God’s Judgment on Y’hudah and Yerushalayim ~ Part 1 ~ Yesha’yahu 3:1-6

In my last post, we concluded our look at The Coming Day of the Lord in Yesha’yahu 2:18-22. In this post, we begin our look at God’s Judgment on Y’hudah and Yerushalayim beginning in Yesha’yahu 3:1-6.

1 For see! The Lord, Adonai-Tzva’ot, will remove from Yerushalayim and Y’hudah every kind of support – all reserves of food and water; 2 heroes and warriors, judges and prophets, diviners and leaders, 3 captains of fifty, men of rank and advisers, skillful magicians and expert enchanters.

Since God’s people trust in humans (see Isaiah 2:22) rather than in Him, He will remove from them every kind of security. Not only would there be a lack of food and water, but there would be a dearth of leaders, of mighty men, knowledgeable men, wise men, and skilled men.

Siege warfare was designed to isolate a city and create a blockade that would eventually force a surrender. With the enemy camped around the city, the fields could not be harvested for their food supply. No one could get in to bring in food, so the people in the city had to live on whatever had been stockpiled in the city. If the water source for the city were a well or spring outside the city walls, the siege would be short, for the cisterns would quickly run dry. Yerushalayim had a water supply that could be accessed from inside the city walls. To survive a siege would require capable leadership that could keep morale high and successfully manages food rationing.

4 I will put children in authority; capriciousness will govern them. 5 People will oppress each other – everyone his friend, everyone his neighbor. The young will be insolent toward their elders, the insignificant arrogant toward the respected. 6 A man will take hold of his brother in his father’s house and say, “You have a coat, so rule us! Take charge of this ruin!” 7 But on that day, he will protest, “I don’t have a remedy, I lack food and clothing for my own house; don’t put me in charge of people!”

With the removal of the leaders in whom the people trust comes the installation of youths to replace them. The result will be social chaos and oppression.

Whether regarding the last days of the ten tribes or the last days of our society, children will rule. We see that happening to a degree even now, for, in many countries of the world, it is the students who bring down governments. There was a time when gray hair was highly esteemed. Now, however, it is the opinion of younger generations that seems to be most highly valued in our culture.

In Israelite society, the oldest active male was the head of the household. He typically represented the family in the community and made the decisions for the family. As a result, the senior members of the family usually commanded a high degree of respect and honor.

In such a disorderly society, it did not take much to be a leader among men. In the vignette described in these verses, the people are so unwilling and unfit to lead that a man will be pressed into a leadership role just because he has a coat. But what would be left for him to lead? Only a heap of rubble.

In my next post, we will continue to explore God’s Judgment on Y’hudah and Yerushalayim ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 3:7-15.

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The Coming Day of the Lord ~ Part 1 ~ Yesha’yahu 2:6-8

In my last post, we examined Yesha’yahu 2:1-5 to learn about The Mountain of the Lord. In this post, we look at The Coming Day of the Lord in Yesha’yahu 2:6-22. You will notice that I have switched gears for my blog for this series as I will be taking more of a verse-by-verse format.

To the prophets, the Day of the Lord was foreshadowed by events in their day. In the Book of Yesha’yahu, Assyria’s conquest of the Northern Kingdom [Isra’el] and invasion of Y’hudah, and the Babylonian captivity of Y’hudah both picture the coming Day of the Lord.

6 For you have abandoned your people the house of Ya‘akov. Now they are filled from the east, full of sorcerers, like the P’lishtim [Philistines]; even the children of foreigners are enough for them!

God had removed His presence from His people because they had imbibed of the superstitions of their neighbors to the East (Edom and Mesopotamia) and the west (Philistia). They practiced divination. Divination was the science of being able to interpret the omens and formulate incantations that would be effective in dispelling the powers that threatened them. The Torah forbade such practices (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:9-14).

Even as people in Yesha’yahu’s day were fascinated by the Babylonian and Syrian cultures with all their magic and mystery, where are people turning today? To Eastern mysticism and spiritism.[1]

7 Their land is full of silver and gold; They have no end of treasures. Their land is full of horses; They have no end of chariots. 8 Their land is full of idols; everyone worships the work of his hands, what his own fingers have made.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 prohibited kings from accumulating precious metals and military assets, i.e., horses and chariots. Assyrian chariots were large, carrying four men and being pulled by four horses which represented the cutting edge of military technology. Vast economic resources were required to import the animals, build the chariots and train the horsemen and charioteers (for an indication of the expense see 1 Kings 10:29).

Idols came in a variety of shapes and sizes in the ancient Near East. They were typically carved of wood and overlaid with hammered-out sheets of silver or gold and then clothed in the finest attire. Human in appearance (except those from Egypt, which combined human and animal characteristics), they had distinctive, even formalized, poses, clothing, and hairstyles. Sha’ul reflected this understanding when he referred to the folly when they have exchanged the glory of the immortal God for mere images, like a mortal human being, or like birds, animals or reptiles! ~ Romans 1:23 (CJB)

As in our culture today, the people of Y’hudah were not only rich, prosperous, and enamored with Eastern thought, but they had idols. Theirs happened to be made of stone and wood, while ours can be flesh and blood or chrome and rubber.

Have you abandoned the God of our fathers and replaced Him with your idols?

In my next post, I will continue to explore The Coming Day of the Lord in Yesha’yahu 2:9-22.

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[1] Jon Courson’s Application Commentary Old Testament Volume 2.

The Mountain of the Lord ~ Yesha’yahu 2:1-5

In my last post, we examined Yesha’yahu 1:18-31 to learn about The Unfaithful City. In this post, we look at The Mountain of the Lord in Yesha’yahu 2:1-5.

1 This is the word that Yesha’yahu the son of Amotz saw concerning Y’hudah and Yerushalayim:

2 In the acharit-hayamim [the end of days] the mountain of Adonai’s house will be established as the most important mountain. It will be regarded more highly than the other hills, and all the Goyim [Gentiles] will stream there. 3 Many peoples will go and say, “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of Adonai, to the house of the God of Ya‘akov! He will teach us about His ways, and we will walk in His paths.” For out of Tziyon will go forth Torah, the word of Adonai from Yerushalayim. 4 He will judge between the nations and arbitrate for many peoples. Then they will hammer their swords into plow-blades and their spears into pruning-knives; nations will not raise swords at each other, and they will no longer learn war. 5 Descendants of Ya‘akov, come! Let’s live in the light of Adonai! ~ Isaiah 2:1-5 (CJB)

This is one of my favorite passages because of the promise of God revealed by Yesha’yahu. Yesha’yahu looked ahead to the time when God’s righteous kingdom would be established, and the Temple would become the center for the worldwide worship of the Lord. In Yesha’yahu’s day, the Jews were adopting the false gods of the Goyim, but the day would come when the Goyim would abandon their idols and worship the true God of Israel.

Verses 2-4 are virtually identical to that found in Yesha’yahu’s near contemporary, the prophet Mikhah (Micah 4:1-3).

Topographically, Yerushalayim is elevated above its surroundings, so that one always had to climb up to the city. Additionally, the Temple is located on the highest ground in the city, so one goes up to the Temple from other locations in the city. This passage uses these topographical data to proclaim the future political elevation of the city.

The mountain of the Temple is a reference to Tziyon, where the original Temple was built. Tziyon was where God made His presence known especially among His people. Tziyon was not a physically imposing mountain – indeed, the nearby Mount of Olives was considerably taller – but regarding spiritual importance, Tziyon stood above all the other mountains of the world.

The vision anticipates a day when not only Isra’el but all the nations will stream toward this mountain that represents the presence of God on earth. God had promised Avraham that He would bless the nations through his descendants (Genesis 12:1-3). Today, the Kehilah is composed of diverse nationalities, personalities, economic backgrounds, and educational abilities will flow together into the Temple. Lord, help us to continue to be a menagerie, a potpourri of all kinds of different people.

We see that the motivation of going up to the Temple is to learn the way of the Lord. So too, we gather at His Kehilah to learn His ways that we might walk in His paths. The nations seeking the Lord will experience a great transformation. They will not exert their energies and resources to destruction (swords…spears), but rather to productive activities (plow-blades…pruning knives).

Pruning knives are the small knives used to remove leaves and new shoots from the grapevines or thorns from date palms before the harvest. (I still have a couple in my toolbox from my days on my grandfather’s date ranches.)

Finally, we see a beautiful invitation in verse 5 to enjoy the light and love of Adonai. But, before that takes place, there will be a time of chastening, as we will see in verse 6.

In my next post, I will explore The Coming Day of the Lord in Yesha’yahu 2:6-22.

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God Has Had Enough ~ Yesha’yahu 1:10-17

In my last post, we examined Yesha’yahu 1:1-9 ~ The Rebellion of God’s People. In this post, we continue in Yesha’yahu 1: 10-17 to learn that God Has Had Enough.

10 Hear what Adonai says, you rulers of S’dom! Listen to God’s Torah, you people of ‘Amora! 11 ‘Why are all those sacrifices offered to me?’ asks Adonai. ‘I’m fed up with burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened animals! I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats! 12 Yes, you come to appear in my presence; but who asked you to do this, to trample through my courtyards? 13 Stop bringing worthless grain offerings! They are like disgusting incense to me! Rosh-Hodesh [New Moon festival], Shabbat, calling convocations – I can’t stand evil together with your assemblies! 14 Everything in me hates your Rosh-Hodesh and your festivals; they are a burden to me – I’m tired of putting up with them! 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; no matter how much you pray, I won’t be listening; because your hands are covered with blood. 16 Wash yourselves clean! Get your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing evil, 17 learn to do good! Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend orphans, plead for the widow.’” ~ Isaiah 1:10-17 (CJB)

In these verses, God expressed His revulsion at the religious practices of His people. The disgusting thing about His rebellious people is that they were also a religious people (Isaiah 1:10-15). They attended the Temple services and brought a multitude of sacrifices to the Lord. However, their hearts were far from God, and their worship was hypocritical. In other words, they were too heavenly minded and no earthly good.

Sacrifices alone can never please God. God wants our inward obedience (1 Samuel 15:22), a broken heart (Psalm 51:17), and a godly walk (Micah 6:8).

Though God will not punish the people with total annihilation as He did the cities of S’dom and ‘Amora, it is not as if they did not deserve that fate. Their rulers were like the inhabitants of those depraved cities who denied hospitality to strangers and engaged in perverse sexual acts.

God had commanded His people to offer sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7, but the sacrifices of His people were reprehensible to Him. They were not offered with pure motives of sincere repentance. Rather, they were offered with hands covered with blood.

The Temple was considered a sacred space that was protected by closely monitored, restricted access. Admission to the general public was granted only when a sacrifice needed to be offered and then only to the outer court. Entrance to sacred space for anything but holy purpose would be sacrilegious trespassing. Recall the account of Yeshua cleansing the Temple of the merchants and the money-changers in Matthew 21:12-13.

In the ancient world, incense was valued as an accompaniment to sacrifice. Its sweet scent effectively masked any of the unpleasant odors resulting from the performance of the rituals. It was expensive and commanded in Leviticus 2:1.

Keyed to the use of a lunar calendar, ancient Israel marked the first day of the month with Rosh-Hodesh. It is “new moon” phase festival day every twenty-nine or thirty days. As on the Sabbath, all work was to cease (see Numbers 10:10), and there were sacrifices to be made. What had been designed as a means to praise and honor God, however, was not bringing any pleasure to him.

Why wouldn’t God hear the prayers of His people? Because their sacrifices, times of worship, and even prayers were not acceptable because their hands were covered with blood. That is, they sinned and did not repent but still participated in worship. God did not tolerate such hypocritical behavior.

Sometimes we wonder why our prayers aren’t answered. We go to church regularly. We lift our hands in praise. We tithe. But God says all of that is irrelevant if we’re harboring sin in our life. If we’re compromising, if we’re trying to be righteous through our efforts or energy, if we’re failing to realize our need to come before God in brokenness, God won’t answer our prayers – not because He’s mad at us or because He doesn’t like us anymore, but because He’s saying, “There’s something wrong in your relationship with Me. If I continue to answer your prayers, you will persist in those things, and they’ll destroy you. So you’re not going to sense My presence. You’re not going to have answers to your prayers so that you might seek Me.” [1]

This passage gives a prescription for change – repent. Transformation involves a cessation of evil activities as well as the requirement of good deeds. The good deeds are defined as social justice, particularly resisting oppressors and promoting the interests of the vulnerable (the orphans and the widows).

“The religious observance that God the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world.” ~ James 1:27 (CJB)

In my next post, I will explore Yesha’yahu 1:18-31 ~ The Unfaithful City.

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[1] Jon Courson’s Application Commentary Old Testament Volume 2.

The Rebellion of God’s People ~ Yesha’yahu 1:1-9

In my last post, we concluded the background material on the book of Yesha’yahu. In this post, we start to dig into the actual scripture.

“This is the vision of Yesha’yahu, the son of Amotz, which he saw concerning Y’hudah and Yerushalayim during the days of ‘Uziyahu, Yotam, Achaz and Y’chizkiyahu, kings of Y’hudah:

2 ‘Hear, heaven! Listen, earth! For Adonai is speaking. I raised and brought up children, but they rebelled against me. 3 An ox knows its owner and a donkey its master’s stall, but Isra’el does not know, my people do not reflect. 4 Oh, sinful nation, a people weighed down by iniquity, descendants of evildoers, immoral children! They have abandoned Adonai, spurned the Holy One of Isra’el, turned their backs on him! 5 Where should I strike you next, as you persist in rebelling? The whole head is sick, the whole heart diseased. 6 From the sole of the foot to the head there is nothing healthy, only wounds, bruises and festering sores that haven’t been dressed or bandaged or softened up with oil. 7 Your land is desolate; your cities are burned to the ground; foreigners devour your land in your presence; it’s as desolate as if overwhelmed by floods. 8 The daughter of Tziyon is left like a shack in a vineyard, like a shed in a cucumber field, like a city under siege. 9 If Adonai-Tzva’ot had not left us a tiny, tiny remnant, we would have become like S’dom; we would have resembled ‘Amora.” ~ Yesha’yahu 1:1-9 (CJB)

This chapter describes a courtroom scene. God convenes the court and states the charges forcefully. He presents His case and pronounces the nation guilty. The call goes out to the heavens and the earth to hear the charges against God’s people. In Deuteronomy 4:26, 30:19 the heavens and earth are invoked as witnesses to the covenant. It is appropriate here that they are called on to hear the indictment detailing the violation of that covenant.

How did God describe His sinful people? They were rebellious children (vv. 2-4) who did not have as much devotion to God as animals do to their masters! Rebelled carries with it the idea of breaking a contract. At Sinai, Isra’el had entered into a solemn covenant with Adonai (Exodus 19-20), but they had broken the covenant by their unbelief and idolatry. They did not appreciate what God had done for them and were taking their blessings for granted. They had forsaken the Lord, gone backward, and grown corrupt; therefore, they were guilty and deserved judgment.

From the human point of view, the nation was prospering; but from God’s point of view, the nation was like a wretched victim who had been beaten from head to foot and left to die (vv. 5-6). The wounds had become infected, the whole body diseased, and nobody was doing anything to help. In spite of the optimism of Y’hudah’s leaders, the nation was morally and spiritually corrupt, and judgment was inevitable.

In verses 7-9, God pictures Y’hudah as a ravaged battlefield, a desert that had once been a garden. In using this image, Yesha’yahu may have been looking ahead to the invasion of Sancheriv, when Y’hudah was devastated by the Ashur army, and only Yerushalayim was spared (chaps. 36-37). The people would not let God manage the land according to His law, so God turned Y’hudah over to foreigners and permitted His people to suffer.

The devastation of the land was a natural consequence of the invasion. Invading armies often lacked an adequate supply line and therefore expected to live off the land they were invading. What they didn’t use for their purposes they destroyed. Not only were the crops burned, but the trampling of the land often crippled the agricultural cycle for several seasons afterward.

Tziyon is the name for the mountain on which Yerushalayim is situated and represents that special location from which the Lord conquers and reigns. It is therefore also associated with the Davidic covenant and kingship ordained by God. The daughter of Tziyon would then be the city itself. It reminds the reader of the intimate relationship God enjoyed with the people He must judge. A shelter in a vineyard or a shack in a cucumber field were both fragile. Without upkeep they would crumble, providing an illuminating analogy for the desolation of Jerusalem.

In the S’dom and Amora account in Genesis 19 these cities are not destroyed by invading armies, but that is not the nature of the comparison here. The totality of the destruction as God’s judgment is the emphasis of the text. A just God would be expected to bring comparable judgment for comparable crimes. God had been gracious. He did not completely destroy His people. Rather, a remnant would survive the judgment; restoration would follow the cleansing of judgment.

In my next post, I will explore Yesha’yahu 1:10-17 ~ God Has Had Enough.

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Introduction to Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) ~ Part 2

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 Man

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.

The Messiah

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’sServant 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.

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Introduction to Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) ~ Part 1

In my last post, we dug into the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy and the Office of the Prophet within the Kehilah in our time. Over the last several months, the small Skype-group I attend on Tuesday afternoons has been using the Lifeguide’s Bible Study on Yesha’yahu. There are only 24 lessons, so you know that we are not covering his entire book. Although somewhat reluctant to continue in the topic of prophecy, I sensed a tug in my spirit to do an in-depth, verse-by-verse study on my own and I will be sharing that with you throughout the next several months or so. Since there is a lot of background material I want to share, I have made the Introduction a two-part series.

Introduction

Sir Winston Churchill was once asked to give the qualifications a person needed to succeed in politics, and he replied: “It is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.” [1]

Because God’s prophets were correct all the time, they didn’t have to explain away their mistakes. When a prophet speaks in the name of Adonai, and the prediction does not come true — that is, the word is not fulfilled — then Adonai did not speak that word. The prophet who said it spoke presumptuously; you have nothing to fear from him.” ~ Deuteronomy 18:22 (CJB) To the law and the testimony, wrote Yesha’yahu, “For they [false prophets] will indeed give you this unenlightened suggestion.” ~ Yesha’yahu 8:20 (CJB). Yesha’yahu was a man who had God’s light, and he was not afraid to let it shine.

Since as Believers we believe that there is only one God, and since we understand that prophecy contains messages from that God, we are often inclined to think that prophecy in the Bible is a unique phenomenon. While we may be justified in thinking that any prophecy outside the Bible is fraudulent, the fact remains that biblical prophecy is part of a long tradition of prophecy in the ancient Near East. Even the Bible makes this fact known to us in the narratives about Bil’am and the prophets of Ba’al sponsored by Ach’av and Izevel.

The writing prophets of Isra’el have been designated as the “classical prophets,” and the earliest of these appear at the beginning of the eighth century. Before that time prophets such as Natan, Eliyahu, Elisha and many others are mentioned in the historical literature, but no collections of their oracles are known. They are referred to as the “pre-classical prophets.” These pre-classical prophets show the most similarity to the prophets known from the ancient world. Their messages are directed to the king and concern public policy or other issues of national significance. In that sense, these prophets serve as official or, more frequently, unofficial advisors to the king.

In contrast, the classical prophets often address the people as they offer their social and spiritual commentary. Though their messages include the pronouncement of blessing or rebuke, it is now directed toward society. As a result, the writing prophets’ express warnings concerning captivity and destruction.

In Isra’el the prophets more often represented a counterculture movement. As such the prophets tended to cluster around periods of great turmoil. During the pre-classical period the prophets Moshe, D’vorah, Sh’mu’el, Eliyahu and Elisha all served during troubled times. During the classical period prophetic activity surrounds three key periods:

  1. the Ashur crisis that brought the fall of the northern kingdom (Isra’el) and the siege of Yerushalayim (760-700 BCE: ’Amos, Hoshea, Mikhah, Yesha’yahu)
  2. the Babylonian crisis that brought the fall of Ashur and the fall of Y’hudah and Yerushalayim (650-580 BCE: Havakuk, Tzfanyah, Nachum, Yirmeyahu, Yechezk’el)
  3. the postexilic period with its Persian rule and identity crisis (530-480 BCE: Hagai, Z’kharyah, Yo’el, ’Ovadyah, Mal’akhi; Dan’iel could be counted among these, although he served during the exile). [2]

Yesha’yahu’s book is the first of the prophets in the English canon and the first of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew canon. Yesha’yahu is powerful in its poetic imagination, intriguing in its prophetic vision, and complex in its structure. One can never read or study the book without having new insights into the nature of God and our relationship with Him. The authors of the Brit Hadashah read the book of Yesha’yahu concerning the coming of Yeshua and realized that this prophet anticipated the Messiah’s coming with remarkable clarity. For this reason, they quoted Yesha’yahu more than any other Tanakh book.

Circumstances of Writing

The book presents itself as the writing of one man, Yesha’yahu, son of Amotz. The first verse dates his prophetic activity as spanning the reigns of four kings of Y’hudah: Uzziah (783-742 BCE), Ahaz (735-716 BCE), and Hezekiah (716-686 BCE). Not much is known about Yesha’yahu apart from his prophecy.

Yesha’yahu’s authorship of the whole book has been vehemently contested in the modern period. Many scholars have argued that the historical Yesha’yahu could not have written chapters 40-66. For those who believe that God knows the future and can reveal it to His servants, it is not problematic that God through Yesha’yahu predicted the rise of Babylon, its victory against Y’hudah, the exile, and the return. Personally, the Ruach wrote the book, and I’m not hung up on who the scribe was.

Uzziah’s reign was a particularly prosperous time in the history of Y’hudah, but storm clouds were on the horizon. Ashur was on the rise again in the person of Tiglat-Pil’eser III (745-727 BCE). The king Ashur threatened to engulf Aram (Syria) and the northern kingdom of Isra’el. After the death of Tiglat-Pil’eser, his successors, Shalman’eser and Sargon, defeated the northern kingdom in 722 BCE and deported its citizens. This event brought Y’hudah even more under the shadow of that great empire.

Message and Purpose

Yesha’yahu‘s message is relatively simple. First, Yesha’yahu accused God’s people of sin, rebelling against the One who made them and redeemed them. Second, Yesha’yahu instructed these sinners to reform their ways and act obediently. Third, Yesha’yahu announced God’s judgment on the people because of their sin. Finally, God revealed His future restoration of the people, or at least of the faithful remnant that survived the judgment. As part of the restoration of God’s people, Yesha’yahu foresaw both judgment on the nations (chaps. 13-23) and a future turning of the nations to God (2:1-4). The first part of the book (chaps. 1-39) emphasizes sin, the call to repentance, and judgment; the second part (chaps. 40-66) emphasizes the hope of restoration. [3]

In my next post, I will continue with our exploration of additional background information on this fascinating book.

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[1] Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – The Prophets.

[2] The IVP Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament.

[3] HCSB Study Bible.