will find as you read through this book.
#2. Let Isaiah Expand Your Definition of Salvation
Many Christians have too a narrow view of salvation. They think of it in primarily individualistic terms: “Jesus saves me from my sin so that I can go to heaven when I die.” And that’s it! While it is of course true that Jesus saves us as individuals, Isaiah gives us a much bigger picture of God’s saving purpose. When the messiah comes, he is going to be a great king over all the earth. When salvation comes, God’s people “cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, and plead for the widow” (Is. 1:16-17), in other words, God’s salvation doesn’t just change our future and final destination, it changes how we live in our current and present reality on this earth. Isaiah 2 describes the reign of Jesus Christ as a time in which all the nations shall flow to Mount Zion, and God’s law and word goes forth from Jerusalem. This is a reference to the preaching of the Word that goes forth from the church (the New Jerusalem) every Lord’s Day. And when the nations hear and obey God’s law, what will be the result? “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore” (Is. 2:4).
So God’s salvation is enormous. Salvation is as comprehensive as the Fall, it goes “as far as the curse is found.” Anything and everything that sin has touched or tainted, is being transformed by Christ and his church as He makes all things new. Isaiah speaks of a day when:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
Their young ones shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,
And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.
God’s salvation is so much bigger than just saving our individual soul. God is renewing and redeeming all of creation, this includes our bodies, our land and environment, the animals who live on this earth, and the relationships between nations. Whatever is in need of saving, God is going to save. Whether that is politics, or sickness, or sorrow, or death itself. God’s salvation has come in Jesus Christ, and Isaiah is full of this gospel hope. So look for it and be encouraged as you read.