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Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—“Introduction to the Prophet Isaiah”

Notes & Transcripts

In making the decision to preach through the prophetic book of Isaiah on Sunday evenings, it may well represent the proverbial “Biting off more than I can chew” kind of decisions. Isaiah contains several challenges for us. First of all, in length this is a sprawling text. After the Book of Psalms, Isaiah is the longest book of the Bible—sixty-six chapters ... 1,292 verses. I have no idea when we might finish with the Prophet. Second, the text presupposes familiarity with the historical contexts in which it was composed. Unfortunately, the book’s historical and socio-economic backdrop is unfamiliar with many modern-day Christians. That means that—yes—from time-to-time, I will have to acquaint you with ancient near-east history. Joy. I’ll try to be kind.

Nevertheless, the text has much that commends it for our study and meditation. It speaks straight from the heart of God with some of the most passionate poetry to be found in the Bible. It speaks candidly about how God feels towards and reacts to His people. The person who hears and understands the heart of Isaiah is not far from knowing the heart of God. Isaiah also contains some of the most fascinating passages in all of Scriptures that are so relevant that they resemble headlines pulled right out of today’s news casts. These include:

  • Hard-hitting criticisms of empty religion;
  • Panoramic and extraordinarily impressive views of God’s coming day of judgment and the everlasting joys which follow;
  • Some of the most famous of all Messianic prophecies;
  • Dramatic narratives of times of national crisis;
  • Honest exposures of a rotten society and a heartfelt cry for revival;
  • The famous story of Isaiah’s call and commission;
  • Robust assertions that God is the world’s only Savior with worldwide purposes to carry out; and
  • Many passages full of pastoral comfort.

Tonight I want to give provide an introduction to The Prophet, The Prophet’s Milieu, and The Prophet’s Message.

I. THE PROPHET

            1. what do we know about Isaiah?
                1. some of what we know can be directly gleaned from the pages of Scripture
                2. some of what we know can be inferred from what he writes and what others write about him

A. ISAIAH WAS A FAMILY MAN

            1. he identifies himself as the “son of Amoz”
                1. Hebrew tradition says that his father was a brother of Amaziah the king, who was the father of Uzziah the king
                2. if this tradition is accurate, it could explain why, in the sixth chapter of the prophecy, when he saw the great vision in the days of the death of King Uzziah, the young prophet was so deeply stricken and grieved
                3. Isaiah’s name means “Salvation of the Lord” and happens to be the key theme of this book
            2. Isaiah is married and simply identifies his wife as “the prophetess” (8:3) either because she was married to a prophet or because she shared the prophetic gift
            3. Isaiah fathers two sons that we know of, and their names have prophetic significance
                1. Shear-jashbu—“a remnant shall return” (7:3)
                2. Maher-shalal-hash-baz—“quick to plunder, swift to the spoil” (8:1-4)
                  • ILLUS. Can you imagine this poor kid on the first day of kindergarten? “And what is your name young man?” “My name is ‘Quick to Plunder, Swift to the Spoil’.”

B. ISAIAH WAS A MAN OF THE CITY

            1. he was born in the city, he labored in the city, and he loved the city
                1. that city was Jerusalem
            2. he had a long ministry, covering fifty years or more, the entirety of which, was spent in Judah’s capitol
                1. the dates of his prophetic ministry lasted from 750 B.C. through 700 B.C.
                2. he was essentially the “court preacher”—personal prophet to four respective Kings of Judah
            3. his figures of speech, his references, and his poetic imagery are all drawn from urban life
            4. Isaiah was a man at home in the highest circles of government who had ready access to the king
            5. he knew the priesthood intimately and was conversant with the life of the upper class
            6. Isaiah grew up in a day of affluence and prosperity
                1. King Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel brought their people to the highest achievements of economic and political prosperity
                2. together, the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel rivaled the power and glory of the united kingdom under David and Solomon

C. ISAIAH WAS CLEARLY—AND SPECTACULARLY—CALLED TO MINISTRY

    • “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”” (Isaiah 6:1–8, NIV)
            1. because of this dramatic and dynamic experience, Isaiah has been referred to as “the Apostle Paul of the Old Testament”
            2. as you read his prophecy, you will discover that he was a man in touch with God
                1. he saw God’s Son and he saw God’s glory
                2. he heard God’s message, and he sought to bring the nation back to God before it was too late

D. ISAIAH WAS A MAN WHO LOVED HIS NATION

            1. the phrase “my people” is used at least twenty-six times in his book
                1. he was a patriot with a true love for his country, pleading with Judah to return to God and warning when their foreign policy was contrary to God’s will
                  • ILLUS The American political leader Adlai Stevenson called patriotism “not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” He was not thinking of Isaiah when he said that, but Stevenson’s words perfectly describe the prophet and his work.

E. ISAIAH WAS A MAN WHO HATED SIN AND SHAM RELIGION

            1. his favorite name for God is “the Holy One of Israel”
                1. he uses it twenty-five times in his book
                    1. it is used only five time in the rest fo the Old Testament
            2. he looked at the crowded courts of the Jewish Temple and cried out, “They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward” (Isa. 1:4)
            3. he examined the political policies of the leaders and said, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help ... but they look not to the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord” (Isa 31:1)
            4. Jehovah was holy, but the nation was sinful; and Isaiah called the people to repent
                1. his courage in this is astounding
                    1. unafraid to denounce kings and priests, and unwavering when public opinion went against him, he boldly declared the Word of God
                    2. at one point, Isaiah wears only a loin cloth for three years, hoping to gain the attention of a people who were blind to the growing threat of Assyria
            5. Isaiah was a social critic, remorselessly applying the yardstick of God’s law to what he saw

II. THE PROPHET’S WORLD MILIEU

            1. Isaiah’s life and ministry takes place during the last half of the eighth century before Christ
                1. around the world ...
                    1. the Chou Dynasty is flourishing in China
                    2. the Hindu sages of India have begun compiling the Upanishads
                    3. the Greek author Homer pens the Iliad and the Odyssey
                2. and the prophet Isaiah writes the most exquisite Hebrew composition of that culture

A. HE LIVED THROUGH TURBULENT TIMES

            1. the prophet was called to ministry at the time when Assyria was building its empire into one of the largest and cruelest that western Asia had ever seen
            2. he saw the neighboring kingdom of Israel crack, collapse and vanish
            3. for forty years Isaiah walked quietly in the corridors of power challenging Judah’s kings to trust God even when he could see the campfires of the apparently invincible Assyrian army right outside Jerusalem’s gates and hear the threats of the enemy general coming over the walls

B. HE PROPHESIED UNDER FOUR KINGS

    • “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” (Isaiah 1:1, NIV)
            1. if you remember from you bible history, the nation had divided after the death of Solomon (1 Kings 12), but the priesthood and the Davidic thrown belonged to Judah
                1. the 10 northern tribes formed the kingdom of Israel—also referred to as Ephraim—with Samaria as its capital city
                2. the tribes of Judah and Benjamin united to form the Kingdom of Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital city
            2. the first King, Uzziah is also call Azariah
                1. at the age of 16, he became co-regent with his father Amaziah and was on the throne for 52 years
                2. when his father was assassinated in the year 767 BC, Uzziah became the sole ruler and brought the nation to its greatest days sense those of David and Solomon (2 Kings 14:17-22; 15:1-7; 2 Chron. 26:1-15)
                    1. Uzziah prospered in everything he did as long as Zechariah the prophet lived
                        1. this is not the prophet Zechariah who authored the OT book by that name, but an unknown prophet
                        2. the only thing we know about this Zechariah is that he had a tremendous influence upon Uzziah
                    2. as long as Zechariah lived, Uzziah faithfully served the Lord
                    3. when Zechariah died, however, the King turned his back on the Lord
                    4. it’s tragic that a man would give his life to God, then in his old age become an apostate
                3. because Uzziah sought to interfere with the priests ministry in the Temple, God judged him by smiting him with leprosy
                4. it was in the year that Uzziah died that Isaiah was called to minister
            3. the second king mentioned is Jotham
                1. he was co-regent after his father became a leper, and his record as king is a good one
                2. he reigned for 20 years, and it was during his time that the Assyrian empire began to emerge as a new and threatening super-power
            4. the third king mentioned in Ahaz
                1. during the last 12 years of Jotham’s reign, his son Ahaz served as co-regent; but Ahaz was not one of Judah’s good Kings
                2. he forged a political alliances that eventually brought Judah into bondage to Assyria (2 Kings 16; 2 Chron. 28)
                    1. Isaiah warned Ahaz that his alliance with the godless Gentiles would not work, and he encouraged the King to put his trust in the Lord (Isa. 7)
            5. the forth king mentioned is Hezekiah
                1. Hezekiah reigned 42 years and was one of Judah’s greatest kings (2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chron 29-31)
                2. he not only strengthened the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah, but led the people back to faith in the Lord
            6. though we don’t know for sure it’s probable that Isaiah’s ministry extended into the early years of King Manasseh who was perhaps the most vile and wicked king who sat on Judah’s throne
                1. it was a difficult time of international upheaval, when first one power and then another threatened Judah
                2. but the greatest dangers were not from outside the nation; they were from within
                    1. in spite of the godly leadership of King Hezekiah, Judah had no more godly kings after him
                    2. one by one, Hezekiah’s successors led the nation into political and spiritual decay, ending in captivity in Babylon
                      • ILLUS. The British expositor G. Campbell Morgan said: “The whole story of the prophet Isaiah, as it is revealed to us in this one book, is that of a man who spoke to an inattentive age or to an age which, if attentive, mocked him and refused to obey his message, until, as the prophetic period drew to a close, he inquired in anguish, ‘Who has believed our report? And to whom has the form of the Lord been revealed?’"
                3. Hebrew tradition says that Isaiah was martyred by Manasseh by being sawed in two
                    1. if true, then Isaiah is mentioned as one of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11:37

III. THE PROPHET’S MESSAGE

            1. Isaiah was a theologian, reformer, statesman, historian, poet, and orator
                1. he’s been called ...
                    1. the Prince of Old Testament Prophets
                    2. the Saint Paul of the Old Testament
                    3. the Greatest Prophet of the Old Testament
                    4. the Fifth Evangelist
                2. the Book of Isaiah has been called “the Mount Everest of Prophetic Literature” and is like a miniature Bible
                    1. there are sixty-six chapters and correspond to the sixty-six books of the bible
                    2. the first thirty-nine chapters, like the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, speak mainly of condemnation
                    3. the last twenty-seven chapters, like the twenty-seven chapters of the New Testament, speak mainly of redemption
            2. let me briefly mention that most modern critical Old Testament scholars challenge the unity of the Book of Isaiah (surprise, surprise!)
                1. they maintain that the book actually has three authors
                    1. the prophet Isaiah wrote chapters 1-39
                    2. a disciple of Isaiah wrote chapters 40-55
                    3. an unknown author who finished the book, writing chapters 56-66
                2. the later to portions of the book are attributed to a period later than Isaiah, son of Amoz, because it is argued that the prophet could not have predicted the Babylonian exile and the return under Cyrus
                    1. this argument is based, however, on the dogmatic assumption that predictive prophecy is impossible
                    2. for those of us who believe that God can see and reveal the future in minute detail, this is obviously not an issue
                3. when all is said and done, the idea of a single author raises fewer difficulties than the theories of multiple authorship
            3. the theme of Isaiah is the same as the meaning of the prophet’s name: Yahweh is salvation
                1. that salvation comes by the grace of God through the redemptive work of the Messiah
                2. Isaiah sets forth every aspect of the glory and ministry of Christ:
                    1. His incarnation (7:14; 9:6);
                    2. His youth (7:15; 11:1; 53:2);
                    3. His mild manner (42:2);
                    4. His obedience (50:5);
                    5. His message (61:1, 2);
                    6. His miracles (35:5, 6);
                    7. His sufferings, rejection, and vicarious death (50:6; 53:1–12); and
                    8. His exaltation (52:13).

IV. LESSONS

            1. Our God is an Awesome God
                1. in his vision of God high and lifted up we catch a vision of the grandeur and glory of God; according to Isaiah 40 ...
                    1. this is the God who can measure the waters of the earth in the hallow of His hand
                    2. this is the God who marked of the heavens with the span of his hand
                      • ILLUS. In 2004, scientists estimated that the universe is at least 156 billion light-years wide. Other scientists pish-posh that number and say it’s only 93 billion light-years across. I think that God just stuck His hand out and said, “Yea, I think that’ll ‘bout do it.”
                    3. this is the God who counts the stars and calls them each by name
                      • ILLUS. Almost all the stars in the Universe are collected together into galaxies. They can be small dwarf galaxies, with just 10 million or so stars, or they can be monstrous irregular galaxies with 10 trillion stars or more. Our own Milky Way galaxy seems to contain about 200 billion stars; and we're actually about average in number of stars. So an average galaxy contains between 1012 stars. In other words, galaxies, on average have between 100 billion and 1 trillion numbers of stars. Now, how many galaxies are there? Astronomers estimate that there are as many as 1 trillion galaxies in the Universe. That means there are 1024 stars in the Universe. How many stars is that? There may be as many as 1 septillion stars in the Universe. That's a large number of stars (almost as big as our national debt)—and God has given every one of them a name.
            2. Without Grace, No Man Can See God
                1. when he stands before God in his vision, Isaiah’s first response is woe is me
                2. in the presence of God, Isaiah understand the depravity of his sin
                3. only the cleansing work of God, wrought in the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, allows the sinner to stand in the presence of God
            3. Prosperity Often Hardens the Heart with Pride
                1. Isaiah’s message is to a nation that is flush with material prosperity
                    1. the result has been a lessening dependence on God and a religiosity that requires its practitioners to merely go through the motions of religious ritual
            4. A Genuine Love of God Does Not Preclude a Genuine Love of Country, but the Latter must Never Be Confused with the Former
                1. a zealous patriotism can blind us to the sins and shortcomings of our culture
                2. Isaiah was a patriot, but he also painfully aware of the nations’ sins and Israel’s blindness to those sins
            5. It is dangerous to trust in the power of the state to provide what only God can truly give
                1. the countdown to Judah’s captivity commences when she begins to depend on entangling alliances for he defense, rather then depending on God
            6. Sin is a reproach to any people
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