First of the so-called Major Prophets, the work of the greatest of the OT prophets. In the Hebrew Bible Isaiah stands in the section known as The Prophets, preceded by the combined book of Kings, and followed by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and The Twelve (the so-called Minor Prophets). Isaiah's unsurpassed beauty of style and expression make his book the literary masterpiece of all Hebrew literature. Isaiah was a gifted orator and poet as well as the prince of prophets, and in proclaiming his inspired messages he employed a richer vocabulary than that found in any other OT book. A glossary of Isaiah would list more than 2,000 individual words. His exalted concept of the majesty, power, and character of God surpasses that reflected in the writings of the other prophets. Isaiah's understanding of the Messianic role of Israel, of the coming Messiah, and of the Messianic kingdom has earned him the honoured title of Messianic prophet and gospel prophet.
From earliest times Jewish and Christian tradition unanimously assented to the entire book of Isaiah as coming from the pen of the man whose name appears as its title. In the early 19th cent., however, critical Biblical scholars in Germany set forth the conjecture that the book is, in reality, a composite work written by several writers at widely separate times. As the years passed a great variety of conflicting theories were proposed to distinguish between portions written by Isaiah and those supposedly written by others. Critical scholars now generally assign chs 1 to 39 to the prophet Isaiah who lived during the last half of the 8th cent. b.c., and chs 40 to 66 to a so-called Deutero-Isaiah, or Second-Isaiah, supposed to have lived among the Jewish exiles in Babylonia toward the close of the 70 years of captivity 2 cent. later. Some have proposed a further subdivision that would assign chs 56 to 66 to a Trito-Isaiah, or Third-Isaiah, of the restoration period, about the middle of the 5th cent. b.c. Some of the more radical critics have assigned certain chapters and shorter passages throughout the book to the Maccabean period, about the middle of the 2nd cent. As the prophet Isaiah was sawn asunder by his ancient critics, according to tradition, so his prophecy has been dismembered by his critics in more recent years. The basic assumption of the critical approach to a study of the prophets is that each prophetic message grew out of a definite historical situation and was designed to meet the particular needs of Israel at the time. Corollary to this is the idea that a careful examination of each passage can afford clues by which to determine, at least approximately, when the message was given. Conservative scholars will agree that, within limits, such an analysis, which places the messages of the prophets in the setting of the historical circumstances that called them forth, is of great value in determining their true meaning and their import for modern readers. But critical scholars reject the validity of predictive prophecy and arbitrarily assign the writing of passages containing prophecies that have met striking historical fulfilment to a time after the predicted events described took place. Inasmuch as chs 40 to 66 of Isaiah deal largely with the deliverance of God's people from the Babylonian captivity, an event yet future at the time of writing, and present a glorious picture of Israel's destiny as a nation after the restoration of Jerusalem in the 5th cent., culminating in the Messianic age, the critics assert that this part of the book could not possibly have been composed in the 8th cent., long before the rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the later coming of Cyrus to free the Jewish exiles. The critics further deny that Isaiah wrote the many Messianic passages in the book, inasmuch as these critics arbitrarily relegate the Messianic hope to a later age.
The fundamental fallacy and weakness of the critical position on Isaiah is the complete lack of objective proof. The arguments submitted are wholly subjective, and are based on the a priori suppositions of the critics. Conservative scholars cite both internal and external evidence in favour of their contention that the book is a literary unit and not a composite work. Among other things they point to the similarity in point of view that pervades the entire book and to certain characteristic words and expressions that occur indiscriminately in the various sections, reflecting the thought and style of one person instead of two or more writers. Particularly noteworthy is Isaiah's unusual title for God, "Holy One of Israel [or, Jacob]," which occurs 13 times each in chs 1 39 (chs 1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19, 23; 30:11, 12, 15; 31:1; 37:23) and Is 40 66 (chs 41:14, 16, 20; 43:3, 14, 16; 45:11; 47:4; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9, 14), and twice in the section assigned by some critics to a so-called Trito-Isaiah. This title, which appears only 6 times elsewhere in all the OT, clearly marks the book of Isaiah as the work of one author. The same is true of Isaiah's use of the words "highway" (see chs 11:16; 35:8; 40:3; 49:11; 62:10) and "remnant" (chs 10:20; 37:32; 46:3; etc.). Other characteristic words and expressions might be cited. Two characteristic literary devices are the frequent emphatic reduplication of thoughts and ideas, as in chs 2:7, 8; 8:9; 24:16, 23; 40:1; 43:11, 25; 48:15; 51:12; 62:10, and the statement of an idea in both positive and negative forms, as in chs 1:19, 20; 42:1 4, 16; 46:9; 48:21; 49:10; 55:7, 8, 9; 65:13, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 25. Lengthy passages in poetic form (see chs 1 to 6; 9 to 19; 21; 23 to 35; 40 to 66), the same graphic metaphors and other skilfully turned figures of speech, and a comparable quality of literary elegance are found throughout. The great similarities in outlook, language, and literary style are far more impressive than the supposed dissimilarities. No one will deny that chs 40 to 66, with their exalted concept of the divine purpose and their superb beauty of expression, surpass the earlier portions of the book, but this can easily be attributed to a maturity of outlook and experience that characterised Isaiah's later years. The basic theme--of deliverance from foes without and foes within--and the point of view that runs through the book from beginning to end, are even more important than the strictly mechanical similarities between the various sections. Isaiah's name, meaning "Yahweh saves," aptly summarises the teaching of all the different sections.
External evidence of the unity of the book comes chiefly from 2 sources. In the apocryphal work called Ecclesiasticus (ch 48:23 25), written about 180 b.c., the author, Jesus ben Sirach, attributes the several sections of the book to 1 writer. Even more important in this respect is evidence recently provided by 2 copies of Isaiah which were found in Cave 1 at Khirbet Qumran. One (designated 1QIs) is from the 2nd cent. b.c., and the other (designated 1QIs) is from the 1st cent. b.c.. In both of these ancient manuscripts Isaiah appears as a unit, without any indication that the book ever existed as a group of independent documents. For the conservative Christian, however, the highest evidence of unity of authorship is the fact that Jesus and the NT writers, who cite Isaiah more often than any other OT book except Psalms--and more often than Psalms when the proportionate lengths of the 2 books are taken into consideration--uniformly attribute all portions of the book to Isaiah (Is 6:9, 10; cf. Mt 13:14, 15; Jn 12:40, 41; Acts 28:25 27; Is 40:3; cf. Mt 3:3; Mk 1:3; Jn 1:23; Is 53:1; cf. Jn 12:38; Rom 10:16; Is 61:1, 2; cf. Lk 4:18, 19; etc.). Christ and the apostles obviously accepted Isaiah as the author of the entire book that bears his name.
The 2 Dead Sea scrolls of Isaiah, already mentioned, have proved to be of major importance in confirming the Masoretic text of the OT. They provide conclusive evidence of the reliability of the OT text as it has come down to us, and show that, for all practical purposes, it is identical with the text as it existed in Christ's day. 1QIs is complete but contains a number of scribal errors and is not as well written as other scrolls from the collection. 1QIs-b is far less complete than 1QIs-a, but superior in quality. Chapters 37 to 41 and 43 to 66 are fairly well preserved. It contains remarkably few scribal errors, and is practically identical with the Masoretic text. Of the relatively few variant readings the more important ones occur in chs 38:13; 41:11; 43:6; 53:11; 60:19, 21; 63:5; 66:17. Another, and even more fragmentary, text of Isaiah found in Cave 4 at Khirbet Qumran resembles the text of the LXX more closely than it does the Masoretic text. See Scrolls, Dead Sea.
The earliest date given in the book of Isaiah is "the year that king Uzziah died" (Is 6:1), or 739 b.c., and the last events mentioned are Sennacherib's invasions of Judah in 701 b.c. and some years later (chs 36; 37). Isaiah gives as the period of his prophetic ministry the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (ch 1:1). He began his work during the closing years of King Uzziah (Azariah), and was still active during Sennacherib's 2nd invasion toward the close of Hezekiah's reign, possibly about 690 b.c. or even later. According to an ancient Jewish tradition quoted in the Babylonian Talmud, Isaiah was slain by Manasseh, doubtless soon after Manasseh began his sole reign, approximately in 686 b.c.. It is thus evident that Isaiah's ministry spanned somewhat more than half a century. This period of time witnessed the peak of Assyria, under Tiglath-pileser III (745 727), Shalmaneser V (727 722), Sargon II (722 705), Sennacherib (705 681), and Esarhaddon (681 669), its most powerful rulers. From 743 onward Assyrian armies repeatedly invaded Palestine and progressively absorbed the northern kingdom into their expanding empire. Shalmaneser V besieged Samaria for 3 years, and it fell in 723/22 b.c., thus bringing the northern kingdom to its end. In 701 Sennacherib embarked on a major campaign that brought Assyria practically all of Mediterranean Asia, including all of Judah except Jerusalem. A few years later another Assyrian army was destroyed by the angel of the Lord at the gates of Jerusalem (Is 37:36, 37).
The period of Isaiah's prophetic ministry was thus a time of turmoil and uncertainty, during which the 10 tribes went into permanent captivity, and when, to all appearances, it was only a matter of time until the same fate would overtake Jerusalem itself. Judah had been blessed from time to time with devout leaders who checked the tide of evil and carried out reforms, with varying success. Uzziah and Jotham were, for the most part, themselves loyal to God, but proved to be only half-hearted in encouraging the people to follow their example. King Ahaz was an apostate and desecrated the Temple (2 Ki 16:3, 4, 10 18; 2 Chr. 28:1 5, 22 25; cf. 29:1 7). With the encouragement of Isaiah and others, Hezekiah instituted a series of thoroughgoing reforms that brought about a great spiritual revival (2 Chr. 29:1 to 2 Chr. 30:13). The northern kingdom had filled its cup of iniquity, and its apostasy was complete and without remedy, but the contemporary prophet Hosea declared, "Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful" (Hos 11:12). Isaiah's mission as a prophet was to call the people of Judah back to the true God and to encourage them to trust Him in spite of the evil fate that appeared about to overtake them.
Isaiah's name, meaning "Yahweh saves," is especially appropriate to the theme of his book--deliverance. In Is 1 to 39 first Syria and then Assyria pose a threat to Judah, but the prophet repeatedly assures king and people that God will deliver them (chs 7:1 9; 10:12 27; 11:10 16; 19:23 25; 37:21 36; 38:6). chs 40 to 66, looking ahead to the time when God's people languish in Babylonian captivity, constitute a great epic of deliverance from that foreign power (see especially Is 40:2; 41:10; 43:1, 2; 44:26 to 45:13; 47; 48:20, 22). But, says Isaiah, in effect, deliverance from outward enemies is of secondary importance to deliverance from the oppressive power of sin within, and is contingent upon it (see especially chs 1:16 20; 4:3, 4; 6:5 7; 8:19, 20; 12:3; 53:4 6; 55:6, 7; 58; 61:10; 66:1, 2; etc.). Deliverance reaches its climax with the coming of Messiah, the Great Deliverer who will one day rule in righteousness upon the throne of David (chs 9:6, 7; 11:1 5, 10 12; 25:8, 9; 40:1 5; 52:7 to 53:12; 61:1 3; 63:1 6). He will vanquish His enemies (chs 2:10 21; 10:12; 11:4; 13:1 to 14:27; 24:21, 22; 26:20, 21; 28:21; 33:1 3; 47; 63:1 6; 64:1 3; 65:15; 66:1, 15, 16) and establish His people in never-ending peace and security (chs 4:2 6; 11:5 9; 25:6 8; 35; 51:11; 65:17 25; 66:22 24). He will greatly honour, exalt, and bless them. He will make them a light to the Gentiles, and from all nations of earth a great host will be gathered in to serve the Lord at Jerusalem (chs 2:1 4; 11:10 16; 49:6 8; 54:1 5; 55:5; 56:6 8; 60; 62:1 7). The prophetic insight into the glorious destiny that awaited Israel, as set forth in chs 40 to 66, is without equal elsewhere in Scripture. Isaiah has appropriately been called the Messianic prophet because of the many sublime passages that foretell the coming of Messiah and the establishment of His reign of righteousness.
The prophecy of Isaiah logically falls into 2 sections, the 1st of which (chs 1 to 39), for the most part, deals with the problems then facing God's people. Foremost is the problem of sin, and 2nd, the succession of crises that arose from the current historical situation. There are also occasional glimpses of the future. The 2nd section (chs 40 to 66) turns to the future, glorious destiny that awaits Israel, and to the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of His eternal kingdom. Chapters 1 to 6 record Isaiah's call to the prophetic ministry and his early prophetic messages. The immediate historical circumstances, which found Judah in mortal danger from Syria, together with a prediction of the impending Assyrian invasions and a promise of deliverance for Judah from both Syria and Assyria, constitute the theme of chs 7 to 12. This section reaches a glorious climax as it predicts the coming of Messiah to champion the cause of His beleaguered people (Is 11:1 9), and the ingathering of the Gentiles and Jewish exiles (ch 11:10 16), and ends with a ringing song of triumph (Is 12). Chapters 13 to 23 constitute an epic of deliverance from Babylon and all the other nations round about that had, at one time or another, oppressed Israel. In chs 24 through 29 the prophet presents a graphic narrative of the desolation of the earth when the Lord would come in judgement upon the nations (ch 24), of the rejoicing of Israel at their deliverance (chs 25 to 27), and of a solemn warning to them to turn to the Lord and to trust in Him (chs 28; 29). The folly of reliance on Egypt and Assyria, with whom the kings of Judah have entered into alliances, is then set forth in stark contrast with the happy fortune of those who put their trust in God (chs 30; 31). This section appropriately closes with another graphic picture of the Messianic kingdom, Messiah reigning in righteousness and His people dwelling in peace and security (chs 32 to 35). This is followed by a brief historical interlude that recites in detail Sennacherib's invasions of Judah and the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrian armies (chs 36; 37), the sickness and recovery of Hezekiah (ch 38), and the visit of envoys from Babylon (ch 39).
Part 2 (Is 40 to 66) may be divided into 3 major sections: Future deliverance and restoration (chs 40 to 53), Israel a light to the nations, and the ingathering of the Gentiles (chs 54 to 62), and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom (chs 63 to 66). In chs 40 to 47 the prophet encourages his people to look forward to deliverance from the Babylonian captivity. They are to have confidence in God (chs 40 and 41). Deliverance will come through Messiah, God's "servant" (ch 42), and Israel will then become God's "servant" to represent Him before the nations of earth (chs 43 and 44). Cyrus is also God's "servant," the human agent chosen to deliver the people of God from Babylon (chs 44 to 46), whose fall is vividly portrayed in ch 47. In chs 48:1 to 52:12 God challenges His people to learn the lesson of the Babylonian captivity--of loyalty of Him--(ch 48), to accept their role as His messenger of truth to the Gentiles (ch 49), to turn from earthly goals and objectives (ch 50), and to respond courageously to His gracious invitation (chs 51:1 to 52:12). Then, Messiah will come as the suffering "servant," to redeem them from their sins (chs 52:13 to 53:12). In chs 54 to 56 Israel's role in the divine plan for evangelising the world is vividly set forth. In view of this destiny, God summons His people to a revival of true religion (Is 57 to 59). This reformation will usher in Israel's glorious hour of destiny, when she is to arise and let her light shine forth to all men (chs 60 to 62). When the evangelisation of the world has been completed the great day of God will come, the day of vengeance upon those who have rejected His gracious call of mercy. The prophet then makes a final appeal to His people to enter wholeheartedly into the work of reformation that must precede the glorious events already foretold (chs 63:1 to 65:16). The earth is restored (ch 65:17 25), men are rewarded according to their deeds (ch 66:1 21), and God's people worship Him in peace and righteousness forever (vs. 22 24). The return from Babylon was realised, but the glorious destiny of world mission and leadership that was to follow was forfeited by Israel and now belongs to the spiritual children of Abraham.
Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.