Date: Eighth Century B.C.
The Book of Isaiah is one of the best-known books of the Old Testament. It is the book most frequently quoted in the New Testament and the one used most frequently by Jesus. Throughout the history of the church it has been used in worship, in hymns, and by theologians. The reason for its popularity is twofold.
First, it contains the clearest Old Testament presentation of the gospel. The depiction of sin, the helplessness of the sinner, the marvelous love of God, his provision of a Savior, and the call to repentance and faith are all to be found there. Second, the book abounds with memorable phrases and images which have become part of our general church vocabulary or hymnody.
Isaiah wrote during a period of impending doom in Judah, in his time the southern half of what had been the nation of Israel. The mighty Assyrian army was devastating the northern regions and Isaiah’s nation appeared to be next. Isaiah urged Hezekiah the king, against all logic, to cast himself on the Lord for protection, promising that God would be true to his word by sparing Judah. When Hezekiah dared to trust God, a plague broke out in the Assyrian camp, killing most of the army and forcing the Assyrians to withdraw. Thus, the tiny nation of believers was spared. Isaiah’s book covers those difficult times with messages, sermons, historical accounts, exhortations, and prophecies.
Theological Themes in the Book of Isaiah
The theological content of the Book of Isaiah is one of the high points of the Old Testament. Paramount in the book is Isaiah’s stress on the holiness of God: God is called “The Holy One of Israel.” God’s holiness is the foundation of all his dealings with the world. Because of this, Judah could rest secure; God would never do anything that was not just and fair. Isaiah tried to draw Judah’s attention to the covenant (binding agreement) that God had made with his people. They were His. He might find it necessary to judge them for their sins, but he would never abandon them. If they got carried away into captivity, a remnant would return to pick up where their ancestors left off. In wrath, God would remember his mercy. Perhaps the most prominent theme in Isaiah’s message has to do with the coming Messiah, God’s Servant. Four extended psalms, or poems, deal with the Suffering Servant of God. In them the ministry of Jesus is foretold; at another level they are descriptive of Judah, too, which as a nation was also God’s servant: 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12.
The Servant is to suffer for the world, establish justice, provide salvation for the nations, be a light to the Gentiles, teach the truth to all who will listen, give sight to the blind, offer release to the prisoners, be a covenant to the world, treat the weak with compassion and care, dispense God’s Spirit, bear the sins of the world, make intercession for sinners, provide the knowledge of God to those who seek it, and secure peace for all people. All of these dimensions have been fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
Finally, the Book of Isaiah offers a promise of salvation in some of the most beautiful imagery in all of the world’s literature. The message concerns God’s forgiveness and mercy, freely offered to all who respond in faith.
Outline for the Book of Isaiah
- Judgment pronounced on Judah Isaiah 1:1- 5:30
- The call of Isaiah as a prophet Isaiah 6:1-13
- Judgment and blessing pronounced on Judah Isaiah 7:1-12:6
- Judgment pronounced mainly on other nations Isaiah 13:1-23:18
- The apocalypse of Isaiah Isaiah 24:1-27:13
- Judgment and blessing on Judah, Israel, and Assyria Isaiah 28:1-39:8
- Future blessing and comfort for Judah Isaiah 40:1-66:24