An Overview of the Book of Isaiah

Kim Erickson
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The Prophet

The name “Isaiah” means “Jehovah saves” or “Salvation of Jehovah.” It is believed that Isaiah was from a prominent family, or perhaps even related to the royal family of Judah, because of his apparent influence among the rulers of Judah. Isaiah is sometimes called the “prince of prophets” for this reason. He was married (“prophetess” is referenced in Isa. 8:3) and had two sons (7:3 and 8:3).

Isaiah is considered a “major” prophet of the Bible (along with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) as opposed to the “minor” prophets (Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). These prophets are not divided based on significance of the messages, however, but rather simply by the length of their books.

Scholars also label prophets by the time period of their ministry as pre-exile, exile, or post-exile. Isaiah is considered a pre-exile prophet because he spoke the words contained in the sixty-six chapters of the book of Isaiah prior to the Jewish exile to Babylon. Isaiah made the most prophecies regarding the Jewish people and Christ. And he is the prophet who is most often quoted in the New Testament.

Authorship and Structure

Some scholars debate whether or not one man, Isaiah son of Amoz, actually wrote all sixty-six chapters of this book. Some say there must have been two or more authors due to the specific predictions that were fulfilled over time. These scholars insist multiple authors must have added to the scrolls to account for the fulfillment of the words in the book of Isaiah; in other words, someone snuck in and added prophecies after foretold events had already occurred. However, if you believe in the Holy Spirit and in God’s ability to speak to and through His prophets, you can set aside this reasoning.

The book of Isaiah is divided into two major parts: judgment and restoration. In chapters 1–39, Isaiah speaks of the sins of the Jewish people and the consequences that will take place as a result. In chapters 40–66, Isaiah speaks God’s message of comfort, hope, and restoration. God reminds His people that He is a faithful God who will keep His covenant with them.

Some point to the shift in tone and language used between chapters 1–39 and 40–66 as evidence of a different writer. But this can simply be attributed to the change in focus of the message. Isaiah shifts from the judgment of Judah in chapters 1–39 to God’s comfort and restoration of the Jewish people in chapters 40–66. A change in tone and language beginning in chapter 40 makes sense to me because the message changed, and Isaiah was speaking to achieve a different purpose—to comfort and give hope.

The Time and Place

Isaiah lived in the eighth century BC, during the time when Israel was a divided nation. After King Solomon’s death, the ten northern tribes formed Israel, with its capital city being Samaria. The two remaining tribes of Benjamin and Judah united to become the southern kingdom, Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital.

Isaiah spoke mainly to Judah (but sometimes also to Israel) “in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Isa.1:1). Thus, Isaiah’s ministry as a prophet took place in the range of 740–680 BC, during some very turbulent times for the Jewish people. There were threats to their safety and culture on all sides, including between and among the tribes themselves.

The northern kingdom of Israel was taken captive by Assyria in 721 BC. Then, the southern kingdom of Judah was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in 586 BC. At this time, the capital, Jerusalem, major buildings, and the beautiful temple Solomon had built were all destroyed. Thousands of Jewish people were taken to Babylon for seventy years, a key event in the history of the Jewish people, known as the Babylonian captivity or exile.

Isaiah predicted these and other events long before they occurred. These and many other prophecies spoken by Isaiah can be traced through secular, non-Christian sources.

For Further Reading:

Predicting Jesus

by Kim Erickson

Predicting Jesus is a six-week women’s Bible study from author and Bible teacher Kim Erickson on the book of Isaiah. It is a...

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