J.K. McKee surveys the Book of Isaiah from a Messianic perspective. Have your study Bible handy, and be prepared to take notes!
For further examination, you are encouraged to purchase a copy of our ministry’s commentary, A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic.
posted 29 September, 2019
reproduced from A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic
Approximate date: 700s B.C.E. (Right, some conservative-moderate); 500s B.C.E. (some conservative-moderate); 500s-300s B.C.E. (Left)
Time period: the Southern Kingdom of Judah preparing to see the Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim fall to Assyria
Prophet/author(s): Isaiah son of Amoz (Right); Isaiah son of Amoz and later editors (some conservative-moderate); Isaiah son of Amoz, “Deutero-Isaiah” (some conservative-moderate, some Left); Isaiah son of Amoz, “Deutero-Isaiah,” “Tritio-Isaiah” (some conservative-moderate, some Left)
Location of author: Land of Israel or Jerusalem (Right, some conservative-moderate); Land of Israel, Jerusalem, and/or Babylon (some conservative-moderate, Left)
Target audience and their location: people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah (Right, some conservative-moderate); Southern Kingdom Israelites in Babylonian exile (some conservative-moderate, Left)
Theological Summary: One of the most important and frequently discussed books of the Bible is undoubtedly the Book of Isaiah. In the Jewish theological tradition Isaiah (Heb. Yeshayahu) is the first of the Latter Prophets (considering that Joshua-Kings compose the Former Prophets). Many songs, important theological concepts, wisdom ideas, and even some Western social concepts are derived from Isaiah—sometimes without people even realizing it. Isaiah is a text that speaks in very broad terms to individuals, communities, and entire nations about their relationship with God. Isaiah is not something that is read easily like one of the histories of the Tanach, and requires a person to read it very observantly. It has been a widely considered and debated text throughout Jewish and Christian history, and this will probably continue as the Messianic movement grows.
The Prophet depicted in this book is identified by name as Isaiah the son of Amoz (1:1), something that is upheld by the Apostolic Scriptures (Matthew 12:17-21; John 12:28-41; Romans 10:16, 20-21). This Isaiah was a contemporary of Amos, Hosea, and Micah, beginning his service in 740 B.C.E., and some Jewish tradition considers him to be a relative of the royal court (b.Megillah 10b) and even sawn in two (cf. Hebrews 11:37).
Isaiah prophesied during the period of the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s decline and Assyria’s expansion. Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722-721 B.C.E., and the supplementary history behind Isaiah is largely found in 2 Kings 15-21 and 2 Chronicles 26-33. King Uzziah dies in 740 B.C.E. (6:1), ending a fifty-year period of stability and co-existence with the Northern Kingdom. Isaiah enters the scene and warns the Southern Kingdom of Judah that its sin will bring judgment by Babylon. Against this backdrop, much of Isaiah’s prophecy deals with the judgment and restoration of the Southern Kingdom, with the Northern Kingdom having already been judged, even though ultimately all of Israel will be restored—and it will have consequences for not just Israel but also the nations.
Many conservative scholars accept the premise that all of the prophecies in Isaiah are attributed to a single Isaiah. This is largely because of the commonality throughout the book, with themes seen such as punishment, Jerusalem as God’s holy mountain, and a highway being made by Him to Jerusalem. One of the strongest arguments made in favor of Isaianic unity is its usage of the term “Holy One of Israel” twelve times, and other various common words and phrases.
Until modern times, the unity of the Book of Isaiah was something that was assumed by most scholars. Divisions that occur in Isaiah cause some to think that there are several different “Isaiahs” responsible for various parts of the text—perhaps as many as three. It is sometimes thought that chs. 1-35 begin with a series of prophecies about the Southern Kingdom in relation to Assyria, chs. 36-39 form an historical interlude, then introducing chs. 40-66. Chs. 36-66 are often referred to as Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah in various theological works.
Propositions for Deutero-Isaiah actually began in the Middle Ages with the Jewish scholar Abraham Ibn-Ezra suggesting that a second prophet spoke to those in Babylonian Exile. It was believed that the later prophecies seen in Isaiah were given during the Babylonian Exile with the expectation that Cyrus of Persia would be used to deliver Israel. These prophecies, for lack of a better description, were given by a Pseudo or Second Isaiah. Some conservative theologians believe in Deutero-Isaiah, but most believe that these later prophecies are predictive and were given by Isaiah son of Amoz. “Conservative opinion is anchored in its theological conviction…about the reality of prophetic revelation—that the Spirit of God did give to ancient writers insight into the future” (Dillard and Longman).
Liberal scholars are often the ones found to be advocating the existence of a Deutero-Isaiah for the compilation of chs. 40-55 during the Babylonian Exile, and even a Tritio-Isaiah for chs. 56-66. These trends largely began among Nineteenth Century German scholars who adapted Ibn-Ezra’s view and were influenced by some of the views espoused by Pentateuchal source criticism. Third Isaiah was added as another prophet who spoke apocalyptic visions of God’s judgment on the world. A good summation of these views is found in the Anchor Bible Dictionary entry for the Book of Isaiah, which is actually divided into three sections for: First Isaiah, Second Isaiah, and Third Isaiah.
Liberals often tend to see the composition of Isaiah as having taken place over a very long, drawn out period of compilation and redaction. Some do not even believe that Isaiah was finished until the Third Century B.C.E. Conservatives often respond to these views by pointing out that Isaiah’s prophecies were made under the assumption that the Southern Kingdom was doomed, and these words were predictive in nature. Even some liberals urge caution, warning that “It is not clear to us when, or why, the prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah were combined with those of Isaiah son of Amoz” (Jewish Study Bible). Canonical criticism of the Bible recognizes that Isaiah is to be taken as a single work.
There is certainly discussion as to whether or not Isaiah simply prophesied these words, or whether he wrote them down as a prophetic work. It is likely that Isaiah wrote down many of these prophecies, or that those associated with him did this. If one holds to some kind of unity for the Book of Isaiah, it is not improbable that Isaiah’s prophecies are interspersed with historical data because they were redacted by the School of the Prophets or Isaiah’s immediate disciples. Talmudic tradition indicates that Isaiah was actually written by the men of Hezekiah (b.Bava Batra 15a), which probably was “in the sense of ‘edited’ or ‘compiled’” (Harrison). Some theologians today propose that the composition of Isaiah was intended to be read in two paralleling volumes with concurrent themes.
The textual integrity of the Book of Isaiah actually remains very strong. A single scroll of Isaiah was discovered at Qumran. Although Isaiah is currently placed as the first of the Prophets, this may not have always been the case in antiquity. The Hebrew Masoretic Text of Isaiah is relatively intact, with only minor variants. Among ancient witnesses, those seen among the Dead Sea Scrolls are very important. Some minor variants likewise exist between the MT and Greek Septuagint, and the LXX can be useful in examining various difficulties in the Hebrew as they present themselves.
The events of Isaiah chs. 1-39 are contemporary to the Eighth-Seventh Centuries B.C.E. Significant sections of Isaiah deal with ancient prophecies intended to call Israel to repentance and restoration before God. Concurring with these major themes are sections in Isaiah of various additional prophetic oracles, poetry, hymns of praise to God, and apocalyptic revelations. Isaiah also makes distinct usage of personification, where worldly elements such as mountains and trees are often used to represent people, or represent how the world is under the control of God. Isaiah also makes mention of previous events in Israel’s history such as the Exodus or other judgments He has enacted.
Common ideas seen throughout Isaiah include the judgment of God upon His rebellious people (1:2), followed by a later time of His redeeming them (41:14, 16). God will also judge the nations who try to thwart the restoration of His people (2:11, 17, 20, et. al.). Isaiah is used to call the people back to holiness, to repent from their sins, urging them to remain faithful to the Lord, and to eagerly await His Messiah. The future Messianic Age will bring the ultimate redemption as Israel is used as the conduit by which the entire world can be saved.
In the Jewish theological tradition, Isaiah is one of the most favorite of the prophetic books, being cited in more Rabbinical works than any other of the Prophets, and being used for more Haftarah selections than any of the others. It is notable that there does exist some difference between the Jewish interpretations of various Messianic passages when compared to the traditional Christian interpretations. This is particularly true in identifying the Servant of Isaiah 53. Targumic material of Isaiah often shows how various passages were interpreted messianically, and these are considered to be quite valuable among Christian exegetes today.
The Book of Isaiah plays a major role in the Messianic expectations of the Apostolic Scriptures, particularly in the theology of Yeshua and His immediate followers. Isaiah is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other Tanach book besides Psalms. Isaiah relates not only to the entry of Yeshua into the world as God’s Messiah, but also helps to establish the mission for God’s people going out into the world. “The day of the LORD” is a time associated with the Second Coming of Yeshua to judge the Earth and establish His Kingdom.
In certain early Christian traditions, Isaiah was sometimes considered to actually be the “Fifth Gospel.” While certain parts of Isaiah remain very familiar to today’s Christian, most of the book remains decidedly elusive, and many Christian theologians note that this is something that needs to change. Redemption is undoubtedly the overarching theme of Isaiah.
Today’s emerging Messianic movement undoubtedly has a great appreciation for Isaiah. There have been some limited Messianic studies of Isaiah conducted, but it is probable that very few of them are engaged with contemporary composition issues and debates over authorship and date. It can be easily said that too many of today’s Messianics who examine Isaiah probably give too much attention to ancient, post-Yeshua Jewish views of Isaiah that often subtract from Isaiah’s legitimate Messianic significance. Truly, much improvement can be made for our engagement with the Book of Isaiah.
Ackerman, Susan. “Isaiah,” in New Interpreter’s Study Bible, pp 955-1049.
Allis, Oswald T. “Isaiah,” in NIDB, pp 471-474.
Barker, Margaret. “Isaiah,” in ECB, pp 489-542.
Dillard, Raymond B., and Tremper Longman III. “Isaiah,” in An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 267-283.
Everson, A. Joseph. “Isaiah, Book of,” in EDB, pp 648-652.
Grogan, G.W. “Isaiah,” in EXP, 6:3-354.
Harrison, R.K. “The Book of Isaiah,” in Introduction to the Old Testament, pp 764-800.
Kidner, Derek. “Isaiah,” in NBCR, pp 588-625.
North, C.R. “Isaiah,” in IDB, 2:731-744.
Robinson, G.L., and R.K. Harrison. “Isaiah,” in ISBE, 2:885-904.
Seitz, Christopher R. “Isaiah, Book of,” in ABD, 3:472-507.
Sommer, Benjamin D. “Isaiah,” in Jewish Study Bible, pp 780-916.
Ward, J.M. “Isaiah,” in IDBSup, pp 456-461.
 G.W. Grogan, “Isaiah,” in EXP, 3:4.
 Dillard and Longman, 268.
 Grogan, in EXP, 3:4.
 G.L. Robinson and R.K. Harrison, “Isaiah,” in ISBE, 2:886-887.
 Oswald T. Allis, “Isaiah,” in NIDB, 472.
 Robinson and Harrison, “Isaiah,” in ISBE, 2:896-897; Dillard and Longman, pp 271-273.
 Robinson and Harrison, “Isaiah,” in ISBE, 2:893; Grogan, in EXP, 3:6-8; Margaret Barker, “Isaiah,” in James D.G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson, eds., Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 489.
 Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 775.
 Robinson and Harrison, “Isaiah,” in ISBE, 2:893; A. Joseph Everson, “Isaiah, Book of,” in EDB, 648; Dillard and Longman, 268; Benjamin D. Sommer, “Isaiah,” in Jewish Study Bible, 781.
 Dillard and Longman, 275.
 Ibid., 274.
 C.R. North, “Isaiah,” in IDB, 2:735-742; Dillard and Longman, pp 269-271.
 Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 765-771; Christopher R. Seitz, “Isaiah, Book of,” in ABD, 3:473.
 Seitz, “Isaiah, Book of,” in ABD, 3:472-502.
 Barker, in ECB, 489.
 Grogan, in EXP, 3:9-11.
 Sommer, in Jewish Study Bible, 784.
 Dillard and Longman, 273.
 Derek Kidner, “Isaiah,” in NBCR, pp 588-589.
 Kidner, in NBCR, 589; cf. J.M. Ward, “Isaiah,” in IDBSup, 457.
 “Hezekiah and his colleagues wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Qohelet” (b.Bava Batra 15a; The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary).
 Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 765.
 Dillard and Longman, 281.
 North, “Isaiah,” in IDB, 2:734.
 Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 798.
 Sommer, in Jewish Study Bible, 780.
 Robinson and Harrison, “Isaiah,” in ISBE, 2:893-894.
 Barker, in ECB, 490.
 Grogan, in EXP, 3:3.