Isaiah is the first prophetic book of the Old Testament. At 66 chapters, it is also the longest.
The prophets became prominent around the time of Israel’s first kings.
These were men called by God to deliver specific messages to specific people. The word prophet comes from two Greek words: “pro,” meaning “in place of” and “phemi,” meaning “to speak.”
The prophets spoke on God’s behalf. Though they did foretell events that would happen in the future, many of their messages were forthtelling, meaning they declared God’s truth to His people. They served many purposes. They exposed sin, called people to repentance, warned of God’s coming judgment and predicted the Messiah’s coming.
The prophet Isaiah served all of these purposes. The book of Isaiah is a collection of Isaiah’s sermons, poems and other writings.
Isaiah lived in the time of some of the last kings of Judah before being exiled by the Babylonian Empire, and he spoke on God’s behalf to the leaders of Judah in Jerusalem. In 2 Chronicles, you can read about Isaiah aiding King Hezekiah in defending Jerusalem from an attack by the Assyrians.
Isaiah contains some of the most well-known passages describing “God’s suffering servant,” who would die for His people, and it is the most-quoted prophetic book in the New Testament.
Like all the other prophets, Isaiah spoke messages of judgment intertwined with hope.
Isaiah warned Judah’s leaders of God’s coming judgment because of their failure to keep God’s covenant law. They showed injustice to the poor and worshiped idols and false gods.
But Isaiah also believed in the hope that God would remain faithful to his covenant promises. God would bring forth a future Messianic King from David’s line (2 Samuel 7), lead Israel in wholehearted obedience to His covenant Law (Exodus 19) and establish Israel as a faithful nation whose blessing would flow to all of the nations (Genesis 12).
The first 39 books develop Isaiah’s warning against God’s judgment for Judah’s sins, culminating in Judah’s exile to Babylon in chapter 39. But chapters 40-66 focus on God’s hopeful promises to restore Judah and fulfill His promises to them.
The servant of God: Much of Isaiah’s writings include prophetic descriptions of the future Messianic King of Israel. Isaiah describes this man as a suffering servant, who will die for the sins of the world, but by dying, will save the world.
Judgment and hope: Throughout Isaiah, messages of God’s judgment are always followed by messages of hope. In the first 12 chapters, Isaiah speaks of God’s plan to tear down the city of Jerusalem, filled with idolatry and injustice, and bring forth a new Jerusalem, where all the nations can come learn of God’s justice, goodness and faithfulness.
Justice for all nations: In Isaiah, it is clear that God’s justice and mercy do not extend only to the Jews. Isaiah pronounces God’s judgment upon foreign nations like Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and Edom, but God’s good and faithful promises are extended to these nations as well.
Isaiah 9:1-6, 11-12, 40-45, 52-56:8, 61
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Like all of the prophetic books, Isaiah is best understood when read in the context of the time and place in which it was written. Isaiah lived during a time when God’s people were led by those who oppressed others, built up power and wealth for themselves and neglected God for idols.
Though King Hezekiah, to whom Isaiah was a counsel, was a good king, it was not enough to save Judah from centuries of unfaithfulness.
Isaiah shows us that although God is a God of just judgment, He is faithful to His promises. Though sin will be judged fairly, God will not give up on His people.