The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amotz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
I. The Nature of the Prophecy. The above verse forms the title to the whole book of Isaiah, and is certainly understood as such in the words of the writer of II Chronicles 32:32. “It is called a vision, not from any use of the corporeal sight (II Cor. 12:1-4), but because of the clearness and evidence of the things revealed.” The Lord many times did reveal himself to the physical eye, as we know from II Pet. 1:16-18; Gal. 1:11, 12; John 6:69; I John 1:1;Acts 4:20. But we have a revelation from God which is “also a more sure word of prophecy” than that spoken audibly and visibly from heaven, “prophecy of the Scripture,” which was not ever brought by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke that sure word of prophecy as carried along by the Holy Spirit (II Pet. 1:19-21). What the vision signifies then is a prophecy; prophetic vision is intended, divinely inspired Scripture. Receiving the vision by supernatural inspiration, he was awake, “having his eyes open,” and objectively “heard the words of God,” and “saw (with the eyes of his mind) the vision of the Almighty” (Num. 24:4), and came not with his own conceptions or ideas. For “the Lord came down. . .and He said, ‘Hear now MY words. If there be a prophet among you, I, the Lord, will make myself known unto him in a vision. . .”‘ (Num. 12:5f).
The name Isaiah means “the Salvation of Jehovah,” and is synonymous with Joshua, Hosea, Jesus and Elisha (My God is Salvation). The very name of the prophet serves to declare the subject of his message and ministry, and reveals the truth that Jehovah provides the Savior for Judah and Jerusalem who would come and save them. The last part of the name is Jah, who is the God, author and director of history, who has made the goal of history the salvation of a people, and the restitution of all things. Jehovah is the Eternal God, who is, who was and who is to come, the Beginning and the End (he arche kai to telos). Isaiah was the son of Amotz (Strong), and only ignorance of the language connects him with the prophet Amos (Borne up).
The vision or prophecy was given “concerning Judah” or (bearing) upon Judah and Jerusalem. The thrust of the book bears strictly upon Judah and Jerusalem, therefore, not, indeed, upon a natural Israel restored to an earthly Canaan, but on God’s covenant people, the children of Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (so plainly identified in Heb. 12:22, 23), the Israel of God, the qahal Jehovah, church of the Lord. Everything else in the book is subservient to that subject. We may see here concentric circles, with Jerusalem at the center, Judah in the circle around it, Israel in a wider circle, and the heathen nations forming the outer circle. There is the familiar figure of the organism of the reprobate shell encircling the elect kernel. The Lord speaks through the prophet first of all to Judah and Jerusalem, and then speaks of others, other nations, only for Judah and Jerusalem’s sake. The book is laden “with many allusions throughout to the coming of the Messiah, to the conversion of the Jews under the gospel, to the destruction of the enemies of the Church. . . and the final triumphant perfection of the Church.¹
II. The Subject of the Prophecy. Judah represents the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, and is particularly mentioned as a tribe from which the Messiah should come. Jerusalem is mentioned because the Messiah would appear there, and from there the gospel would go into all the world, and because it is a type of the above Jerusalem, the true church. The book contains prophecies of the New Testament church, of the distinctively gospel age, and of the coming of Christ, as well as prophecies concerning the calling of the Gentiles, the destruction of national Israel, the preservation of the spiritual remnant, the destruction of antichrist and the New Heavens and New Earth. Emphasis is then upon these two tribes, the ten tribes or Ephraim receiving emphasis in the prophecy of Hosea. Isaiah’s prophecy, as “all Scripture, is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching” God’s elect, for “to them pertain the oracles of God.” Also it is a means of reproof and correction in righteousness, for Judah and Jerusalem are chosen (Ps. 78:65) and principally righteous in Christ. God is known in Judah, His tabernacle is in Salem (Ps. 76:1, 2); therefore judgment must begin at the house of God. Written in evil days and times of apostasy, it is intended for the comfort of God’s people, for even in such times it is intended that “the children of Zion joy in their Ring.”
III. The Date of the Prophecy was in the time of these four kings of Judah. Hosea and Micah were contemporaneous with Isaiah and these kings (Hos. 1:1;Mic. 1:1). Uzziah’s fifty-two years was the longest reign so far in Judah, being second only to that of Manasseh’s. There were elements of both a David and a Solomon in him. Like David, he was exceedingly strong, had a great army, and was a great administrator; like Solomon, an eminent agriculturist and engineer. For he built Elath, raised up forts, fortified Jerusalem, manufactured armor and devised missile weapons. His reign began well, honoring the law of God. But great prosperity proved too much of a temptation for him. Through pride he forgot whose servant he was, intruding upon the office of priest and the sacred precincts of the temple to burn incense. But the stroke of leprosy drove him from the attempt.
Jotham, in sixteen years, contributed many material improvements, building cities, castles, towers and housing developments. Spiritually, he was weak, not a reformer, nor a leader of the people, who were very corrupt. In his tenure the Ammonites were put down, but Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, King of Syria, began a conspiracy against him. But he died and passed on his troubles with these two to Ahaz.
Ahaz also reigned sixteen years, but the spiritual and moral decline of the kingdom which began with Rehoboam now came to the lowest it had ever been. Open apostasy prevailed. Images of Baal and heathen altars on the high places were among his flaunted evils, topped off with his abominable practice of sacrificing his children to Moloch, burning them in the Valley of Hinnom. Since the Lord in His just judgment punishes sin not only in eternity, but in this life immediately, wrath upon Ahaz came swiftly and terribly. The kingdom of Israel, itself almost expired with its last gasp, brought him to terrible defeat. The Syrians, hard pressing him, drove him from. Elath on the Gulf of Akabah, depriving him of the rich commercial traffic with India. Simultaneously, the Edomites and the Philistines were a thorn in his side. When he tried conciliating the king of Assyria, he found from that quarter no help but rather more distress. These calamities blinded and hardened him more. He sacrificed to the gods of Damascus and shut up the house of the Lord. If his reign had not been cut off by his early death at the age of thirty-six, the kingdom of Judah may well have come to an end when Israel did. As it was, Judah lasted 150 years longer than Israel.
With Hezekiah and his twenty-nine year reign came revival to Judah. A man of faith under Isaiah’s inspiration, he wholeheartedly set out to restore the entire religion of Jehovah as delivered to Moses. He called the people from the whole length of the kingdom of Israel to the restored Passover at Jerusalem. He removed the high places, the images, the groves, the brazen serpent. He trusted in the Lord his God and clung to Him. The great historical event of his reign was the clash with Sennacherib of Assyria, one of the greatest warrior kings of ancient times. He enjoyed victory over the Philistines. Israel was taken captive in the sixth year of his reign. He rebelled against Assyria, appealed to the prophet Isaiah for counsel from the Lord, prayed in the house of God for deliverance and was delivered by the Angel of the Lord who struck dead 185,000 of the Assyrian army. Becoming ill, he recovered under Isaiah. Foolishly, he showed his treasures to the Babylonians, and when Isaiah prophesied of the Babylonian invasion and captivity, Hezekiah cared little. Thus in Judah there were some marks of reviving, as under Asa, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah and Josiah. Yet there was but little reformation. God was destroying the earthly kingdom.
Here a quotation from John Calvin is much in point. “All the servants of God ought carefully to. . consider how patiently they ought to submit to their condition, how hard and difficult soever it may be, and ought not to reckon it a disgrace that they must endure many and severe trials. . .It is indeed a very severe trial when they perceive that by their manifold exertions they are doing no good, and imagine that it would be a thousand time better to relinquish their post than to labor so long in vain. . .Call to remembrance how Isaiah, whose labors were numerous and extensive, had little success, and how Jeremiah continued for fifty years to cry aloud to the people, though the result was that they became more and more rebellious, and how no difficulties could turn them aside from their course. We, too, ought to proceed in the discharge of our duty, and patiently endure every kind of annoyances. . . The unshaken firmness and unbroken courage with which he persevered ought to excite all the servants of God to imitation, that they may never bend or turn aside from the right path.”²
¹ Manual of Bible History, Wm. G. Blaikie, T. Nelson & Sons, Longon, 1886, 3 16-17.
² Calvin’s Commentaries, Associated Publishers & Authors, Grand Rapids, Mich., Vol. 3, Isaiah, p. 3.