The Vision of Isaiah, Son of Amos
Concerning Judah and Jerusalem
in the days of
Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah
Kings of Judah
Holy Bible, English Standard Version
Watts, John D. W. Isaiah 1-33
Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 24 Word Books 1985
Motyer, J. Alec The Prophecy of Isaiah, An Introduction and Commentary
Intervarsity Press 1993
Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks
Harper and Brothers 1960
Today we begin the study of the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah is probably the most well known of the Old Testament prophets. It is quoted 20 times in the New Testament. Only the Psalms are quoted more. Handel chose verses from Isaiah when he wrote the Messiah. It is a book of Good News, the Gospel in the Old Testament. But it also contains hard news for anyone whom rejects the God of Israel, Yahweh.
We know the year of the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry, 740 BC. It is reasonable to consider he was around 30 years old at the time, much like Ezekiel. He was contemporary with Amos and Hosea. He very likely knew them both. His ministry included all Israelites, both Judah and Israel. Theirs was primarily to the Northern Kingdom, Israel. I have attached a section of notes from our study of Amos last spring, to set the political and cultural climate of the day.
We know pretty precisely the years of Amos’s ministry. Uzziah was king of Judah from 792-740 BC. He was also known as Azariah. Jeroboam II ruled Israel from 793 to 753 BC. There was peace in the region for most of this time, and both Israel and Judah became quite wealthy due the peace, and to their location on the trade routes between Africa and the Mid-east. Assyria was growing in power, but had not considered invading the Levant and Egypt yet.
Amos’s prophecies were given between 790-750 BC, at a time when both Israel and Judah are at heights of prosperity and peace. He may or may not have known Hosea. Hosea’s ministry started around 10 years after Amos, around 740 BC. He must have heard Amos’s teaching as he was growing up. By 722 BC, Israel will be destroyed by the rising political power of Assyria, in part for not heeding the words of the prophets such as Amos and Hosea. (See 2 Kings 14-15, and 2 Chronicles 26-27 for the historic context) In Amos’s day there was still time for the nation to repent and return to the true worship of YHWH, and avoid the Assyrian invasion.
Amos’s day was one of affluence. Mammon ruled. The rich lived ostentatious lives. The women lived for excitement and leisure. The rulers set the example for the people and did not deny themselves any bodily pleasure. But there was also great poverty. The poor were very poor and the wealthy did not pay them any heed. They were shamelessly exploited and were defenseless. But the people were still very religious. They offered mouth worship to Jehovah, but they also worshipped the Baals. Jeroboam I had set up shrines to Baal in Bethel and Dan, and these permitted sexual indulgence to flourish and public standards of morality to reach low ebb. Amos had a real challenge to reach this self-indulgent society. Judean society was just like Israel’s, so Isaiah faced a similar uphill battle.
The Book of Isaiah covers more than two hundred years of Judah’s history. We think Isaiah lived into Manasseh’s reign, probably until 680 BC. Manasseh executed him. Tradition says he crawled into a hollow trunk of a tree to hide from Manasseh’s forces, in which he was sawn in two (Hebrews 11:37).
There are two schools of though about the authorship of the book. Many contend that Isaiah wrote the entire book with prophetic insight. This is a historic position and also a Jewish position. Modern scholarship, however, suggests it has three or more authors, with Isaiah playing a key role in the first half of the book. This would explain the reference to subsequent historic events, such as the rise of Cyrus that occurred about 200 years after Isaiah died. Either way it is accepted as canonical by Jews and Christians. An almost complete copy of the book was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and is on display in a museum in Jerusalem.
1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amos, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
The history of this period is found in 2 Kings 15-19. This should be familiar to us from our study of the Minor Prophets last spring.
This book is the ‘vision of Isaiah’. It is actually the vision of God presented through Isaiah. The Israelites have been God’s chosen people from the days of Abraham. But we know that they were very prone to wander away from their Father. Isaiah addresses both Israel and Judah here. Israel has been in rebellion since the days of Solomon. God’s grace toward them is wearing thin. Judah has done a little bit better, in that she vacillated between serving God and serving the attractive idols of the day. We do not know the timing of the first five chapters. There is a definitive day for chapter 6, 740 BC. From here on we can follow the calendar for the next 250 years.
Uzziah, also know as Azariah, reigned from 792 - 740 BC. He was a godly king, but because of a sin (2 Chronicles 26:16-23) he developed leprosy that was with him until his death. Jeroboam II reigned in Israel at that time (793-753 BC). This was an extended period of peace and both Judah and Israel prospered under their reigns. Jotham (750-731 BC) followed his father Uzziah and he was a godly king as well. However, he allowed the pagan gods to remain in Judah, as did his father. This is called syncretism, and it does not bode well for the nation. Today we would call it diversity and multiculturalism. When Jotham died his son Ahaz (735-715 BC) reigned in his stead. “He did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God”. He sacrificed his son on a pagan altar, and he encouraged pagan worship throughout the land. The peace of Uzziah and Jeroboam was broken and Syria and Israel invaded Judah. Instead of calling on Yahweh for protection, Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, to come to his aid. This brought the newest rising world power into the Levant. Ahaz paid Tiglath-pilezer off with the gold in the Temple and in the royal treasury. And he built an Assyrian pagan altar in the Temple in place of God’s altar.
The Assyrians came with power. They conquered Damascus and killed the king, Rezin. Then they turned on Israel and besieged Samaria for three years. Finally the Northern Kingdom, Israel, fell in 722 BC, and Assyria scattered the ten tribes into oblivion. They became the Ten Lost Tribes. He replaced the Israelites with people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sephavaim. The progeny of the transplants became the Samaritans of Jesus day.
Judah might have fallen as well, except Ahaz died and his son Hezekiah (729-686 BC) reigned in his stead. Hezekiah was a godly king and he brought about revival in the land. Isaiah was his spiritual counselor. “He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered” (2 Kings 18:5-7). The Assyrians tried to conquer Jerusalem, but, as you will recall, 185,000 soldiers of the Assyrian army that surrounded Jerusalem died in the night and Sennacharib, the current king of Assyria, returned to Nineveh with his tail between his legs.
With this historic background we can begin our study of Isaiah.
The Wickedness of Judah
1:2-4 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the LORD has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master's crib
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the LORD,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged.
God calls on the heavens and the earth to be his witnesses in his judgment of his children, Israel. His children have forsaken him. The consequences are severe. This is a typical Old Testament court scene with plaintiff (God), and defendant (Israel), and witnesses (the earth and the heavens). Interestingly, God is both plaintiff and judge.
1:5-7 Why will you still be struck down?
Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
or softened with oil.
1:7-10 Your country lies desolate;
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
foreigners devour your land;
it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
And the daughter of Zion is left
like a booth in a vineyard,
like a lodge in a cucumber field,
like a besieged city.
If the LORD of hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we should have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah.
Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
The plaintiff asks Israel why she continues to rebel. Devastation has descended on the land because of war. Yet the people do not recognize what is happening, and the rulers, probably Ahaz and Jeroboam, refused to turn to the Lord.
The half-century of peace is now past. There is war between Judah and Israel and Syria, and Edom is invading from the South. Soon Assyria will devastate both nations, and Syria as well.
1:11-17 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
“When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause.
God is not fooled by religious practices that are not accompanied with good works. This reinforces the teaching of James 2:14-26. Faith without works is dead.
1:18-20 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
The Unfaithful City
1:21-23 How the faithful city
has become a whore,
she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
but now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
your best wine mixed with water.
Your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
and the widow's cause does not come to them.
1:24-27 Therefore the Lord declares,
the LORD of hosts,
the Mighty One of Israel:
“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
and avenge myself on my foes.
I will turn my hand against you
and will smelt away your dross as with lye
and remove all your alloy.
And I will restore your judges as at the first,
and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
the faithful city.”
Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
God is going to take matters into his own hands. He will purify his people with fire. Once all the alloy is burned away he will restore righteous judges and counselors. The rebellious and proud will be burned away, but God always has a righteous remnant. These will remain and be the foundation of the new society. Remember when Elijah complained to God that all have turned away from you and I, even only I, am left, and they seek my life. And God showed him 7000 Israelites who had not bowed their knees to Baal (1 Kings 19:9-18).
Jesus tells us that “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:14)
1:28-31 But rebels and sinners shall be broken together,
and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
For they shall be ashamed of the oaks
that you desired;
and you shall blush for the gardens
that you have chosen.
For you shall be like an oak
whose leaf withers,
and like a garden without water.
And the strong shall become tinder,
and his work a spark,
and both of them shall burn together,
with none to quench them.
The oaks and gardens here could refer to the fancy houses of the rich and famous. Alternatively they could refer to the places of pagan worship. Either way, they are destined for destruction so that the land may once again be purified.
Today our country is divided between those who remain faithful to God and love Jesus, and the bicoastal elite who are faring quite well, but have no room for God. The first are the deplorables that cling to their guns and Bibles. The latter are the ones who have taken prayer and Bible reading out of our schools, and would like to repress the role of the faith in the founding and greatness of our country. In many instances the church itself is complicit in the suppression of the faith because we have become ‘rich’ and self-sufficient, able to handle our lives ourselves without God’s intervention. Therefore our witness is weakened and our neighbors do not hear the gospel through us.
When God Wants To Drill A Man
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.