The title of the book comes from the name of the prophet who has been traditionally considered to be the original author and speaker of these words when they were originally spoken. Isaiah is considered to be a part of the “Major Prophets” section of the Old Testament (OT), along with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and, for some, Daniel is considered to be a part of this section as well. They are called the “Major Prophets” as opposed to the “Minor Prophets” (Hosea, Joel, Amos, etc.) because of size of book, not importance. However, Isaiah has been considered by many to be the “fifth Gospel.” This is because, as we will see reading through the book, Isaiah pointed forward the life and work of Jesus several times and in deep and profound ways which the Gospel writers then later picked up and quoted several times throughout their gospel accounts.
Debates on the authorship of Isaiah have enjoyed a long and rich history. Through the years, with thousands of pages and ink spilled on the matter, a few predominant theories have arisen:
The first is the traditional theory of Isaianic authorship throughout all 66 chapters. That is, Isaiah was the one prophet and one author of the whole book and spoke all of the prophecies found in the book during his lifetime. The reason why this is disputed is because there seems to be a definite shift that takes place after chapter 39. The audience to which the prophet is speaking in chapters 40 and beyond are of another historical circumstance (the Babylonian Exile), a circumstance for which Isaiah was not alive.
The second theory holds to a dual authorship; Isaiah as the author of chapters 1-39 and a close disciple of Isaiah as the author of chapters 40-66, who then simply added his section to the original which explains why the tradition was only one author for so long. This helps us to understand how this second theory has only been considered for the last century or two and not any longer than that.
The third theory (minority view) holds to three authors, splitting the book into 1 Isaiah (1-39, written pre-Babylonian exile), 2 Isaiah (40-55, written during the Babylonian exile) and 3 Isaiah (56-66, written after the Babylonian exile).
We view Isaiah as chapters 1-39, the original words of the prophet Isaiah, sealed in a scroll to be preserved and read at a later time (Isaiah 8:16, 29:10-12, and 30:8-9). These verses give clues to the idea that Isaiah was to give the scroll to his disciples to use in a “time to come” (Isaiah 30:8). So then, after the exile, these disciples opened the scroll of Isaiah’s prophecies and applied his words to their own day, writing chapters 40-66. These disciples reconfigured and reapplied the words to their own day after the Babylonian exile, ultimately vindicating the words of the great prophet, Isaiah.
Date & Purpose
Isaiah lived during the latter half of Israel’s kingdom period and prophesied during 740-700 B.C., during the reigns of King Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah who were kings over Judah (Isaiah 1:1).
Isaiah’s purpose was to speak out, on God’s behalf, against the corrupt leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, speaking a message of judgment against the people for their corruption and disobedience to the Lord and to their covenant relationship that they had made with Him.
The people had rebelled against God and may have thought the Lord was unprovoked and their rebellions were without consequence. God spoke through Isaiah that He would raise up evil nations such as Assyria and Babylon to overthrow the people and judge them for the continued rebellion, disobedience, and idolatry.
However, Isaiah is not only a message of doom and gloom, but Isaiah is coupled with a message of expectant hope. Isaiah assures the people that Yahweh would stick to and fulfill His covenant promises to the people. He would still one day give them a King from the line of David to sit on the throne forever (2 Samuel 7), to lead the people into perfect obedience to covenant with Yahweh beginning at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19), and ultimately would lead to God’s blessing of all the nations of the earth through the people of Israel, which was the ultimate covenant purpose and promise as it was given to Abraham in Genesis 12.
The purpose of Isaiah is to proclaim the judgment to come for the people’s corruption, but this judgment is a judgment not of straight punishment and destruction, rather is a divine, purifying judgment to lead the people into obedience and the hope that is to come.
Isaiah can be divided into ten books which can provide another way to survey the themes. While this is not the best outline, it can help the reader survey Isaiah’s topics.
1. The Book of Rebukes and Promises (Chapters 1–6)
2. The Book of Immanuel (Chapters 7–12)
3. The Book of Burdens (Chapters 13–23)
4. First Book of Judgment (Chapters 24–27)
5. The Book of Woes (Chapters 28–33)
6. Second Book of Judgment (Chapters 34–35)
7. The Book of a Davidic King Hezekiah (Chapters 36–39)
8. The Book of a Gentile King Cyrus (Chapters 40–48)
9. The Book of the Suffering Servant (Chapters 49–57)
10. The Book of Future Glory (Chapters 58–66)
With all of this said, judgment and coming hope are the two major themes and messages of the prophecies of Isaiah. God is ever revealing His plan for Judah to be the tribe through whom Christ is revealed.
Prophetic literature is beautiful but complex and difficult to read today. It is cultural, figural, sometimes written as poetry, and sometimes it is apocalyptic. This is what makes the books of prophecy in the OT so hard to read, but with some help the books can be understood and appreciated and even give us insight into the rest of the Bible even more.
Outline of the Book:
I. Judgment and Hope for Jerusalem (Chapters 1-12)
II. Judgment and Hope for the Nations (Chapters 13-27)
III. The Rise and Fall of Jerusalem (Chapters 28-39)
IV. Announcement of Hope (Chapters 40-48)
V. The Servant Fulfills God’s Mission (Chapters 49-55)
VI. The Servant Inherits God’s Kingdom (Chapters 56-66)