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Bible Overview is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Bible study. Each month we feature a book of the Bible (in order) by Bible scholar and lecturer, Mary Jane Chapin Chaignot. This month's entry is the Book of Isaiah, which is the first of the latter prophets, along with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets. They are all found in the second division, known as The Prophets. All of these books relate in some way to the fall of the northern and southern kingdoms. It is an interpretation of history through the lens that God is always in control of everything. If you want to read some of the history previous to this selection, you can find the earlier books in our archives. The Bible Time-Line is another quick reference for locating individuals or specific books. We encourage readers to share their Bible Study success stories on this site. Email us at overview@biblewise.com to be included on next month's site.

Bible Overview should be a wonderful help to all of you whether you are starting or continuing your Bible study. Bible Overview features an examination of a different book of the Bible each month (in order) by Bible scholar and lecturer, Mary Jane Chapin Chaignot. The only exceptions to this pattern are Christmas and Easter. This month in Bible Overview Isaiah is covered. In Living with the Bible we discuss The Nativity Story and Did You Know information about Elisabeth, Anna, and Mary.

Isaiah

The title of the book is derived from its opening words: the vision of Isaiah, son of Amoz which he saw…." Four kings are mentioned, suggesting a time of 25 years. And while most scholars accept the historicity of a person named Isaiah, they are also in agreement that the material in the book covers a much longer span. It is almost universally agreed that chapters 1-39 describe events in Isaiah's own lifetime, roughly 739-701 BCE. Chapters 40-55 reflect the period of exile (605-539BCE), and chapters 56-66 the return, approximately 539-500BCE. Scholars often identify these three distinct historical periods as First, Second (Deutero/DI), and Third (Trito/TI) Isaiah. It makes for interesting arguments over the unity of the book.

Most scholars deal with this by making a distinction between Isaiah, the prophet, and Isaiah, the book. Some argue that the latter periods are simply the prophecy of the historical Isaiah. Others argue for three distinct authors, in sync with the one overarching message throughout the book: God is in control of historical events and is using them to achieve His divine goals for His people. Isaiah began his prophetic ministry at the very time when Israel began to feel the heavy hand of Assyria. It is the Assyrian threat, then, that is behind the oracles of doom that dot the first twelve chapters. This is followed by a period of prophetic silence because the King (Ahaz, at this point) made an alliance with Assyria. Upon the death of Ahaz, Isaiah returned to his ministry. He began to look beyond his times and called for faith in Yahweh, all the while continuing to denounce the intrigues of the political leaders. During his later years, the kings worked on an alliance with Egypt, which Isaiah labeled as a "covenant with death." Indeed, the Assyrians were quick to put down the rebellion engineered by the alliance and picked off the Judean cities one by one, eventually holding Hezekiah under siege in Jerusalem. Hezekiah's submission and agreement to pay tribute staved off total destruction for the city. Although Isaiah saw the Assyrian king to be the instrument of God's chastisement for Judea, he also knew that the conquerors would be humbled after they had fulfilled God's purposes. He was, therefore, convinced that Jerusalem would survive.

It did survive, but its inhabitants were taken into exile in 567BCE - the background for chapters 40-55. In contrast to the earlier prophecies of doom and gloom, these verses sparkle with a message of hope and joy to come, a prosperity that would never end. In the events that had occurred, this author saw the fulfillment of God's plan. Judah had been punished for her sins, but a new day was at hand. God had a new plan, a new beginning in store for his people. Within these sixteen chapters are some of the most dramatic verses in the Bible. Themes of creation, history, and redemption all highlight God's work in the world, leading the author to exultant praise. Included in these passages are the Servant Songs, poems that portray the Servant and his function in the purpose of God. In these poems the Servant suffers, not for his own sins, but for the sins of others. But through his suffering and death, he affects God's saving purpose. In its time, the Hebrew people thought the Servant to be Israel or the prophet. Since the days of the New Testament, however, the verses have typically been interpreted as pointing to Christ.

The final chapters 56-66 deal with encouraging and supporting those who returned to Jerusalem, where things were very different from when they had left. Although the return was seen as fulfillment of Deutero-Isaiah's prophecy, the reality fell far short from a triumphant return. They were only granted a small portion of their land, which did include the city of Jerusalem. They had to interface with people who had stayed behind as well as with those who had moved in to occupy the desolate land. It was a time of disappointments, disillusions, and divisions among those who returned. They surely needed a prophetic word.

All three sections of Isaiah emphasize God's special relationship with his people. The main themes are promise and fulfillment in an ongoing pattern. When God's promises are fulfilled, there are additional promises leading to further fulfillment. The final chapters explore issues of salvation and judgment, with the Servant involved in both aspects.

The book itself was known by the time of Chronicles, roughly around 400 BCE. There were never any issues regarding its canonicity. The book has always been highly regarded both before and after the New Testament period. This is evidenced by the many quotes and allusions from Isaiah found throughout the New Testament and on the lips of Jesus and Paul.

In addition to the three main divisions, there are several subdivisions. I -- Chapters 1-39: Threats against the people (1-12), Threats against foreign peoples (13-23), and Promises to God's people (24-39). II -- Chapters 40-55: Living under the Babylonians (40-48), A light to the nations: return to Palestine (49-55). III -- Chapters 56-66: The restored community.

 
 
I The Vision of Isaiah 1-39
   1-12 -- Threats against the People
   
1:1   Superscription
     
1:2-6:13   The Vision of Isaiah
     
    1:2-9          The charge against Israel

1:10-17      Contrasting ways to relate to God (empty                     ceremony/ethical purity)

1:18-20      Invitation to obey and repent (He knows they won't)

1:21-31      Announcement of judgment

2:1-4:6       What Israel is versus what Israel will be

2:1-5           Ultimate destiny of House of Jacob

2:6-22         Foolishness of humanity trying to exalt itself
                    Discourse on "The Day of the Lord" (Day of
                    judgment)

3:1-15         Dependence on humanity leads to dissolution
                     Judah is foolish to elevate those who were
                     destroying them

3:16-4:1      Metaphor of a wealthy woman reduced to begging

4:2-6            God will not give up on these people

5:1-30          Reality of Israel's current situation

5:1-7            Lament for a vineyard that is not fruitful

5:8-24         Six woes re: the bad grapes and wasting of vineyard

5:25-30       Yahweh's reaction to wasted vineyard

6:1-13         God is closing their minds; things are so bad,
                     judgment is inevitable
     
7:1-9:7   Northern tribes have joined forces with Syria. Both have been forced to become part of Assyria. They are putting pressure on Judah to help gain their independence. They are unsuccessful; both capitals are sacked.
     
    7:1-9            Isaiah encourages Ahaz (Judah's king) to trust God,
                      not humans

7:10-17       Isaiah offers a sign: virgin will be with child, call him                      Immanuel

7:18-25       Isaiah's warning to Ahaz includes four calamities

8:1-10         Additional warnings; allies' plan will not last

8:11-15       Isaiah shares God's private words and describes
                     the traps they face

8:18-22       Isaiah practices what he preaches

9:1-7           God's promise of a Son - Counselor, Prince of
                    Peace Christians claim Jesus fulfills these
                    promises
     
9:8-10:4   Six woes spelling disaster for Israel
(May reflect the fall of Israel to Assyria in 722BCE)
Ending is a warning that God's anger is not sated
     
10:5-11:16   Despite being an instrument of God's judgment, Assyria will also be humbled. Woe to the Assyrian that exalts himself.
     
10:20-34   A remnant will survive
     
11:1-16   Israel will grow again
     
12:1-6   Songs of Praise to sing on the day of salvation
     
13-23 - Threats Against Foreign Peoples
     
    13:1-14:27   Prophecy against Babylon
                       Babylon was an unhappy underling of Assyria at
                       this point. Within a century, they will invade Assyria                        and become the major power in the life of the
                       southern kingdom. Their ultimate fall is described.                        One cannot thwart God's plans.

14:28-17:14  Prophecies against Judah's neighbors

14:28-32        Prophecies against Assyria and the Philistines

15:1-16:14     The destruction of Moab
                         Description of the enemies' attack and its result:                          Moab is undone

17:1-14           Oracles about Damascus, Ephraim, and Assyria

18:1-20:6        Prophecies against Ethiopia and Egypt
                         Judah tries to unite with them against the
                         Assyrians to no avail
                         All would fall in accordance with God's judgment

21:1-17           Oracles against Babylon, Edom, and Arabia
                         Description of the utter confusion and terror of the
                         fall of Babylon
                         Irony is, of course, the fall of Babylon liberated
                         Judah

22:1-25           A prophecy about Jerusalem

22:1-14           Their exultant rejoicing about deliverance is way                          premature
                         God has not finished with them

22:15-25         Address to leaders who fail - analogous to                          Jerusalem

23:1-18          Oracles against Sidon and Tyre

23:1-14           Descriptions of their destruction

23:15-18         Descriptions of their future rehabilitation and                          dedication to God
     
24-39 -- Promises to God's People
     
24: 1-27:13   Devastation, then renewal for the entire land
     
    24:1-13           A vision of the land laid waste

24:14-16        Choirs sing to the glory of the One who is
                         Righteous

24:17-23        The prophet struggles with the calamity to come

25:1-12          Thanksgiving for the end of the enemy; hope for
                        end of suffering

26:1-19          A song of praise to the Lord for establishing peace

26:19-27:13 Prophecy that Israel will be protected and renewed
     
28:1-33:24   A collection of woe prophesies against Israel's leaders. It is thought that at this point, Jerusalem had declared independence from Assyria and aligned itself with Egypt. The leaders were ignoring Isaiah's prophecies.
     
    28:1-13         First Ephraim, then Jerusalem

28:14-22       Scoffers have made a covenant with death

28:23-29       Images from agriculture make the point that
                       everything happens in God's own time

29:1-24         Oracle against Jerusalem (here called "Ariel")
                       Punishment, then consolation
                       "People honor me with their lips, but their hearts
                       are far from me"
                       The mockers will be brought down; the humble will                        rejoice

30:1-17         Judah did not consult God regarding its foreign
                       policy Oracle describes the foolishness of Judah in                        relying upon Egypt Isaiah's prophecies are a record
                       of the rebelliousness of Judah

30:18-26      Judgment has its counterpart of grace
                      The people will weep no more
                      "Your ears will hear a voice… 'This is the way; walk
                      in it."

30:27-33     The Lord will come in power
                      Judah's enemies will be destroyed

31:1-32:20  Isaiah tries again to reach Judah - Woe to those
                      who rely on Egypt. Eventually, even these mighty                       nations will be destroyed.

31:1-5          Trust in the Lord

31:6-9           A call for repentance and the defeat of Assyria

32:1-8           A kingdom of righteousness
                       After the downfall of Assyria, there will be a just                        government

32:9-15        A message for the women of Jerusalem
                      There will be terrible suffering and a new social
                       world

32:16-20      Judgment will not be the last word - renewal and                       peace

33:1-24        A series of woe oracles summarizing many points                      made earlier

33:2-6         The Lord will be gracious

33:7-9         Promise of the future contrasts with present
                     hardships

33:10-24    God promises to act
                     "And the sins of those who dwell there will be
                     forgiven."
     
34:1-35:10   Judgment against the nations and renewal
     
    34:1-17       Proclamation of a total and universal judgment

35:1-10       Joy of salvation among the redeemed people
                     "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened…the
                     lame will leap like a hart."
     
36:1-39:8   Historical information regarding Hezekiah's faith
Information here is virtually identical to 2 Kings 18:13, 17-19:37; 2 Chron 32:9-26. Judah is in midst of national crisis in 701 BCE due to Assyrian threat.
     
   

36:1-22      Hezekiah's faith is tested

                    36:1-10       Sennacherib sends message - "On what
                                         are you confident?"
                                         Boasts that Yahweh was on the side of                                          Assyria

                    36:11-20    Intimidation of Judah
                                        Messengers speak in Hebrew, taunt the                                         people to rebel against Hezekiah

                    36:21-22    People do not respond

     
37:1-7   Hezekiah consults Isaiah
Isaiah reassures Hezekiah
     
37:8-38   Hezekiah meets his political crisis
Sennacherib sends another threatening message. Hezekiah prays to Yahweh directly
     
37:21-34   Response comes through Isaiah
Yahweh will deal with Sennacherib. Hezekiah will be given a
sign, but it's for the future. For the moment, he has to trust.
     
37:35-38   End of Assyrian threat and death of Sennacherib
     
38:1-39:8   Hezekiah's illness and recovery
     
    38:1-8        Isaiah informs Hezekiah of his impending death
                    Hezekiah prays to Yahweh and death is averted

38:9-22      Hezekiah's thanksgiving after his recovery

39:1-8         Babylonian envoys foreshadow ominous threat of exile
                     But Hezekiah will enjoy peace in his lifetime
     
II God's Promises 40-55
These chapters describe life after the exile has occurred. The Israelites are living in Babylon, roughly 150 years after the time of Isaiah. Judgment has occurred. A new message of grace and mercy is given to another "Isaiah."
     
40-48 - Living Under the Babylonians
     
40:1-11   The prophet is commissioned to comfort the people
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord."
     
40:12-31   Yahweh is about to act
He is Creator and Lord of history and cannot be compared
with anyone
He gives strength to the weary
     
41:1-7   Scene opens with a courtroom; Israelites are helpless
Yahweh will raise up one from the East (Cyrus)
     
41:8-20   Extent of Yahweh's commitment to Israel
"Do not fear, I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God."
     
41:21-29   Invitation to Israel to come to court to argue who is God
     
42:1-9   First of four Servant Songs
Description of the "Servant" includes some of the most familiar lines in Isa.
Scholars argue over the identity of the servant - Isaiah, Israel?
Servant speaks with the authority of Yahweh
     
42:10-17   Invitation to praise for what Yahweh is about to do
     
42:18-25   Yahweh confronts Israel about their ability to be his servant
     
43:1-7   Despite the declaration of guilt, Yahweh claims them
Delivers a "fear not" oracle
     
43:8-13   Another court scene wherein Israel testifies to God's power
     
43:14-21   Babylon will fall, followed by a promise of salvation
     
43:22-28   The punishment inflicted was inevitable consequence for sins
     
44:1-5   Israel has been chosen "from the womb"
     
44:6-23   It will not be idols but God who delivers Israel
     
    44:9-20       Images of scorn re: idol-making
     
44:24-45:8   The appointing of Cyrus
Yahweh will use him to bring the people back to Yahweh
     
45:9-13   People cannot accept the prophet's message
     
45:14-25   Nonetheless, it is Yahweh who has cared for them forever
The nations will come to the feet of Israel
     
46:1-47:15   The fall of Babylon and their gods
     
    46:1-7          Prophet addresses the gods of Babylon by name to                       humiliate them

46:8-13        Community has to acknowledge the power of
                      Yahweh

47:1-15        The fall of Babylon
                      All the resources at their command cannot stop the                       destruction
     
48:1-22   Israel is invited to respond
Address to Israel summons them to leave Babylon
     
    48:1-11       Israel's stubbornness will not keep Yahweh from
                     acting in history

48:12-22    People are to "listen"
                    Yahweh will not abandon them; they are to prepare
                    to leave Babylon
     
49-55 - Israel will be a Light to the Nations
     
49:1-7   The second "Servant Song"
Servant laments his lack of success with the people but renews
his faith
     
49:8-13   He is reassured by recounting Yahweh's care for the people
     
49:14-26   Images of a restored and reinhabited Zion
     
50:1-3   Yahweh's relationship with Israel is likened to a marriage
     
50:4-11   The third "Servant Song"
Despite his lack of success, he knows Yahweh will assist and vindicate him
He cannot lose with Yahweh on his side
     
51:1-16   Exhortation of the people to "listen," "pay heed," and "awake, awake"
     
51:17-52:2   The cup of judgment
The people must realize their hardships are the result of judgment, not chance
Their only hope is for salvation, for the fulfillment of God's purpose
Ending with a call for joy
     
52:3-12   Various hymns calling for praise for God's acts of redemption
     
52:13-53:9   The fourth "Servant Song"
In these verses, the servant is humiliated, put to death
It is clear that the servant suffered for the sins of others
     
53:10-12   They are vindicated through his death
Again, many familiar passages in relation to Christ's death
     
54:1-10   The future of Zion
If chronological, then the servant's work has been accomplished
Prophet leads call for praise, using metaphor of a woman restored
Again, theme of covenant is likened to marriage
     
54:11-17   The New Jerusalem
Many of these images were expanded in book of Revelation
Buildings are costly and beautiful
Divine blessings will be permanent
     
55:1-13   Invitation to a great banquet
Urging of the people to accept invitation to their own land and Yahweh's protection as in the days of David
Use of parable of a busy marketplace
"Seek the Lord while he may be found."
Ending on a pastoral note: The Lord's everlasting sign will not be destroyed
     
56-66 - The Restored Community
     
56:1-8   Warnings to keep the moral law
The hopes expressed in 40-55 paled in light of harsh realities of return
Loyalty to the covenant is paramount as is full acceptance by God
Can include foreigners, eunuchs
     
56:9-57:13   Current leaders are inadequate, unworthy, and subject to idolatry
Probably a reflection of the leadership of the people who had stayed behind
Those who promote debased religion will be summoned, charged, and judged
Abhorrence by true worshipper of Yahweh
     
57:14-21   Message to those who believe but are overwhelmed by others' lack of faith; yet all is not lost. Only those opposed to Yahweh will suffer
     
58:1-14   Dealing with the practice of fasting in its religious significance
Prophet warns people they are not in right relation to Yahweh
Preparations must be made, get themselves ready - fasting and prayer
Their struggles indicate they are not worshiping properly
They do the outward ceremonies, but with no real internal piety, faith
     
59:1-8   Yahweh is not to blame for troubles; he is mighty and willing to save
Their sufferings are a result of their sins
     
59:9-20   Several people confess their sins and their faith that God will act soon
They recognize that God is at work in the horrible situation
     
60:1-62:12   The promise of a New Jerusalem
The great expectations of Second Isaiah have not been realized. It is possible that the temple has been rebuilt, but it is only a shadow of its former glory. Therefore the words of Second Isaiah need to be repeated
     
    60:1-9          The day will come when all the exiles will return with
                      all their wealth

60:10-18     Description of the rebuilding of Jerusalem - great                      opulence
                     This never happened, could be describing a
                     spiritual city

60:19-22     All opposition to God will disappear

61:1-11       Prophetic call is to preach healing and liberation to
                     a stressed people
                     Yahweh promises to restore their rights -
                     inheritance, joy

62:1-12      The intercessory nature of prophecy
                    He is confident that his prayers will be answered
                    (The exiles have returned, but the land is
                    occupied and life is difficult)
     
63:1-6   Battlefield language that recounts overcoming evil
It is in form of dialogue - questioner is city sentinel; responder is Yahweh
War is difficult, ugly
     
63:7-19   Psalm of lament for the community
A confession of faith that includes preparation for penitence and supplication
Lament over current situation and prayer for forgiveness and help
     
64:1-12   Continuation of psalm of lament
Confession of the uniqueness of God, the certainty of his divine appearing
     
65:1-66:24   Oracles of Judgment
It is likely that the community was comprised of both faithful and unfaithful individuals. Throughout these oracles promise
alternates with threat. Salvation and judgment will be extended to all of mankind
     
    65:1-7          Pronouncement of judgment
                     Those who reject Yahweh and have embraced
                     unholy practice face judgment
                     The verdict will be public; Yahweh will be silent no
                     longer

65:8-16       If the disloyal will be destroyed, the faithful will be
                     saved
                     Real descendants are those who are obedient to
                     the covenant
                     Future of Israel will be determined by a remnant
                     within Judea

65:17-25    Ultimately, the world will be transformed
                     The transformation of the world will restore it to
                     God's original purpose

66:1-4          Words spoken, perhaps, after the temple had been                       restored to remind the people that it is only the focal                       point for worship. True worship of God is derived
                      from genuine humility and reverence

66:5-6          The unfaithful will be brought to shame

66:7-17        The faithful will be comforted like a mother comforts
                       her child
                      They will be glad at heart

66:18-24      All nations will share in Israel's position; they will                       proclaim the glory of God to all the world. The new
                      age and the nation will endure forever. The last
                      verse describes the fate of those who rebel against                       God. It indicates the seriousness of Israel's
                      privilege and responsibility as God's agent in the
                      world
     
  Thus ends the first book of the prophets. Most of these verses are addressed to real people in real situations, people who were acting in ways contrary to a people of God. Whether it was kings making alliances with other nations or the people turning to other gods, the prophet stood as God's messenger to all. It was a message that mostly went unheeded, and judgment was severe. During the exile, he brought a message of hope and redemption; during the restoration of Jerusalem, he brought a message of encouragement and support. The people were not magically transported out of a difficult situation, but they were given the tools to survive and the assurance of God's presence with them.
   
   
 

Bibliography

Goldingay, John. "Isaiah." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA:      Hendrickson Publishers, 2001.

Herbert, A.S. "Isaiah 40-66." The Cambridge Bible Commentary. Great Britain:      Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Knight, George. "Servant Theology, A Commentary on the Book of Isaiah 40-55."      International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans,      1984.

Sawyer, John. "Isaiah." Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster      Press, 1984.

Whybray, R.N. "Isaiah 40-66." The New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids,      MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1990.

Widyapranawa, S.H. "Isaiah, 1-39, The Lord is Savior, Faith in National Crisis."      International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans,      1990.

   
 
   
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