This is a Bible study on the introduction to the book of Isaiah. 

4 pages.

Isaiah - An Introduction to the Book of Isaiah

Read Isaiah 1-23.

Overview of the Book🔗

The Book of Isaiah is not written in strict chronological order, as is evident from the fact that the prophet’s initial call to his ministry is not presented until chapter six. The opening chapter may be addressing the situation Judah faced at the time of the Assyrian invasion in the days of King Hezekiah. Chapters 1-39 predominantly, though not exclusively, deal with the period of Judah’s history during the eighth century B.C., the time in which Isaiah was carrying out his ministry. Chapters 40-66 predominantly focus on the distant historical future (from Isaiah’s perspective), foretelling the fall of Babylon and the restoration of God’s redeemed people following their release from their Babylonian captivity. Throughout these chapters the prophecies pertaining to Israel’s return to the Promised Land of Canaan are filled with eschatological allusions, indicating that Israel’s historical deliverance and restoration to Canaan is at the same time a type of the final redemption of God’s people, ushering them into His eschatological kingdom. Chapters 40-66 also contain striking descriptions of the Messiah, presented as “the servant of the LORD.”

The Prophet and His Times🔗

At the very outset of the book, Isaiah informs us that he carried out his ministry during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. In the days of Uzziah and Jotham, the nation of Judah experienced a period of great prosperity and not a small measure of military power (2:7). It was Judah’s Silver Age. Although it did not attain unto the Golden Age under King Solomon, the times of Uzziah and Jotham certainly rivaled those past days of splendor.

But the outward splendor and abundance of material prosperity was itself rivaled by spiritual degeneration and decay. The worship of the LORD had become reduced to merely an outward formality (1:11; 29:13; 58:1-3). Beneath the veneer of formalistic religious observance there resided a heart that was in rebellion against the LORD and that manifested a deep-seated defiance against Him and His holy commandments (1:2,4; 30:9-11; 48:1-8; 65:2). In consequence of their spiritual apostasy, the society of Judah became characterized by injustice (3:14-15; 5:7,22-23; 58:3-12; 59:14­ 15), moral degeneracy (5:11-12; 56:12) and violence (1:21; 59:3-8).

With the ascension of Ahaz to the throne, the spiritual apostasy of the heart became blatant religious apostasy. The worship of the LORD, which had been carried on with outward regularity, was now rivaled and even replaced by open idolatry (2:6,8; 57:3-7). It appears that in the course of time, when faced with a national crisis in the form of foreign invasion, rather than forsaking their sins, the people forsook the LORD their God (43:24; 65:2-4), even going so far as to instruct their prophets to consult mediums (8:19-20), while they cursed their God for bringing such a judgment upon them (8:21).

It is in this setting that Isaiah is divinely commissioned to bring the Word of God to the people of Judah (6:8-13). Isaiah’s commission was to faithfully proclaim the Word of God to a people who refused to heed it; indeed, Isaiah’s calling was to be the means of producing a judicial hardening upon the hearts of a defiant people. The LORD commands Isaiah, “Cause the heart of the people to become callous. Cause their ears to become closed, and shut their eyes; so that they may not see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return to me and be healed” (6:10). Isaiah’s continual preaching of the Word of God, following upon all the preaching done by all the previous prophets, would have the effect of making the people insensitive and unresponsive by virtue of the repetition of the message, especially in light of their present habit of unresponsiveness.

Isaiah’s ministry to his contemporaries was a ministry of judgment, a ministry designed to produce hardening in the hearts of a people who for so long had refused to heed the Word of God. Ironically, the very message that was originally intended for salvation would now become to these people an instrument of judgment. How else could they be saved except by the preaching of God’s Word; declaring to them their sin and directing them to the LORD their Savior? Yet, the continued exposure to that sacred Word—without the response of faith and obedience—would result in the people becoming callous to that life-giving Word.

What is present in Isaiah’ ministry to his contemporaries is a very mysterious and sobering phenomenon: it is a form of judgment enacted by God against those who have the privilege of hearing His Word, but who passively ignore or actively resist that sacred Word, and do so consistently and constantly. But, before we proceed, it must be pointed out that in the midst of this widespread apostasy, there were those who remained faithful to the LORD and thereby proved themselves to be numbered among His redeemed (3:10; 8:16; 25:9; 26:8).

It was especially during the reign of King Ahaz that this process of judicial hardening was set in motion and that the apostate nation was consigned to face the judgment of which it was deserving. It was at this time that Judah found itself threatened by the nations of Israel and Syria who were aligned against it with the purpose of overthrowing it (7:2,6).

In this time of crisis, brought upon the nation as a potential judgment because of their spiritual apostasy, the LORD in His mercy sent the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz with the counsel, “Do not be afraid” (7:3-9). In other words, rather than fear the enemies aligned against them, the people of Judah should put their trust in the LORD, returning to Him in submission and doing so with confidence. As an encouragement to faith and repentance, the LORD condescends to perform for Ahaz whatever sign he might request (7:10-11). But Ahaz refuses to accept the LORD’s offer (7:12). Employing the guise of humility, Ahaz seeks to conceal his determination to go his own way and seek his own “salvation.” As 2 Kings 16:7-8 reveals, Ahaz had resolved to put his trust in the mighty nation of Assyria for deliverance, rather than in the LORD the Almighty. Consequently, the LORD declared that the Assyrian “redeemer” would become an instrument of judgment in His almighty hand (10:5­ 6), inflicting far worse calamity than that threatened by Israel and Syria (7:17,20).

In the midst of the divinely pronounced judgment, the LORD in His mercy did grant the nation of Judah a period of revival in the days of the godly king Hezekiah (32:1-8). Hezekiah was devoted to the LORD and sought to bring the nation back to a true worship of the LORD. But following this period of reformation, both as a time of testing and in fulfillment of His previous warning, the LORD did allow the Assyrian armies to invade the land (2 Chronicles 31:20-32:1).

It appears that the nation sought to ward off this crisis by offering to the LORD a superabundance of superficial religious observance while holding onto their social and personal sins (1:7,10-17; 58:1­ 14). When these efforts failed, it appears that the nation rejected the LORD, resorting to full-scale idolatry (8:19-21; 57:3-7). At the last moment, however, the remnant was spared, due to the intercession of their representative, the godly king Hezekiah. Unlike Ahaz, who had refused to put his trust in the LORD, Hezekiah appealed to the LORD with confidence for deliverance (37:1-4). The LORD responded by destroying the Assyrian armies and sending King Sennacherib back home in disgrace (37:36-38).

When Hezekiah refused to imitate the unbelief of Ahaz, he proved to be the instrument of deliverance for his nation. But when he subsequently exhibited the devilish attribute of pride, (note 14:12-14, which is speaking of the devil’s pride), he became the cause of his nation’s downfall. When Hezekiah entertains the Babylonian envoys that have come to him “from afar country,” his heart is filled with pride that he should be the object of such international attention and he takes this opportunity to show off all his wealth (39:1-2). Chapter 39 closes with the warning, “Behold, the day is coming when everything that is in your palace...will be carried away to Babylon” (39:6).

Whereas the former portion of the book (chapters 1-39) ends with an ominous word of future judgment, the latter portion of the book (chapters 40-66), for the most part, focuses on the LORD’s covenant faithfulness and redeeming grace. This portion of the book foretells the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian, resulting in the release of God’s people from their Babylonian captivity and their restoration to the Promised Land of Canaan.

Isaiah’s description of Judah’s (Israel’s) return from Babylon to Canaan is often presented in eschatological terms, indicating that the historical deliverance is also a type of the LORD’s final bringing of His people into His eschatological kingdom. The latter is a work of redemption that is accomplished not by Cyrus, but only by the true Redeemer of God’s people, the Servant of the LORD, (whom the New Testament reveals to be none other than the Lord Jesus Christ). Thus it is that the latter portion of the Book of Isaiah contains some of the most outstanding prophecies of Christ and His redemptive work (42:1-7; 49:1-9; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12).

The Authorship of the Book🔗

In 1789, operating from the assumptions of rationalism and anti-supernaturalism, Johann C. Doederlein, professor of theology at Jenna, propounded the view that the Book of Isaiah was in fact composed of two distinct volumes: Chapters 1-39 being written by the eighth century B.C. prophet named Isaiah, while Chapters 40-66 were authored by an unknown sixth century B.C. writer whom the critics would call “Deutero-Isaiah.” This basic view, (there have been modifications over the years), was popularized in 1889 by George Adam Smith, whose lectures on Isaiah “have exerted a tremendous influence throughout the English-speaking world.”1

In addition to their arbitrary anti-supernatural bias, (i.e. the critics’ contention that there can be no such thing as foreseeing historical events in the distant future by means of divine revelation), those who hold this view maintain that the prophets of Israel normally, if not exclusively, only brought messages that addressed the contemporary issues of their day.2 These critics further support their view by stressing the differences in subject matter, (chapters 1-39 focus on Judah’s contemporary situation, while chapters 40-66 focus on the distant future from Isaiah’s perspective), alleged differences in language, and alleged differences in theology.

In refutation of the Isaiah/Deutero-Isaiah view, we may briefly consider the following evidence:3

Isaiah 40-66 Is the Necessary Follow-up to the Conclusion of Isaiah 39🔗

As Gleason Archer points out, “chapters 38-39 lead up to the reason for the coming Babylonian Exile: the pride of Hezekiah in displaying his wealth to the Babylonian envoys. Hence chapter 39 closes with an ominous prediction of the Chaldean Captivity.”4 Thus, the content of chapters 40-66, with their focus on the overthrow of Babylon and the deliverance of Judah from its captivity, serves as a most necessary part of Isaiah’s prophecy, assuring God’s covenant people of the LORD’s faithfulness to them and to His covenant.

Chapters 1-39 Also Contain Predictions of Distant Future Events🔗

The claim of the critics is that the Old Testament prophets predominantly, if not exclusively, addressed their contemporaries and the historical situation with which they were presently confronted. Therefore, since chapters 40-66 focus on distant future historical events, from the perspective of eighth century B.C. Isaiah, those chapters must have been written sometime in the sixth century B.C. after the events they describe.

However, chapters 1-39 also contain prophecies of distant future events (from the perspective of the eighth century B.C.). For example, Isaiah 7:14-16 foretells the Messiah’s coming, Isaiah 9:1-2 foretells the Messiah’s earthly ministry, and Isaiah 9:6-7 foretells His future reign. Chapter 11:1-9 again reveals the Messiah’s righteous reign and His eschatological kingdom of universal peace. Chapters 13-14 form an oracle about the defeat of Babylon at the hands of the Medes (13:17). The fact that this oracle presents the destruction of Babylon in eschatological terms (13:5,10,13) indicates that the fall of historic Babylon was also a type of God’s final overthrow of the kingdom of man at the end of history.

The Idolatry Depicted and Denounced in Chapters 40-66 Is Pertinent to Eighth Century B.C. Judah, Not to the Exilic or Post-Exilic Period🔗

Gleason Archer observes that the ritual prostitution referred to in such passages as Isaiah 57:4-5, as well as the detestable practice of infant sacrifice, were elements belonging to the pagan idolatry rampant in Judah in the eighth century B.C. Archer goes on to state, “So far as the Post-Exilic period is concerned, it is agreed by scholars of every persuasion that the returning Jews who resettled Judah from 536 to 540 B.C. brought back no idol worship with them. The terrible ordeal of the Babylonian captivity had brought about a complete rejection of graven images on the part of the Jewish light of this evidence, it is impossible to hold that Isaiah II (i.e. chapters 40-66) was composed at any time after the Exile...”5

Linguistic Evidence Bears Testimony to the Unity of the Entire Book🔗

“The linguistic evidence is altogether averse to the composition of Isaiah II (i.e. chapters 40-66) in Babylon during the sixth century B.C. In the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah, who came from the region of Babylon...we have a fair sample of the type of Hebrew spoken by the Jews who returned from the Exile to Palestine and settled in their homeland during the fifth century B.C. These writings show a certain amount of linguistic intrusion from Aramaic and are studded with Babylonian terms. But there is complete absence of such influence in the language of Isaiah II. It is written in perfectly pure Hebrew, free from any post-Exilic characteristics and closely resembling the Hebrew of Isaiah I (i.e. chapters 1-39).”6

The Failure to Identify “Deutero-Isaiah”🔗

“A most formidable difficulty is presented to the Deutero-Isaiah theory by the fact that the author’s name was not preserved. It is quite inconceivable that this name should have been forgotten had he been some individual other than the Eighth Century Isaiah himself...It is commonly conceded that the author of these passages (chapters 40-66) must be regarded as the greatest of all Old Testament prophets. How could it have come about that such a pre-eminent genius...should have been completely forgotten?

“It should be observed in this connection that an almost invariable rule followed by the ancient Hebrews in regard to prophetic writings was that the name of the prophet was essential for the acceptance of any prophetic utterance...The Hebrews regarded the identity of the prophet as of utmost importance if his message was to be received as an authoritative declaration of a true statesman of the LORD...if the shortest, least-gifted of the minor prophets (Obadiah) was remembered by name in connection with his written message, it surely follows that the most sublime prophet the nation ever produced should have left his name to posterity. We must therefore conclude that the name of the author of Isaiah 40-66 has indeed been preserved and that it was the eighth-century prophet himself.”7

The Witness of the New Testament🔗

“The most conclusive New Testament citation, (testifying to the unity of the entire Book of Isaiah), is John 12:38-41. Verse thirty-eight quotes Isaiah 53:1; verse forty quotes Isaiah 6:9-10. Then the inspired apostle comments in verse forty-one: ‘These things said Isaiah, when he saw his [i.e. Christ’s] glory, and spoke of him.’”8


  1. ^ Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, Fourth Printing, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. Co., 1969), 203.
  2. ^ W. Fitch, “Isaiah,” The New Bible Commentary, Edited by F. Davidson, Eighth Printing of Second Edition, (London: The Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1967), 558.
  3. ^ Gleason J. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Sixth Printing, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1970), 320-339.
  4. ^ Gleason J. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 325.
  5. ^ Gleason J. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 330-331.
  6. ^ Gleason J. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 337.
  7. ^ Gleason J. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 336-337.
  8. ^ Gleason J. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 336.

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