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§ 1. On thb PBEsoNAtnr op Isauh.

Isaidh'i name. The name borne by this great prophet was really YSsTia-
ydhn, which signifies " the Salvation of Jehovah." The name was not an
ancommon one. It was borne by one of the heads of the singers in the
time of David (1 Ohron. xxv. 3, 16), by a Levite of the same period (1
Ohron. xxvi. 25), by one of the chief men who retnrned to Jerusalem with
Ezra (Ezra viii. 7), by a Benjamite mentioned in Nehemiah (xi. 7), and
others. The form may be compared with that of Khizki-ydhu, or Hezekiah,
which meant "the Strength of Jehovah," and Tsidki-ydhu, or Zedekiah,
which meant "the Bighteonsness of Jehovah." It was one of singular
appropriateness in the case of the great prophet, since " the salvation of
Jehovah " was the sabject which Isaiah was especially commissioned to
set forth.

His parentage and family, Isaiah was, m he tells us repeatedly (ch.
i. 1 ; ii. 1 ; xiii. 1, etc.), " the son of Amoz." This name must not be con-
fonnded with that of the Prophet Amos, from which it differs both in its
initial and in ^'ts final letter. , Amoz, according to a Jewish tradition, was
a brother of King Amaziah ; but this tradition can scarcely be authentic,
since it woald make Isaiah too old. Amoz wa« probably not a man of any
high distinction, since he is never mentioned excepting as Isaiah's father.
Isaiah was married, and his wife was known as " the prophetess " (ch.
viii. 3), which, however, does not necessarily imply that the prophetic gift
had been bestowed npon her. It may have been, as it was npon Deborah
(Jndg. iv. 4) and npon Huldah (2 Kings xxii. 14 — 20) ; or she may have
been called "the prophetess " simply as being the wife of " the prophet "
(ch. xxxviii. 1). tsaiah tells ns that he had two sons, Shear-jashub and



Maher-shalal-hasli-baz, whose names are connectied witli his prophetical
office. Shear- jashub was the elder of the two by many yeans.

HU date. The prophet tells ns that he " saw a vision concerning Jndah
and Jerusalem in the days of IJzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah " (ch.
i. 1). It would follow from this, that, even if he began his prophetic
career as early as the twentieth year of his age, he must have been bom
twenty years before Uzziah's death, or in B.C. 779. He certainly lived
till the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, or B.O. 714, and probably outlived
that monarch, who died in B.O. 699-8. It is not unlikely that he was
even contemporary for some years with Manasseh, Hezekiah's son ; so that
wo may, perhaps, assign him, conjectnyally, the space between B.O. 780 and
B.C. 690, which would give him a lifetime of ninety years.

His positicm. " That Isaiah was a Jew of good position, dwelling at Jeru-
salem, and admitted to familiar intercourse with the Jewish monarchs,
Ahaz and Hezekiah, is sufficiently apparent (ch. vii. 3 — 16 ; xxxvii. 21 —
35 ; xxxviii. 1 — 22 ; xxxix. 3 — 8). Whether or no he was brought np in
the " schools of the prophets " is uncertain ; but he must have received
his call at a very early age, probably when he was about twenty. That
he was historiographer at the Hebrew court during the reign of Jotham,
and again during the reign of Hezekiah, appears from the Second Book
of Chronicles (xxvi. 22 ; xxxii. 32). In this capacity he wrote an account
of the reign of Uzziah, and also one of the reign of Hezekiah for the
" Book of the Kings." He may also have written accounts of the reigns
of Jotham and Ahaz, but this is not stated. His main office was that of
prophet, or preacher to both king and people ; and the composition of his
numerous and elaborate prophecies, which are poems of a high order, must
have furnished him with continual occupation. It is not certain that we
possess all his prophecies ; for the book, as it has come down to us, has
a fragmentary character, and appears to be a compilation.

His call. Isaiah relates, in his sixth chapter, a very solemn call which
he received from God " in the year that King Uzziah died." It is thought
by some that this was his original call to the prophetical office.' But the
majority of commentators are of a different opinion. They note that the
original call of a propheit, where recorded, naturally occupies the first place
in his work, and that there is no conceivable reason for Isaiah's having
postponed to his sixth chapter an account of an event which ex hypothesi
preceded his first. It would follow that the original call of the prophet
is unrecorded, as is the case with most prophets ; e.g. Daniel, Joel, Amos,
Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

His prophetic career. The career of Isaiah as a prophet commenced, as
he tells UB, in the reign of King Uzziah, or Azariah. It is a reasonable
supposition that it began late in that monarcTi's reign, but still a year
or two before its close. Uzziah was at that time a leper, and " dwelt in

■ De Wette, 'EiBlaitmig ia das Alt. Test.,' § 207.


a several house," Jotham his son being regent and having the direction
of affaii-s (2 Kings xv. 5 ; 2 Ohron. xxvii. 21). Isaiah's early prophecies
(ch. i. — v.) were probably written at this time. "In the year that King
Uzziah died " (ch. vi. 1) — probably, bat not certainly, before his death * —
Isaiah saw the vision recorded in ch. vi., and received thus a fresh designa-
tion to his office nnder circumstances of the deepest solemnity. It is
remarkable, however, that we cannot assign any of his extant writings,
except ch. vi., to the next period of sixteen years. Apparently, during the
reign of Jotham he was silent. But with the accession of Jotham's son
Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah (b.o. 743), commenced a period of prophetic
activity. The prophecies from oh. vii. 1 to ch. x. 4 have a structural con-
nection and a unity of purpose which unite them into a single body, and
belong manifestly to the portion of the reign of Ahaz when he was engaged
in the Syro-Ephraimite war. A prophecy in ch. xiv. (vers. 28 — 32) is
assigned by the writer to the last year of the same king. Hitherto the
prophetic energy of Isaiah had, seemingly, been fitful and spasmodic, but
from henceforth it proceeded to flow in a steady continuous stream. There
are sufficient grounds for assigning to the reign of Hezekiah the entire
series of prophecies following upon ch. x. 5, with the single exception of
the short " Burden of Palestine," dated in Ahaz's last year. The contents
of these prophecies tend to spread them over the difEerent periods of Heze-
kiah's reign, and show us the prophet constantly active throughout its
entire duration. Whether Isaiah's prophetic career lasted still longer,
extending into the earlier part of the reign of Manasseh, is doubtful. A
portion of the prophecies contained in his book are thought by some to
belong to Manasseh's time,' and Jewish tradition places his death nnder
Manasseh. Our conjectural estimate of his lifetime, as falling between
B.C. 780 and B.C. 690, would make him contemporary with Manasseh for
the space of nine years.

His death. The tradition of the rabbis concerning Isaiah's death placed
it in the reign of Manasseh, and declared it to have been a most horrible
and painful martyrdom.' Isaiah, having resisted some of Manasseh's
idolatrous acts and ordinances, was seized by his orders, and, having been
fastened between two planks, was killed by being " sawn asunder." The
mention of this mode of punishment in the Epistle to the Hebrews is
thought by many to be an allusion to Isaiah's fate (Heb. xi. 37).

His character. Isaiah's temper is one of great earnestness and boldness.
He lives under five kings, of whom one only is of a religious and God-

' Dr. Kay says the phrase me^ng " after his death " (' Speaker's Commentary,' toL v.
p. 67); but he adduces no proof. To us the probability seems the other way. Why men-
tion Uzziah at all, unless he was on the throne ? Why not say, " In the first year of

» Ewald, ' History of Israel,' vol. v. p. 15, note 4.

■ ' Jebamotb,' xlix. 2 ; ' Sanhedr.,' ciii. 2. The tradition was accepted u anthentio bj
Jiutln Martyr, Tertullian, Lactantius, Jerome, and Augustins


fearing disposition; jet he maintains towards all of them an nncompio-
mising attitude of firmness with respect to all that bears npon religion.
He conceals nothing, keeps nothing back, out of a desire for court faronr.
" la it a small thing for you to weary men P " he says to one king ; " but
must ye weary my God also P " (oh. vii. 13). " Set thine house in order,"
he says to another; "for thou shalt die, and not live" (oh. xxxvui. 1).
Tet more bold is he in his addresses to the nobles and the powerful ofiS.cial
class, which in his day had the chief direction of affairs, and was most
unscrupulous in its treatment of adversaries (2 Chron. xxiv. 17 — 22 ; ch.
i. 15, 21, etc.). He denounces in the strongest terms their injustice, their
oppression, their grasping coveteousness, their sensuality, their pride and
haughtiness (ch. i. 10—23; ii. 11—17; iii. 9—15; v. 7—25; xxviii. 7—16,
etc.); Nor does he seek to curry favour with the people. It is "the faithful
city " itself which has " become an harlot " (ch. i. 21). The nation is " a
sinful nation " (ch. i. 4), the .people are " laden with iniquity, a seed of
evil-doers, children that are corrupters" (ch. i. 4). They "draw near to
God with their mouth, and with their lips do honour him, but have removed
their hearts far from him " (ch. xxix. 13). They are '' a rebellious people,
lying children, children that will not hear the Law of the Lord " (oh. xxx.
9) . But this boldness and severity for God, and uncompromising sternness
where his honour is concerned, are counterbalanced by a remarkable tender-
ness and compassion towards the individuals who fall under notice as
having provoked God's anger. Not only does he "weep bitterly," and
refuse to be comforted, "because of the spoiliDg of the daughter of his
people" (ch. xxii. 4), but even the woes of a foreign nation, like Moab,
draTs forth his compassion, and make his " bowels " thrill with sorrow
(ch. XV. 6 ; xvi. 9 — 11). He detests sin, but he mourns over the &te of
sinrers For Babylon itself his " loins are filled with pain : pangs take
hold upon him, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: he is bowed
dowE at the hearing; he is dismayed at the seeing; his heart pants;
fearf alness affrights him : the night of his pleasure is turned into fear for
him'' (ch. xxi. 3, 4). And as he sympathizes in the calamities and
sufferings of all nations, so has he a heart wide enough, and a spirit
ooiaprehensive enough, to delight in their prosperity, their exaltation,

their admission to the final kingdom of the Messiah (ch. ii. 2 ; xi. 10 12 •

xviii. 7; xix 23—25; xl. 6; xlii. 1 — 4; liv. 3, etc.). No narrow views of
race-privilege, or even of covenant-advantage, hem him in, and cramp his
sympathies and affections. Tet still he is not so cosmopolite as to be
devoid of patriotism, or to view with unconcern anything which affects the
welfare of his country, his city, his countrymen. Whether it be Syria and
Ephraim. that plot against Judah, or Sennacherib that seeks to come in and
crush her with an overwhelming flood of invasion, he is equally indignant^
equally contemptuous (ch. vii. 5; xxxvii. 22). Against Babylon, as the fated
destroyer of the holy city and ravager of the Holy Land, he nourishes a
deep-seated hostility, which shows itself in almost every section of the


book (oh. xiii. 1—22; xiv. 4—23; xxi. 1—10; xlv. 1—8; xlvi. 1—11;
xlvii. 1 — 15; xlviii. 14, etc.). Again, upon the enemies of God he lets
loose, not only a storm of indignation and fierce anger, bnt also the keen
arrows of his sarcasia and irony. A delicate vein of satire mns through
the description of female luxury in ch. iii. (vers. 16 — 24). A bitter sarcasm
points the description of Pekah and Bezin — " the two tails of these smoking
firebrands" (ch. vii. 4). Against idolaters a somewhat coarser rhetoric
is employed : " The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and
fashioneth it with hFiimmers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms :
yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth ; he drinketh no water, and is
faint. The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a
line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass,
and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man ;
that it may remain in the house. He heweth him down cedars, and taketh
the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the
trees of the forest : he planteth an oak, and the rain doth nourish it. Then
shall it be for a man to bum : for he will take thereof, and warm himself ;
yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread ; yea, he maketh a god, and wor-
shippeth it ; he maketh it a graven image, and f alleth down thereto. B e
burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; be
roasteth roast, and is satisfied : yea, he warmeth himself, and saith. Aha,
I am warm, I have seen the fire : and the residue thereof he maketh a
god, even his graven image : he faileth down unto it, and worshippeth it,
and prayeth unto it, and saith. Deliver me ; for thou art my god " (ch. xliv.
12—17; comp. Jer. x. 3—16; Baruch vi. 12—49). While the prophet
reserves sarcasm for certain rare occasions, he shows himself a thorough
master of it, and pours a stream of scorn on those who provoke his scorn,
which effectually disposes of their pretensions.

Two other qualities must be noted in Isaiah — his spirituality and his
tone of deep reverence. The formal, the outward, the manifest in religion,
are with him absolutely of no account ; nothing is of importance but the
inward, the spiritual, the "hidden man of the heart." Temples are worth-
less (ch. Ixvi. 1) ; sacrifices are worthless (ch. i. 11 — 18 ; Ixvi. 3) ; the
observance of days is woithless (ch. i. 14) ; attendance at assemblies is
worthless (ch. i. 13) ; nothing has any value with God but real purity of
Ufe and heart — obedience (oh. i. 19), righteousness, " a poor and contrite
spirit" (ch. Ixvi. 2). The imagery which he of necessity employs in
describing spiritual conditions is drawn from material things, from the
circumstances of our earthly environment. But it is plainly not intended
in any literal sense. The abundance and variety of the imagery, some-
times the incongruity of one feature with another (ch. Ixvi. 24), show that
it is imagery — a mere shadowing out of spiritual things by means of trope
and figure. And Isaiah's reverence is profound. His most usual title for
God is " the Holy One of Israel ; " sometimes, still more emphatically, " the
Holy One;" once with special elaboration, "the high and lofty One that


inhabitetli eternity" (ch. Ivii. 15). God is primarily with him an object ol
reverent fear and awe. " Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself," he exclaims;
"and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread " (ch. viii. 13) ; and
again, "Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dnst, for fear of the
Lord, and for the glory of his majesty " (oh. ii. 10). It is as if the memory
of his " vision of God " never quitted him — as if he felt himself ever
standing before the throne, where he " saw the Lord sitting, high and
lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims :
each one had six wings ; with twain he covered his face, and with twain
he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another,
and said. Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts : the whole earth is full of
his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried,
and the house was filled with smoke." And the prophet cried, " Woe is
me ! for I am undone ; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell
in the midst of a people of unclean Ups : for mine eyes have seen the King,
the Lord of hosts " (ch. vi. 1 — 5).

§ 2. On the Historical OiRcnMSTANCES under which Isaiah lived


Isaiah grew to manhood as a subject of the Jndsean kingdom, durinc
the period of the two kingdoms known respectively as those of Israel and
Judah. Israel, the schismatical kingdom established by Jeroboam on the
death of Solomon, was approaching to its fall. After existing for two
centuries under eighteen monarchs of eight different families, and with
some difficulty maintaining its independence against the attacks of its
northern neighbour, Syria of Damascus, the Israelitish kingdom was on
the point of succumbing to a far greater power, the well-known Assyrian
empire. When Isaiah was about ten or twelve years of age, an Assyrian
monarch, whom the Hebrews called Pul, " came against the land," and
his enmity had to be bought off by the payment of a thousand talents of
silver (2 Kings xv. 19). A far greater monarch, Tiglath-Pileser II.
ascended the Assyrian throne about twenty years later (b.o. 745), when
Isaiah may have been thirty or thirty-five, and began at once a career of
conquest, which spread alarm over all the neighbouring nations. In Syria
it was felt that the new enemy could only be resisted by a general con-
federacy of the petty monarchs who divided among them the Syro-
Palestinian region; and accordingly an effort was made to unite them all
under the presidency of Bezin of Damascus.^ Ahaz, however, the kins
of Judah at the time, declined to make common cause with the other petty
princes. Taking a narrow view of the situation, he thought that his own
interests would be best promoted by the crippling of Syria and Israel
powers generally hostile to Jadah, and close upon his borders. The
immediate consequence of his refusal to join the league was mn. attempt
' B«e ' Ancient Monarohieg,' yiA. iL p. 181.


to coerce him, or to depose him and place upon his throne a prince who
would adopt the Syrian policy. Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Samaria
attacked him in difFerent quarters, and inflicted on him severe defeats
(2 Chron. zxviii. 5, 6). They then conjointly marched into the heart of
his kingdom, and besieged Jerusalem (2 Kings xvi. 5). Under these
circumstances, Ahaz placed himself under the protection of the Assyrian
monarch, declared himself his " servant," and humbly besought his aid.
Tiglath-Pileser readily complied, and, having marched a great army into
Syria, conquered Damascus, slew Rezin, defeated Pekah, and carried a
large portion of the Israelite nation into captivity (2 Kings xv. 29 ; xvi.
9; 1 Chron. v. 26). Ahaz personally appeared before him at Damascus,
and did homage for hia crown, thenceforth reigning as a vassal and
tributary monarch.

The crushing blow dealt to the kingdom of Israel by Tiglath-Pileser was
shortly followed by a still severer calamity. In B.C. 724, when Isaiah was
about fifty-five years of age, Shalmaneser IV., Tiglath-Pileser's successor,
determined to destroy the last vestige of Israelite independence, and, march-
ing an army into the country, laid siege to Samaria. The city was one of
great strength, and for three years resisted every assault. Finally, how-
ever, in B.C. 722, it fell, just about the time that Shalmaneser was dis-
possessed of his throne by the usurping Sargon. Sargon claims the glory
of having captured the place, and of having carried off from it 27,280

Judsea now stood stripped of independent neighbours, manifestly the next
country on which the weight of the Assyrian arms would fall. The sub-
mission of Ahaz, and his subserviency to Assyria throughout his whole reign
(2 Kings xvi. 10 — 18), had helped to defer the evil day ; in addition to wbich
Assyria had been much occupied by revolts of conquered countries and by
Internal dissensions. ' But with the accession of Hezekiah (b.o. 727) a bolder
line of policy had been adopted by the Jewish state. Hezekiah "rebelled
against the King of Assyria, and served him not" (2 Kings iviii. 7). In
this rebellion he had probably the countenance and support of Isaiah, who
always exhorted his countrymen not to be afraid of the Assyrians (ch. x.
24 ; xxxvii. 6). Isaiah's counsel was that no foreign alliance should be
sought, but that entire dependence should be placed on Jehovah, who would
protect his own people, and discomfit the Assyrians, should they venture on
making an attack. Hezekiah, however, had other advisers also, men of a
different stamp, politicians such as Shebna and Bliakim, to whom the simple
faith of the prophet appeared fanaticism and folly. The dictates of worldly
wisdom seemed to them to require that the alUance of some poweriul nation
should be courted, and a treaty made whereby Judsea might secure the assist-
ance of a strong body of auxiliaries, should her independence be menaced.
The political horiion presented at the time one only power of this kind —

• G. Smith, ' Eponym Canon.'


one onlj possible rival to Assyria — ^viz. Egypt. Egypt was, like Assyria, an
organized monarchy, with a considerable population, long trained to arms,
and especially strong where Jndoea was most defective — that is, in horses
and chariots. £ehind Egypt, closely allied virith her, and exercising a species
of suzerainty over her, was Ethiopia, with resources from which, in case of
need, Egypt might draw.' It is uncertain at what date the Assyrian monarch
began to threaten Hezekiah with his vengeance. Sargon certainly made
several expeditions into Syria, and even into Philistia, and in one place he
calls himself " the conqueror of the land of Judah; " but there is no sufficient
evidence of his having really made any serious attempt to reduce Judaea to
subjection. Apparently it was not until after Sennacherib had ascended the
Assyrian throne (in B.C. 705) that the conquest of the rebellious Jews was
actually taken in hand by the great monarch. But the danger had impended
during the whole of Hezekiah's reign ; and, as it became more imminent,
the counsels of the anti-religious party prevailed. Ambassadors were sent
into Egypt (ch. xxx. 2 — 4), and an alliance appears to have been concluded,
whereby the reigning Pharaoh, Shabatok, and his Ethiopian suzerain,
Tirhakah, undertook to famish an army for the defence of Judaea, if it were
attacked by the Assyrians.* In the fifth year of Sennacherib (B.C. 701) the
attack came. Sennacherib in person conducted his army into Palestine,
spread his troops over the whole country, took all the smaller fortified
towns — forty-six in number, according to his own account" — and, con-
centrating his forces about ^Jerusalem, formally laid siege to the city
(ch. xxii. 1 — 14). Hezekiah endured the siege for a time, but, despairing
of being able to resist for long, and receiving no aid from Egypt, felt him-

Online LibraryH. D. M. (Henry Donald Maurice) Spence-JonesThe pulpit commentary → online text (page 1 of 118)