In my last post, we began to look at some background material on the book of Yesha’yahu. In this post, we continue to look at the man, the kings that were ruling at the time, and his disclosure of the coming of the Messiah.
The name Yesha’yahu means “salvation of the Lord,” and salvation (deliverance) is the key theme of his book. He wrote concerning five different acts of deliverance that God would perform:
- the deliverance of Y’hudah [Judah] from Ashur [Assyria] invasion (chaps. 36-37);
- the deliverance of the nation from Babylonian captivity (chap. 40);
- the future deliverance of the Jews from worldwide dispersion among the Gentiles (chaps. 11-12);
- the deliverance of lost sinners from judgment (chap. 53); and,
- the final deliverance of creation from the bondage of sin when the kingdom is established (chaps. 60; 66:17ff).
Yesha’yahu was married, and his wife was called “the prophetess” (8:3 NASB), either because she was married to a prophet or because she shared the prophetic gift. He fathered two sons whose names have prophetic significance: Sh’ar Yashuv [Shear-jashub] (“a remnant shall return,” 7:3) and Maher Shalal Hash Baz (“the spoil hurries, the prey speeds along,” 8:1-3). The two names speak of the nation’s judgment and restoration, two important themes in Yesha’yahu’s prophecy.
Yesha’yahu was called to his ministry in the year that King ’Uziyahu [Uzziah] died (6:1), which was 739 BCE. Tradition says that M’nasheh [Manasseh], King Y’chizkiyahu’s [Hezekiah] successor, killed Yesha’yahu by having him sawn in half (Messianic Jews 11:37), but there is no record of this in Scripture.
What kind of man was Yesha’yahu the prophet? As you read his prophecy, you will discover that he was a man in touch with God. He saw God’s Son and God’s glory (chap. 6; John 12:41), he heard God’s message, and he sought to bring the nation back to God before it was too late.
Yesha’yahu was a man who loved his nation. The phrase “my people” is used at least twenty-six times in his book. He was a patriot with a true love for his country, pleading with Y’hudah to return to God and warning kings when their foreign policy was contrary to God’s will. Yesha’yahu was certainly a courageous man. Unafraid to denounce kings and priests, and unwavering when public opinion went against him, he boldly declared the Word of God. He was a man skilled in communicating God’s truth. Not content with merely declaring facts, Yesha’yahu clothed those facts in striking language that would catch the attention of a people blind and deaf to spiritual truth (6:9-10).
The Kings of Y’hudah
The nation had divided after the death of Shlomo [Solomon] (1 Kings 12), but the priesthood and the Davidic throne belonged to Y’hudah. The ten northern tribes formed the kingdom of Isra’el (Efrayim), with Shomron as its capital city, and Binyamin and Y’hudah united to form the kingdom of Y’hudah, with Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] as its capital city. Though Yesha’yahu predicted the fall of Isra’el to Ashur (chap. 28), which occurred in 722 BCE, his major focus was on Y’hudah and Yerushalayim (1:1).
‘Uziyahu [Uzziah] is also called ‘Azaryah. At the age of sixteen, he became co-regent with his father, Amatzyahu, and was on the throne for fifty-two years (792-740). When his father was assassinated in 767, ‘Uziyahu became the sole ruler and brought the nation to its greatest days since David and Shlomo (2 Kings 14:17-22; 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-15). He tried to intrude into the priest’s ministry in the temple, and God judged him by smiting him with tzara’at [leprosy]. It was in the year that King ‘Uziyahu died that Yesha’yahu was called to minister.
Yotam [Jotham] was co-regent after his father became infected with tzara’at [leprosy], and his record as a king was a good one (2 Kings 15:32-38; 2 Chronicles 27). He reigned for twenty years, and it was during his time that the Ashurean Empire began to emerge as a new and threatening power. During the last twelve years of Yotam’s reign, his son Achaz served as co-regent, but Achaz was not one of Y’hudah’s good kings.
Achaz [Ahaz] forged political alliances that eventually brought Y’hudah into bondage to Ashur (2 Kings 16; 2 Chron. 28). Egypt repeatedly threatened Y’hudah from the south and by Aram [Syria] and Isra’el from the north, and Achaz depended on an alliance with Ashur to protect himself. Yesha’yahu warned Achaz that his alliances with godless Gentiles would not work, and he encouraged the king to put his trust in the Lord (Isaiah 7).
Y’chizkiyahu [Hezekiah] reigned forty-two years and was one of Y’hudah’s greatest kings (2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chron. 29-32). He not only strengthened the city of Yerushalayim and the nation of Y’hudah but led the people back to the Lord. He built the famous water system that still exists in Yerushalayim.
The ministry of Yesha’yahu spans over fifty years, from 739 to 686 BCE and it probably extended into the early years of King M’nasheh’s reign. It was a difficult time of international upheaval when first one power and then another threatened Y’hudah. But the greatest dangers were not outside the nation: they were within. In spite of the godly leadership of King Y’chizkiyahu, Y’hudah had no more godly kings. One by one, Y’chizkiyahu’s successors led the nation into political and spiritual decay, ending in captivity in Babylon.
Yesha’yahu is much more than a prophet. He is an evangelist who presents Yeshua the Messiah and the Good News of the Gospel. Yesha’yahu’s “Servant Song” about Yeshua (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) is quoted or alluded to nearly forty times in the Brit Hadashah.
The prophet wrote about the birth of Yeshua (7:14; 9:6; Matt. 1:18-25); the ministry of Yochanan the Immerser (Isaiah 40:1-6; Matt. 3:1ff); Yeshua’s anointing by the Spirit (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:17-19); the nation’s rejection of their Messiah (Isaiah 6:9-11; John 12:38ff); Yeshua, the stone to stumble over (Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; Romans 9:32-33; 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6); Yeshua’s ministry to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47); the Messiah’s suffering and death (Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Acts 3:13; 8:32-33; 1 Peter 2:21-25); His resurrection (Isaiah 55:3; Acts 13:34); and His return to reign as King (Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1ff; 59:20-21; 63:1-3; Rom. 11:26-27; Rev. 19:13-15). There are many other references in Yesha’yahu to the Messiah, and we will notice them as we study this book.
It is this emphasis on redemption that gives Yesha’yahu a message for the whole world. While it is true he ministered to the little nation of Y’hudah and wrote about nations and empires that for the most part are no longer on the world scene; his focus was on God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. Yesha’yahu saw the greatness of God and the vastness of His plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Yesha’yahu was a patriot but not a bigot; he saw beyond his nation to the gracious work God would do among the Gentile nations of the world.
As you study Yesha’yahu and discover God’s prophetic plan for the nations of the world, don’t miss his emphasis on the personal message of God’s forgiveness. “Come now,” says Adonai, “let’s talk this over together. Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow; even if they are red as crimson, they will be like wool.” ~ Isaiah 1:18 (CJB)
In my next post, I will begin an in-depth, verse-by-verse study of one of my favorite prophets.