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FRAMEWORKS: Isaiah

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FRAMEWORKS: INTRODUCTION TO ISAIAH

 

Why Read Isaiah: Isaiah more than any other prophet lifts us out of our current time zone and takes us into an overview of history as he not only speaks into his own day, to Israel and Judah [ch.1-12] and many other peoples in the region [v.ch.13-23], but he blasts us out of the present and carries us to the end of time on this earth when God comes with judgments and blesses Israel [ch.24-27]. He then returns to his own people, bringing a sharp assessment of them [v.28-31] and warns of a judgment to come through Assyria which will yet bring good [v.32-35].

 

But that was all Part 1 of the book, a book that has two main parts [1-35 and 40-66] divided by an interlude of historical record involving King Hezekiah, with three parts: first how Jerusalem is brought under siege by Assyria [ch.36,37], then the account of Hezekiah's apparently terminal illness but then recovery [ch.38], and finally how Hezekiah's pride led him to reveal to Babylonian envoys all his riches, for which he is rebuked by the Lord. So,

Part 1: Chapters 1 to 35
Interlude: Chapters 36 to 39
Part 2: Chapters 40 to 66

Part 1 can be titled ‘Words of Judgment' for, as the table below shows, it is full of ‘woes' or warnings of how it will be if they don't put their lives right. However as much as the overall sense is one of serious warning, it is peppered with hope and references to the coming Messiah, or anointed deliverer.

Part 2 , by comparison is full of hope and yet is peppered with words of warning.

Because this is such a lengthy and significant book, we continue with more extensive notes than usual that will be found after the following Contents listing:

 

Contents:

 

Part 1: Words of Judgment: Ch.1-39

 

1.1 The Sins of Israel & Judah Ch.1-12

Ch.1 – G od's intentions towards a fallen nation

Ch.2 – The Mountain & Day of the Lord

Ch.3 – Judgement on Jerusalem & Judea   

Ch.4 – A Chapter of Hope

Ch.5 – Judgement on the Vineyard

Ch.6 – Heavenly Revelation

Ch.7 – Immanuel & Assyria

Ch.8 – Warnings of Impending Invasions

Ch.9 – Light & Darkness

Ch.10 – Discipline & Accountability 

Ch.11 – The Branch & his work

Ch.12 – A Song of Praise for the End Time

 

1.2 Judgment against heathen nations Ch.13-23

1.2.1 First wave Ch.13-20

Ch.13 A prophecy Against Babylon [1]

Ch.14 A prophecy Against Babylon [2] + Philistia  

Ch.15 A prophecy against Moab

Ch.16 Continued warnings to Moab

Ch.17 A prophecy against Damascus & Israel

Ch.18 A prophecy against Cush [Upper Nile - Ethiopia]

Ch.19 A prophecy against Egypt

Ch.20 A prophecy against Egypt and Cush

1.2.2 Second wave Ch.21-23

Ch.21 Against Babylon, against Edom & against Arabia

Ch.22 – Against Jerusalem

Ch.23 – Against Tyre

 

1.3 God's Outworking of the End Judgment Ch.24-27

Ch.24 The Lord's devastation of the earth

Ch.25 – Subsequent Praise to the Lord

Ch.26 An extension of the song of praise

Ch.27 Deliverance by Discipline of Israel

     

1.4 Warnings & Jerusalem's hope Ch.28-35

1.4.1 Warnings

Ch.28 Woe to the leaders of Ephraim and Judah

Ch.29 – Woe to Jerusalem

Ch.30 Woe to Israel for obstinate rejection of God

Ch.31 Woe to Israel relying on Egypt for deliverance from the Assyrians

1.4.2 Judgments with Hope

Ch.32 The Coming of Disaster then a new era of Righteousness & Blessing

Ch.33 Judgment on the Invader (Assyria), blessing on Jerusalem

Ch.34 Judgment against the nations & Edom

Ch.35 Transformation for the returning redeemed

 

Interlude: Historical Events during the Reign of Hezekiah Ch.36-39

 

Ch.36 The Assyrian commander threatens Jerusalem

Ch.37 The downfall of Sennacherib

Ch.38 Hezekiah's illness & recovery

Ch.39 Hezekiah boasts to Envoys from Babylon

 

Part 2: Words of Comfort: Ch.40-66

 

2.1 Ch.40-48 Reassurances of Future Restoration [‘The Book of Cyrus']

Ch.40 Comfort for God's People

Ch.41 The All-powerful Challenger of Idols

Ch.42 First Servant Song & the Past and the Future

Ch.43 Ownership, Testimony, Truth, and a new work

Ch.44 Reassurances for Israel

Ch.45 The Lord's Plans for Cyrus

Ch.46 – Helpless idols, but delivered Israel

Ch.47 – Babylon now held accountable

Ch.48 A New Word for Israel – get out of Babylon!

 

2.2 Ch.49-59: Assurances & Challenges of Salvation [‘The Book of the Servant']

2.2.1 Mostly Assurances

Ch.49 The Second Servant Song & Israel's Restoration

Ch.50 – Israel's failure and a call to heed the Servant [incl. Third Servant Song]

Ch.51 Salvation promised for the righteous

Ch.52 – Coming Redemption & Fourth Servant Song

Ch.53 – The Fourth Servant Song (Part 2)

Ch.54 – Jerusalem will be Restored

Ch.55 Invitation to a new covenant relationship

Ch.56 – God's desire for His House to be a home for all

2.2.2 Challenges

Ch.57 – Rebuke and Comfort

Ch.58 True ‘fasting'

Ch.59 Sin, confession, and redemption

 

2.3 Ch.60-66: Present-day Judgments and future Glory

Ch.60 The future glory of Zion

Ch.61 – The year of the Lord's favour

Ch.62 Yearning for the new day with the Lord

Ch.63 Judgment and Redemption

Ch.64 – Further appeals to the Lord

Ch.65 Present day Judgment and the future new world

Ch.66 An Accounting on idolaters, blessing the faithful of the world

 

There is a difficulty that arises with books of prophecy, especially one as long as Isaiah, with the most number of chapters in any book of the Bible [excluding Psalms]. The difficulty is knowing how and when the writings came about. Some understanding may be brought from the text and other understanding considering what the rest of the Bible says about the period of history during which Isaiah prophesied.

Let's consider the historical context seen outside Isaiah, but linked in Isaiah, the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” [1:1]

 

Historical Context:

 

Uzziah: (767-740) 2 Chron 26:1-23 otherwise known as Azariah (see 2 Kings 14:21)

•  sought God while Zechariah was his mentor (26:1-15)

•  fell to pride and suffered leprosy (26:16-23)

•  mentioned in Isa 1:1, 6:1, 7:1

Jotham:  (740-732) 2 Chron 27:1-9 a good king

•  mentioned in Isa 6:1, 7:1

Ahaz:  (732-716) 2 Chron 28:1-27 a bad king refusing God's chastising

•  mentioned in Isa 1;1, 7:1-3,10,12, 14:28

Hezekiah: (716-697) 2 Chron 29-32– mostly good

•  cleansed and purified the Temple (29:1-36)

•  celebrated Passover (30:1-27)

•  cleansed the land (31:1)

•  mentioned in Isa 1:1, Ch.36-39

[Note: dates of their reigns shown above should be taken as only rough guides as a) the Hebrew calendar is slightly different from ours and b) some of these rulers overlapped with one another, i.e. reigning as co-regents.]

From this we see that Isaiah, unlike some of the other prophets, hardly anchors his prophecies in the reigns of the four kings, three of who, hardly get a mention and the fourth who is the subject of the four historical ‘Interlude' chapters.

 

As we will note more fully within the text [e.g. end of ch.5 & ch.13], because we know the reigns of the four kings above, we know that Isaiah prophesied in the period somewhere between about 760 to 690BC. In respect of the two kingdoms, it is worth remembering that the northern nation of ‘Israel' was carried away in 722 after the fall of Samaria, by the Assyrians.

The words in respect of the Babylonian exile of Judah did not seem to come into  total  fulfilment until in 587BC there was the fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Nebuchadnezzar.

The words we find in Isaiah about Cyrus were not to be fulfilled until 538BC (Isa 44:28, 45:1,13) although it is possible, if not probable, that Cyrus was prompted by the Lord, using the scrolls from Jerusalem (including Isaiah) that would have been taken to Babylon and placed in the archives with other documents recording that history [see Ezra 4:15, 5:17. Ezra 7 also indicates that scrolls of the Law etc. had clearly been there in Babylon throughout the period of the exile.] We should also note that in all the ‘major prophets' there is foretelling judgements to come as well as warnings in the present.

 

Because they both feature quite prominently in Isaiah we should perhaps note both Assyria and Babylon:

   

(i) Assyria:  Went through many phases through ancient history, and was strong and starting to expand about 900BC, lasting until the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Medes/Persians and Babylonians, Chaldeans in 609 BC [see below]. Bearing mind that we said above that that Isaiah prophesied in the period somewhere between about 760 to 690BC we should note that in the Bible, Assyria is mentioned as follows:

Isaiah's time:
•  Tiglath-Pileser III:  (745-727) built the Assyrian empire and came and deported some of Israel in Pekah's reign (2 Kings 15:19, 29)
•  Shalmaneser V:  (727-722) came against Hoshea, overcame Samaria (722BC) and deported the rest of Israel (2 Kings 17:3,5, also 2 Kings 18:9-11) i.e. end of ‘the northern kingdom'.
•  Sargon II (722-705) came and took Ashdod in the south (Isa 20:1)
•  Sennacherib:  (705-681) came against the southern kingdom, Judah, (after the fall of the north) later in Hezekiah's reign (2 Kings 18 & 19 & Isa 36,37) but was withstood (701BC), and then later assassinated by his sons.

   

Post Isaiah:

•  Esarhaddon:  (681-669) Sennacherib's son reigned after his death (2 Kings 19:37)
•  Ashburbanipal (669-627), Esarhaddon's son, was successful in subduing much of the region but after his death (somewhere between 631-627) it is thought his sons took control but their power over the area waned and Nabopolasser (see below) drove them out of Babylonia in 625. The Babylonians went on to take Assur in 614, Nineveh in 614, and finally Harran in 609.

   

(ii) Babylonia:  In Babylon, which had earlier been part of Assyria, the rise of the city state under  Nabopolasser  (625-605) meant the end of Assyria in 609 and the ascension of Babylonia under  Nebuchadnezzar  (605-562) and subsequent kings, until the fall of Babylon in 539BC to the Persian,  Cyrus , (539-530) who eventually sent the remnant of Israel back (538).

 

Thus we see that although there are various prophecies about Babylon in Isaiah, Babylon itself did not rise up to significance until about seventy years after Isaiah stopped prophesying.

 

Note for interest: Babylonians were also referred to a Chaldeans [Ezek 12:13]. Ur of the Chaldeans was, of course, Abram's original home [Gen 11:28].

   

The Warning or ‘Woes' of Isaiah

 

We noted above that the Major Prophets brought a combination of foretelling the future and bringing warnings to the present. The ‘woes' are examples or warnings in the present although we should note that warning are more extensive than just the ‘woes'.

 

Twenty-two times Isaiah makes this declaration: “Woe to you” or “How terrible it will be for…” followed by a recipient of God's judgment or discipline [only two of which are in Part 2 of the book]. Each one is a correction of a specific sin. In each case the strength of this declaration is a condemnation of sinners. Some of them are against named people [e.g. 10:5, 18:1, 29:1,33:1] while, although many of them sound general principles [e.g. 3:11, 5:8,11,18,20 etc.] they are in reality in every case specific people he has in mind who are at that time offending God. The vast majority, as noted above, appear in Part 1 that we've titled ‘Words of Judgment', hence our comments on the two Parts in the initial introduction above.

    

1:4

Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord

3:11

Woe to the wicked!

5:8

Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field

5:11

Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.

5:18

Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes,

5:20

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

5:21

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

5:22

Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks,

10:1

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees,

10:5

Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!

17:12

Woe to the many nations that rage— they rage like the raging sea! Woe to the peoples who roar— they roar like the roaring of great waters!

18:1

Woe to the land of whirring wings along the rivers of Cush,

28:1

Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, to the fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley— to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine! (Samaria)

29:1

Woe to you, Ariel, Ariel, the city where David settled! (Jerusalem)

29:15

Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?”

30:1

Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin;

31:1

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.

33:1

Woe to you, destroyer, you who have not been destroyed! Woe to you, betrayer, you who have not been betrayed!

45:9

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker

45:10

Woe to the one who says to a father, ‘What have you begotten?' or to a mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?'

   

 

The Foretellings of Isaiah

 

Prophecy, we would suggest, is any word coming from God. Often, as we've just noted, that is simply in the form of warnings and instruction but it is also in the form of foretelling what is yet to come in history. Perhaps it would also be useful to distinguish between two sorts of foretelling:

a) Immediate: that which applies to the immediate future, which occurs usually as God rebukes the sin but then warns what He is about to do to deal with it if they will not repent.

b) Distant: that which applies to the distant future. The difficulty over this is trying to discern what that refers to. The wise reader of prophecy knows that often prophecies can have multiple fulfilments though history, but the most recurring in Isaiah tend to be those that appear to apply to the End Time [when Jesus returns as conquering king – Rev 19] or the new heaven and new earth that God remakes after the ‘End Time'.

 

The difficulty is of distinguishing between the two. Sometimes it is clear that it is in the near future, for example with references to Assyria coming [ch. 10], but sometimes it is difficult to know whether it is near or far; Isaiah at times seems to veer in and out of the heavenlies and it is difficulty to know quite where he is. The important lessons to learn from all such prophecies are:

•  God knows and is in control,
•  God will hold all sinners to account
•  Judgment will come either a) in the present, b) at the End Time, and/or c) at the Final Judgment [see Rev 20].
•  In the midst of all the warnings are indications of blessings on the faithful remnant.

Because the immediate warnings, linked to rebukes for present sins, are so numerous we will not try to list them here and in the light of the comments above, we simply invite the reader to observe the following as they go through the book:

•  rebukes of present sins,
•  warning of immediate action by the Lord,
•  foretelling long-distance prophecies of the future,
•  Messianic prophecies,
•  blessings for the faithful remnant.

We hope these notes will help you focus your studies in this amazing book.

 
 

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