According to the schedule, it is required of me that I write one article on each of the following persons: Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel. Now the task of writing or discoursing on the person of Isaiah—to confine ourselves now to this prophet—consist certainly in directing our attention to the man. It is a task that is to be performed through our raising and answering questions about him, especially the question: what manner of man was he as to his character and natural and spiritual endowments. Now this task is a possible one because the prophet stands revealed before us in and through the discourse that bears his name. But right here we hit upon a difficulty. Isaiah was no ordinary writer. His discourse is not to be classified with ordinary literary productions. Isaiah was a prophet of God. He was an organ of revelation. His writing is prophecy. It was communicated to him by the Lord God and reproduced by him under the impulse of an infallible inspiration. If so, can it be then that in this prophecy we have the man Isaiah his mind and will, the depth of his thought, the breadth of his vision, the fire that burned in his soul, and the beat of his heart?
It is clear that in treating a subject of this nature, it is of utmost importance that we be equipped with right conceptions about the Bible and the use that God made of the human agents through whom He brought the Bible into being. Before taking hold of our subject it may be well to state that principle of truth on the foundation of which we must proceed, if we are to avoid being exposed to the danger of giving expression to doubtful sentiments as we proceed.
The Word of God—quoting the Confession—was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter saith, And afterwards God, from a special care, which He has for us and our salvation, commanded his servants, the prophets and the apostles, to commit His revealed Word to writing; and He Himself wrote with His own finger, the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.
Let us briefly lay hold on the implication of this proposition, article of faith. It certainly does not imply that there is contained in the Holy Scriptures a twofold factor, divine and human. A factor is a causative agent. It is one of the elements that contribute to produce a result. (Webster). Now the Bible, certainly, is not a result toward the production of which both God and the human—the prophets and the apostles—contributed. Yet, this is the stand that has been taken. The content of the Scriptures, it is said, is of God; the form is of man. Or, the words of Jesus alone are of God, the words of the prophets and the apostles are of man. Prof. Berkhof in his Hermeneutics inveighs against these views. It is well that he does so. But in his exposition of the above-cited article of faith, he also should have avoided the terms “human factor” “divine factor”; for they are terms ill-chosen. Their employment is certain to result in the making of wrong and even impossible statements, for example such as the following (from the professor’s pen), “De rechte beschouwing over deze verhouding mogen we dan ook in deze woorden aangeven: Heel de Heilige Schrift is ter zelf der tijd beide goddelijk en menschelijk. Dit geld zoowel den vorm als den inhoud.” So then, all the Scriptures, both their content and form, are at once a contribution of man and of God. Now this, of course, can’t be. It is even a much more impossible view than the one according to which the content of Scripture is of God and the form of man.
There is but one factor in the Bible, namely, the divine. The whole of the Scriptures, their form and their content, their every word, is God’s creation, work and thus solely His contribution. The “Holy men” contributed nothing. For they, too, were the contributions of God, the very work of His hands, prepared by him to receive and to speak and to write as His agents His Word.
But if so, can it be said that we actually have in the prophetic discourse of Isaiah the man himself. This must be said, for so it is. For the fact of the matter is this: God used His entire preparation, the whole man Isaiah, his body and soul, his language, his memory and all that was stored in it, his capacities, his natural gift and spiritual endowments, his character and individuality, his experiences both bitter and sweet, his joys and his sorrows—in a word the whole man as he had been prepared by the Lord. In this work of God—a work that consisted in His bringing into being the Scriptures—Isaiah, as God had made him, was active as Gods infallible agent.
It must be observed further that Isaiah as God’s workmanship differed from the other prophets. The reason is that the discourse that the Lord wanted to bring in through him differed from those of the other prophets. As we shall see, the discourse of Isaiah was one of surpassing profundity and breadth of vision. Therefore the Lord so endowed him that he, in distinction from all the others, was peculiarly adapted to the discourse that was to be brought into being through him. This being true, we have in his discourse not Amos or Micah but the man Isaiah, the reflection of his individuality and endowments. His prophecy bespeaks his peculiar gifts. And the character of his prophecy is thus an index to the character of the man Isaiah.
Let it be said once more that the Bible is a creature—the creature of God. The Bible is not the truth. Only God is the truth. The Bible is the revelation of the truth, and as such a creature, and an earthly creature at that. Our Bible will therefore cease, vanish away at the second coming of Christ as certainly as the Old Testament symbolical-typical institution wax old and vanished away at His first coming. Such is the teaching of Paul in I Cor. 13, “But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away with.” The Bible then is an earthy creature—and solely this—destined to vanish away. To say then, with the professor (Berkhof) that “Heel de Heilige Schrift is ter zelder tijd beide goddelijk en menschelijk,” is to give expression to a thoroughly pantheistic sentiment. The Bible is not also divine. The Bible is only a creature. God, and He alone, is divine.
Let us now take hold of our subject.
As to the outward relations of the prophet almost nothing is known. The name of his father was Amos. It is not known who this was. Some erroneously identified him with the prophet Amos. There is no ground for making out of him, as the Rabbins have done, a brother to the king Amaziah. Isaiah lived at Jerusalem and performed his prophetic labors under the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He was contemporary, therefore, with Hosea and Amos, though he labored in Judah, the southern kingdom. He survived Hezekiah, and lived some years—how long is not known—under the reign of his cruel and wicked son—Manasseh. According to tradition, he was slain by Manasseh, being sawn asunder with a wooden saw. This agrees with the inhuman character of Manasseh as portrayed in the Scriptures; for it is said that “he shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to the other” II Kings 21:6). The epistle to the Hebrews states that some Old Testament believers “were sawn asunder.” This may refer to the Jewish tradition that Isaiah came to his end in this way. The charge alleged against Isaiah, for which he was put to death, was, as stated by the Talmud, that he pretended that he had seen God” (Isaiah 6:1); whereas Moses said, “No man shall see God and live” (Ex. 33:20). But this was a mere pretense. The real offence of Isaiah was that in strongest language and without mincing words, he opposed and denounced the existing idolatries. He is said by the early Christians to have lived one hundred and twenty years. He was active in his office almost a hundred years. He had a wife and two sons whose names are given in chapters 7:3 and 8:3.
This is all that there is to be said about the prophet, unless we concentrate on his prophecy as such. This we will now do. Because, as has just been explained, the discourse of the prophet reveals the man; its characteristics are his characteristic and form an index to his natural and spiritual endowments. Thus, if we find that this discourse is remarkable for its moral courage, we know that the prophet was likewise a man of courage and fortitude. So, the thing for us to do, if we want to know more about the man Isaiah, is to examine his prophecy.
Doing so, we observe that this prophecy is characterized by great courage indeed and further by remarkable profundity, farsightedness and breadth of vision. Let us get the substance of this discourse before us.
The book is to be divided into two chief parts: chapters 1 to 39, and 40 to 66. Chapters 1 to 6 form the threefold introduction, that relates to the entire book. The first division of the principal part of the book includes chapters 7 to 12. This section treats of the relations of Israel to Assyria. Syria and Israel shall be subdued by Assyria and likewise Judah for their infidelity. Comfort shall be to them that fear God. Assyria shall fall. The peaceable kingdom of the branch out of the root of Jesse shall come. Israel shall be restored and the outcasts of Israel gathered from the four corners of the earth.
The second division (chapter 13-27) contains the prophecies against foreign nations. The nations whose downfall is predicted are: Babylon, whom the prophet sees as the chief enemy of Israel; Philistia, Moab, Ephraim, Syria, Ethiopia and Egypt. A prophecy against Tyre forms the conclusion of this second subdivision. The third division (chapters 28-33) deals with the relation of Israel to Assyria in the days of king Hezekiah. In this section the word of the prophet is to the affect that Jerusalem will be overtaken by judgment. He censures the people for their confidence in Egypt. He shows the fall of Assyria, the mercies of God toward His church, the salvation of the church, and the blessings of Christ’s kingdom. The fourth subdivision comprises chapters 34 and 35. These two chapters form the final part of the first principal part of the whole discourse. They contain a concluding glance at the end-period in respect to the two aspects of it, namely, divine punishments and salvation. The first is presented as including not only the earth but the heavenly bodies as well. The judgment on earth is against one of Israel’s most bitter enemies, namely, Edom. Chapter 35 describes the joyful flourishing of Christ’s kingdom—the kingdom whose coming spells salvation for the people of God. The fifth subdivision is formed of chapters 36-39. Its content is historical and essentially the same as II Kings 18:13- 20:19. These chapters relate the deepest distress into which Hezekiah, shut up in his capitol city—Jerusalem, was brought by the Assyrians, and also the complete deliverance out of this distress by the plague that broke out in the camp of the Assyrians.
Part second is formed of chapters 40-66. They form a separate total by themselves. Their subject is exclusively salvation and the whole period of it beginning with the deliverance from the exile and extending to and including the second coming of Christ.
Such is the substance of the prophecy with which we now have to do. In it Isaiah appears as a man firstly of great courage, devoted obedience, and implicit trust in God. In a language remarkable for its boldness and strength, he complains of Judah’s rebellion. One example of this, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me, The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel does not know, my people doth not consider. . . . Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah” (1:2, 10). Because the hearts of the people are far from the Lord, their whole service is vain; and the prophet tells them this, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me, saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams. . . . Bring no more oblations, incense is an abomination unto me. . . . your new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with it; it is iniquity, even the solemn meetings (1:11-13). There is no prating here on the part of the prophet of the “good that sinners do”. He dares to call the best works of the wicked by their right name—iniquity, abomination. He is wholly without fear of man and regard for merely human interests. With the greatest determination he opposes unbelieving king Ahaz (7:sqq.), the chamberlain Shebna (12:15sqq.), people of high estate in Judah—apostate, priests and false prophets, the whole people. He unsparingly criticizes Hezekiah and his noble advisors. He denounces their foreign policy with respect to Egypt. With the same boldness he tells Hezekiah that he must die, when he is sick and afterwards announced to the believing suppliant the deliverance of Jerusalem and the prolonging of his days. When Hezekiah in his vanity has showed his treasures to the messengers from Babylon, the prophet in plain language tells him that all this shall be carried away in exile to Babylon.
As was said, further, the prophecy of Isaiah is characterized by remarkable farsightedness and breadth of vision. In it the time of salvation extends to the end of this world, thus to the regeneration of all things and the appearance of Christ with His Church on the new earth. This period of salvation is set forth by the prophet as having three stages. The first is the deliverance out of Babylonian exile. This salvation, in turn, forms the ground in which a new salvation is typically described. The people of Israel will be de- delivered from its spiritual bondage to sin. The chains of idolatry will be broken. The central point of the second stage of salvation is the suffering servant of
Jehovah. He becomes the redeemer of His people. He is lifted out of His humility. He becomes the judge of all the world. He destroys all the wicked and the fruit of His redeeming work is a new humanity, serving God in Spirit and in Truth, and a new heaven and a new earth. This is the third stage of salvation.
Isaiah is unique among the prophets for His depth of insight in the mystery of salvation. Of all the prophets of the Old Dispensation, he is the only one who set forth the sufferings of Christ—the servant of Jehovah—as possessing atoning virtue. The first revelation made to man after the fall contains a clear reference to Christ’s sufferings, asserting, as it does, that the heel of the woman’s seed should be bruised by the serpent. The book of the Psalms are interspersed with lively descriptions of what this seed—Christ and His body, which is the church—shall have to endure at the hands of the antagonist. Isaiah, however, was the only seer to assert, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we were healed, and the Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquities of us all.”