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Isaiah 1

A brief biography of the prophet…

We know only a few details about Isaiah’s family.  He was the son of Amoz, a man Barnes supposes to have been well known because he is often mentioned as the father of Isaiah (12).  Isaiah’s wife is called a prophetess (Isaiah 8:3) and may well have had the prophetic gift as have other women such as Huldah (2nd Kings 22:14-20), but Barnes believes “prophetess” is more likely to mean “wife of a prophet” as “priestess” meant “wife of a priest” (12).  Isaiah had at least two sons, and their names function as a part of his prophetic career: one was named Shear-Jashub (Isaiah 7:3), which means, “The remainder shall return” (12).  The other was named Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isaiah 8:1), which means, “Haste to the spoil; haste to the prey” (12).

Isaiah’s prophetic career was exceptionally long.  Since he prophesied during the reigns of at least four (maybe five) kings, he must have received his call to prophecy at an early age; Barnes believes the call might have come as early as the age of twenty (11).  He was a prophet to the kings of Judah, and was called to prophecy first at the end of the reign of Uzziah, who was also known as Azariah (Isaiah 6).  His career then extended through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1) and possibly Manasseh (see below).

According to Barnes, there is not much recorded about Isaiah’s activity during the reign of Jotham (18).

It was during the reign of the bad king Ahaz, the son of Jotham, that Isaiah delivered his famous Immanuel passage (Isaiah 7).  There, Isaiah tells Ahaz he should not fear Syria and Israel, who have aligned themselves against Judah, because the LORD will deliver Judah from them.  To prove the truth of his prophetic office, Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign that God will deliver Judah, but Ahaz refuses because he is faithless and really has his hope in help from Assyria.  As punishment for this refusal, Isaiah then delivers the Immanuel passage, which declares that the two nations, Syria and Israel, will be defeated by God in spite of Ahaz, but that Judah will then be subject to the depredations of Assyria.

Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, was a good king and relied upon Isaiah for spiritual guidance. (For a chronology of Hezekiah’s reign, see notes on 2nd Kings 18.) It was during Hezekiah’s reign that Isaiah went naked for three years as a sign against Egypt and Ethiopia (countries with which Hezekiah seems to have tried an alliance at some point – see 2nd Kings 18:21) indicating that they would be stripped of their possessions by Assyria (Isaiah 20).  Perhaps it was under Isaiah’s influence that Hezekiah instituted his many religious reforms and revolted against Assyria following the death of Sargon I.  After this rebellion, when Sennacharib (Sargon II) came with his army to punish Hezekiah, it was Isaiah who strengthened and encouraged the good king of Judah by telling him that God would protect Jerusalem (2nd Kings 18-19).  Then, as Isaiah promised, God protected Jerusalem by having an angel slay 185,000 men in the Assyrian army, which was encamped at Libnah.  The Assyrians subsequently returned home, never even approaching the walls of Jerusalem to besiege it  (2nd Kings 19:32-34).  Whether they occurred before or after Sennacharib’s invasion (see notes on Hezekiah’s chronology in 2nd Kings 18), Hezekiah’s sickness and miraculous recovery were also wrapped up in the story of Isaiah and his prophetic career.  It was Isaiah who informed Hezekiah to put his house in order because the king would soon die (2nd Kings 20:1).  When the LORD answered Hezekiah’s prayer for longer life, Isaiah delivered the news to the king, and told him to lay a clump of figs on the life-threatening boil.  As a sign that Hezekiah would truly be healed and live for 15 more years, Isaiah told him that the sun’s shadow would go backward 10 degrees on a sundial (2nd Kings 20:1-11).  After this, a Babylonian embassy came to Jerusalem, curious about the miracle of the sun’s shadow, but rather than give God credit, Hezekiah bragged about himself and angered God.  Isaiah rebuked him for this, and the king repented afterward, thus avoiding God’s immediate punishment.  Isaiah then assured Hezekiah that Judah will not fall during his reign (2nd Kings 20:12-19).

Barnes believes that Isaiah survived into the reign of the wicked king Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah.  One of his reasons is 2nd Chronicles 32:32 which says, “The rest of the acts of Hezekiah were written in the vision of Isaiah,” which Barnes takes to imply that Isaiah lived long enough to record the death of Hezekiah.  More compelling to me is the universal opinion of ancient Jewish and Christian writers that Manasseh martyred Isaiah during his reign.  Hebrews 11:37 may be a reference to the martyrdom of Isaiah.  If it is, then Isaiah was executed by being sawn in half.  Barnes believes that chapters 40-66 of the book of Isaiah were written during the reign of Manasseh at a time when Isaiah had retired from public life to spend his last years recording his beatific visions of the future Messiah (23).  See also notes on 1:1.

The Oxford Commentary believes the material from chapters 40-66 was written after Isaiah’s lifetime because it contains accounts of events beyond the lifetime of the prophet.  Barnes and others attribute these accuracies to prophecy.  The Oxford introduction gives no other reason for believing that 40-66 was written after Isaiah except that those sections are so historically accurate; therefore, its conclusion seems based solely on the premise that prophecy is impossible.  However, in spite of its belief that Isaiah was written over a period of centuries, it admits that Isaiah is thematically coherent and smoothly written.  This seems to argue for a single author, in my opinion, although I suppose a good editor could produce a similar effect.  Barnes believes Isaiah himself is responsible for the entire book.  (See his “Divisions of Isaiah.”)

Chapter 1

The time that this first chapter refers to is not clear to me.  Barnes argues that the chapter refers to the time of Uzziah (63)[2] but that does not seem right to me because the reign of Uzziah (as 2nd Chronicles 26 records and as Barnes himself notes) was prosperous, not afflicted, as was the reign of the king in this chapter.[3] The Oxford Commentary makes a good point when it notes that Jerusalem’s isolation here in the chapter could refer to the invasion of Sennacherib (and the reign of Hezekiah), but verses like v. 23 depict the rulers of the kingdom as being corrupt, which does not seem to fit the reign of Hezekiah.  I think it is more likely that the chapter refers to the time of Ahaz.  See the accounts of his reign in 2nd Chronicles 28.  Besides, the other early chapters of the book of Isaiah do definitely refer to the reign of Ahaz.  (See chapter 7.)

v.1: If this is meant to refer to the whole book of Isaiah (as both the Oxford Commentary and Barnes argue it does), then it seems odd to me that it makes no mention of Manasseh.  I would have expected it to mention him if, as Barnes believed, chapters 40-66 were written during Manasseh’s reign.  Perhaps these chapters were actually written before Manasseh was king.  Most of Barnes’s points on pgs 9-11 demonstrate simply that Isaiah may have lived into the time of Manasseh’s kingship.  The only one of the six points that argues that Isaiah wrote parts of his book during Manasseh’s reign is the last point, which notes that the complaints about idolatry in chapters 40-66 would be out of place during the reign of Hezekiah.  But I believe idolatry may have existed in some limited form during Hezekiah’s reign in spite of that king’s own righteousness and attempts at religious reform.

v. 11: The sentiment behind this statement is not that the sacrifices were unimportant to God.  They must have been important or else he would not have commanded them to be made.  But in the hands of unfaithful people such sacrifices were as unwelcome, insulting, and hypocritical as an anniversary present from an adulterous spouse.

v. 18: Here, red (as well as crimson, which Barnes says may also be translated as purple) probably refers to the blood-guilt of v. 15.  Blood is life and blood letting is always associated with guilt; thus, it is a sublime irony that we are made clean by the blood of Jesus.

Vs. 19-20: Notice all this mouth and eating imagery here: “eat the best,” “be devoured,” “mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

[1] According to Barnes, this section is a long prophecy about the time of the Messiah, “having little reference to existing things at the time when Isaiah lived, except the implied censures which are passed on the idolatry of the Jews in the time of Manasseh” (Barnes 26).

[2] I think Barnes is assuming that the book is arranged in chronological order, beginning with Uzziah’s reign and ending with Manasseh’s.

[3] Barnes says that the affliction is left over from the reigns of Joash and Amaziah, but since he believes this vision came at the end of Uzziah’s 52 year reign of prosperity, that seems unreasonable to me.  52 years of prosperity would have gone a long way toward easing the memory of affliction in the reigns of Joash and Amaziah.


2 Responses to “Isaiah 1”

  1. […] that is historically accurate as being written after the historical events in question.  (See my introduction notes.)  Presumably, the Oxford glossers believe this because they do not believe prophecy, as such, is […]

  2. […] that is historically accurate as being written after the historical events in question.  (See my introduction notes.)  Presumably, the Oxford glossers believe this because they do not believe prophecy, as such, is […]

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