by Rev. Chris Skinner
Isaiah’s Ministry was centred in Judah and spanned the period 740-680BC. It begins near the reign of Uzziah and continues through the kingships of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. The different qualities and influences of these kings both for good and evil, have a major influence on the fortunes of the Jewish Church and also for the New Church in their correspondential inner meaning.
Isaiah, son of Amoz whose name means “Yahweh is Salvation” came from a distinguished Jewish family, was highly educated and had two sons. His use and grasp of language is demonstrated in the majesty and grandeur of the text and this is part of the reason that makes it my favourite book in the Old Testament.
Whilst for the New Church, the question of authorship is not of great significance when compared to its power and impact, it is interesting to note that scholars are divided as to whether the book had one, two or three authors. All will agree however, that it can be considered in at least two parts.
We could say that this book is the ‘Bible in miniature’. It has 66 chapters and there is a definite change in emphasise in the text from chapter 40 onwards. Therefore, we have 39 chapters in the first part and 27 in the second, which is the same as the number of books in the Old and New Testaments.
Although some scholars question the authorship its unity is supported by Ecclesiastes, the Septuagent, the Talmud the New Testament and Paul in the Epistles. If we look at the thoughts, images and rhetorical expressions contained in the literal text, we see many similarities in both sections of the book.
It is interesting to note that the only full text of any of the books of the Old Testament, found at Qumran, was that of Isaiah.
Overview of the Text
Isaiah, as one of the major prophets, is actually the first book of the prophets in the Word. The distinction between major and minor defined by length of the book and not necessarily htheir standing in history or amongst believers.
The general purpose of the message of Isaiah as far as the literal sense is concerned is as follows:-
Warn the Jewish nation of the danger of alliances with pagan nations and worship of other gods which is shown in Judah’s moral and spiritual corruption
God’s judgement, encouragement and need for repentance and at the same time a promise of forgiveness.
Foretelling of the coming of the Messiah.
The general themes portrayed in the text are :-
God’s complaint againt Judah, Judah’s fall and restoration, Judgement on the Jews and other nations, and following judgement peace consolation, hope and comfort.
As mentioned early, it is the beauty, grandeur and power of the text which enables it to stand out for me. It is the most quoted of the Old Testament books in the New Testament and is regarded as the “Romans of the Old Testament” with its focus and sweep of the Messianic prophesies and of the New Heaven and the New Earth.
At both the level of the literal and spiritual meaning, it foresaw man’s descent into evil and the need for the Incarnation. Isaiah is very much focussed on the central place of Judah Jerusalem and Zion with the Jewish people and for the New Church the symbolic meaning of Jerusalem as the church in the hearts and minds of men and women. It enables us to focus on the way the Lord leads His people.
For the New Church, we see in the Word, a continuous spiritual sense which speaks of the Lord Himself and the battles he faced and we face as individuals on our spiritual journey. Simply put, we can see the first 39 chapters as reflecting the acts of repentance and reformation and the last 27 of our Regeneration. It is interesting to note that in the last verse of chapter 39, there is a distinct change from doom, gloom and judgement to comfort, consolation and hope, all in one verse. In the original text, found at Qumran there is no suggestion of a break. The chapter headings having been added later.
Comments on the Text
It is impossible to do justice to the text in this short summary. I can only point to some passages which stand out,
The messianic prophecies are numerous in this book and in Chapter 7 verses 14-15, we have “behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call His name Immanuel which interpreted is ‘God with us’” A direct prophesy is given of the Son as the Lord and establishing the oneness of God which is consistent through the whole of Isaiah. This quotation in conjunction with Chapter 9 verses 6-7 which is the most quoted text for the Christmas message. “For unto us a child is born unto us a Son is given and his name shall be called wonderful ,counselloe ,mighty God Everlasting father, Prince of Peace..” but a number of other texts, namely Chapter 11 verses 1-5, 16 verse 5 which you are invited to read also foretell of the Incarnation.
The second half of the book begins in Chapter 40 verse 3 commences with ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Make straight in the desert a highway for our God, Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth.” This again refers to the advent of the Lord but then in verse 11 we read “He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs with his arms and carry them away in his bosom and gently lead those who are with young”
We can sense in these passages the temptations we must undergo as we regenerate and the way the Lord leads us towards heaven as also in Chapter 40 it states” But those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength they shall mount up with wings as eagles they shall run and not be weary and they shall walk and not faint.”
Read the beauty and power of God the Creator in Chapter 42 and the sense of the fluctuating states of humiliation and glorification of the Lord in Chapter 53 In Chapter 59, we sense the temptation the Lord underwent and it is only in verses 20 and 21 that we get a sense of the battle being won to some extent. We can also relate these passages to our own ups and downs in our efforts to grow spiritually. In Chapter 60 we read’ “Arise shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you, for behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people. But the Lord will arise over you and his glory shall be seen upon you”. What a wonderful sense of triumph for the Lord and ourselves when we overcome temptation..
The last chapter commences with the words “Thus says the Lord, Heaven is my throne and earth my footstool Where is the house you will build me, and where is the place of my rest” The vision that Isaiah saw of Judah, and Jerusalem in the first verse of Chapter 1 is coming to fruition both in the Lord’s kingdom in the heavens and the life of the Lord in the hearts of each person in their goal of regeneration.
I trust that this has given you a flavour at a number of levels of this inspiring and wonderful book and you will revisit it yourself as part of your devotional reading to experience a deep sense of how the God’s foresight and revelation is seen in this book..
The only New Church Commentary on Isaiah is by Smithson and is hard to find but an overview of the spiritual sense can be found in Summary of Prophets and Psalms by Emanuel Swedenborg.