Editor’s Note: This post is part 1 of 2 of a series about Isaiah. In this series of posts, Jason Kruis provides an overview of the book of Isaiah looking at judgement, historical interlude, salvation, and a homework example.
When Paul wrote that all Scripture is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)(1), he was writing in context about Old Testament Scripture(2), which he also said were able to make one wise “for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). While we counselors (rightly) focus much attention on New Testament Scripture, we would do well to also take our counselees to the OT, helping them to see how these sacred writings lay the foundation for and develop the Messianic hope of God’s people. The OT Prophets in particular provide powerful demonstrations of the righteousness of God’s judgment, the sinfulness of sinners, our need for the Savior, and — most importantly — God’s great salvation.
In light of our charge to accurately represent what God has said (2 Tim 2:15), the counseling applications in this series will be presented in a series of brief synopses of the OT Prophets(3). Each post will be laid out according to an identified literary structure for the book, fitting its component parts into its larger purpose, while noting counseling applications along the way. This will provide a template for taking a counselee through Scripture, as the counselor is encouraged to teach the rough outline and background of the book before assigning questions to help the counselee make application from his or her reading(4).
Introduction to Isaiah
Isaiah is named for its writer, whose name — similar to Joshua, Elisha, and Jesus — means “The Lord is Salvation(5).” It is quoted directly in the NT far more than any other OT prophet(6). Reflecting a ministry that spanned the reigns of four kings of Judah (ca. 739–686 B.C.)(7), Isaiah’s writing can be taken broadly in three parts: judgment, historical interlude, and salvation. Addressing Judah’s situation during his ministry, but with a view to the circumstances of the prophesied Babylonian captivity, Isaiah reveals how Yahweh will chasten his people — including by means of their enemies — and finally, through the work of their Servant-Messiah, make them fit to participate in his work of extending his rule over all peoples.
— Judgment (Isa 1:1–35:10) —
Israel has been unfaithful, and Yahweh(8) calls all of creation to witness the charge against them (1:2). He has lovingly established and cared for his people — as a vineyard keeper would his vineyard (5:1–2) — but they have responded with (at best) external obedience, and not the heart disposition Yahweh requires (1:11–17). Through the first 12 chapters of the book, Yahweh continues to pronounce judgment against Jerusalem, Judah, and Israel, while alternately telling of their eventual restoration. Although Jerusalem has become a “whore,” full of “murderers” (1:21), she will yet be exalted, with “the mountain of the house of the Lord … established as the highest of the mountains” (2:2). Part of the means Yahweh will use to accomplish Israel’s humbling and discipline is military defeat at the hands of their enemies (10:5–8). We also find in these early chapters several direct references to the one through whom their ultimate salvation will come (4:2; 7:14; 9:6–7; 11:1–16).
Although Yahweh will use their enemies in his judgment against Israel, neither will those enemies escape his judgment. Chapters 13 – 23 contain prophecies against foreign nations, starting with Babylon (13:1–14:23)(9). As Isaiah proceeds to issue oracles(10) concerning Assyria (14:23–27); Philistia (14:28–32); Moab (15:1–14); Damascus (17:1–14); Cush (18:1–7); Egypt (19:1–25); and Tyre and Sidon (23:1–18), he also gives hints of a reality that will later become explicit: Gentiles will be participants not only in Yahweh’s judgment, but also in some way in his salvation. The remnant of Syria “will be like the glory of the children of Israel” (17:3); Moab shall have a small remnant (16:14); and Tyre will be restored (23:15–18).
As has been the case in their past, Israel will — because of their discomfort under Yahweh’s judgment — continue to face the temptation to trust in other nations instead of in Yahweh. Those who would seek such alliances are rebuked as proud drunkards (28:1), who because of their political objectives are willing to make “a covenant with death” and “an agreement with Sheol,” taking refuge “in falsehood” (28:15). Israel is further exhorted of the folly of trusting in horses and chariots instead of in Yahweh (31:1).
As with God’s OT people, so with the church: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet 4:17). God is not now — and never has been — satisfied with merely external obedience, and he often reveals hypocrisy by ordaining suffering among his people. Counselees should be encouraged that if they are suffering righteously, they can rejoice in knowing that they are suffering together with Christ, the way he did (1 Pet 4:13). Or perhaps it is evident — as it was with Israel — that their suffering is the direct result of their sin. In this case, they should recognize that the same is true for them as for Israel: Yahweh will not forsake his elect, but will use suffering to purge and strengthen them. They must not continue to suffer for sin, but rather turn under God’s chastening, forsaking their sin and entrusting themselves to him — trusting that if part of their suffering was due to another’s sin, God will be their just judge also (1 Pet 4:17–19).
— Historical Interlude (Isa 36:1–39:8) —
These four chapters record the same material found in 2 Kings 18:13–20:19, likely written originally by Isaiah and included here (at least in part) to make references to Assyria more understandable(11). Chapters 36 and 37 represent the consummation of the first 35 chapters(12), with Assyria invading Judah under Sennacherib (36:1), leading to the humbling of King Hezekiah (37:1). Yahweh is moved by Hezekiah’s plea for help, and causes Sennacherib to fall (37:21–38).
Hezekiah’s faithful humility is short-lived, however. After Yahweh heals him from a fatal illness (38:1–5), he receives an envoy from Babylon, showing them all of the treasures of his kingdom (39:1–4) — letting them know what all he could contribute in an alliance against Assyria(13). The events of this historical interlude fit the pattern already laid out by Isaiah — judgment; relief/salvation; trust in other nations — and the stage is set for what comes next: Israel will be exiled to Babylon.
For our counselees and for us, it should be easy to identify ways in which our lives fit a pattern similar to the one in which the Israelites found themselves. Difficulties come and we cry out to God, making some reforms and finding some relief. As we get used to the relief, however, our attentiveness to the things of God starts to fade, and we look for satisfaction and refuge in other things, leading once again to difficulties — and the pattern repeats. The only way to break this cycle is to turn decisively away from false refuges, and to the great salvation only God can provide.
- Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations in this paper are from the ESV translation.
- This is clear from the fact that he refers in verse 15 to Timothy’s having been acquainted with “the sacred writings” since his childhood, during which time the NT Scriptures would not yet have existed.
- This approach seeks to identify significance (including applications) that can legitimately be drawn from the author’s intended meaning, which must be identified in context according to a historical, grammatical, literal hermeneutic. Additional note: each of the Major Prophets will receive its own post; the 12 Minor Prophets will be treated in a combined post.
- Depending on the counselee’s habits and capacity for Scripture reading, it may be best to assign anywhere from a chapter to the whole book — in any case, application should be drawn in light of authorial intent. What is presented in these posts is simply meant as a broad overview and selective points of application; one could go into much greater depth and detail in terms of teaching these books and making application from them.
- John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 934.
- I will use God’s covenant name, Yahweh, throughout the series (as does the original OT text).
- Here again it should be noted that each prophecy has just a single meaning — even as prophecies about the judgment of ancient Babylon are interspersed with prophesies about eschatological Babylon. [Note: Essex sees the king of Babylon in 14:12-14 as a yet-future human king only; MacArthur sees him as representative of and/or animated by Satan. For more on the latter view, see “Isaiah 13:1–14:27: The Babylonian Tyrant and the Morning Star.” Th.D. diss., The Master’s Seminary, 2013.]
- Per MacArthur (954), oracles in the “sense of his having heavy responsibility to deliver the message.”
- MacArthur, 985.
- Ibid., 990.