Introduction to Isaiah
Although Isaiah was not the first of the writing prophets chronologically, he is universally considered the “prince of prophets,” not only because of the length of his prophecy (the prophecy of Jeremiah is slightly longer) but because of the majesty and beauty of his themes, and the many prophetic foregleams of the coming Messianic kingdom. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah contains probably the clearest and fullest exposition of the sacrificial sufferings of Christ in substitution for our sins to be found anywhere in the Bible, including the New Testament. The book begins with a painful depiction of the sinful, lost condition of the people, but ends in the triumphant creation of the new heavens and new earth.
Isaiah was a prophet in Judah, serving under several kings in his long career—Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). His most influential ministry was under King Hezekiah, who led the nation in its greatest spiritual revival since the days of David and Solomon.
Critics, however, have viciously attacked the book of Isaiah, insisting that there were at least two “Isaiahs”—one who wrote chapters 1–39, the other chapters 40–66. Some have even suggested three or four authors.
The ostensible reason for the unwarranted assertion of a “Deutero-Isaiah” is that the two divisions have two different literary styles. Critics ignore the fact, however, that the two different styles relate to the two different themes of the two sections, not to mention the fact that far more similarities than differences can be found in the two sections.
The real reason, however, for the “two Isaiahs” notion is that the second division contains many remarkable prophecies that were later fulfilled—for example, the naming of the Persian emperor Cyrus a century and a half in advance (Isaiah 45:1-4). Skeptical theologians are unwilling to believe that God can supernaturally reveal the future to His divinely called and prepared prophets, and so most assume that the last part of Isaiah was written by an unknown writer living among the exiles in Babylon after Cyrus had conquered the city.
This criticism not only accuses the prophet of deception but also defies the uniform belief of both Jews and Christians all through the centuries. Furthermore, both the apostles and Jesus Himself frequently quote from both sections of Isaiah, always attributing them to Isaiah with no suggestion that they were referring to two different men. For example, Jesus attributes His quote of Isaiah 40:3 to “the prophet Esaias” (Matthew 3:3) and His quote of Isaiah 6:9-10 to “Esaias the prophet” (John 12:40-41).
The oldest extant manuscript of Isaiah is in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, dated about 100 B.C., and this gives no indication whatever that it was not all written by the same man. The same is true of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. In fact, all genuine historical evidence agrees on the unity of Isaiah.
Thus there is no reason whatever to doubt the authenticity of the entire book. Isaiah’s book is a marvelous document containing history and prophecy, clearly pointing forward to the coming Messiah and the fulfillment of all God’s purposes for both Israel and His whole creation.
1:1 vision. In the Old Testament, “vision” is often synonymous with “divine revelation,” amounting to a claim by the prophet that the account that follows is supernaturally inspired.
1:1 Isaiah. Isaiah means “Jehovah is salvation” and is considered the greatest of Old Testament prophets. His book contains the most significant and greatest number of Messianic prophecies. It falls naturally into two divisions, chapters 1–39 and chapters 40–66. Liberals have long argued that the two divisions were written by two different authors. The only real evidence for this idea is the fact that certain explicit prophecies in the second division (e.g., Isaiah 45:1-4), were fulfilled long after the “first” Isaiah died, and liberals do not believe in predictive prophecy. The New Testament, however, including Christ Himself, quotes from both divisions, attributing all such quotes to Isaiah the prophet. Note, for example, Matthew 3:3; 12:17,18; Luke 3:4; John 12:38-41; Acts 8:28-34; Romans 10:16,20; and others. Jesus says that Isaiah wrote the prophecy in both Isaiah 6:9,10 (quoted in Matthew 13:14,15) and Isaiah 53:4 (quoted in Matthew 8:17), as well as other quotes from both divisions.
1:3 crib. “Crib” is the same as “manger.” Although the animals could recognize their Maker when His parents “laid Him in a manger” (Luke 2:7), the leaders of the nation ignored Him and then sought to kill Him (Matthew 2:16).
1:4 Holy One of Israel. This title for God—“the Holy One of Israel”—occurs twelve times in the first division of Isaiah and fourteen times in the second division. This and other similarities in usage add further proof to the unified authorship of the entire book.
1:9 very small remnant. The doctrine of the remnant—a small group of people still true to God and His Word, in an apostate nation that has largely gone away from God—appears frequently in both Old and New Testaments (e.g., Luke 12:32).
1:9 Gomorrah. The example of God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-28) was still well remembered by the people of Israel at least fifteen hundred years after the event.
1:11 your sacrifices. God is not condemning sacrifices or prayers (Isaiah 1:15), but the unrepentant spirit of those who offer them (Isaiah 1:15-16), thus defeating their whole purpose.
1:13 oblations. That is, “sacrificial offerings.”
1:18 let us reason. Faith in the God of creation and redemption is not credulity, but fully consistent with all true spiritual reason—a reasonable faith.
1:18 crimson. This word is the same as “worm.” See note on Psalm 22:6.
1:24 mighty One of Israel. God is not only “the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 1:4), but also “the mighty One of Israel,” a title occurring four times in the book of Isaiah.