What is in Isaiah?
Isaiah is the twenty-third book of the Bible and the longest Old Testament prophetic book, at 66 chapters long.
The book opens up in chapters 1-5 denouncing the wickedness of the country of Judah, which has forsaken God. The oncoming day of the Lord will judge all of humanity across all the earth, and currently Judah and Jerusalem are not being looked upon favorably. Then, Isaiah sees a vision of the glory of the Lord, where Isaiah is to continue to preach to a generation that will widely disregard his message. Chapter 7 contains the first prophecy of Jesus in the book of Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Before that happens, though, the land will see changes in rulers. Even so, the people are instructed to wait for and honor the Lord, who will become their sanctuary. Soon, the people will see a child who will eventually be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and uphold the throne of David.
In the future, the remnant of Israel is to return to God. In the meantime, they are not to be afraid of the oppressive Assyrians because they themselves will be brought down. God also warns of judgment for the surrounding nations, as well as those who seek refuge in other nations rather than the Lord. In the end, God will bring down the designs of those who do not honor Him and His commands, and ordain peace in the world.
The middle of Isaiah (chapters 36 and 37) go from prophecy to current events. Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah, but the king Hezekiah sought out God’s word through Isaiah, and Assyria ultimately retreated after the Lord struck the Assyrian army overnight.
Afterwards, Hezekiah is told he will die, and also that Babylon will take over Judah (where he ruled) afterwards. Later, Isaiah prophesizes deliverance from Babylon (as well as their judgment). Through this, the Lord will further His redemptive plan for Israel and the world. An important part of this plan is detailed in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. That passage contains a relatively long prophecy about Jesus, God’s servant who would be despised and rejected by men, but who would bear the sin of many.
After all this, the book returns to the themes of judgment and the sovereignty of God. The countries are once again warned against wrongdoing and told to seek God, as in the end, He will reign.
When does it take place?
Isaiah 1:1 says that Isaiah was active during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, four kings of Judah. Uzziah died around 740 B.C., and Hezekiah came to power in 715 B.C. Even more specifically, a few of the passages can be dated with a fair amount of precision. For example, Isaiah 36-38 tells of the invasion of Judah by Assyria, and Isaiah 36:1 specifically dates that to the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, or 701 B.C. The latest event noted is the death of the Assyrian king Sennacherib in Isaiah 37:38, which took place in 681 B.C. Hence, we know that Isaiah was active in his ministry for at least an impressive 59 years!
Who wrote it?
Isaiah was the son of Amoz (Isaiah 1:1). In Isaiah 6, Isaiah recounts his calling from the Lord in the year King Uzziah passed away. He knew he was unworthy to come before the Lord because of his sin, and eager to serve when the Lord called him. There are claims that Isaiah did not compose all of the book, and that others wrote chapters 40-66 instead because it seems to come from a different time period. If Isaiah was indeed a prophet, however, that can easily explain his knowledge of future events.
Who did Isaiah prophesize to?
Isaiah prophesized in the country of Judah. Isaiah had many prophecies, however, meant for outside countries, and many that were directed at the entire world in general.
How does Isaiah apply to me today?
Isaiah is perhaps most well-known for providing numerous prophecies that foretold Jesus, and also some of the most specific. For example, Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12 describes a servant that will ‘be exalted’, a man who is ‘despised and rejected by men’ who has ‘borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’ by being ‘pierced for our transgressions’ and ‘crushed for our iniquities’, so ‘with his wounds we are healed’. He suffered, ‘yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter’, ‘although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth’. I’m merely piecing together parts of that passage, but all of it is interesting, so make sure to read it. That passage, plus a few others in Isaiah (for example, Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 42:1-9), describe Jesus’s life and mission in a way that is hard to ignore, especially once you consider that Isaiah came hundreds of years before Jesus did.
As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.
The Bible Project video on Isaiah (Part 1) (Part 2)