Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, November 17, 2019
The Book of Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is the twenty-third book of the Bible. It has 66 chapters and 1291 verses. The book was written by Isaiah who was of royal birth being the son of Amoz who was a brother of King Amaziah. Isaiah had easy access to the king’s palace and freely mingled among the royals. He prophesied during the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and perhaps a little bit of Manasseh. The name Isaiah means Yahweh is salvation or salvation is of Yahweh.
Isaiah was impressed by the spiritual climate and economic progress of the nation under Uzziah’s rule. A general feeling of uncertainty arose among the people in general as to what would happen to the nation when the good King Uzziah died. Isaiah was caught in the same feeling. Uzziah ruled for 52 years and died. His death was an eye-opener for Isaiah as he testifies in chapter 6 that when King Uzziah died, he saw the Lord in a new light. Perhaps he realized that God’s program was not dependent upon any one human being.
Isaiah is said to have been murdered by King Manasseh, arguably the worst king that ever ruled Judah, and he ruled the longest, 55 years. Isaiah might be the person referred to in Hebrews 11:37, “…some were sawn in half.” He is said to have hidden in a hollow tree trunk running from King Manasseh who wanted to kill him. King Manasseh ordered the tree to be sawn in two. The saw cut through the tree and through Isaiah.
Some scholars are disturbed by Isaiah’s accurate predictions of the future and so they give Isaiah a later date of writing. Such scholars know nothing about God being the real author of the Bible behind the human authors. The divine author of the Bible knows the future and can reveal it to a human author to write it down for a purpose known to the divine. It was not by human acumen for example that Isaiah predicted the rise of King Cyrus to the throne of Persia 200 years before the event. It was revealed to him by God to write it down. These scholars are determined to deny that, and instead, invent all kinds of weird explanations to provide a human explanation for the occurrence. Such scholars divide the book of Isaiah into three parts assigning each part to a different human author, like so: First Isaiah chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah chapters 40-55, and Third Isaiah chapters 56-66.
Assigning different authors to the book of Isaiah contradicts the New Testament which quotes from all three sections and attributes each to the prophet Isaiah. For example, Isaiah 9:1-2 which is said to be in First Isaiah is quoted in Matthew 4:14-16, “…so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned’” (ESV).
From the so-called Second Isaiah, 53:4 is attributed to Isaiah in Matthew 8:17, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases’” (ESV). And from what is named Third Isaiah, 61:1-2 is quoted in Luke 4:17, “And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’” (ESV). These and many other quotations from Isaiah in the New Testament are the testimony that the book of Isaiah was written by one human author. Conservative biblical scholarship maintains that the book of Isaiah is one book written by God through the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah starts out by announcing God’s judgment on God’s wayward people warning them of harsh judgment by removal from the land into exile if they persisted in their nonconformity to the covenant God made with them. Through Isaiah God invited the nation to come so he and they would reason together in regard to their sin. God said that even if their sins were as scarlet, they would be as white as snow; and if red like crimson, they would be as white as wool. It later became clear that the nation would not change course and that the punishment of exile was inevitable. Isaiah then predicted that a king called Cyrus would rise to the throne and permit the exiles to return to the land. Cyrus was called God’s anointed one, the only non-Jew to be called so in the Bible (Isaiah 45:1-7).
Isaiah predicted the birth of Jesus by a virgin. The prediction in Isaiah 7:14 said, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” It was a sign given to King Ahaz to stop worrying about the threat of the kingdom of Israel which had allied with Syria to attack Judah. Salvation would come from the Lord. The prediction referred to a near event representing a far event of monumental importance, the birth of the savior of the world by a virgin. The prediction speaks of a young woman who would bear a child. “Young woman” in Hebrew culture would by necessity mean one who was a virgin, otherwise she would be a disgrace in society. The same prophet predicted in four instances a righteous, suffering servant who would be fully obedient to God and would bring salvation to the world, (Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12).
Isaiah 53 is such a stark description of what happened to Jesus. It is one of the chapters of the Old Testament that are never read in most synagogue gatherings of the Jews. The chapter is problematic to the Jewish Rabbis. Who is it speaking about? There will be an obedient servant of the Lord who will be rejected and marred and afflicted and stricken and wounded and killed. This suffering servant of the Lord will be buried with the rich and the wicked. All this will happen to him so as to remove the sins of many. The text is unmistakable in its assertions. The words are clear and understandable. No one in all of known history fulfills these prophecies except one, Jesus Christ. He fulfills them to the T. Refusing to believe in him after the Scriptures so clearly testify about him is an embarrassment and an amazing show of rare adamant refusal to believe God.
Read the book of Isaiah and see the beauty of our God in forgiving sin and inviting us humans to dine with him.